DENVER (KDVR) – While the world was changing all around them, their dad was half a world away. So you can imagine how excited Audrey and John Wehrle felt as they waited for their father’s plane to arrive at Denver International Airport Saturday night.
What’s it been like without him?
“Sadness,” his daughter Audrey told FOX31.
Adam Wehrle was one of more than 100 Colorado Army National Guard helicopter crew members who left Buckley Air Force Base back in January for what they thought would be a routine training, support and readiness mission to the Balkans in eastern Europe.
FOX31’s Jeremy Hubbard traveled to Kosovo back in March to profile the soldiers, assigned to Camp Bondsteel, a large NATO base near the border of Kosovo and North Macedonia.
But within days of their arrival, the pandemic was in full swing. International borders began closing, and tens of thousands of people around the globe came down with COVID-19. It was clear, the guard’s mission was about to change.
So instead of their planned training, the Colorado soldiers pivoted, spending much of their time delivering supplies, personal protective equipment and personnel to help Kosovars and Serbians fight the pandemic. They even airdropped a shipping container in to a local hospital parking lot, to be used as a coronavirus testing center.
Meantime, their base was essentially shut down, with all non-essential travel cancelled. Several soldiers tested positive for the coronavirus. But they all recovered quickly.
When we talked to Lt. Col. Kenneth Walsh in March in Kosovo, he had no idea what was about to come their way.
“What we’re doing here is more peacekeeping operations for NATO,” he told FOX31 at the time.
But when we saw him Saturday night, with his family leaping into his arms upon his return to Denver, it was clear the experience made him and his soldiers stronger.
“It was unexpected. We had a lot of expectations going in and we joke, ‘our facts changed.’ And so we adjusted to those facts, and we turned lemons to lemonade as best we could,” he said.
As for Audrey and John’s dad, Adam, it was his first deployment ever. And it’s one he’ll never forget.
“I mean distance is hard to anticipate, things you don’t expect. The world changing with COVID-19. So it’s good to be home,” he said.
Battling an invisible enemy, 6,000 miles from home, was a fight they never could’ve imagined. But returning to Colorado is something they’ve pictured every day since they left.
“This was 11 – almost 12 straight months – away from each other,” Walsh said.