a soldier's return

Sometimes photo stories fall into your lap, but I find that most of my photo stories come from thinking of an idea and then tracking down a source. With the holidays coming up, I thought it would be really important to find a soldier who was coming home from a tour overseas to be with his family over the holidays. soldier returning from afghanistanThough Virginia has quite a few military bases, there aren't a lot here in the valley. Though we do have a National Guard unit that is local, they have all returned from serving. So I was lucky to find, in my searching, that there was a lieutenant colonel named Robert Rizzo who was serving a tour in Afghanistan — he worked out of Charlottesville, but lived in Staunton. And it just so happened that he was returning within days of me tracking him down.

soldier returning from afghanistan on christmas

world magnetsSo, the first time I met Rizzo's wife, Kable Rizzo, was on the way to pick him up from the airport. She gave him a heads up so he knew to expect me during their reunion. I felt so blessed and thankful that they allowed me to come with them for such an intimate moment. Kable was so nervous and excited to see Robert, and we bonded on the way to the airport in Charlottesville. Turns out her family had lived for a couple years in Finland while Robert served as an attaché there, so we chatted about Scandinavia for quite awhile.

Over the next few weeks, I popped in an out of their lives to capture simple family moments — hanging ornaments on the tree, soccer games, family meals, etc. Though, because the Rizzos have teenagers, those moments were sometimes tense, like when Robert and his daughter Kable (the name is a family name) argued about whether or not she should go out with her boyfriend that night. I was glad the Rizzos were so open, and not just about their Norman Rockwell moments. It helped me characterize that though coming home is a blessing to a family, it can sometimes be difficult for someone to just slip back in after being gone for six months.

I'm incredibly grateful to the Rizzos for letting me into their lives and allowing me to show everything. Not that there was a lot to hide — they're a wonderful family with very sweet kids. And everyone has a reason for doing a story — and the Rizzo's reason was to remind readers that there are still soldiers overseas that don't get to be with their families for Christmas.

Megan Williams worked with me on this story and did a really nice job on it. Check out her story and the photo gallery on The News Leader's website.

Afghanistan soldier playing with kids