Tears brimmed in John and Wendy Siemion’s eyes as they spotted their son, 1st Lt. Travis Siemion.
The Grand Haven Township couple broke from their embrace as they rushed to greet Travis when he walked through the hallway at Gerald R. Ford International Airport. After a nearly 10-month deployment in Kabul, Afghanistan, the family was reunited Friday evening at the Grand Rapids airport.
John, who proudly wore a U.S. Army baseball cap, grabbed his 30-year-old son and pulled him close.
“Welcome home,” the father said through tears.
Other passengers walked past the family as they stood in their own world wrapped up in a hug filled with love and joy.
From the time he left Camp Integrity, a United States military base in Afghanistan, to the time he landed in Grand Rapids, Travis spent about 100 hours in airports.
When the Siemion family returned home from the airport, Travis and his 65-pound, 13-month-old boxer named Zeus reunited in a way Travis didn’t expect. The dog looked at Travis slightly confused, sniffed him and ran into the other room.
“He punched me right in the gut,” Travis said with a laugh.
Within a few minutes, Zeus warmed up to his owner, who is stationed out of Fort George G. Meade in Maryland. Now, the dog is glued to Travis’ side and barks when he leaves the house.
While Travis is deployed, Wendy and John are caring for the lovable pup, which they said has helped them as they miss their son.
“It’s like having a piece of Travis with us,” Wendy said.
Social media helps the family keep in touch and allows Travis to watch Zeus grow in pictures and videos. Travis said seeing the pictures and receiving care packages help with missing his family and friends.
“It brings you back home for a little while,” he said.
Travis joined the Army just three weeks after graduating from Grand Haven High School in 2001, and he graduated from boot camp two days before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
When Travis was deployed to Iraq in 2003, the family didn’t have much communication with him. Wendy said not knowing for the first time was terrifying.
“It’s just terror — it really is,” she said. “It was very anxious at times.”
About 10 years ago, the family welcomed Travis home from his Iraq deployment where he lived in a tent, slept on a hard green cot, used baby wipes to attempt cleaning of the sand caked on him, and showered by using a bucket of water.
Now, Travis lives in dorm-style barracks on base at Camp Integrity, where he is part of the U.S. Special Operations Command.
“Everything happening countrywide, we’re responsible for,” he said about intelligence operations in Afghanistan.
Although Travis doesn’t share many details about his work with his parents, John said that’s OK with them.
“If we don’t know, we don’t have to worry,” he said.
To read more of this story, see Thursday's print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.