SARANAC LAKE, N.Y.--There are no longer generators running, or armored vehicles rumbling, or mortars exploding, and the roar of the silence is deafening to me. What I hear at night now is the gentle breaths released from the perfect lips of my sons. The same lips that I cannot kiss enough. The lips that make my eyes fill with tears every time they touch my cheeks.
My release from Fort Drum came earlier than expected, so when I pulled into my driveway at noon the house was empty. I dropped my bags inside and walked alone through the rooms, soaking in the images and smells that had been only a memory during ten months in Iraq.
My older son's first-grade teacher had been wonderful to me while I was away. She sent school updates and pictures via e-mail almost weekly. So when I popped my head into her classroom she came running and gave me a "welcome home" hug.
"Easton is practicing a song. Why don't you surprise him?"
My heart was racing. I followed the sound of the piano and the little voices singing, then stood and watched. Trickles of love and pride started involuntarily down my cheeks as I listened to my son. He has gotten so big. The anticipation built as I waited for him to see me.
The little girl next to him was the first to notice the uniformed man standing in the doorway. The image she saw and the facts she had been told were doing battle in her brain. Then her eyes grew wide and her mouth fell open.
"Easton! Easton . . . your Daddy's here!" she said in an electrified whisper.
My son's head snapped around. The excitement and disbelief on his face is something I will never forget. I motioned him to me and he ran into my open arms. There was no hiding my tears, and I didn't care to. This was the day I had waited for.
I choked out my words of love and hung on to this boy who had cried so many nights, who said he didn't care if he got any other presents for Christmas, he only wanted his Daddy to come home. This boy who had used all his wishes on me. He kept pulling his head back from my shoulder to look at my face. Cheers rose from the other kids and teachers.
Hand-in-hand, Easton and I stepped outside and drove to the other side of town. I had another little boy to catch up with. When I went inside he was napping. "Marshal, wake up. I have a surprise for you," I heard his day-care provider say.
She came out with his head on her shoulder. When he looked up his eyes grew wide and all signs of sleepiness disappeared. "Daddy!" he exclaimed in pure excitement as he fell forward into my arms. My heart ached with love, and pure joy soaked my cheeks.
I was complete again. I had my boys. And there have never been more perfect words spoken to me than "I love you, Dad."
It may take my wife and children a long time to realize that while I look the same, I am not the same person who said goodbye to them many months ago. I will never be the same again--thankfully so.
Each day now I am acutely aware of what makes me happy, and what it is I do that makes other people happy. Walking point through the volatile streets in Iraq helped me see this much more clearly, and I will make every effort to preserve that awareness for the rest of my days.
When I look through my photo album I think about the men I served with, and learned to count on, who are no longer by my side. The men who had their bodies pierced by the hatred of terrorists, men who left their last breaths in a place far away. Great men doing a job that allows this noble country the freedoms it deserves.
I have seen the dark side of humanity and it has forever changed me. As I sit here in my house, with the sun streaming through the windows, I look out and see the boughs of the evergreens blowing in the breeze.
There are no armed guards on the roof. No sandbags. I don't call in grid coordinates of my whereabouts any more.
Mission briefs have been replaced by wonderful communication between two parents. As I drive through town, I am alone; with no turret and no gunner above me. I don't have to scrutinize every pile of dirt, every plastic bag to check whether it may explode.
Amazingly, I am safe.
NOTE: Mr. Moore is a staff sergeant in the New York National Guard's Second Battalion, 108th Infantry. This article appears in the April/May issue of The American Enterprise.