The War Comes Home
"I'm in Kuwait."
That, in full, was the e-mail Art Snow received on Feb. 8, informing him that his youngest son was finally off the bomb-laden streets of Ramadi, Iraq. Art, a tanned tennis pro in Palm Beach, Fla., felt relieved, then exhausted, then anxious. His wife, Marianne, cried.
Preparations for 22-year-old Sgt. Andrew Snow's homecoming -- his second in three years -- began immediately.
From a box in the attic, stacked next to Christmas and Halloween decorations, Art pulled the flags and signs from Andrew's last homecoming. They cleaned the house, coordinated schedules. Marianne made a special chili. Platters of veggies and cheese were already waiting at the club. The Country Club at Boca Raton, where Art teaches tennis, wanted to throw a party in Andrew's honor.
On March 8, Madeleine Billeter, Andrew's girlfriend, left high school an hour early. Dressed in red, white and blue, Art, Marianne and Madeleine waited at Miami International Airport with more than 50 strangers who were oblivious to the fact that their soldier was returning home. Art couldn't sit still. Pacing, he stretched to catch a glimpse of each person coming down the arrivals hallway, hoping he'd recognize Andrew first. Marianne fought tears. Madeleine sat in silence.
Finally, there he was. Small-framed, wearing a red baseball cap and a gold-colored hoodie. Camouflage backpack. Pale. Thin.
No smile. Exhausted.
His father gave him a one-armed squeeze around the shoulders, as if he were congratulating him after a Little League game. Madeleine received a long embrace. Andrew hid his face in his mother's neck.
He managed a slight grin.
* * *
As a Washington Post photographer, I had met Andrew while embedded with a mechanized infantry company of the 1st Armored Division in Ramadi last fall. I didn't get to know him well. He was one of thousands of young men sent to quell the violence in Anbar province. Andrew was commander of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, which sometimes meant conducting medical evacuations. During his 14 months in Ramadi, he also took part in foot patrols and missions. He became familiar with night-vision goggles and MREs. Snipers. Vehicle-borne bombs. And dust.
He lost friends. Some forever, others to Walter Reed Army Medical Center.