Soldier’s homecoming grants Christmas wish
Jan 30, 2013 05:50AM ● Published by Community News Service
To three-year-old Madison McKenzie, the return of her father in December from his deployment in Afghanistan was all thanks to the magic of Santa Claus.
“She keeps saying ‘Santa got my Daddy for Christmas!’” said Madison’s mother, Kristen McKenzie, a Bordentown native. “That kills my husband, but it’s cute so I let her say it.”
Madison’s logic, however, is sound, considering that she asked Santa herself at the Bordentown Tree Lighting ceremony Nov. 24.
“She asked for Daddy and for Rainbow Dash from My Little Pony,” Kristen said. “She was so excited to see Santa come down in the fire truck. I thought she was going to lose her mind.”
A few weeks later, Madison showed the same excitement when her father landed at the airport on Dec. 6.
“We pretty much picked him up at the curb,” said Kristen, explaining that traffic had foiled her plan to bring Madison and Parker, her 1-year-old son, to wait in the airport for their father to surprise them. But the effect was not lost on Madison, who recognized him immediately.
“She was the first out of her car seat,” said Kristen. “She’s a total Daddy’s girl.”
“We had a basic idea within a 4-5 week period as to when he was coming home,” said Gary Rutherford, Nathan’s father-in-law, and a Bordentown police officer. “Madison knew nothing about it all.”
When the McKenzies finally did pick Nathan up, only four days after learning of his arrival date, Madison’s Christmas wish was granted.
Nathan McKenzie, Kristen’s husband of 11 years, came home in December after a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan working as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialist for the United States Air Force. Nathan, who grew up in Jackson, Tenn., met his wife while stationed at the McGuire Air Force Base. He has been deployed four times over the course of their marriage, once in Iraq and three times in Afghanistan.
The deployment works on a rotating schedule, normally seven months on and one year off, depending on the course of the war.
“It’s scary, but you try not to think about it,” said Kristen, who moved in with her parents in Bordentown while Nathan was deployed. Today, the McKenzies live in Dover, Del., at the Air Force Base where Nathan is stationed for the next year.
“He goes away so much for work that we’re used to it,” said Kristen, who was married for seven years before having Madison, their first child. “Madison does OK, she’s a trooper. She misses him. It was time for him to come home.”
Kristen also thanks the Air Force support programs and developments in technology for the ease with which she lives and communicates with her husband while he is overseas.
“So much has changed since we’ve been married,” she said, describing the family support center and the close community of families around the Air Force Bases. “There is such a difference in the programs. They have more options, if you need help with kids, or someone to talk to. They have whatever you need pretty much.”
Kristen also sees a huge improvement in the ways in which she keeps in touch with her husband during his deployment.
“I got to speak with him about every day,” she said. “The satellite connection was awful, but we got to Skype with him all the time. It’s a lot better than it was a couple years ago.”
The advent of technology such as Skype has also allowed Madison and Parker to develop a relationship with their father while he is away.
“When he first got home, Parker was looking at the computer, a little confused,” Kristen said. “It’s like, ‘Wait a minute, that’s the man in the box!’ It didn’t take him long, though.”
Despite the aid of support programs and communication technology, Kristen hopes for a rapid end to the war, and the permanent stay of her husband.
“It’s so nice not having to answer the ‘Where’s Dad?’ question,” said Kristen. “We just told them that Daddy was at work. That he would do anything to be home, but he had to be at work.”
The morning after her father’s arrival, Madison woke up in a panic after her he had already left to work for the day in Dover.
“She asked me ‘Where’s Dad?’ and I said ‘No no, he’ll be right back!’” Kristen said. “She’s starting to understand that he always comes back.”