U.S. Army Reserve Sgts. Amanda Lempera and Daniel Koch are greeted by members of the Soldiers Guardian Angels and Warriors' Watch Riders during a homecoming celebration Saturday. | Mike Nolan
Updated: January 7, 2012 8:52PM
The men and women inside William Martin VFW Post 725 in Mokena bowed their heads, offering a prayer for the safe arrival home of military personnel serving overseas.
Among them Saturday afternoon were Daniel Koch and Amanda Lempera, both sergeants in the U.S. Army Reserve who returned to the Southland just before Christmas after being deployed to Afghanistan.
After words of prayer and thanks and a presentation by Koch and Lempera to their parents of U.S. flags that had been flown over the soldiers’ bases in Afghanistan, Lempera issued the marching orders.
“Let’s party,” she yelled.
It was, after all, a celebratory homecoming for the pair, who were reuniting with family and friends they hadn’t seen in many months.
They began dating after they graduated from Lincoln-Way Central High School and most recently served together in the same reserve unit.
Koch enlisted in the Army after he graduated in 2001 and saw three tours of duty overseas — twice deployed to Iraq and then to Afghanistan last March.
Lempera, from Manhattan, joined the reserves after she graduated in 2002, and in addition to Afghanistan, she also had a tour of duty in Iraq.
“It’s nice to be back,” she said.
While they were able to call home frequently while overseas, they couldn’t tell their families exactly where they were, or what they were doing. Donna Lempera said her daughter left for her most recent deployment nearly a year ago.
“It’s the longest we’ve ever gone without seeing each other,” she said.
Amanda is Donna and her husband’s only child, and Donna said she was a bit apprehensive at first when her daughter told her she was joining the Army.
“There’s always a degree of nervousness,” she said. “You don’t know what to expect.”
While she was able to communicate with her family frequently, Amanda Lempera said that “talking on the phone is not the same” as seeing them in person.
Koch’s parents, who live in Mokena, sent care packages to their son — bags of Doritos and the latest movies on DVD — and talked frequently, his father, Mike, said. They both enjoy hunting, and that often worked its way into the discussion, although Mike Koch broke his left arm last month, ending any father-son hunting excursions for a while.
Both military police officers in the reserves, Koch, 29, is studying toward a degree in criminal justice, while Lempera, 27, is working on her master’s degree in modern world history. They live in Frankfort, although they are attending school downstate.
Is an engagement in their future?
“Maybe,” Koch said.
Members of the Soldiers Guardian Angels and Warriors’ Watch Riders provided a motorcycle escort for Koch and Lempera from Frankfort to the VFW post.
The convoy also included Army trucks owned by members of a group that restores antique military vehicles. One of its members is Mokena Mayor Joe Werner.
The 21/2-ton truck he bought from a farmer in December 2009 led the convoy, and its one of several military vehicles he owns, including an ambulance he’s currently refurbishing. The M35A2 cargo truck, known as a “deuce and a half,” commemorates Werner’s father and father-in-law, bearing the numbers of the military they served in.