Central Illinois soldiers to return home Saturday

Lisa Coon

"We’ve seen multiple IED attacks," Lowrance said. "Me and Terry both went outside the wire (base) over 70 times on convoy missions and recovery missions — escorting other units."

And there were times of real fear, Smith said.

"When you hear an alarm, it’s a red alert and means take cover. And it’s scary," he said.

For family members, they understand their loved ones have seen and done things they may not want to discuss.

Miller said her brother "wouldn’t share his fears because he wouldn’t want us to worry. All he’d say is it is something you’d never want to see and something I can’t explain."

Patricia Smith said her husband hasn’t really discussed the fears that came with his job.

"Before he left, I let him know he’s probably going to see and do things he may not want to talk about, but if he ever did, I was there and wouldn’t judge him," she said.

Lisa Coon can be reached at (309) 686-3041 or lcoon@pjstar.com.

Twenty-three days.

That’s the amount of time Spc. Terry Smith of West Peoria has spent with his 13-month-old son, T.J.

That all changes today when Smith and about 170 other National Guard members of the Streator-based 1744th Transportation Company return home after serving 15 months — the last year in Balad, Iraq.

A brief ceremony will be held at 1 p.m. in Streator City Park to welcome the troops.

After that, Smith, 22, says it’ll be time for family.

"It’ll be all about him — my son," Smith told the Journal Star in a phone interview from Camp Atterbury, Ind., where the unit demobilized before today’s trip home.

His wife of three years, Patricia, said it’ll be good to have her husband home. The two met at a volleyball game while attending Manual High School. Terry Smith joined the Guard after the start of the war in Iraq.

"I was thinking about what I could do for my country," he said. "It’s been hard being away, thinking about your kid. You watch him grow up in pictures. That’s very hard."

The couple have stayed in touch through instant messaging on the computer and a Web cam.

"Terry did get to see our son walk for the first time and feed himself" because of the Web cam, Patricia Smith said. "We’re ready for family time. We’ve avoided going to the zoo so (Terry) could be there — so he could have some firsts, too."

Family also is important to Spc. Patrick Lowrance of Peoria.

Lowrance, 26, a Limestone High School graduate, didn’t know Smith before arriving in Iraq.

"Now we’re best friends — I wrote six pages about our experience and what he’s meant to me," Lowrance told the Journal Star in a phone interview. The men, who refer to each other as "battle buddies," hope to work in a full-time capacity training troops for the National Guard.

Being away from his kids — Brittany, 8, Morgyn, 6, and Troy, 2 — and extended family consisting of parents Scott Miller and Rita Rodriquez and seven brothers and sisters has been the most difficult aspect of Lowrance’s deployment.

"And missing the fresh air," he added.

"You really have to have someone over there with you to make the time easier — Terry was there for me," Lowrance said. "But even though you have someone with you, you always have a sense of aloneness."

His entire family is expected to be at today’s homecoming and then it’s off to a family cook-out, says sister Tabatha Miller of Peoria.

Lowrance has told his family he didn’t want to see any tears today, but Miller said she explained the tears they shed today will be out of relief and happiness.

"They’ll be because we don’t have to worry anymore," she said. "I told him there will be tears because we’re glad you’re home and we can hold you again."

Both families are planning to sport signs and banners welcoming their soldiers home.

Patricia Smith said her family and some friends will be carrying signs at the welcome-home event that say, "My Daddy = My Hero," and "My Knight in Shining Armor Wears Camouflage."

The unit, which is made up predominantly of members from