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Home for the Holidays

Ten years ago. Nathaniel “Nate” VanLinder was greeting his father, who surprised his family by coming home for Christmas from active duty in the Army.

This year, the surprise was Nate got to come home between his training and being stationed in Europe.

“I got really lucky and kind of unlucky as well because I got quarantined in AIT, so if I didn’t get quarantined, I’d actually be in Germany right now,” Nate said.

That quarantine was because of a sinus infection that led to Nate receiving a COVID-19 test, which triggered an automatic quarantine period.

Growing up, he saw the realities of military life firsthand, his father, Paul, said.

He watched Paul serve for seven years which included two tours in Iraq.

“I’m very proud of him,” Paul said. “He set a goal for himself at a very young age, and he stuck with that dream and actually fulfilled it.”

Paul and Nate’s mom, Lindsay, added that Nate also went into the experience with more of an understanding of it than most.

“His dad was injured in the service, so he’s seen what it can be like,” she said. “He knows all of the things that can come along with it, and he still decided to make that decision.”

For Lindsay, it was a happy moment knowing she would be able to see her son this Christmas.

“Being a military wife and family, we used to do this when Dad was getting ready to come home from deployments or overseas, and so I asked him, ‘How does it feel to be on this side of it?’” she said.

She tried to recreate some of the traditions for her oldest when he returned Saturday that she had done for her husband when the family would welcome him home.

Layla and Gabe said that they’re glad to have their brother home for a little while.

Layla agreed that having the space has made them closer than when Nate lived at home.

Gabe said he had missed his older brother and that having to do chores without Nate made it more boring and time-consuming.

“He did good,” Gabe said. “He made a good choice.”

Nate, who was advanced to the rank of private 2 before he came home, plans to turn his time in the Army into a lengthy career.

Paul and Nate have already started sharing experiences, with Paul encouraging him through the difficult parts of training so Nate knew he wasn’t alone.

“There are some things that I’ve had a one-on-one with my dad just to talk them out,” he said.

Nate, in turn, helped boost the morale of his fellow soldiers, he said, but being “the goofball of the battery.”

“I’m sure your teachers wouldn’t be surprised to hear that,” Lindsay said to her son with a laugh.

There’s also a rich history of military service throughout Nate’s family.

One of the other aspects of being stationed in Europe that he is excited for his ability to travel and see sites that his papaw saw when serving during World War II.

“I kind of hope to travel everywhere, and being that Germany is in the center, I’ll get to go branch out and travel everywhere,” he said.

Lindsay mentioned that they have extended family in Germany as well who he can connect up with while he’s stationed there.

Although Nate’s trip home was set to be brief, he has been trying to find a way to connect to family and friends while still stateside. A few of his friends have been influenced to enlist, too, Lindsay said.

“You’re an inspiration,” she said quietly to him.

Nate said he’s excited to take the next step on his journey into military service.

“I’ve found out that my unit is possibly going to be attached to an airborne,” he said, adding that he couldn’t go into more detail about that.

Paul highlighted his confidence in his son and his belief that he’ll be successful moving forward.

“There are worries, like any other parent has for their child, but other than that, I think he’ll be great,” he said.


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