This year's Sept. 11 anniversary will be an especially poignant one for the Lavelle family of Mahopac, as their loved one heads back to Afghanistan.
After five days of travelling across the world — which meant catching spontaneous flights from several different locations — 24-year-old U.S. Army Officer Michael Lavelle landed in New York for a two-week break from his deployment in late August. Family members and friends packed in tons of quality time in the days before Sept. 11, as Michael prepared to start the long return trip early this morning.
"I was really upset [before Michael arrived in New York] because ... we don't know when he's going to take off, because you wait around in Kuwait to take off, and you're in a Middle Eastern country, waiting to take an airplane," Regina Lavelle, Michael's mother, said. "And now he's going to fly back on 9/11. Of course that's going to make you feel like, you just have to pray harder. What are you going to do? ... He has to report when he has to report."
The thought of flying back on 9/11 didn't scare Michael, though. He told Patch that while he enjoyed his time in Putnam, he felt more like a guest than a person returning to a place he once called home. He was anxious to return to Afghanistan, and be a part of the "hardships" his soldiers are experiencing [see the video at right for more details on his time in Afghanistan].
"I feel like Germany is my home now, just because that's where all my friends are, that's where I live most of the time," he said. " ... Your life is wherever you're stationed."
After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 2009 — a goal his parents said he set for himself in elementary school — he has spent little time in the town where he grew up.
Post-commencement, he headed to Oklahoma for artillery school, then ranger school in Georgia and finally Germany for a job as a platoon leader.
In February, he was deployed to Afghanistan for a one-year stint. When his time there is up, he'll head back to his apartment in Idar-Oberstein, Germany and work on a nearby base.
Regina and Michael Lavelle, Sr., along with Michael's younger sisters Julia and Caitlin, are counting down the days until he returns to Germany. They say that even though he is still overseas, they can rest easy when he is living in Germany.
"It makes a big difference," Regina said. "It's hard not to see your child, but he's not in danger there. There's a big difference. The difference between missing someone and worrying about someone."
Until then, they try to keep conversations light and not dwell on the type of work — from meeting with village elders to planning missions and much more — their son is doing day-in and day-out. The family takes plenty of photos at gatherings, like Julia's college graduation party, and writes tons of letters to give Michael an idea of what's going on at home.
"Life goes on, and you want to share that," Regina said.
But at times it's a challenge to stay upbeat, especially considering the very likely possibility that Michael will face multiple deployments to Afghanistan.
"I'd say 95 to 98 percent, [he will be] re-deployed," Michael Sr., who served a total of 21 years in the military, said.
That's just one of the many thoughts the Lavelles entertain each day. Michael is constantly on their minds, even though they run into many people who cannot say the same.
"If you don’t know somebody, if you’re not actively affected by it, it’s like you can go your whole day and never think about it," Regina said. "People are shocked; they’re like ‘Oh, I thought it was over.’ … and you’re like OK, I think you should be a little bit more aware of what goes on."