loren Eric Swanson: A Hero’s Welcome

Friday, March 24, 2006

A Hero’s Welcome


This article was in the Louisville Times on Wednesday

By Meagan Taylor
Colorado Hometown Newspapers

Even at 4 a.m., waiting on an airstrip in the middle of New Mexico, the Swanson family was never so excited.

Jeff Swanson, a specialist with the New Mexico National Guard’s 126th Military Police Company, was on the plane that landed that morning, after serving 18 months in Iraq.

Swanson was coming home to a special surprise, his 6-month-old baby boy, Gentry, whom he and wife Ashlie conceived during his short visit home in December 2004.

“That was the dream for me,” Ashlie Swanson said of her husband’s early-morning homecoming. “It was so surreal and the girl side of me romanticized it.”

Ashlie, baby Gentry, Jeff’s parents, Liz and Eric Swanson, and his sister, Casey, met him on the airstrip with hundreds of other soldiers and families.

Twenty-two-year-old Jeff Swanson, grew up in Louisville and wrestled on Centaurus High School’s 2001 state qualifying team.

Of the 14-member team, half of the wrestlers went into the military, a coincidence that Jeff’s mother, Liz, thought was notable.

“This is something you can attribute to any sport,” Jeff said of the skills he learned in wrestling. “To stick through it, persevere, don’t give up.”

But he said his faith played a major role in maintaining his courage on the unpredictable streets of Baghdad.

“I think I kind of had an advantage, because I have Jesus,” he said. “Anything that happens, you know what is going to happen.”

Swanson was sent to military police and combat training before his deployment in March 2005.

Ashlie Swanson found out she was pregnant just before Jeff’s departure.

“I freaked,” she said. “I was in denial ... even after the doctor told me, I thought, no way.”

Ashlie said she sometimes felt like a single mother, though she had strong support from her family and the Swansons.

“I didn’t know really what to think,” Jeff Swanson said. “I knew I had to be really sweet and give her that, because what else could I give her?”

He was disappointed at not being able to witness the first six months of Gentry’s life, and missing Ashlie’s first pregnancy.

“I had to act like it didn’t bother me,” he said. “That’s why it’s a sacrifice, not because it doesn’t suck, but because it does.”

However, Jeff was given leave in September, to be with Ashlie in the hospital for Gentry’s birth.

“It was like a dream,” he said, noting that his fatherly instincts kicked in almost immediately when doctors took Gentry’s blood for the first time. “I said, ‘What are you doing? You just poked my son with a needle!’”

Jeff said the worst feeling was having to return to Iraq for six more months before he would be reunited with his family.

Swanson’s company was the third of a series of units sent to train, mentor and assist Iraqi Police in securing the country. He served as a gunner on a Humvee.

“I had no idea what it was going to be like,” Swanson said of the war zone. “I couldn’t imagine how you could fly a plane over Baghdad ... I thought we would have to shoot our way to the safe part.”

Having been in the country, he explained that the military bases are organized, and terrorist acts are not consistent.

“Some days, we were out on the streets every day in Baghdad, seeing different landmarks,” Swanson said. “Then we would go home and see on (television) that something happened where we were.”

He also said many of the protests seen in television media reports are staged for the cameras.

During the company’s various missions, five men were injured and one was killed in a roadside attack.

“It will take awhile for everyone to get to know the freedoms they have,” he said of the social situation in Iraq, noting that some Iraqis lack confidence in the country’s leadership, and religious differences create turmoil.

“It will take time, and in the mean time, there will be good and bad and people will make a big deal of it,” he said. “There’s just no other way to do it. But, they wouldn’t have had a chance without us.”

Despite being relieved that her husband is home safe, Ashlie Swanson said she felt proud that Jeff served his country.

“I couldn’t even comprehend what losing him would be like,” she said of her husband’s dangerous job. “In my heart, I knew, as scary as it was, that God wouldn’t have started what he started between us.”

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