PHOENIX -- Three rambunctious toddlers wrestle with red, white and blue helium balloons as their patient father watches them wobble and bounce around Sky Harbor’s terminal two.
“I don't know,” says Plez Glenn III, contemplating whether his 2-year-old triplets understand their mommy will be arriving in minutes. “I think right now they understand that balloons are fun to play with.”
Little Styles Glenn rocks a Mohawk haircut. His brother, Thijs, wears a black t-shirt with a buzz cut. And Plez IV is sporting a red, white and blue tank top and has a shaved head.
They walk into the airport all holding little plastic rings attached to ropes, attached to their dad. By the time they’ve been there 30 seconds the trio is running and jumping and acting like happy little boys.
Plez IV is running with one of his brothers when they both get tangled in the balloon strings and fall. Plez IV bumps his head and there are instant tears.
They're short lived, however, and soon he’s fully recovered and back in the mix.
“He’ll probably have a bruise,” Plez III casually comments with the air of a dad whose seen many mini-emergencies.
This military dad has been playing Mr. Mom and solo rough housing referee for six months while his wife was away in Afghanistan fighting the war on terror.
“It's not easy, it's not easy. But that’s what we signed up to do so we get through it,” he says.
He speaks with a relaxed, even and congenial tone and seems incredibly at ease for a guy whose wife has been in a war zone. And the non-stop energy of the boys doesn’t seem to frazzle him in the least.
"I think I'm just tired, maybe,” he jokes, breaking into an easy laugh before turning serious. “I think it's time for this to be over and for us to get the [family] unit back together.”
Almost on cue, U.S. Air Force Technical Sgt. Tenequa Styles-Glenn comes marching out of the airport secured area to reunite with her family.
Friends wave tiny American flags and strangers applaud.
One of the boys approaches with a bouquet of flowers.
Some people are wiping their eyes.
“Give me a kiss,” Tenequa says bending down to embrace her little men.
One-by-one they all walk up and give mom a smooch. They remember her. She's happy.
Tenequa has been deployed before during her 18 years in the Air Force. But this is the first time since the couple’s kids were born.
“They're just so big,” she comments, embracing her husband and watching the boys dutifully continue their mission of stepping on every inch of the terminal’s tiled floor.
For the past six months, Tenequa has been working as a medical tech at Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield. In addition to treating American soldiers injured in battle, the base’s medical staff treats locals who are often collateral damage in the fighting. As a mother, she saw a little piece of her own kids in every injured child that came through the ER doors.
“It was not fun. I missed them. I felt like I was abandoning them,” says Tenequa, letting herself laugh at the irony of her statement – the feeling of abandoning her post as mommy while fulfilling her duty to country.
Now that they're all back together she has family plans.
“I don’t know,” she answers to a question of what she wants to do with her husband and kids first. “I think I'm going to take them to the movies.”
And she answers a question of how it feels to be back:
“Overwhelmed! I'm just glad to be home."
Home safe – a protector of freedom, a wife and a mom.