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January 27, 2014

‘Pawpaw’ returns home

COMMERCE — When Kailey Robb went to gym class at Commerce Middle School, she had no idea who would be there to surprise her.

Before Friday, Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Spino, affectionately called “Pawpaw,” had not seen his granddaughter in more than eight months, so when he got word that he would be coming home from Kabul, Afghanistan early, he began planning to surprise the unsuspecting Kailey.

“Just before I left [for deployment] I came [to Commerce Middle School] and had lunch with her,” he said, adding he wanted to surprise her at the same place. “We’re very close, the whole family.”

Spino, who has served in the Army for more than 20 years, said this deployment was a lengthy one.

“When you’re there, it never feels like you’re going home,” he said. “During the day I was infantry then at night I worked IT.”

When his team went “outside the wire” ­— a military term used for when soldiers leave the perimeter of the base to go on missions — he served as the “guardian angel” of the unit.

A “guardian angel” is a program initiated in 2012 to serve as an extra layer of protection for U.S. soldiers as they interact with Afghanistan military and civilians.  

Spino would watch over his unit while they moved about conducting building surveys and doing IT work such as setting up networks and telephones for the buildings being built.

“It was pretty rewarding to be a part of that,” he said.

One way the military has been working to become more streamlined while on deployment is by setting up Joint Operations between the different branches.

Spino said he worked closely alongside members of the Air Force, and had the chance to work closely with the Australian and Canadian armies.

The experience working with them was very enjoyable, Spino said.

Before he left for deployment, Spino spent two months of vigorous training to prepare his team for the deployment.

“When you leave you’re prepared,” he said. “Anybody in the military knows to ‘stay alert, stay alive’.”

While traveling through the streets of Kabul, Spino said the two major dangers were Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and suicide bombers.

Spino said the Afghan citizens were very grateful to the military for being there to help not only rebuild infrastructure, but also to help create jobs for the citizens.

“The citizens are happy,” he said. “The infrastructure has been completely rebuilt.”

According to Spino, no matter how prepared you are for deployment, the ugly and uncertainness side of war can still strike on a moment’s notice.

An airman who worked at the base where Spino was serving had a wife who was serving at another base close by. As a surprise to her, he hitched a ride with a convoy and spent the day after Christmas with her at her base.

But Spino said on the airman’s way back, his convoy was attacked by insurgents and he was killed during the action.

Spino said he is feeling very blessed to be able to come home to his family after his deployment.

“I’m just feeling blessed to have family to come home to and come home safe,” he said.

After she embraced her “Pawpaw” for the first time in months, Kailey was left nearly speechless.

The only words she could say was she is “just happy my grandpa is home.”

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