EFFINGHAM — Halloween was a special day this year for some families in the Effingham area.
All the members of Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry of the Illinois Army National Guard based in Effingham arrived back in Illinois Saturday afternoon returning from overseas deployment in Bahrain.
Bravo Company deployed in January to provide security forces at Naval installations to protect critical infrastructure and securing capabilities, according to a media advisory from the Department of Military Affairs, Illinois Army and Air National Guard in Springfield.
Two flights Saturday filled with soldiers and gear arrived at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, where they were welcomed home by Illinois National Guard Adjutant General Major Gen. Richard Neely; Senior Enlisted Leader Command Sgt. Major Dena Ballowe; Commander, 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Col. Michael Eastridge; and 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Command Sgt. Major Michael Kelly.
A majority of Bravo Company soldiers were picked up by family in Mascoutah while a group of 15 traveled by bus to meet family in Effingham.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, families had the option of picking up their loved ones at the airport or waiting in Effingham for a bus coming from the airport, according to SFC Sims, who was waiting for the troops to arrive at the Bravo Company Illinois Army National Guard armory in Effingham.
Tammy Wendt of Heartville wasn’t sure if her son was coming home. She parked facing West Fayette Avenue at the Effingham Event Center with her husband and other family members all hoping Sgt. E-5 Dyllan Rincker was on the bus arriving in Effingham.
“I don’t know if he’s surprising us or he’s not coming today. We’re not sure, we’re getting kind of nervous,” said Rincker’s stepfather Keith Wendt.
“He was suppose to text me a picture at 3 p.m. and I didn’t get it,” Tammy Wendt said. “I just messaged him, 'Where’s my text?'”
At 5 p.m., spirits were getting low and emotions were high. Tammy Wendt was beginning to think her son might not be coming back Saturday. She stood with a sign welcoming home Bravo Company and her son.
“He has been gone 284 days since his deployment ceremony,” Wendt said. “He won’t tell us much. Maybe he can’t for security reasons.”
“He’s kind of secretive anyway. He’s really not telling us much,” Keith Wendt said. “And his mom worries a lot.”
“I just don’t know what to think,” Tammy Wendt added. “I just wish he’d come walking up behind me right now.”
Meanwhile at Bravo Company Armory on West Temple Avenue, several family members were waiting for Staff Sgt. Jesse Koester to arrive. His wife, son, sister, cousins and mother and father were parked in the lot next to the armory in anticipation.
Jesse’s son, 3-year-old Jack Koester of Dieterich, clung to his mother, Angela Koester, waiting to get a glimpse of his father he hadn’t seen for months who was on a bus that was running a little late. Jack was getting anxious.
“He keeps asking, 'Where’s my Daddy?'” Angela Koester said.
“He’s getting closer,” Koester said as she got a text message from her husband traveling on the bus. “He’s just about here.”
“We’re all really excited,” Koester said. “They were suppose to be here at 5:30, but they got picked up a little later than expected.”
At approximately 5:45 p.m., families waiting at the armory could hear sirens in the distance as Effingham County Sheriff’s deputies and Effingham City Police squad cars, along with the Effingham Fire Department, escorted the bus from the interstate to the armory.
As the bus pulled into the armory parking lot, Bravo Company families started clapping to welcome them home.
Koester got off the bus and found his wife and son and gave them both a big hug. He was glad to be home.
“This is great. You have no idea. It feels great!” Jesse Koester said.
Emma Qualls of Shelbyville brought her two daughters, Landrie Kay and Gayble Grace, to the armory to welcome home their father, SSG Michael Qualls.
Landrie Kay broke from her mother and ran toward her father after he got off the bus. He knelt down on one knee when he saw Landrie Kay running toward him to give him a big hug.
“I’m elated. This doesn’t feel real,” Michael Qualls said. “I’m just beyond happy to be with my girls.”
Back at the Effingham Event Center, Tammy Wendt didn’t see her son when the bus passed by on West Fayette Avenue.
“I was disappointed when I didn’t see him,” Tammy Wendt. “It was like getting coal for Christmas.”
Little did she know his wife, Katie, picked him up at the airport in Mascoutah and he was already in Effingham. All of the family members left and Wendt and her husband finally decided it was time to get in their Jeep and return home. As they were getting ready to back out from their parking place, her son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter Carter arrived to surprise them.
“I thought about waiting until tomorrow,” Dyllan Rincker said.
“It feels nice to be back. It’s just going to take time to adjust,” Rincker said.
Family members were called back to the parking lot after Rincker made his surprise arrival.
Along with his stepfather and mother, Dyllan’s Aunt Dana Chasteen, Cody Chasteen, Mackenzie Chasteen, Larry Wendt and Karen Wendt were among family members awaiting Dyllan’s arrival.
“I’m very happy he’s home,” Dana Chasteen said.
“I’m glad to see him home,” Karen Wendt said.
Another person had yet to see Dyllan. Katie Rincker has another daughter, Abby.
“She doesn’t know he’s home yet,” Katie Rincker said.