TOPEKA, Kan. - A homecoming nearly a year in the making played out at Topeka's Billard Airport Friday afternoon.
Sgt. Jamie Jarboe was hit by sniper fire in Afghanistan last April, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. He's endured a series of surgeries and infections at Walter Reed and Johns Hopkins hospitals. His wife, Melissa, spent as much time as possible at his side, while daughters Lexie, 6, and Celestial, 14, stayed behind in Topeka attending school.
Friday, wife and children were all smiles as they scanned the skies, waiting for the first sign of the private medical plane bringing Jarboe back home.
They weren't alone. Patriot Guard, American Legion and ABATE motorcycle riders lined the airport fence, American flags flapping proudly in the breeze.
The site warmed Melissa's heart and she said Jamie would be excited. She says he sometimes feels that no one cares about the soldiers, but she said the scene at Billard was proof how much support there is in Topeka for those who serve.
Also there to greet Jamie were members of his unit, who made the drive from Fort Riley. Sgt. David Larson served under Jamie in Afghanistan and says you couldn't ask for a better leader, always willing to help or explain something. He says it was a difficult time when Jamie was injured, especially knowing the injuries were so serious, he might not make it through.
He said he wanted to be there to see Jamie finally come home.
Once the plane landed, Melissa and the girls walked onto the tarmac and watched as Jamie was lifted off the aircraft and onto a stretcher. From there, he was brought closer to the fence, where he lifted a hand and waved. The motorcycle contingent saluted in return.
The journey is not over. An ambulance, escorted by a police car and the motorcycles, took Jamie to a Topeka rehab facility where more surgeries lie ahead. But Melissa says if Jamie had any doubts, Friday's scene shows him people do care.
The Jarboes story has inspired thousands of people. Melissa updates Jamie's progress on the Facebook page "Prayers for Sgt. Jamie Jarboe."