CRYSTAL LAKE – Army First Lt. Dan Marchik caught his final objective in his deployment to Iraq completely by surprise.
His 8-year-old son, Jakob, walked in to his third-grade classroom at Indian Prairie Elementary School to find Dad, in combat uniform, sitting in teacher Katie Staroske’s story time rocking chair. Jakob looked up and leaped a step back. Dad wasn’t supposed to be home until at least month’s end.
“What’s going on?” Dad asked.
Jakob’s mother, Julie, filmed the reunion in the corner – she had just driven her husband of 14 years back from Minnesota for the surprise. They had just finished hitting their first objective, surprising eldest son Jon, 11, in the cafeteria of Lundahl Middle School.
“Hi,” Jakob said after a second, waving his left hand. Dad would surely have some stories to tell.
“It’s good to see you, my friend,” Dad said as they hugged.
Marchik, 41, wrapped up a nine-month deployment to Iraq as a public affairs officer attached to the 34th Infantry Division. The Crystal Lake resident blogged about his deployment for the Northwest Herald, when time allowed, as “The Real Lt. Dan.”
Veterans and civilians alike could relate to Marchik’s dispatches from the unit’s Basra headquarters – missing family, the “dry” heat of Iraq that broke the thermometer outside of his barracks, the importance of the mission at hand, and exercising what military historian Stephen Ambrose liked to call a soldier’s “inalienable right to grouse” about the military’s ways.
“I’ve enjoyed trying to stay connected to my hometown, and this was a great way for me to do it,” Marchik said.
His most recent post dealt with his frustrations demobilizing with a unit from another state, hence why his wife on Sunday night drove to Minnesota to pick him up. His fellow soldiers were just as eager to get home Sunday to catch the NFC Championship game between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints – Marchik joked that he was glad he wasn’t around by game’s end.
The 34th Division – called the “Red Bulls” because of their unit patch – commanded about 14,000 troops in the southern third of Iraq, helping prepare the nation to take care of itself once U.S. troops withdraw. Marchik’s job took him on trips from Basra to Baghdad and Kuwait, he said.
Marchik credited his wife for running the house while he was away. Julie Marchik said she fared as well as could be expected with two young boys.
“It was a little crazy trying to keep the kids on as normal a routine as possible,” she said.
Julie Marchik worried about her husband, despite his role. She remembers a brief e-mail that her husband sent to her and her parents, just telling them that he was all right. They did not read between the lines until they learned that a mortar attack on his compound killed three soldiers – the military clamps down on communications in such instances until next of kin are notified.
Julie Marchik said that she and her husband would talk about his future in the Army.
“It’s a huge relief that he’s home, safe and in one piece,” she said.
Jakob opted to go home early with his parents. Dad gave him the option of choosing where they would eat dinner – he chose Nick’s Pizza and Pub as they exited the classroom. The Marchiks had Christmas presents to open at home, under a tree and decorations they kept up until the entire family could be together to enjoy it.
Outside, it began to snow – the Marchiks’ Christmas was late, but it would be white.