GENOA – Before Cody Noren was deployed to Afghanistan, his family had a going away party to celebrate all the holidays and anniversaries he was going to miss.
After a nearly six-month deployment with the Navy, Chief Petty Officer Cody Noren returned to Genoa on Thursday to a much different celebration. The 29-year-old New York native served as an investigator for the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 435 at Camp Sabalu-Harrison outside of the Bagram military base in Afghanistan.
“When you deploy, the world you left stops,” Cody Noren said. “There's so much going on over there. To have to get used to things, I realize I'm here, but it's still surreal.”
As he was deployed earlier this year, the United States was starting to wind down its military presence in Afghanistan. Asked in April if he wanted to go home early as opposed to November as he was scheduled, he gave the Navy a definitive "yes."
Before the honking horns, blaring sirens and exultant cheers in Genoa, Megan Noren waited at O'Hare International Airport for her husband of two years. She cried as he ran toward her, embracing him for the first time in almost half a year.
“You kind of build it up in your head,” said Megan Noren, 29. “Nothing compared to how it actually felt.”
Megan Noren didn't tell Cody Noren as they drove home from the airport that a quasi-parade would escort them on the final leg of their journey. She also didn't mention the dozens of friends, family and neighbors waiting at home.
Cody Noren has left and come home four times since enlisted in the Navy. He became a volunteer firefighter the day after 9/11, a short time later he enlisted. Since then, he served on the U.S.S. Cleveland as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003; in Iraq from 2005 to 2006; and in Kuwait from 2008 to 2009. He plans to stay in the Navy for at least another decade.
This deployment was different, he said, because he had a wife and a home. This deployment also proved to be different for Megan Noren. Outside of the support she experienced from neighbors, including a new grill, she also felt more attached to her deployed significant other.
“Before he was my boyfriend,” Megan Noren said. “He's a piece of me now.”
Megan Noren's mom, Debbie Furstenau, doesn't claim to be one for shedding tears. But seeing her son-in-law Thursday, she found herself crying.
“I'm just happy they're whole again,” Furstenau said.
The couple plans to get back into their regular routine. They are also looking forward to celebrating their anniversary together, at home, in September.