U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Patrick Carney had just returned home from picking up his 7-year-old-old son, Nicholas, from school Thursday when he sat on the couch beside his wife, Melissa.
It seemed like a typical afternoon.
But based on his sons' excitement and the smile on his wife's face, you could tell the day wasn't all that average.
On Thursday morning about 2 a.m., Carney returned home to Linwood after serving our country in the U.S. Army for the past eight years, including two deployments to Iraq in 2008 and 2011.
He had been honorably discharged for medical reasons resulting from injuries during combat. His injuries are cumulative and include a traumatic brain injury resulting in short-term memory loss, a dislocated shoulder that required surgery after he was "struck with a bomb and blown out of the machine gun turret" and multiple concussions. He also suffers from post traumatic stress disorder.
Operation First Response Inc., a nonprofit that supports wounded soldiers and their families with personal and financial needs, flew him home Thursday to Philadelphia International Airport.
His wife, Mel, who sat beside him, said getting their boys to bed on Wednesday night knowing Daddy was on his way home, for good, had been a real struggle, as was telling Nicholas that he had to go to school Thursday morning. But promising him Dad would pick him up had finally persuaded him. As his father did.
Carney said his homecoming is "bittersweet."
He said it's sweet because he is happy to be home with his family. He had missed the birth of both of his boys and most holidays over the past eight years. He made it home for Christmas twice, but that was all.
But he said his passion is in serving his country and if he had it his way, he would still be there.
"I love being a soldier. This is what I was meant to do," Carney said as he looked at Melissa, who has supported him through it all.
The two met while in college at Atlantic Cape Community College where Carney received his associates of science degree in 2005, the year he enlisted in the Army. Melissa was pregnant with Nicholas at the time.
Carney said the main reason he enlisted in the Army was to provide for his family and "other people's families."
" I felt like it was my duty," he said.
His mother, Jo, and father, Bill, said though they are "tremendously proud of their hero," they are thrilled to have him home.
"He was always in the line of fire, always being blown up, shot at, attending his friends' funerals," Jo said. "It's over for us. The moment-to-moment worry is over. He's home."
Carney's awards include an Army Commendation Medal, five Army Achievement Medals, two Army Good Conduct Medals, a National Defense Service Ribbon, an Iraqi Campaign Medal, an Army NCO Professional Envelop Medal and three Overseas Service Medals.
Today, he will be receiving a proclamation presented by Linwood Mayor Richard DePamphilis and the declaration of Sept. 21 as Patrick Carney Day by Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson during a barbecue fundraiser event his family is hosting for Operation First Response.
The public is welcome to attend the fundraiser event and thank Carney for his service.
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If you go
What: BBQ Fundraiser for Operation First Response and Homecoming Celebration for Staff Sgt. Patrick Carney.
Where: Somers Point American Legion Post 352, First Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
When: 2-6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21