By Curt Yeomans
This year marks the first time in two years that U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Zachary Davis, and his sister, U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Tonette Harmon, saw each other at Christmastime.
It may also be another two years before the family reunion happens again. Davis, 25, who will be deployed to Iraq in February, and Harmon, 26, a member of the Navy's nuclear program, came home to Jonesboro for a two-week Christmas break this year. However, they spent Monday morning at the First United Methodist Church of Jonesboro, helping direct people to a Christmas-present distribution point for the Salvation Army's Angel Tree Program.
"We didn't get to do a lot when we were young, so it feels pretty good to give back," said Davis.
Harmon added, "We grew up like these people did, you know, lower-middle class."
The siblings were two among a group of 23 volunteers, ranging from church members to employees of the Chick-fil-A in Lovejoy.
With Davis, who is based at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina, being deployed to Iraq in two months, it puts a crimp in the possibility of he and his sister coming back to help the Salvation Army distribute presents next year.
The Marine said he will be overseas for nine months to help break down a base in Iraq, which would mean he would be returning just before Christmas, if he does come home on time. He also did not rule out the possibility of serving a second tour of duty in the Middle-Eastern country.
"If I decide to stay over there ... I will not be here for Christmas next year," said Davis. "It would be another eight to nine months before I came home."
Davis said he will leave Jonesboro on Jan. 1, to undergo training at Parris Island near Charleston, S.C., to learn "how to properly drive over IEDs [improvised explosive devices]." He explained that it involves a heavily armed vehicle with a claw on it, which can be used to either blow up an IED, or "scoop it up and put it in the back of a truck." It's an assignment he is looking forward to doing.
"I want to run over as many [IEDs] as I can," said Davis. "Well, hopefully a lot, because I like to blow stuff up."
Laura Davis, Zachary and Tonette's mother, said the prospect of her youngest child working with IEDs worries her somewhat. "That's what you hear about on the news -- the people who die as they drive over the IEDs," Laura Davis said.
Harmon, who is based at the Nuclear Power Training Command in Charleston, S.C., is not going to be in harms way in the coming year. However, she said the chances of her coming back to Jonesboro to celebrate next year's Yuletide season will depend on her training-school schedule.
She has already spent roughly eight months in training school, and she estimates it will be another year before she completes her nuclear training.
The siblings joined their respective branches of the military within months of each other, with Zachary going to boot camp last December. They each said joining the military was a decision they initially regretted when boot camp began. Harmon was sent to the Naval boot camp in Great Lakes, Ill., and Davis was sent to boot camp on Parris Island.
But, as time went by in boot camp, they came to love military service. "It's the personality they bring you into," said Davis. "During boot camp, they tear down who you are, and then, they rebuild you."
Harmon added, "They train you to be a team."
Davis said the people in a unit help ease the transition to being away from home. "You miss home from time to time, but there's so much camaraderie with the guys in your platoon," he said. "It helps because they are the guys who will have your back in Iraq."
Because of the uncertainty of whether her children will be home for Christmas next year, Laura Davis said she enjoys having them home for the holidays this year. "It's more special, because you get to make sure everybody can get together," she said. "We're going to go to Chili's [Tuesday] and have a meal together. Then, we're going to get family portraits done."
Salvation Army Capt. Candi Marquez said Harmon, and Zachary Davis, are the first brother-and-sister military pair she has knowingly worked with, in the four years she has been working in the Jonesboro area. She said it is an honor that they chose to volunteer for the Salvation Army during their two weeks of leave.
"We're absolutely grateful to them for volunteering to help us out," said Marquez. "They give so much to serve their country, and then, they come here and continue to serve their communities."