Just like they do every year, the Staggs family—cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, and children, gathered together for Thanksgiving dinner in their hometown of Bedford. This year, there was something extra to be thankful for—twenty-three year old National Guard soldier Matt Staggs was back from Iraq.
Staggs says he had been told since the beginning of his deployment that he and his fellow soldiers could come home early, but that was hard for him to believe.
“The whole way home, I didn’t believe it until I was in Atlanta,” he says. “Then when I hit Atlanta, I was like, I’m home.”
Staggs was not expected to be home at least until Christmas and possibly even as late as March. A few months ago, President Barack Obama ordered all U.S. troops in Iraq to come home by the end of the year, so many soldiers have been able to come home for the holidays with some as early as Thanksgiving.
The nine months Staggs was stationed in Iraq was difficult for his family. Everyone was worried about his safety, and his girlfriend Christina Bolan had to raise their one-year-old son on her own. She says she did what she could to foster the father-son relationship.
“I always showed him pictures while he was gone, and he knows who he is,” Bolan says. “You’d show him a picture and I’d say. ‘Give daddy a kiss.’ He would grab the picture and give it a big old kiss.”
Getting Back To “Normal Life”
Staggs says he loves seeing everyone again especially his girlfriend and son, but when asked how he was adjusting, Staggs says sometimes the large family gatherings can be stressful.
“Trying to adapt back, it’s hard,” he says. “But there’s a lot of missed times. Trying to make it up.”
It is clear that Staggs is seen as a hero in the family by the way his five-year-old nephew Elijah Staggs talks about him.
“Whenever somebody tries to get me, he protects me,” he says. Hes pauses before adding, “Because he’s a soldier.”
Mike Staggs, Matt Stagg’s father, says there is a lot to be thankful for this season.
“I’m just thankful for our freedom,” he says. “I’ve met a lot of people, and a lot of people overseas don’t have freedom like we’ve got. So I’m thankful for our freedom, and for our soldiers.”
This is not the end of Matt Stagg’s military career. He has reenlisted for six more years. Based on the average rotation of five years, he says, it is likely he will be sent overseas at least one more time. He knows it will be hard, but he says it is his duty to both his family and his country.
Matt Stagg’s division as well as many other groups around Indiana are looking for donations for the Christmas season. You can contribute by finding a group near you on the Army’s Family Readiness Group website.