HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Miriah Lasher’s gasp and uncontrollable tears said it all about how she felt when her dad surprised her after his return from Afghanistan.

James Lasher, 40, of Brownstown, returned to Indiana almost two weeks ago after being gone for about nine months. He was one of about 160 Indiana National Guard soldiers who spent more than three months outside Indiana and about five months in Afghanistan.

The 1413th Engineer Company, 113th Engineer Battalion, 81st Troop Command, was welcomed home Dec. 9 by friends and family at the Johnson County Armory in Franklin.

However, before James Lasher returned to Brownstown that evening, he made sure to surprise his youngest daughter, who had no idea when he would be home.

For one thing, the unit’s original return date was March, which would have had him missing the holidays.

So when James Lasher walked up behind her at a restaurant in Columbus — wearing his full uniform — she couldn’t hold back how she felt.

A cellphone video taken by his wife, Martha Lasher, captured the moment.

“I was just like, ‘Dad!’” 16-year-old Miriah said, describing how she threw her arms around his neck. The waitress standing nearby covered her mouth in disbelief.

Martha Lasher said seeing Miriah get so excited to see her dad was the second-best present she has ever received for Christmas.

The first?

Just having her husband of 16 years return home in time for the holidays.

“We didn’t even have a Christmas tree up until he was home,” Martha Lasher said. “I was just not in the Christmas spirit because it just wasn’t the same. I couldn’t get into it.”

Now, their Christmas tree stands tall, decorated with lights.

Life without him

James Lasher, a father of four daughters — three of whom are grown — joined the Indiana National Guard in 2003. He eventually became a full-time readiness noncommissioned officer in 2006 working at the North Vernon Armory.

March was his first deployment.

His troop’s job in Afghanistan was to deconstruct equipment and materials, as part of the drawdown of Operation Enduring Freedom. On a daily basis, he worked in an office in Kandahar, tracking projects, soldiers and missions. He said he spent a lot of his time in an office on a computer, so he had many chances to stay in touch with his loved ones back home.

“I had email, so it was easy for me,” James Lasher said. “Not for everybody was it that easy.”

Since their time was cut short in Afghanistan, he said time felt like it flew by.

For the most part, he said, he felt safe in the south-central Asian country, considering he was not in combat. They also traveled by flight and not on the ground.

He said his guard, however, was always up.

“I think there’s always moments of being nervous,” he said.

But James Lasher isn’t the only one in the family in the Indiana National Guard. His wife joined in 2009.

“They were trying to recruit him to be an officer, and they got me instead,” Martha Lasher joked. She’s a chaplain with the 113th Engineer Battalion.

With her military experience, she said, she understood better about what was going on when he left. She also was in regular contact with family members and spouses as part of her job.

“I think that’s what kept me a little bit more sane,” she said of when her husband left. “Spouses would call me with their concerns, so I would have to reassure them.”

‘It’s OK. It’s normal’

She said she tried to listen to her own advice.

“I would say, ‘It’s OK,’ and ‘It’s normal’ and ‘Not to worry,’” she said.

Yet, no matter how experienced or prepared she was for his travels, there was always a hint of worry.

“Until you hear from them again, there’s always that thing in the back of your head,” she said. “It will always be there when your spouse is deployed in that situation.”

In addition to the emotional toll, daily chores and activities had to be rearranged during his absence.

The couple said they always strove to have at least one parent at their kids’ events. So with James Lasher gone, it made it more difficult for Martha Lasher to attend everything on her own.

“I think I only missed one or two events. It was a little bit harder,” she said.

Miriah Lasher, a student at Brownstown Central High School, said her household responsibilities increased.

“The things that he did, me and Mom had to split,” she said, referring to laundry, cleaning and grocery shopping.

Luckily, Martha Lasher said they had friends and neighbors who pitched in and even some family on the East Coast who visited.

“I told them I would be gone and to at least stop by and say ‘Hi’ or if something breaks if you could help out or something,” James Lasher said.

The couple joked that household appliances tend to break when he leaves for long periods. This time, Martha Lasher said, she had to fix the deck, stove and microwave and replace flooring after a water leak.

But before anything else could go wrong, James Lasher returned home, landing in Fort Bliss, Texas, on Thanksgiving and traveling to Indiana less than a month later.

Martha Lasher recalled how she drove to Franklin’s armory and gathered with other spouses before the troops walked in. With the large crowd of families, she said, they initially missed each other but finally connected.

“I was chasing him around and I finally yelled, ‘James!’ and we got together,” she said. “I cried, and I didn’t want to let him go.”

“Big hug,” James Lasher said.

Adjusting to home

Since he has been home, he said, it has taken some time to make the adjustment back to normal life. At first, he slept a lot because of the many time zone changes he encountered along the way.

“There was a course of a few days where we went through 11-and-a-half time zones,” he said.

He also had to get used to new routines his wife and daughter created while he was gone. He said he’ll also have to get acquainted with having more people around because his 3-year-old grandson, Cameron, moved in while he was overseas.

Martha Lasher said she knew this part might be hard. She said returning soldiers often have to try to find out where they fit in again. That’s one piece of advice as a chaplain she stresses to other spouses and family members.

“You’ve made this routine for nine months, expecting them to just jump right in, but you can’t expect it,” she said. “They are having a hard time trying to figure where they can jump in.”

“We’re getting there,” James Lasher chimed in, looking at his wife. He said he’ll return to work next month.

Until then, Martha Lasher said their family plans to spend as much time together as possible.

“Everybody wants to see him,” Martha Lasher said. “We’d like to keep him all to ourselves, but there’s going to be a lot of traveling.”

She added that she realizes how lucky they are to have him home. Just this month, she helped to send off a company overseas.

“They won’t see their families for Christmas,” she said. “I always encourage everybody to remember our servicemen and -women for the holidays. Miriah has a dad home, but there’s kids that don’t.”

Pull Quote

“I always encourage everybody to remember our servicemen and -women for the holidays. Miriah has a dad home, but there’s kids that don’t.”

Military chaplain Martha Lasher

Pull Quote

“I was chasing him around and I finally yelled, ‘James!’ and we got together. I cried, and I didn’t want to let him go.”

Martha Lasher, on seeing her husband following his deployment to Afghanistan