Column: Out of the Army, starting a new life

• Originally published in the Kane County Chronicle on March 30

The night of March 24 was just the third night Richard Banik was able to sleep at his new Sugar Grove home with his new wife after getting married and buying a house way back in July 2008.

Richard is home from Iraq – for good. Richard, a 1998 Geneva High School graduate, ended his time with the U.S. Army on Saturday, March 21, after three tours in Iraq.

“It’s kind of surreal right now,” Richard said. “I’m so used to coming home, rushing through seeing everyone and then immediately it’s time to get back. I’m getting used to coming home and staying. But it’s home, and it’s awesome to be at home with my wife and our new house.”

His wife, Kate Banik, think it’s pretty awesome, too.

“I told him he’s going to have to keep reminding me he’s not going to go away again,” Katie said. “Before, before you blinked, he had to go back. And we would just kept telling each other, soon, soon.”

Soon, finally is here, and the two 29-year-olds are together – as Etta James so succinctly put it – at last.

Richard was in the U.S. Army more than six years. And technically, he still is. His final day in the military is May 15, but his terminal leave started last Saturday. Originally, he was supposed to be out Jan. 27 of this year, but his time got extended.

“Yeah, I wasn’t happy about that,” Katie said.

And, truth be told, neither was Richard.

“It’s hard on families and the soldier,” Richard said. “You make plans … and they say, ‘OK, you’re extended.’ And you start to think, ‘Am I actually going to get back whey they say I’ll get back?”

But despite the extension, he is proud of being a U.S. soldier and appreciative of what the Army did for him.

“The Army has done great things for me.,” Richard said. “The educational benefits are amazing, especially with the new G.I. bill.”

And he’ll be putting it to good use. He’s applying to Northern Illinois University and wants to get a history degree and teach high school, you know, a regular job with regular hours.

“I can come home every night and not worry about being moved all over the world,” Richards said.

“Or being under fire,” Katie added quickly.

It’s true that Richard, the son of Roy and Bobbi Boston of Geneva, is one of the lucky ones. Others never make it home to a new wife and new home.

According to the Associated Press, at least 4,260 U.S. soldiers have died in the Iraq since troops moved into the country.

But Richard didn’t, and as he and Katie held hands and exchanged sidelong glaces at each other, I just couldn’t help smiling on the inside. It reminded me of watching the end of a romantic comedy I didn’t want to go see but enjoyed despite myself.

The couple met through MySpace a few years ago and got married in July 2008 during one of his leaves. They bought a home then, too.

He went back and continued to serve in Iraq. She and his parents got their new house ready while she stayed with them. They painted it, put in new counter tops, and added drapes and everything else that makes a home. And now, when the two want to talk, they simply can walk over to each other.

Both attribute good communication skills to make the long-distance relationship work. They e-mailed back and forth, instant messaged every day and talked on the phone once or twice a week.

“We did anything we could,” Katie said. “And we’re so lucky it’s not the Vietnam era because they got a letter like once a month or something. We can get through pretty much anything after this. This was just a test. I knew we would pass, though. We kept our eyes on the prize.”

And with that, she gave him another sidelong glance.

“Not that I’d want to,” Katie said, “but I’d wait for him forever.”

Luckily, she didn’t have to.

Joe Grace is the editor of The Chronicle. Write to him at jgrace@kcchronicle.com or call him at 630-845-5368.

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