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Home again: A happy reunion

2006 Perham High School graduate Colman Silbernagel reunites with his wife, Erica, upon returning to the United States after eight months of serving overseas. Submitted photos

After months of worrying and praying for his safe return, Erica Silbernagel is finally able to hug her husband again.

Colman Silbernagel, a 1st Lieutenant in the Army and a 2006 graduate of Perham High School, has just gotten back to the United States after a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

His return to Perham on Sunday made for an especially memorable Memorial Day weekend for the Silbernagel family, which has been praying for Colman since the moment he left.

“I immediately teared up after Erica sent me the text saying, ‘He’s in America!’” said his mom, Lisa Silbernagel. Colman is one of her and her husband Thomas’s three sons.

The moment Colman arrived back home was a huge relief for Erica, too. The couple spent eight long months on opposite sides of the globe, talking on the telephone and over Skype whenever possible, but they hadn’t seen each other in person since September of last year – just two months after getting married.

“It was very stressful, to worry about him and his safety,” Erica said. “The days when I was expecting him to call, and he didn’t, were hard. My mind was preoccupied… You’re just always dreading that moment of someone knocking on your door. Now that he’s back, it’s a huge relief to know he’s safe.”

An Army engineer and platoon leader, Colman had a dangerous job that involved clearing roads of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). Fortunately, he was stationed in a relatively quiet area of Paktika Province, in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border. And, despite spending much of his time off base, he was never faced with any serious immediate danger.

The highlight of his days, he said, was getting letters and packages from home – of which there were many. His mom Lisa is a teacher at St. Henry’s Area School, so he was the recipient of packages not only from his friends and family, but also from the school’s students. The students also prayed for Colman every week while he was away.

“It was pretty amazing, the amount of support I got from people back home,” he said.

To express his gratitude to the students, Colman visited St. Henry’s on Tuesday, talking to the kids about his service in Afghanistan.

It was a worthwhile and unforgettable experience, he told them, but it’s also “wonderful to be back.”

This was his first – and is likely to be his last – active duty overseas deployment.

Now on leave for a few weeks, Colman will return to his full-time base at Fort Riley, Kansas, next month. Erica will join him in July, after finishing up her college studies. She’s currently attending medical school in Iowa, her home state.

Once they’re back under the same roof, the couple said, they plan to celebrate all the holidays that they didn’t get to spend together over the past eight months, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays and others.

“I’ve got decorations of all kinds that I plan to hang up,” said Erica.

The couple met through mutual friends while Colman was attending St. John’s University and Erica was attending the College of St. Benedict. They started dating in April of 2010, and began planning a 2012 wedding before they found out about Colman’s deployment.

“It hasn’t been your typical first year of marriage,” Colman laughed.

But they made it through, and are now looking forward to spending much less time apart. Erica plans to complete her schooling in a few years, and Colman may go to law school after finishing up his time in the Army (he’s got about two and a half years left). One day, he’d like to run for public office.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

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