MCAS Cherry Point, N.C. --
Nearing the end of January, a Christmas tree still stands at the Norman residence.
The man of the house, Sgt. Korey Norman, was gone for eight months on deployment with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 366, which returned Friday with nearly 30 Marines.
Norman missed spending Halloween – a big one in their home – Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s with his family.
Nicole Jo Norman, known by all who have ever met her as Jo, put up an evergreen pencil tree after Christmas this holiday season. This was the fourth consecutive Christmas the married couple has been apart since Korey joined the Marine Corps in 2008. And though Korey was gone during Christmas again this year they agreed to celebrate Christmas together, even if it’s a month later.
“I think it’s great,” Korey said of celebrating Christmas late. “This is our way of having our own Christmas and doing it our way.”
Three red and green stockings hung from the wall, one for each one of their “children”; Shasha, a Rottweiler and Shepherd mix; Vegas, a chocolate Labrador; and Kuma, a small black Pomeranian. Kuma, a name meaning “bear” in Japanese, was a surprise present for Korey when he came home from his last deployment to Iraq in 2009.
“Kuma was making so much ruckus that he ruined the surprise,” Jo said of trying to surprise Korey upon his return from Iraq. “Korey was like, ‘What is that upstairs? So I brought him down and he became part of the family.”
Although Korey adores Kuma, he warned Jo during this deployment not to have another pet surprise this time.
“It was nice to come home to the three dogs we already had and not to another addition to the family,” said Korey lightheartedly.
Korey also missed two of three dogs’ birthdays so one Christmas gift was a giant cup cake pan already planned for a doggy birthday cake to celebrate all three of their “children’s” birthdays.
The job Korey is called away to do on deployment and here at Marine Corps Cherry Point is ordnance with HMH-366, nicknamed the Hammerheads. This last deployment, Korey was part of a small detachment of fellow Hammerheads in Djibouti for about eight months. There the HMH-366 Marines were part of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa preventing conflict, promoting regional stability and protecting coalition interests.
Korey worked night shift the whole time and both Jo and Korey said it really helped them because they were on the same schedule.
“The overall mission is important for the United States, which is why I do what I do,” Korey explained of his sacrifices. “Going on deployment is part of what I signed up to do. She has been very supportive of me being away six to seven months at a time to basically fend for herself.”
Korey started dating Jo in October of 2007 and joined the Marine Corps in 2008. With his deployment to Iraq in 2009 and to Africa for the second half of 2011, Korey has been away for nearly half of his enlistment and marriage. Even though they both admitted that the times apart are tough, Jo and Korey said there is truth in the cliché, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
“People start to take little things for granted when they don’t realize it,” said Jo. “Once your loved one is deployed you notice the little things they do that mean the world to you.”
Absence can cause couples to do special things for each other, like writing long love letters, that couples normally don’t do when home together every day, Jo added.
“What didn’t she do for me while I was out there?” Korey said sarcastically of the countless care packages filled with homemade goodies, love letters and photos Jo sent during his latest deployment. “She kept me in touch with things that she was doing back here, just small little things that give me the comfort of home.”
One specific correspondence Jo fondly remembered was a love letter Korey wrote on a card he sent home before Christmas. Jo said Korey took the time to write how much he missed her and the dogs in a longer letter, rather than just sending an update on a Christmas package in the mail.
“I put thought and emotion into the card,” said Korey, explaining he didn’t write it to prove his love to Jo but was pleasantly surprised to hear that it stuck out in her memory. “To know, in hindsight, that it meant that much to her is very rewarding.”
One of Korey’s friends from back home in Florida came to visit and surprise him upon return. Alissa Burns, now a mutual friend of both Korey and Jo, said she was excited to be part of this event, especially since she had not seen Korey for a year.
To prepare for Korey coming home on Friday, Jo and Alissa made welcome home posters including a large sheet-sign for the fence at the intersection of Slocum Road and Roosevelt Boulevard. They put up the Christmas decorations, gave all three dogs a bath to be “clean for daddy,” Jo said, and they cleaned up the house.
Along with taking care of the home and the three dogs while Korey is away, Jo takes time to volunteer with HMH-366 as a family readiness officer assistant. Just one day before Korey came home she and Alissa made signs for other Marines in the squadron to make sure each Marine would have a sign to welcome them when they came home.
Friday was a hectic day when eight months of waiting was coming to an end. Jo was anxiously waiting at the HMH-366 hangar for Korey to step off the bus. She got a quick glimpse of him as he got out and walked around to get his deployment gear. Jo’s eyes lit up as she became fidgety with anticipation. When Korey began to walk toward the wide hangar doors, Jo turned back to ask if she could run up to him. However, she didn’t need an answer. She began to run at full speed, as fast as she could run in heels, to meet her husband and to a much anticipated embrace.
There were lots of hugs and kisses and then Jo turned to point into the hangar where Alissa was standing. Korey let out an “Oh my God,” as he ran up to hug his best friend of six years. All three wore nothing but smiles and were excited to get home to celebrate and enjoy a late Christmas. Korey said it was a great feeling to be home.
“There is a point when you first get in country that it’s nice to just be away and create that distance; to miss your other half,” Korey said as he began to explain the best part of deployment. “But then coming home and reuniting with that and being able to make up for lost time and sharing experiences that each other had through that time – it relives that honeymoon phase throughout the relationship time and time again. It’s just really awesome.”