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Jonesboro native gains appreciation for the simple things during war

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Maj. Rhett Griner, and his family, knew where they were going when the soldier came home on Jan. 27, for two and a half weeks of leave from the war in Iraq.

They were going to Disney World.

Griner, who graduated from Jonesboro High School in 1988, has been patrolling the highways east of Baghdad for the last year. His duty is to stop weapons and other supplies from flowing from Iran to insurgents in Iraq. While the soldier was fighting an insurrection in Iraq, though, his family has continued to live their lives in Columbus.

While he's been in Iraq, all Griner can do during his 18-month deployment is think about his family, write e-mails, and make a few 15-minute long phone calls to his wife, Renee, every week.

"I started missing them the first day I was over there," Griner said. "You always miss your family [while serving on active duty]... What I'm looking forward to about being on leave is getting an opportunity to see [my three children's] day-to-day activities, which I haven't been a part of for so long... Just seeing the day-to-day activities they do, as well as their smiles, are the biggest things I miss while I'm in Iraq."

Griner, a member of the Third Infantry Division, has been serving in Iraq since February 2007. His 18 days of leave from Iraq will end on Feb. 15, when he returns to Baghdad. His tour of duty is expected to end in May. Griner previously served five months, from August 2005, to January 2006, in Iraq. Griner has been in the United States Army since 1992.

Shortly after Griner returned to Georgia last month, he took on the roll of Mr. Mom by handling the laundry and cooking for his family. He said it was his own idea, because, while he was in Iraq, his wife had to shoulder the responsibility of taking care of their three children (Brittany, 12; Rhett, Jr., 6; and Jackson, 4) in the family home of Fort Benning, Columbus.

"The wives are the ones who have it hard when we [fathers] deploy because they are the ones who have to raise the kids all by themselves," Griner said. "Now that I'm back, it's amazing to see the changes that took place. It makes me appreciate my wife even more than I did before. All of the good stuff they [the couple's children] do is because of her, and the way she's raised them...

"You go through these phases where you don't realize the value of what you have. Then you're away from those things for awhile, and when you come back, you appreciate everything."

One of Griner's first activities when he returned to Georgia, besides doing the house work, was to take Jackson to a Waffle House for the first time in the youngsters life. When the soldier left for his current tour of duty, young Jackson could hold basic conversations with other people. The toddler has since learned how to express himself over the last year.

Older son Rhett, Jr., has joined a youth basketball team, and Griner got to see a game for the first time on Jan. 30. Daughter Brittany rides her bike to school every day, and has started attending middle school.

Griner said that while he could have chosen to take his leave at any time, he decided to wait until after the soldiers who report to him had their chances to come home.

"There was never any doubt I would come home, so I wasn't in a rush to get back before my men," Griner said.

The soldier said he doesn't mind going back to Baghdad on Feb. 15, though. The benefit of taking leave late in his tour is that he is only going back to Iraq for a few months before his tour of duty ends.

"The sooner I go back [to Iraq], the sooner I get back to my family."