TAMPA — For the last 11 months, Luis Calderon's life back home has gone on without him.
His wife made a new circle of friends. The bedroom curtains changed. And his two daughters?
"They've grown 4 inches in a year. Both of them," said Calderon, who returned Thursday morning from Iraq. He and 161 other members of the 320th Military Police Company were welcomed home at Tampa International Airport by teary-eyed wives, anxious family members and flag-waving supporters.
But the world Calderon left nearly a year ago is not exactly the one he returned to Thursday. We have a black president. Fewer banks. Colder weather. Cheaper gas.
Calderon saw some of these changes from a computer screen in Tikrit, a world of roadside bombs, gunshots and military salutes. But some things can't be transmitted via Webcam.
"When I left, the little one didn't talk that much. Now, on the way home, she started singing the ABCs," he said. "I was just amazed how much she knows."
His family — wife, Glorimar, 29, and daughters Angelica, 5, and Isabel, 2 — met him at the airport with a "Welcome Home Soldier" poster and newly straightened hair. The girls wore matching "Princess" outfits under their coats.
Daddy's face looked different from the one they saw again and again on old vacation videos.
Exhausted from the flight, he still whooshed them around the airport on his back. He wore his daughter's fuzzy Dora hat instead of a helmet.
The ride home from the airport was like a briefing.
The highway construction that had been only columns when he left was now asphalt under his feet. His favorite Spanish music station, 92.5 La Nueva, was now dubbed La Maxima.
Angelica is counting from 1 to 50 — 40 more than a year before. She has been asking lots of questions about how long Daddy would stay.
Isabel has begun copying her sister's facial tics and the way she moves her hands. She has moved from a crib to a Tinkerbell-stickered bunk bed.
Glorimar, too, is different. She is recovering from a hysterectomy.
Different plants dot the patio. The economy's gone crazy, Calderon said, and he'll be able to watch the Super Bowl without an eight-hour delay.
But some things, even after a year, haven't changed.
People asked Glorimar what got the family through the tough year of loneliness and worry without Calderon. She answered, "Communication and a lot of faith."
That hasn't changed.
Calderon said it's likely he'll return to overseas duty by next year. It would be his third deployment. He'd rather not go, he said, but will do what the mission requires.
That hasn't changed.
Drew Harwell can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386.