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Local soldier's early return home from Iraq a surprise for mom

May 16, 2007|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN - He was sure his mom would cry.

She did.

She's going to faint, too, he said.

Not quite, but when Smithsburg resident Sharon Steelman saw that her son had returned home from Iraq Wednesday after eight months in central Baghdad, she said it was hard to breathe.

"This is unbelievable," she said. "When I saw him ... Oh my God."

Her son, 20-year-old U.S. Army Reserve Spc. Nathan Steelman, surprised his mom at Martin's on Dual Highway in Hagerstown, where she works as a cake decorator. About 15 employees and the store's management helped coordinate a procession that moved through the store with balloons, flowers, noisemakers and, most importantly, Nathan.

Steelman was working in the bakery when she heard the noise and came out to see her son. She immediately began to cry as she moved to wrap her arms around her "soldier boy."

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Since he was deployed to Iraq, she has worn several buttons daily. One states, "I love my soldier boy." Another has a photo of Nathan in Iraq.

Nathan stayed in Frederick, Md., Tuesday night after returning from Iraq, careful not to let family other than his aunt, Sherry Norberg, know he was in town. Nathan said his family planned to get together with him on Saturday as he graduates from Hagerstown Community College.

He said he completed his general studies associate's degree while in Iraq.

"That was tough," he said. "I mean, we're working long, 14 hour days."

Nathan said he'll leave Sunday for Hawaii, where he will visit some friends, and will be back in Washington County for a few days at the end of the month before he returns to Iraq May 31.

Nathan graduated in 2004 from Smithsburg High School, and attended Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., for one year before joining the Army Reserves.

"I didn't really know what I wanted to do," he said. "I joined the army to grow up and to travel."

Nathan said he hopes to attend the University of Maryland at College Park after he leaves the service. For now, he's looking forward to spending some time in civilian clothes and eating Skittles and barbecue chips.

"I want to go to a movie," he said. "Doesn't matter what movie. Any movie in a theater, where I can get some popcorn."

He's also looking forward to spending a lot of time with his family and friends. His brother, 19-year-old Christopher Steelman, and his sister, Ashley Steelman, 22, both live in Smithsburg.

And his mom will have some extra time with him before he leaves for Hawaii. During Wednesday's surprise visit, Steelman's manager gave her the rest of the day off, and as much time as she needed to be with her son.

E.G. Marshall, Martin's assistant store manager, said Steelman was the store's associate of the year last year, and everyone was so glad Nathan was home.

"She goes home for as long as (Nathan's) here," Marshall said. "That entire time, we're giving her off."

He said Nathan's deployment has been a roller coaster of emotions for Steelman.

"Sometimes she'd be fine, happy, and then other days really depressed," he said. "She's taken some phone calls from him at work before, and really had to regroup after."

Steelman said she's e-mailed her son twice each day that he's been gone, once in the morning and again in the evening. Phone calls are sporadic, and once they went 28 days without talking.

"It's been hard," she said. "You know, I was just wondering why I hadn't heard from him today."

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