For most of his life, 18-month-old Bryce Flatley knew his father only as a face on a computer screen. Last week, his father, Sgt. Joshua Flatley, returned from an 11-month deployment to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army. His family celebrated his return with a party Saturday at Wesley Freedom United Methodist Church in Sykesville.
Joshua, the father of two sons, Bryce and 6-year-old Patrick, said it was tough being out on his first deployment, but he was able to keep in touch with his family, including his wife, Rachel Flatley, almost every day.
"We talked a lot on Skype while I was gone, so now when Bryce sees computer screens, he yells 'Daddy' and starts pointing," Joshua said.
Rachel said technological advances made the separation from Joshua during deployment both easier and more difficult for their family.
"It's nice because you get to see them all of the time, but it also makes it harder, because it's like they're there, but they're not," Rachel said. "For the kids, though, it was really good. It was a way for them to see that their daddy's alive; he's okay. It's hard when you have a 6-year-old who doesn't understand why daddy can't be here."
When Rachel was young, her mother, Marcy Stutzman, was deployed abroad while serving in the military.
"Back when I was serving, the only thing that was available was long-distance calling, and even to do that was really hard to do," Stutzman said. "Rachel and Josh were able to use social media and keep in touch almost every day. It's a big difference to have this technology that allows soldiers overseas to feel like they're still a part of this world."
While in Afghanistan, Joshua served with the 333rd Horizontal Engineer Company training the Afghan National Army to operate heavy construction equipment.
"With the draw-down of American forces in Afghanistan, a lot of the small bases in the outskirts were getting torn down to a manageable size for the Afghan National Army and then handed over to them," Joshua said. "We helped them prepare so they could have those compounds or bases to run operations out of."
Joshua, a 2007 graduate of Frostburg State University, enlisted in the military in 2009, but said it was something he had wanted to do ever since he was young. He said 9/11 sealed the deal in his mind.
At the party, more than 50 friends and family celebrated his return.
Joshua said in the next few weeks he will be returning to his position with the Maryland Department of the Environment working with the Bay Restoration Fund.
"Coming home, I fell right back into the same groove. There's a big section of memories that I missed out on, but other than that, things seem the same," Joshua said. "It's hard to know what to expect when you get out there. Overall, we kept busy; we got the job done, and everyone came home safely."