Eau Claire soldier celebrates return home

Published: Sep. 6, 2021 at 6:59 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Labor Day felt more like Christmas for one Chippewa Valley family.

That’s because U.S. Army Reserves Sgt. Matthew Hondel returned from a 10-month tour in Kuwait and Afghanistan Sept. 3, surprising his kids at Boys and Girls Club of the Greater Chippewa Valley.

“I had a lot of dreams about dad coming home. And for me, it was like, ‘Is this a dream?’ But it felt really good hugging him, running over there,” Matthew Hondel’s son Tristan Hondel said.

“It was amazing, yeah. Just having them latch on and not let go, you know. It felt like it lasted forever,” Matthew Hondel said. “It was good.”

This was Matthew Hondel’s third tour of duty in the Middle East. Unlike his previous two returns, his mom Marcia Finseth said this one was far more special.

“It’s not the first time greeting him back home but this time is a little different because of the boys,” she said.

With a 9-year-old and 7-year-old at home, this tour felt different too.

“It’s a whole different experience going away knowing that you’re missing birthdays, you’re missing holidays, you’re missing the school events,” Matthew Hondel said. “It’s different because you know that they know what is going on and that they miss you more. When you’re younger it’s a little bit easier. You just focus on the mission.”

Part of that mission was preparing for the U.S. exit from Afghanistan. With the 20th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks approaching, Matthew Hondel’s journey is coming full circle.

“I joined the military because of 9/11. So be able to see that to its final fruition is kind of neat,” he said. “And to be a part of that draw down and the end of America’s longest war, I don’t think it’s really set in yet how surreal it is to be a part of that.”

With the U.S. withdrawal coming under scrutiny, especially after a terrorist attack killed 13 U.S. service members on Aug. 26, Matthew Hondel said people shouldn’t look at it through political lenses.

“It doesn’t matter who is in charge,” he said. “It’s when you have a war of that length, trying to pull out it’s not an easy process by any means. It’s kind of like tearing off a band aid. It’s incredibly unfortunate that we sustained casualties during the pull out. It weighs heavily on everyone’s hearts.”

For Finseth, after spending months worrying about her son, she’s glad to have him home safe.

“I can’t even describe how happy I am to have him home,” she said. “I missed him. He’s a grown man, he can take care of himself but you never stop being a mom.”

Matthew Hondel’s sons are also excited to have their dad home.

“It’s going to be great holidays,” Tristan Hondel said. “It’ll be a really nice birthday and a really nice Christmas because he missed the last one.”

“It’s amazing just reuniting with them and spending that quality time,” Matthew Hondel said. “We’ve already had a few adventures we been on just this weekend.”

He said he still has a few years left on his military commitment but hopes he won’t have to go overseas again.

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