Local man comes back from Iraq

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 28, 2004

CHESAPEAKE-A husband, a father and a Little League coach recently returned home from a four-month working stint in Iraq. There was no fanfare, parade or parties on June 9 because Ron Saunders only wanted to be home and with his family.

"I just want to go home," Lisa Saunders recalled her husband of 16 years saying when she picked him up from Tri-State Airport. Luckily, she talked him into taking the long way home through the village, where he could see more than a dozen signs local businesses displayed to welcome back their own hometown hero.

Saunders, a systems accountant with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers at Huntington, W.Va., volunteered to go to Iraq to help restore oil and electrical systems at Basrah, Baghdad and another small village located close to Iranian borders.

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While in Iraq, Ron said what he missed the most was his family and friends. It helped he was able to keep in daily touch with his wife via telephone calls, e-mail and twice by video conference but he still yearned for home.

"The first thing I did (when I got back) was kiss my wife," Saunders said, "The boys were ecstatic. I noticed both of my boys grew. When I left, my oldest boy was shorter than my wife. When I got back, he was taller. He was 5-2 and now he's 5-5,"

Saunders said.

Saunder's oldest son who sprouted three inches, Trent Saunders, said he was glad his dad is home because he knows that dad is safe now. Eight-year-old Andrew said "I missed him bunches."

The first "little thing" I wanted was pizza-good old American food. Saunders said he got tired of the MREs (Meals-Ready-to-Eat).

He supplemented his diet with a lot of ramen noodles. Although there were chefs that prepared meals, Saunders did not relish eating cooked fish with the heads still attached.

Saunders was able to meet Iraqi people and he said many share American appetites for microwave popcorn and Girl Scout cookies. "They would smell the popcorn and come running-If I made one bag I ended up making four."

Ron returned to U.S. soil on June 5. Even though Lisa could not see initially see him she said it was comforting to know he was back in the states

"We were talking on the phone one night and I heard a mortar round and asked him what that noise was and he said, "'Nothing, don't worry about it. Then, I heard another one and he said, "'I've got to go now.' That was scary," remembered Lisa.

Another scary incident for Ron was his first trip to Baghdad. He said he was walking and got lost. A little Iraqi girl came up and hugged him and his fears were somewhat allayed.

The couple took a week off from their jobs after his homecoming to stay home, adjust and enjoy one another's company. Ron has umpired two baseball games upon his return.

He is planning a family trip to Disneyworld in Orlando, Fla.

Lisa said his send-off was tearful. It was her first time at the airport and she was so emotional she got lost trying to out of the airport.

"Everybody laughs about that, but it was really bad for me. When I'm watching a movie, Ron will hand me a tissue because he knows I'm crying…I was emotional because he had never been gone for that long before," Lisa said.

At the same airport, Ron's homecoming was what he wanted-his family minus tears with truly happy smiles of his return.

Saunders is a veteran with the United States Air Force. He said his experiences in Iraq have led him to have a deeper and more profound respect for all veterans.