Dressed in their black military outfits and wearing garrison caps, nine members of the Wapakoneta Veterans of Foreign Wars post stand waiting at attention along the sidewalk to the home one returning Iraqi veteran grew up.
His siblings and friends crowd the porch at 213 E. Benton St. as his mother stands on the bottom step fidgeting first with her hands cupping her face and then at her side — all watching as U.S. Army Private 1st Class Than Bowersock walks down the sidewalk. He spent the last year in Iraq.
After a ceremony on the walk to the house where 20-year-old Bowersock received a plaque from and exchanged words with the VFW members, he walked up to his mother and she threw her arms around him. He reciprocated.
She no longer sees him as the teen that left but as the young man he has become.
“My first thought was it’s been so long — he’s my son,” his mother, Deb Schick said after taking a photograph of Bowersock with his brother and sisters, stepbrothers and stepsisters. “He looks good, but he looks so thin.”
For Bowersock being home is ethereal.
“I feel so different — family and friends are here and everyone knows you,” Bowersock said standing in a hallway lined with family photographs. “This is so different than being somewhere where no one knows you and no one really wants you to be there.
“As I walked down the sidewalk, I thought it’s been eight months and I am actually going to get to see people I didn’t get a chance to see the last time I came home.”
In February, he received a week furlough and came home, but then he had to return to Iraq where he drives a tank and a humvee.
He also noticed something else when he returned to the United States at the end of his tour of duty in early November. He was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas.
“I could breathe in fresh air and I could smell the grass,” Bowersock said. “In Iraq, it is hot and it is just sand and grit and the sand gets everywhere.”
Bowersock, who is a 2009 graduate of Wapakoneta High School and the Apollo Career Center, enlisted in the U.S. Army in the fall of 2008 as part of the delayed entry program.
“We talked about him serving in the Army for quite awhile, but it was his decision to make,” his mother said. “I encouraged him to follow his heart and this is what he wanted to do.”
After graduation in 2009, Bowersock reported to Fort Knox, Ky. for boot camp. The son of Deb Schick and Christopher Bowersock left for Iraq shortly after Thanksgiving 2010, so he served nearly one year in Iraq and besides the one-week furlough has not been home — but now he is back in the United States for good.
His homecoming included being greeted by nine siblings — he has five brothers and sisters and four stepbrothers and stepsisters — grandparents, great grandmother and his stepfather, Joe Schick.
“He was the first one to graduate and the first one to leave,” Deb Schick said. “I was proud of him serving and going to Iraq. He needed to do some growing up and he has. He is always on time now, if not early, and he is always telling us to ‘walk with a purpose’ or to ‘use your voice.’ ”
He is the oldest, followed by his sisters, Rea, 19, Annika, 18, Daphne, 16, Tirane, 15, and his brother, Jalen, 13. He also the oldest of his stepfather’s children including David, 19, Kara, 18, Rachael, 14, and Jared, 13.
Rea saw her brother first. She picked him up at the Dayton bus station and drove him home. She was supposed to pick him up at the Lima bus station, but the transfer would have delayed him coming home by at least another hour and they wanted to see him.
She also volunteered to pick him up because while his other siblings had a chance to see him when he reported to Fort Riley in November, she could not make the trip because she had to work.
“When I saw him at the train station, I thought that is a lot of bags,” Rea said with a laugh. “He had four duffle bags and an X-box carrying case walking over toward the car.
“Actually, I thought it is about time because I missed him,” she said. “I really worried about him while he was serving overseas and it is a relief that he is back and safe and that nothing happened to him over there.”
Rea said she and her brother talked about everything on the hour-long drive home.
“We talked about a lot of things, — I told him about my house because he is going to be staying with me and my work schedule so he knew how he would be getting places,” said Rea, who works at Otterbein-Cridersville. “I am so glad he is back.”
She parked the white car down a couple of houses along East Benton Street and the two walked down the sidewalk before she lagged behind and then ran around and joined the family on the porch.
Seeing so many people in the front yard, Bowersock joked he must have done something wrong but then he saw the different flags including the American flag and he realized it was a welcoming home party.
He said he looked forward to his favorite meal — cow heart and cow tongue — but he also looked forward to something more precious.
“When you are overseas the only way to talk to someone and see them is through skype,” Bowersock said. “Seeing and hearing them is OK, but you know you are home when you can actually put your arms around them and hug them.”
He paused for a second, looked around and finished his statement, “and tell them how much you love them.”