Clayton News-Star

Clayton neighbors welcome soldier home

Charmaine Kelley looks at a sign a young neighbor made for her.
Charmaine Kelley looks at a sign a young neighbor made for her.

The blue and white lights of the police car surprised Charmaine Kelley, a senior master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force.

After her long journey home from the Arabian Peninsula, Kelley wasn’t thrilled to get pulled over with her family only a few miles from their Clayton home.

“I was like, ‘OK, I’m not going to get upset,’ ” Kelley said.

And she didn’t, as Kelley quickly realized the officer was not stopping her for a traffic violation but providing her an escort home.

Several patrol cars led the family to Glen Laurel subdivision, where, after rounding a few streets, more than 100 neighbors welcomed Kelley home with U.S. flags, signs and cheers.

“I just started crying and smiling,” Kelley said. “I couldn’t stop smiling.”

A Glen Laurel neighborhood Facebook page had advertised Kelley’s homecoming and encouraged residents to show their thanks. Dana Zamrik, who helped organize the event, worked with Kelley’s family to help coordinate the welcome home on Jan. 17.

“It’s a little thing we can do to say, ‘Thank you,’ ” Zamrik said.

Kelley recently finished her second tour of duty. She was away for nine months, seven of which she spent in Oman.

The Kelleys moved to Glen Laurel about three years ago, during Kelley’s first tour, which took her to Iraq.

While she was away, neighbors often offered to take her children to dance practice or other activities, said Kelley’s husband, Olen.

“They didn’t hesitate to help,” he said. “It was awesome.”

Darlene Thorne didn’t know Kelley before the homecoming welcome. But that didn’t keep her from showing her support, she said.

“We know the United States, and we know she’s serving, and that’s all that matters,” Thorne said. “We’re pretty family friendly and family oriented around here.”

After passing by the group of neighbors and honking the horn of their car, the Kelleys pulled into their driveway, where a welcome sign, flags and balloons were waiting by the front door. More neighbors came to greet the airman, who hugged children and thanked people for coming out.

“We are coming out to support a mom who has been away from her kids all year,” Glen Laurel neighbor Jeff Gordon said. “She’s in our neighborhood, and it’s the least we can do for the men and women of the armed services.”