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Soldier's family lights trees, awaits hero's return



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The Hafeli family, of Oxford, participated in Oxford Village’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony Dec. 2. Pictured standing in front of the “Star of Oxford” – a tribute to past and present members of the military – is (from left) Morgan, 11, Megan 13, Amy and Ian, 16 months. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
December 07, 2011 - Home for the holidays.

It's more than just the title of an old song sung by Perry Como in the 1950s; it's something every U.S. soldier serving overseas wishes he or she could be around this time of year.

But as long as the Free World needs defending from its enemies, there will be empty chairs at dinner tables, tear-stained photos on fireplace mantles and blue stars hanging next to Christmas stars.

One of those brave soldiers who will spend his holiday season in a foreign land, away from his family, is U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Darrin Hafeli, a 1996 graduate of Oxford High School who earned 10 varsity letters in wrestling, track and football.

Last week, Hafeli's service to our country was honored as his wife, Amy, and three children participated in Oxford Village's Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Centennial Park.

The Hafeli family lit the trees near the park's memorial garden, which contains various monuments commemorating all the Oxford soldiers who fought and died in conflicts ranging from the Civil War to Vietnam.

"It meant the world to me," said Amy, who lives in Oxford. "The unit he's with is really hard to work with. He hasn't been mentioned in the newsletters, so I cried when I was asked (to participate in the ceremony). I wanted something to honor him in some way, shape or form. This was a blessing in disguise for us."

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Staff Sgt. Hafeli (click for larger version)
Hafeli, who's the son of Oxford residents Alan and Joanne Hafeli, is part of the 10th Mountain Division and is currently stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

During Friday's tree lighting, it was noted he's due home in less than 100 days.

Hafeli joined the army in 2001.

"He just felt like this was something he needed to do," Amy said.

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His enlistment was prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon.

"His first day of basic training was that exact day," Amy said. "He remembers it very well."

This is Hafeli's second tour of duty overseas. His first was in Iraq in 2003-04.

Over the summer, Hafeli received the Purple Heart after he sustained some hearing loss during a rocket attack in Afghanistan.

Not having him home for the holiday season this year has been very difficult on Hafeli's family.

"Thanksgiving was a day of tears," Amy said.

Hafeli's absence has been tougher on Amy than the kids and that's by design. She does her best to keep the children connected to him by displaying photos around the house and communicating with him via Skype.

"I make sure I take the burden off of them and put it on me," Amy said.

When asked to describe her husband, Amy called him "loving, caring, open-minded, loyal and dedicated."

"He is a hero in so many ways," she said. "He's more than just a hero to our country, he's been a hero for me, my girls and our baby. You couldn't ask for anybody better.

"He's the type of person if somebody needs something, he's going to be there. He'll put his life on the line for anybody. He's done it for me, he's done it for many people. He's a rescuer in so many ways. He's a hero in so many different ways. I've never met anybody like him."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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