When Gavin and Jaxton Page woke up this morning, they were on a mission.
Sunday, the boys received a package in the mail of a little holiday elf with a specific objective to find him each day as he moved around the house.
The only rule is no touching, otherwise the elf will lose his magic.
The elf convinently made his arrival the day after Gavin and Jaxton’s father, Nathan, returned from this third tour overseas with the 833rd Engineering Company.
“My wife (Cami) waited until I got home to start (the new tradition),” Nathan said. “It is nice to be there with them and do that every day.”
Nathan and his company were the last group of Iowa soldiers stationed in Afghanistan to return home Nov. 23, just in time for the holiday season.
The company was honored in a homecoming ceremony in Ottumwa.
“My wife asked what kind of meal do you want me to make for you,” Nathan said. “I said it will be late, how about we just relax as a family and order some Casey’s pizza and have a beer. It was something I hadn’t had for a long time and it was nice, just doing something simple.”
While Nathan adjusts to the pace of life back home as a father and husband, he is thankful to be back in time to spend the holidays with family and friends.
Page, 30, graduated from Wayne Community High School in Corydon, Iowa in May 2001. That December, he enlisted with the 833rd Engineering Company.
In October 2004, the company was mobilized for the first time in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The group returned in December 2005.
“Our main objective was route clearance,” Nathan said. “We cleared roads for coaliton forces to make it safe for convoys to transport people and goods.”
When Nathan enlisted at 18 years old, the idea of blowing up objects for a career was appealing.
“I didn’t really know what I was getting into at the time until that first tour came,” Nathan said. “It was a little bit of a reality check.”
After 12 years of service, Nathan said he wouldn’t want to do any other job in the military. Nathan — a Staff Sgt. E6 — was a team leader while overseas.
“It feels like we were doing something productive over there,” Nathan said. “I was debating whether or not to stay in because I was at the end of a contract with this deployment.”
He took a promotion after returning from Afghanistan, but will stay within the engineer battalion. Nathan also signed a new, 6-year contract, which will put him at 20 years of service.
Adjusting to home
As a team leader, Nathan has been checking in with members of the 833rd Engineering Company to see how everyone is reintegrating to life back home.
Nathan said the group of men was a wide mix of soldiers serving their first, second and third deployment overseas. He said most of the time it is something as simple as a text message to check in with each other.
“I think it helps around the holidays so everyone can be around family,” Nathan said.
He added the holidays also serve as a reminder to be thankful of the soldiers that are still overseas serving. One of the biggest aids to help get him through was the reminder that people back home were thinking of him.
“Skype was great for my boys because they could actually see me, even if they couldn’t completely grasp what was going on,” Nathan said. “I liked old fashion, hand-written letters. They’re more personable.”
The care packages area churches sent were also helpful, linking that connection between being away for service and being home.
While Nathan enjoys being home and is quickly adjusting to his new schedule like picking up kids from school, he has noticed one thing he enjoyed not having to deal with overseas.
“I didn’t miss the cold,” Nathan joked.