Homecoming for a Gainesville Hero
By Dan Breitwieser, WCJB TV 20 News.
Sergeant Hector Ortiz didn't get in until nearly midnight, but dozens of his family members waited up to see their hero.
"Waiting for him, not knowing what the outcome could be, seeing him come through that door last night was awesome!", says Hector's mother Elly Ortiz. "I can't explain it. It was such a joy."
Army Reserve Sergeant Hector Ortiz is a 2003 graduate of Gainesville High School.
It's just how he wanted to spend his first day backÂ Friday...with a cousin on his knee, sitting next to his sister and surrounded by family.
"Playing with the kids and gossip with my cousins and sister, that's about it," says Ortiz.
Except for two weeks of leave, Ortiz hasn't been home since July 23rd, 2006. Which means he left about a month after his nephews were born. That's not an easy thing for his sister Josie Franco, with her husband leaving for Iraq at the end of the month.
"He missed the first year and then my husband could miss the second and third years of his life," says Franco. "It's okay because I'm very proud of them and I'm very grateful for what they do. They're fighting for freedom."
Mementos and pictures have a special place in Ortiz's parent's house. By now, it's the thing they are most used to seeing.
"It's been so long that you almost get used to not having them on a day to day basis so when I woke up, I was like, 'let's get ready, there's something good about today,'" says Franco. "I couldn't remember and then I was like, 'Oh my gosh! He's in the next room."
Ortiz served as a postal operator in Iraq. He was one of six people responsible for delivering the mail of more than 10,000 soldiers. No easy task for the man with 2 years left on a marketing degree.
"All the mail that got forwarded or they didn't want, I had to do return to sender so it was like Aah!," says Ortiz. "Especially care packages. We appreciated the care packages, But oh my goodness, the postal people, we hate them."
He says it was the grace of god that brought him home, but if needed he'll go back. But for now, he's just happy to be home.
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