By Jeanne Sager
COCHECTON May 7, 2004 Wayne Reynolds is just glad to be home.
The Cochecton resident slept in his own bed Wednesday night for the first time since he was on emergency leave in December.
For the past year, Reynolds has been in Iraq, serving his country as a military policeman in the Army National Guard.
It was like nothing hed ever expected.
Reynolds, who grew up in Cochecton and went to school at Delaware Valley and Narrowsburg central schools, served his time in the military back in the 1960s.
After a year at Sullivan County Community College, he was facing the draft.
So he joined the Army and went to Okinawa, Japan in the middle of the Vietnam War.
He came back 18 months later, spent 8 months stateside and was shipped to Germany.
When he got out of the Army in 1970, Reynolds came home to join the family excavating business and forget about war.
It wasnt until 1983 that he was convinced to get involved with veterans organizations. He joined the American Legion in Monticello, served as commander several times, even took a position as county commander twice.
In 1989, a recruiter dropped by the Legion Post and convinced Reynolds to sign on to the National Guard.
Did he expect to go back to war?
No, Reynolds said. But I knew it could happen.
The way the world is today, and after 9/11, you have to do certain things.
Hes been deployed over the years to help in times of tragedy, responding to floods and storms.
But it wasnt until September 2001 that he was once again a military man on wartime duty.
The 716th Military Police Battalion was called to secure the perimeter around Ground Zero in New York City.
It was a different scene, Reynolds said.
You could see what someone could really do to us, the United States, he said. The smell of death was in the air . . . it was strange.
A month and a half later, he and his brothers at arms were called again, this time to provide security at Grand Central Station and Penn Station.
He spent Christmas and New Years on duty in New York City while wife Noreen was home in Cochecton.
And they knew there was more to come.
Troops were mobilized in February of last year, getting ready for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
And, once again, Reynolds was called, this time from his job as a corrections officer at Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg.
He reported for active duty in February at Fort Dix.
On April 20, he boarded a plan for Iraq.
He worked in an Iraqi prison, essentially doing his job as a corrections officer, only guarding Iraqi criminals instead of American men.
He helped to train the Iraqi policemen, even spent some time guarding and transporting prisoners of war.
He lost 40 pounds, suffered through 156-degree days and wrote letters that took more than a month to get back to Cochecton.
I really didnt know what to expect, Reynolds recalled. You train for certain things, but you dont know what to expect.
He says he was only shot at twice Noreen shivers as he says it only . . . twice.
Reynolds said he was lucky. A flight attendant taught him the 91st Psalm, a prayer that talks about angels watching over us.
He had an angel watching over him, hes sure of it.
He was in Najaf, Mosul, Karbala the places Noreen was hearing about on the news here in the U.S.
His unit lost their battalion commander in Karbala he was shot, and some other men were wounded.
Only one person got the Purple Heart in our whole company, he said. We were very lucky angels looked after us.
Angels have always watched over his family his grandmother sent five boys to World War II, including Waynes father, Frank. They all came home.
That luck stayed with Wayne. Early last month, Reynolds was shipped to Kuwait, and he sat, hearing that things were getting bad again in towns where hed been just months or weeks earlier.
A lot of units were going back north, but we got lucky, he said.
Reynolds flew back to the U.S. two weeks ago. He spent nine days at Fort Dix, then he got to come home.
It was a sweet reunion with Noreen.
The couple has been married for 10 years, and Noreen was proud of her soldier boy.
He went to church with her at Holy Cross in Callicoon Sunday, dressed in his uniform.
The entire congregation clapped, and Noreen gripped his hand.
His absence wasnt easy, she said.
A lot of faith in God . . . taking it one day at a time, she said.
Her mother died while Wayne was away he had to take emergency leave to come home in December to be at her side.
But now hes home and itching to get some work done around the house, mow their lawn and see his friends.
It was a hard situation, he said of his time in Iraq. We all have jobs and families its not like going over there at 18 or 19.
You have no commitments at 18 or 19, he continued.
So what does it feel like to be home?
Its different, he said with a shrug. Youre not used to being in your own house, in your own bed.
All at once you want to go out and do things and buy things, get back to your life.
As for the war, its still in his mind.
We have to be there, Reynolds said. We cant leave the area.
Its a vital part of the world, he continued. The medias not showing the positive aspects.
There is a lot of good being done there.
But as a military man who fought in a war that his peers were very much against more than 30 years ago, Reynolds said its not up to him.
I dont set policy and procedure, he said. I just follow orders.
If those orders send him back to Iraq, so be it.
But for now, Reynolds is home. Hes enjoying the time seeing his wife and his mom, Elvira, who still lives in Cochecton, and playing with their dog, Louie, who jumped on his dad as he came through the door last Wednesday night.