National Guard soldier returns home to Stow after 14-month deployment
Army National Guard SFC Patrick McKelvey surprises daughters in return home to Stow after 14-month deployment
STOW – Even though he wore a mask and sunglasses, his eldest daughter recognized the man behind the mayor getting out of the fire truck and dashed into his arms. After more than a year, Daddy was home.
Ohio Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Patrick McKelvey, a member of the "Steel Panthers 145," has been stationed in the Middle East for 14 months but returned home Friday to his wife, Matilda, and three daughters, Kyrie, 10, Cora, 6, and Elsie, 3.
The children were told there would be a parade but didn’t know their father would be on the firetruck passing in front of the house.
“My kids think this is a parade counting down to a trip to Disney,” Matilda McKelvey said. “They think he’s coming home in three weeks.”
Patrick McKelvey gathered his daughters in his arms and lifted them into the air in a huge hug.
The mayor, safety forces, neighbors, friends and family gathered Friday night to welcome McKelvey home and thank him for his service to the United States of America.
Patrick McKelvey raised his arms into the air and said, "I'm glad to see green instead of sand."
Patrick McKelvey left Aug. 28, 2019, and has been in Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in operations of readiness where they fire the gunnery and maintain the equipment.
This was McKelvey’s third deployment in a 10-year span, Matilda McKelvey said. He was deployed in 2003 in Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2009 with Multinational Force and Observers and 2019 in Operation Spartan Shield. The first tour was combat and the UAE joint training built international partnerships.
“Every mobilization has been different,” Patrick McKelvey said. “This one was a variety of different things to maintain defense readiness. It was more active duty every day.”
Patrick McKelvey arrived back in the United States three weeks ago but had to go through quarantine and finish a demobilization process before joining his family.
“I want to see my girls,” he said of his wife and daughters. “I haven’t seen them in almost 14 months.”
COVID-19 has been an additional challenge for the family.
“Because of everything the girls have been through emotionally this year, I wanted to do something to surprise them,” Matilda McKelvey said. “There’s usually a welcome home ceremony for soldiers but because of COVID, that has been canceled.”
The parade started out as a couple of friends driving by and hiding Patrick McKelvey in a vehicle, but Matilda reached out to Mayor John Pribonic and they added safety vehicles to the parade.
"I was there when he was sent out of Canton [to deployment] and now it's come full circle," Pribonic said. "It's great to see him come home and be reunited with his family."
Both Patrick and Matilda work in retail, which has struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic. Matilda has been working full time during Patrick’s deployment as a manager at Carter’s in Stow. She arranged for time off and planned a trip to Disney World before Patrick goes back to work at Home Depot in Cuyahoga Falls.
In February 2019, they found out about the deployment.
“I cried for days,” Matilda McKelvey said. “The thought of doing this while I have three kids and work full time was hard. Now that I’m at the end, I can’t believe I made it through it.”\
“There is a sense of I’ve got your six (back) and that’s been my motto through this whole thing,” Matilda McKelvey said. “We’ve got your back. Do what you have to do over there.”
Patrick McKelvey, who moved to Stow in 1993 with his parents, said he joined the National Guard Aug. 5, 1999, and has crossed the retirement threshold but is serving for his girls. The Post-9/11 GI Bill will pay 100% tuition for him or his children and by dividing it three ways, each daughter will receive two full years at a state institution.
While on deployment in the Middle East, the advancement in technology allowed Patrick McKelvey to use his cellphone to keep up on what is happening in the United States with COVID-19.
“We watched what happened,” he said. “You’re not going home to what you left. That’s always true. Something is different when you return from tour. People change. People grow.”
Because he and his wife work in retail, he listened to the changes that impacted the stores.
“I know and understand it but not experiencing it … in the United States is the change we have to brace for,” Patrick said.
When the soldiers were released from quarantine, they went out to eat and the hostess asked if they knew how the menu worked.
“We tell you our order and someone gets our food,” he said. “I had no idea what she was talking about. She had to explain QR codes on the table. We have to appreciate the fact America has changed and we have to come back and learn what all those changes are.”
Other changes have been attitudes toward soldiers.
“If you look at history, there is always something negative said about soldiers and it changes from generation to generation,” Patrick said. “When I came back from Iraq, everyone was filled with pride and wanted to thank you.”
At work, every Memorial Day, July 4 and Veterans Day, Patrick McKelvey thanks the employees who have served. One of the veterans from Vietnam told him about being spit on and yelled at when he came home.
“He appreciated it when I thanked him for his service,” Patrick McKelvey said.
As the wife of someone in the military, Matilda McKelvey said there is a sense of pride.
“I’m proud of him and everything he’s done,” she said. “It’s difficult and my heart goes out to anyone who has to go through that, let alone throw 2020 into it. It’s amazing watching my kids grow up through it and the resiliency they have and roll with the punches and take it so well. I’m glad it’s over. It’s a challenging experience that you can’t help but grow through it.”
Patrick McKelvey praised his wife for navigating a challenging 14 months.
“My wife has done an amazing job and made it through every hiccup and obstacle,” he said.
Gannett reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org