Before Iraq, John Plaskie never played video games with his two stepsons. "They always wanted me to play Xbox, but I thought it was just something kids do," said Plaskie, 44. "When I got home Tuesday, playing Xbox with them was the highlight of my day."
It's one of the not-so-subtle changes that Plaskie, a Jackson resident and U.S. Army Reservist, has noticed since he got home Tuesday for a two-week visit after nine straight months in Baghdad fighting the war on terror.
"It's awesome," his stepson, Kody Standridge, said of Plaskie's return. "Just him being home is great -- yesterday, I didn't see him and all of a sudden he's here."
Since leaving home last March, Plaskie has served alongside other U.S. Army Reservists who are part of the company based in Cape Girardeau. Others are getting some R&R, too, around the holidays.
"It's like a dream being home," Plaskie said. "Which is funny, because when I was in Iraq, I'd dream I was home and wake up in my bunk in a tent."
In his brief time back, he's also noticed he's more appreciative of things he'd taken for granted before -- good food, hot showers and doing whatever he wants to do whenever he feels like it.
"I'll even be thankful to go to Wal-Mart," he said.
As far as the food goes, the first things he wanted to eat were pizza or a good steak. The family opted for pizza Wednesday afternoon.
"But we're going to get to Logan's real quick," said his wife, Tina.
Plaskie, who heads back Jan. 15, wants to watch television, go visit his friends where he works on the diaper line at Procter & Gamble and do some sitting around.
"Mostly I want to enjoy my family," he said. "That's No. 1 on my agenda. Spend as much time with them as I can."
There are two highlights from Iraq that stand out for Plaskie -- the capture of Saddam Hussein and the local Shoe Box for Soldiers drive that sent hundreds of boxes of gifts to soldiers at Christmastime.
There was a big buzz the night that Saddam was captured. But he said the soldiers in Iraq didn't know any more than Americans at home saw on television. He was glad to see the rumors were true.
"It made our mission more meaningful," he said. "It gave us a sense of a major, major accomplishment."
The Shoeboxes for Soldiers drive was spearheaded by his wife. The gifts were donated from area residents.
"I want to thank the community so much," Plaskie said. "Passing out those boxes was so wonderful. For some of the guys, that was all they got for Christmas. It was awesome that could be done for the troops in Iraq."
Other than the highlights, Plaskie's days in Iraq have been crammed with work. As a heavy equipment operator, he's been working at Baghdad International Airport driving bulldozers to widen roads and build soccer fields and playgrounds.
He also got promoted to E-6, or staff sergeant, while overseas. That gave him some leadership roles, including the dubious task of being in charge of a trash dump.
"Actually, it was a pretty good duty," Plaskie said, chuckling.
While there, he even "became attached" to three Iraqis who would come to the trash dump. "They'd say, 'Good morning, my friend,' and I've even learned some Arabic," he said.
That's why he is frustrated by what he thinks is a media bias in the coverage of the war.
"Everyone shows the killing of American troops and the looting," he said. "There are some positives people never see: Iraqi kids smiling and waving, the Iraqis who are glad we're there. It's more friendly than it seems on TV. We see people who have signs that say, 'Thank you, Americans.'"
Not that he always felt safe. With all the fighting going on, Plaskie admitted he has been in some "close calls" but said he couldn't elaborate.
News from home is always welcome, even if it arrives at unusual times.
"We get the Armed Forces Network and Sunday football is on at 2 a.m.," he said. "We watched the World Series at 10 at night."
Plaskie sees his time home as a time to replenish his strength and enjoy friends and family until he gets to come home in about four months.
"I see coming home as refueling me for the rest of the mission," he said. "The taste of being home is an incentive to get back, get the job done and get back home."
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