Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began nearly a decade ago, more than 20,000 soldiers from Maryland have deployed overseas. About 156 Maryland soldiers have been wounded in Afghanistan and 37 have died.
On Saturday, the Pentagon confirmed one more death: Maj. Robert J. Marchanti II, 48, of the Maryland National Guard was killed during a Feb. 25 attack on the Afghan Interior Ministry.
On that same day, in the safety of the BWI Airport Marriott Hotel, state officials welcomed home approximately 30 of Marchanti’s fellow guard members after a year-long deployment in Afghanistan with the 29th Infantry Division. The Freedom Salute Ceremony in Linthicum honored the soldiers who formally returned about three months ago.
The hugs, tears and smiles of soldiers expressing their gratitude for a safe return unfolded Saturday before news of Marchanti’s killing was publicly known, before his wife and four children began dealing with the ultimate sacrifice that the families on Saturday had been fortunate to avoid all year.
But their service came with a more familiar sacrifice for soldiers: time away from loved ones.
Maj. Kathryn Masters said communicating daily with her 4-year-old daughter Abigail proved difficult and almost traumatic.
Masters, a single mother from Woodstock, said telling her then-3-year-old daughter that she wouldn’t be able to speak with her while traveling throughout Afghanistan would result in tears.
“It was a helpless feeling,” Masters said.
She said Abigail wept relentlessly when her mother left for a second time after six months after a brief reprieve from duty for rest and relaxation.
As Masters spoke with Patch (see video), Abigail—her face smeared with cake, her cheeks painted with flowers—clung to her mother’s leg, refusing to leave her side.
“I tried to prepare her,” Masters said. “One of things I try to do when there are going to be big changes in her life is to talk about them continuously to prepare her.
“But she’s so resilient. Little children are so resilient.”
Lt. Col. Paul Fancella, of Leonardtown, left behind his newly-wedded wife and combined seven children to serve in Afghanistan. His division’s mission was to provide aid and training to the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.
His wife, Leslie Fancella, who grew up in a military family, said advances in communications have made separation “much easier, much better than it was."
“We were able to talk every day that he was gone and that made a big difference,” she said.
With a youthful smile on his face, standing shoulder to shoulder with his wife, Paul said “words can’t describe” seeing her for the first time upon his return in October.
Maj. Barbara Meadows, a Frederick resident, was deployed to Afghanistan last February, just two weeks after marrying.
While Meadows' husband, and five children and stepchildren welcomed her home in late October, one family member missed the reunion—her veteran father, who passed away in July.
"I grew up in the military. He was the reason I served," she said, becoming emotional.
Meadows' 23-year-old son is now determined to carry on the family tradition. A member of the Air Force National Guard, he is a sixth-generation soldier.
Said his mom: "I'm very proud.”