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November 29, 2009

Home for the holidays

Marine enjoying time with family while on leave from Afghanistan

HOLLY POND — Dust. Desert. Danger.

RP3 (AW/SW) Daniel Stricklin of the Fleet Marine Force has known little else during the last seven months in Afghanistan.

Then he came home Tuesday to Cullman County.

To hear Stricklin describe his return, one would think he had come back to a veritable paradise.

“There you have nothing, here you have everything,” Stricklin said Wednesday morning at his mother, Nell McWhorter’s, home in Holly Pond. “It really kind of puts you in shock. You know you are home with the people you love. There is no place like Cullman.”

Stricklin, 23, has 14 days to spend with his family and he does not intend to waste them.

“I have been craving my wife,” Stricklin said with a laugh.

In addition to spending time with family, Stricklin said he plans to take time to play his guitar and to try some duck hunting in Arkansas.

“I’m just going to relax,” Stricklin said.

Other than his mother, maybe the only person happier than Stricklin is to be home, is his wife Leslie. To her, the wait for her husband’s return was almost unbearable.

“It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “It’s the most worried I’ve ever felt in my life. You never know what’s going to happen.”

A 2004 Good Hope High School graduate, Stricklin joined the military when he was 19-years-old. He spent his first tour mainly on the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. Much of Stricklin’s time revolved around waving in planes for landing.

Then the accident happened.

One night, Stricklin was walking around the jet blast deflector, when a pilot switched on his aircraft’s afterburner.

“The afterburner came on an burned my eyes,” he said. “It took me about three days to recover.”

As a result of the injury, Stricklin’s sight was blurred and he became color deficient, which made him ineligible to further serve on an aircraft carrier. Stricklin was transferred to the ground in Afghanistan, where he spent his second and latest tour as a chaplain bodyguard.

“He can’t carry a weapon, so he has to have me,” Stricklin said.

In addition to protecting the chaplain as he travels to conduct ministries, Stricklin undertakes the mortuary affairs of the military. In other words, he ensures that soldiers who have lost their lives are recovered from the battlefield and returned home to their families.

“I’m so very proud of him,” said Stricklin’s mother.

To McWhorter, adjusting to how her son has changed since joining the military is almost as tough as adjusting to life with him away from home.

“It’s the biggest change,” McWhorter said. “I still want to think of him as a little boy. But he has a beautiful wife ... and to know he serves our country ... I know I’m proud of him.”

Once Stricklin has used up his time off, he will return to serving his country for a few more months and may return to Afghanistan.

“They could deploy me,” Stricklin said. “When I get back, I’ll have one year left on my contract. It’s rare they deploy you again in your last year, so hopefully this will be my last hoorah.”

* Patrick McCreless can be reached by e-mail at patrickm@cullmantimes.com or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.

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