Happy families welcome soldiers

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 13, 2004

Spc. Shane Parker hugs his 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Ally, after his return from Iraq Thursday.(Jon Giffin The Vicksburg Post)

[2/13/04]JACKSON Now that her daddy’s home from his 13-month tour in Iraq, Alli Elfer has big plans for him a tea party for just the two of them.

Alli’s dad, Capt. John Elfer, was one of 40 soldiers, including two from Vicksburg, with the 31st Rear Operations Center who were welcomed at Mississippi National Army Guard armory on Raymond Road.

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Spc. Shane Parker returned with the group as well, and both attended the ceremony that included an appearance by Gov. Haley Barbour.

Alli said her father’s first job was to take her to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal and playtime, but his wife, Olie, had other plans.

“I’ve got a whole list for him,” she said, and added that he’ll be in charge of cleaning the house and washing clothes before he returns to work as a Warren County deputy sheriff in March.

Elfer left in January 2003 for Iraq and was the executive officer for Camp Victory in Kuwait. The unit does defense planning and force protection, and was stationed in Baghdad before moving to Kuwait in July.

Elfer was, of course, elated to be home again this time for good.

“It’s a completely different feeling knowing now we don’t have to go anywhere for a long time,” he said.

And being gone for so long makes him more appreciative of this country.

“There is no doubt we live in the greatest nation in the world,” the 33-year-old said. “You don’t realize how much we have in the U.S. until you go to a country that isn’t as fortunate as we are.”

And regarding the criticism that some have given Operation Iraqi Freedom, Elfer said, “I support our commander-in-chief.

“What we did was the right thing to do. Iraqis are in a much better place now that we’ve accomplished our mission. I was proud to be there.”

But nothing beats being home again, home again, jiggedy-jig.

While it may take a while to get acclimated, he’s looking forward to spending time with his family, and enjoying things as simple as seeing trees and grass again as opposed to Iraqi’s desert climate.

And the same goes for Parker, who was also greeted by family members upon his return.

Parker, 31 and also a deputy sheriff, plans to be with his family, including his wife, twin sons and daughter, before returning to work in March.

“I’m going to spend as much time as I can with my family,” he said. “They’ve changed a lot.”

The couple’s children are Dillon and Devin, both 7, and Ally, who’s 2 1/2. Devin said he’s missed playing baseball with his father. But now it’s time to make up for time lost.

“We’ve missed just having him here and being a family,” said Parker’s wife, Lori. “I can’t believe he’s finally here.”