by Ellin Walsh
Cuyahoga Falls -- He's missed milestones in his children's life and Naval Reservist CM2 David Simms was determined not to miss another. So Simms, who was supposed to return from Kuwait on a 9:30 p.m. flight May 16, finagled an earlier flight -- a secret shared only with his wife, Diana Anderson-Simms.
When his 4-year-old daughter, Clara, took the stage for her graduation from Miss Gina's Preschool at 6:30 p.m., Simms was in the audience, just another proud father. Only his military fatigues revealed the fact he had been defending the U.S. on the other side of the world just days before,
Simms arrived back in town mid-afternoon, surprising relatives who were trying to figure out how to attend Clara's graduation and manage to pick up the returning reservist on time.
"We didn't tell anyone I was coming in early," Simms says, "It was fun to see the shocked expressions."
"Clara was yelling and screaming and jumping up and down," Anderson-Simms recalls, "It was an outpouring of pure joy, she was so happy to have her daddy home."
The Simms also have a son, Joey, who is 8, and attends DeWitt Elementary School.
Simms is assigned to the U.S. Naval Reserve unit stationed in Akron; his unit was activated and deployed to Kuwait on Sept. 11, 2006.
"The choice of date was a little unnerving," Anderson-Simms says, "but my husband considers it an honor to serve his country and he would go at any time."
Kuwait borders Iraq and Simms' job was to inspect and maintain vehicles to ensure they were operational for his comrades in the field. Simms is no stranger to military service: he served four years active duty with the U.S. Navy, a stint which ended in July 1998. Simms' older brother, Chris, is a chief in the U.S. Navy, stationed in Hawaii. His stepdad was in the Army and eventually retired from the Navy.
"So I come from a military background -- it's in my blood," Simms says, adding, "I joined during the Gulf War in 1991 and they said, 'What ship do you want and I said, 'I want the ship that is in the war.' When we get activated, we want to do something that makes a difference. I'm a reservist for that reason. If the active military needs me, that's what I'm here for. If they call me, I go."
Being in Kuwait, Simms says he was spared the gunshots and bombings colleagues experience on the frontlines of the war in Iraq.
"But being shot at isn't the only critical role in the war," Simms says, adding, "It literally takes a nation to support our military. Our job is to give those on the frontline what they need to complete their mission -- vehicles, ammunition, armor and food. If we don't do that, we fail them."
Diana Anderson-Simms credits her parents, Bernie and Kathy Anderson, David's mom, Mary Barron, and her friends Laura Troyer and Jessica Nicholson, with providing constant help and reassurance during her husband's deployment.
"Without these people I personally would never have made it through this deployment," Anderson-Simms says, adding, "... These five people called me every day asking how they could help me -- even on Christmas Day."
During his six months in Kuwait, Simms traded regular phone calls and e-mails with his family. He says students from DeWitt and Miss Gina's Preschool provided a steady stream of letters and packages to show their support.
"When you're away," Simms says, "you can't put a value on the handmade turkeys and snowmen. It's like when my wife would send new pictures of the kids -- that made my day, my week."
Simms re-enlisted for another six-year stint in the reserves while he was in Kuwait. With 14 years invested in the military, another six years will guarantee his retirement.
Simms plans to attend the city's Memorial Day parade on May 28 and a birthday party for his mom later in the day. Before he returns to work as a mechanic at Ohio Cat, Simms says he intends to vacation with his family.
"But not at the beach," he says, "somewhere without sand, please."