In the corner of Reagan National Airport Friday — right in front of the Dunkin Donuts — young Valentina Cruz sat clutching a small pink bag filled with a Tootsie pop, Smarties and a note marked: “To: Daddy.”
The 7-year-old had waited more than a year for this moment, when her father, Prince George’s County Police Officer Kevin Cruz, would return from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
As Kevin Cruz crested the gate, Valentina and her mother, Veronica Cruz, rushed forward. Kevin Cruz bent down and kissed his daughter, then turned to hug and kiss his wife. Soon he was being mobbed by television cameras and fellow Prince George’s police officers who had come to the airport to welcome the soldier home.
“Long time no see!” Kevin Cruz joked with one officer.
The Prince George’s County Police Department counts 183 military veterans in their ranks, 105 who have combat experience. Eight officers are currently deployed in Afghanistan, Egypt, Guantanamo Bay or the U.S., said Cpl. Todd Miceli, who coordinates the activities of officers who also serve in the military.
Until recently, Cruz, a reservist and Navy petty officer first class, was one of them. For the past nine months, the 30-year-old from Upper Marlboro, who normally works as a patrol officer, had been serving as a mechanic supervisor in Afghanistan, servicing the heavy duty mine resistant vehicles used there.
His return, his wife said, could not have come soon enough.
Though she and her husband tried not to talk about it, Veronica Cruz said it was sometimes a struggle to ignore the increasingly grim news coming from the country where Kevin Cruz was stationed. She knew soldiers were targets for inside attacks because the U.S. had mistakenly burned Muslim holy books. And that tensions were on the rise because a U.S. soldier was accused of shooting and killing Afghan civilians, including several children.
“You got to just don’t pay attention,” Veronica Cruz said. “As long as I talked to him everyday, I knew everything was OK.”
For his part, Kevin Cruz said the incidents were “sad.” He said military rules prevented him from talking about them directly or in detail, though he acknowledged they wore on his mind.
“All the incidents that have been happening — I wish things could turn out a little better,” Cruz said.
Cruz, who has completed three previous deployments on ships at sea, said Afghanistan taught him “you have to appreciate what you have here, because down there, there’s very little.” He said the mood among the troops was “all right,” though most were eager to return home.
Cruz said he was eager to eat a salad at the Olive Garden now that he was home. But any respite he will get will be short lived. Police officials said he is scheduled for a training on Monday.