Soldier’s reason for thanks: 10 days on leave

First it was the wrong plane.

“Is this his?” someone asked, and the answer, unfortunately, was no. This one was United from Denver, and they needed American from Dallas, so there was no point in scrutinizing every person who pushed through the glass exit doors Wednesday night at Grand Junction Regional Airport. None of them was him.

Lisa Bikki shifted from foot to foot. Les Bikki paced irregular shapes across the tile floor.

“Scott!” Lisa called to a young man standing at the other end of the row of flag bearers. “Scotty! Text him again!”

“I have!” Scott Dearborn replied. “Three times.”

An avalanche of texts wasn’t going to make Pfc. Brandon Bikki, 19, get there any faster, but it felt good to do something besides wait. They hadn’t seen him since June, and before that February, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army as an infantryman. He’s now in the 1st Infantry Division, 3rd Brigade, 6th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, Black Foot Troop.

“He told me, ‘Grandma, I want to give something back to my country like my dad did,’” said Leslie Bikki. She stood at the end of the concourse made by members of the Patriot Guard Riders, holding American flags and standing at attention to welcome him home.

She, too, clutched a small American flag. She’d been a freedom fighter in Hungary but had to flee her homeland Jan. 7, 1957, walking 78 miles into Austria. She cherishes freedom.

“Brandon said to me, ‘I’m ready to defend my country,’” she recalled.

He’ll have 10 days home, then back to Fort Knox, Ky., from where he’ll deploy to Afghanistan on Dec. 27.

“My birthday,” said Lisa, his mom. “He told me what he’ll be doing there, but ... I don’t want to know. I really don’t want to know.”

Les, his dad, retired from the U.S. Army in September 2002, after a 20-year career in the military. It was natural for Brandon to join after graduating from Quest Academy in 2009. His training has included time at Fort Irwin, Calif., where the military has created a replica Afghan village, complete with actors playing villagers.

But that will be far away these next 10 days. There will be the huge Thanksgiving dinner at his aunt, Leslie Kent’s, house, with at least 25 people crowded around the feast. There will be snowboarding with his friends and quiet moments with his family.

It’s a lot to be thankful for.

But first, he had to arrive.

“Is it here?” asked his sister, BreeAnna, 17. (Youngest sister Brittanie, 14, is visiting her grandmother in Minnesota.)

Not yet. There was a false alarm with an airport employee rounding a corner from the waiting room. There were some disappointed sighs and a few more texts impatiently tapped out and sent to Brandon’s phone.

Finally, another airport employee poked her head through the doors and announced, “There’s an American flight coming in from Dallas.”

“That’s it!” Lisa said.

“It just landed.”

An eternity later, the first passengers walked through the doors. A woman with too many carry-ons looked questioningly at the row of flags as she passed through it. Another woman, as she pushed through the doors, remarked, “They must be waiting for somebody important.”

“My son,” Lisa said.

There was a lady in a black track suit and a guy wearing his blue hoodie backwards. Finally, finally ...

“Here he comes!”

In his camouflage fatigues, toting a huge camouflage backpack, he walked through the double doors. Dozens of people applauded. He looked shy. He looked tired. He smiled and walked into his mother’s waiting arms.

Welcome home.


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