SACRAMENTO – Army Specialist Jeff Denney is back from war.
The Manteca resident landed at Sacramento International Airport Monday afternoon where he was enthusiastically greeted by his wife Heather and their 6-month-old daughter Kaydence.
Family, neighbors, and friends packed the Sacramento terminal awaiting Denney’s return following a one-year hiatus that included his first tour of duty in Iraq.
The moments of peering out of the side of a helicopter with machine gun in hand were replaced with the firm grasp of his daughter’s left hand around his left index finger. Denney was on a plane from Kuwait to Ireland back in February when his daughter was born, only to leave her side mere days after her birth to return to combat.
“It wasn’t just about me anymore when I went back after she was born,” Denney said. “My main thing was I need to get home to my kid. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was leave my two-week-old daughter behind and go fight in a war.”
His return to Iraq after her birth put newfound meaning into returning from deployment. “To be honest, I just didn’t want to miss anything,” Denney said of his daughter’s first year. “I missed her saying ma-ma and I wanted to hear her saying daddy. I missed a lot of firsts and it’s tough trying to get those back, but there’s really nothing you can do about it.
“I had a job to do and I did my job and I’m here now.”
As Denney made his way down the second-floor staircase alongside mission-partner and Manteca native Scott Aksland, those in attendance broke into a raucous ovation. Tears instantly followed and the moment was swiftly switched into overdrive when Heather made her way into Jeff’s arms.
“It pretty much hit me when I was settling down in Sacramento,” Denney said. “All in all I had been traveling for like two weeks; spending a couple of days in southern Iraq and waiting on a plane to catch to the States. I spent a week waiting in Texas.
“Once I hit the ground in Sacramento I got real excited.”
“I really missed being around California,” Denney said. “There is no other place in the world better than California. I’ve been to Texas, Atlanta and all over in Iraq. In Iraq there were certain places that reminded me of home. There were some mountain parts in Northern Iraq that really reminded me of the foothills heading up to the mountains.
“That kind of stuff would really make me miss home.”