Independent TribuneFeatures Hero’s homecoming

Hero’s homecoming

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Sgt. First Class Baron McLean didn’t recognize many of the faces that gathered along the rain-drenched streets leading up to his driveway, but the message they sent was clear.
Red, white and blue streamers hung from trees and mailboxes, neighbors gathered and cheered and two young girls held a large American flag as the 17-year military
veteran pulled up to the Providence Manor home that his wife and daughter moved into while he was away on a 15-month tour in Iraq. Finally, their soldier was home.

By Jonathan E. Coleman
[email protected]
Sgt. First Class Baron McLean didn’t recognize many of the faces that gathered along the rain-drenched streets leading up to his driveway, but the message they sent was clear.

Red, white and blue streamers hung from trees and mailboxes, neighbors gathered and cheered and two young girls held a large American flag as the 17-year military veteran pulled up to the Providence Manor home that his wife and daughter moved into while he was away on a 15-month tour in Iraq. 
Finally, their soldier was home.

Now a member of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Divison based at Fort Bragg, McLean joined the armed forces when he was just 17 years old.

“I tuned 18 the day after I got to basic,” he said. “It’s just something I chose to do when I was in school. I did that (JROTC) for the last three years of school. I liked it and I stuck with it.”

Over the years, he’s served two deployments in Iraq, two in Korea, six months in Afghanistan and spent a month helping in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

But last week, the well-traveled soldier was glad to be home.

The timing of his return couldn’t have been better, he said. Two days after returning home, McLean was headed to watch his daughter, Teal, compete in her regional Cross Country meet.

“I told her she better do good,” he joked. “It’ll be different from all the other races because I won’t have to wait for a call or try to Google stuff to find out how she did.”

He was also looking forward to spending the holidays at home with his family and friends. He is not expected to be redeployed until sometime next year, and plans to retire in about three years.

Regardless of whatever other plans come along, McLean said he’s glad to be home, and feels even more at home after the warm welcome he received.
“I was overwhelmed,” he said. “Especially with the rain. That’s a good community we live in.”

McLean hadn’t even met Kimberly Hunter — now his neighbor — when he left 15 months ago for his latest tour in Iraq. But Thursday, Hunter spearheaded an effort to welcome the soldier home.

She and several teenagers in the neighborhood went door to door letting people know of McLean’s return and gathered nearly 300 signatures of support and thanks from neighbors and community members, which they displayed on a six-foot-tall board that read simply “Welcome home” and “Thank you”.

“Our service men and women are at war for so long,” Hunter said. “It may seem that people are apathetic. I don’t care if it’s the first time they come home or the last time and they never have to go back, every soldier deserves a hero’s homecoming.”

Hunter grew up in a patriotic family; her father served two tours in Vietnam. She said, however, that despite his service, her never got the welcome home she thought he deserved. 

So a fitting welcome home was something she wanted to ensure McLean received.

“Most of the people there didn’t know the family,” Hunter said, adding that many stopped on their way home to welcome McLean. “I think this reiterates the fact that even though the American people may not support the war, they support the soldiers.”

And McLean certainly appreciated the gesture.

“From a soldier’s standpoint, we’re just there because it’s our duty,” he said. “If we get a ‘thank you’ along the way, that’s just icing on the cake. It was really nice.”

• Contact Jonathan E. Coleman at [email protected] or 704-789-9105.


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