Soldier Home

By: Hermelinda Vargas
By: Hermelinda Vargas

Life is forever changed for families who've lost loved ones to the war in Iraq, but even soldiers who came home safely say their lives are different after experiencing war. In our special series on local returning soldiers, some of the change is sad, but some is for the better.

If you want to know how life has changed for Spc. Paul Rhinehart and his wife Melanie, just look at their one-year-old son Derrin. Born literally hours before the war in Iraq began, Derrin came into the world to his mother's arms and his dad's written words from Kuwait.

Paul met Derrin for the first time when he came home more than a year later.

"He's a good boy. He's outgoing which made it easier for him whenever I came," Spc. Paul Rhinehart says.

Paul is also reacquainted with his oldest son Duncan and now family life is generally back to normal, but Paul is not just as he was. He wears a killed in action bracelet to honor a friend he lost in combat, 21-year-old Robert Wise from Tallahassee.

"Life takes on a different meaning when you can lose it every day of your life for a year. The things that were important are no longer important and the things that are important to a lot of people now seem petty," says Paul.

A new outlook on life also means a new approach to making a living. An electrician's apprentice, he is now exploring other career options that can impact or save peoples' lives.

"I'm trying to go be an EMT or paramedic and then I'd actually like to go back in the Army or something, but I just, I want to do something where what I do matters, and I know that for a year everything I did mattered."

Spc. Rhinehart's ideal job may be a few months off, but he's doing what matters to his family right now simply by being home alive.

Spc. Paul Rhinehart is with the 3rd Battalion, 124th Infantry unit out of Panama City. He met his wife Melanie when she was in active duty for the Army.

The state will be welcoming back its National Guard troops and reservists with a series of five homecoming celebrations. Gov. Jeb Bush has selected Panama City to host the event for northwest Florida. It will be held at the downtown marina on June 5 with 10,000 people and some surprise guests.


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