Home for the Holidays or not…

Eli with his mom, Sonia Banks, who is a State Highway Patrol Dispatcher.

Eli Fitch in his Navy uniform.

Nathan, Jessica, Isabella, Dillon and Eli Fitch at ‘early’ Christmas.

The Banks’ family after meeting the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower: Sonia, Ellie on Eli’s shoulder, Chris and Pierce.

Christmas at home, is usually like no other, but there are many of our servicemen that do not get to spend the holidays at home and sometimes, may be forgotten.

One local serviceman will be counted in those who does not get to spend Christmas at home.

However, he is luckier than some, as he has two wonderful families at home and is definitely not forgotten.

Eli Fitch had came home as a sort of surprise on Nov. 16, 2017. He had originally thought he was going to come home Christmas, but he has a new job now working with security and will have to be on base for Christmas. It was a last minute thing. He had to go back on Monday. And, to make it tougher, he is going to be by himself at Christmas, because his buddies are all going home for the holidays.

There, of course, are going to be others there, but that is not the same. Due to this change, his mom and family went ahead and opened some of his presents here, and his mom Sonia Banks said, “we sent him with some other gifts that are wrapped and then on Christmas, we are going to FaceTime, so we can watch him open them.

We had some presents ahead and we only had short notice, so we rushed to the mall and we got him a few more things, so he could have somewhat of a normal Christmas, we did what we could. His little brother and sister say their gift is just Eli coming home and that’s all they need.”

Pierce, who is Eli’s younger brother, just can’t wait for him to come home anytime to play video games with him (they were playing at this time), and Ellie, who is his sister, just clings to him she doesn’t want him to leave and every time he leaves, she wants to make sure he’s coming back, like when he goes and visits his friends and others, she wants to be reassured that he is coming back so she’ll say, ‘now you’re coming back, right?’ And, he reassures her and he loves that and his other sister, Isabella who’s 12, on his dad’s side, and his step-brother Dillon, who is 17, they are all just so glad when he’s home.

Eli graduated from Minford in 2015 and signed up for the Navy soon after. Eli has two separate families, but they have unique yet wonderful relationship. His mom and his step-mom are close friends and they all do things together. Eli has a brother and sister with his mom, Ellie and Pierce. He has another sister and step-brother with his dad. And together, they all went to see meet Eli after he had been on a ship for eights months.

Eli left for boot camp on Oct. 13, 2015, just shortly after he graduated. He has been home around six times since then, and he has already had one deployment. This deployment had him gone for eight months this time last year, so he wasn’t home for Christmas last year either. He was in the Arabian Gulf on an aircraft carrier the entire time. There were about 5,000 of them on the ship.

When the ship returned home, Sonia and Chris Banks, Eli’s mother and stepfather, along with Nathan and Jessica Fitch and several of Eli’s closest friends, went to Norfolk, Virginia to bring the Southern Ohio welcome to Eli.

“When he returned to the states, we(Eli’s step-dad Chris and Sonia), have a great relationship with his dad (Nathan Fitch) and step-mother (Jessica), she’s one of my closest friends and we all drove down there, we stayed in a hotel together along with some of Eli’s friends, Mikey Miller, Kenton Gullion, Eli Williams, and Tate Hall. We all got in the bleachers and we made signs together, Jessica and I had made them the night before to welcome him home, we made neon signs, so he could see us.

This entire group had to get security clearance to get on the base even ahead of time before they come to port, like a month in advance. we had to sent all of our social security numbers, birthdays, dates and they had to get us on a list and then there was a glitch where they didn’t know if some of us would get on on not because the system had lost some of the names, that was a lot of anxiety, we prayed and we called home and had everyone pray, pray pray. Obviously, we all made it. so we all got to be there as he got off the ship and see his feet touch the ground.

And, when the ship starts coming closer, the closer it gets, you know you are gonna see your boy, after almost a whole year,” she said choked up still.

“To get to see him again, it’s almost like the excitement and overwhelming feeling you get to see your newborn baby for the first time,” Sonia said. “There is nothing like it. When he came off that ship, of course there’s 5,000 of them getting off the ship, we had first seen him up on the deck and he spotted us and waved at us, which was great, but to just get my arms around his neck and to know he was back on American soil and safe, was just overwhelming, you can’t control the emotions that comes from that, just like I said, like when you have a baby the first time. There is just something that you just can’t explain, unless you have been in that situation. You can’t imagine!”

Speaking with Eli, he said that while he was deployed, he was on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. When asked what it was like to be on a ship and not touching ground for all that time, he hesitated and then said, “stressful.” H

e said that they would touch ground at different ports, but it might be 55 days at a time or so. It would be like two months apart. He talked about the jobs he did while on the ship and he stated that he would work on the equipment of the jets on the flight deck, he was on the flight deck and said watching the jets come in and out was fun.

The feeling he had when he pulled in to port to see his family was really exciting. ” I was really tired, because we had been going through a lot of time changes and only slept like two hours before then,” he said with a laugh.

He discussed that it’s not really hard to come home, knowing that you are going to leave again, because he tries to focus on family and be grateful that he can come home rather than just dwelling on the thought of leaving, enjoying what time he has with them.

He was looking forward to Thanksgiving the next day and said he had to hit about four or five dinners. He humorously said he’d be ‘pretty packed’. At least for his families, he got to spend one of the wonderful holidays with those he loves and who care greatly about him.

Eli has at least two more years, because he signed active, so the soonest he could get out would be October 2019. When asked if he had ever regretted on joining the Navy and doing so right out of high school, he said, “no, nope,” and said it was right for him at the time.

“Without a question, you pretty much have to grow up,” Eli said. “I was the youngest person in my work center when I first got there, everyone else was basically 24 or 25, or so they didn’t want to work ‘with a clown!’ You either grow up or have a really bad time.”

He said about his change of jobs when he returns to Virginia, “I just work with the military police right now.”

Eli is carrying on a tradition for his family, as Sonia’s dad was in the Navy. she said, “He was a gunner man, he passed away 11 years ago, but it’s just an honor to see Eli follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, it is an honor for our family to have Eli in the Navy and that His papaw Kenny served in the Navy too. He was in for eight years, from 1973-81.” Sonia said that she was born in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and her older brother, Chris, was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, which is where Eli is stationed now making things unique and interesting in their family.

Taking for granted that families will be together is not always true. Some people are separated by oceans, distances within the United States, or things that can’t be explained and with all the bustle and hurry of this time, people forget there are those who are not as lucky as others. There are many people who go above and beyond during the holidays to help those in need.

However, there are those who are just sad, because they cannot be with the one they love. Luckily, the Banks’ and the Fitch’s got to have their boy home for Thanksgiving and have a great plan to help share Christmas with him, thanks to today’s technology. Eli’s Christmas will be just a little warmer and brighter, even though he can’t be home in person.

Reach Kimberly Jenkins 740-353-3101 ext. 1928