352: An American Homecoming

Written + Photographed by Chris Pestel + Caroline Taft

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On July 20th, 2017 1LT Holland Gibson returned from his deployment to Afghanistan. On September 2nd, his friends and family joined him at his family home in Northfield, Illinois to celebrate his return. Due to a chance encounter with his sister Janie several months earlier, the CADET team had the opportunity to capture the homecoming.

1LT Gibson’s story may sound a lot like yours or someone you know. What makes this story beautiful is how utterly relatable it is — to graduates, to veterans, to service men and women, and to each of their families that have endured the countless goodbyes and welcome homes of military life.

 Holland (2nd from the left) his family (left-right brother, Sulli; sister Janie; father Eric; mother Denise)

Holland (2nd from the left) his family (left-right brother, Sulli; sister Janie; father Eric; mother Denise)

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During his years at the Academy, Holland was a member of the West Point Glee Club and the Knight Caps, the Glee Club’s all-male a cappella ensemble. The club became an outlet for his 20+ years of musical dedication that began when he started playing the piano at the age of 6.

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While a cadet, Holland frequently performed the National Anthem for sizeable public crowds, most notably before kickoff at the Chicago Bears game at Soldier Field on Veterans Day in 2012 with the Knight Caps, and as a soloist to kick-off the 2014 NFL Draft in New York City.

 The Chicago Bears picked 8th selecting CB Kyle Fuller

The Chicago Bears picked 8th selecting CB Kyle Fuller

On May 28, 2014, Holland and his 1,063 classmates graduated from the United States Military Academy. They each embarked on a career path that over the years may have taken them across the world, and for some, to war zones on combat deployments. 

 Crass Mass - Brass & Glass

Crass Mass - Brass & Glass

After successfully completing Ranger, Airborne and Air Assault school, Holland’s career took him to Afghanistan, on a 9 month combat deployment with the 101st Airborne Infantry Division. Although he now calls Clarksville, Tennessee home, on this particular weekend, he’s back in Northfield, surrounded by his closest friends and family.

 Holland was in Kuwait when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series…he told us “the games started at usually 1 or 2am local time. Watching the final out and the post-game celebrations in that sandy, hot cafeteria will probably go down as my favorite memory as a Cubs fan”

Holland was in Kuwait when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series…he told us “the games started at usually 1 or 2am local time. Watching the final out and the post-game celebrations in that sandy, hot cafeteria will probably go down as my favorite memory as a Cubs fan”

 Holland and his family (clockwise from top left — sister Janie, father Eric, mother Denise, brother Sulli)

Holland and his family (clockwise from top left — sister Janie, father Eric, mother Denise, brother Sulli)

That chance encounter with Holland’s sister Janie could not have been predicted or planned. Had “West Point” not been mentioned in a talk we were giving, Janie might have left that event still a stranger. The West Point network often “grips hands” this way — an unexpected run-in at the airport, a high school football game or in a business network when you learn of common backgrounds. Often times, once class years, common aquaintences and past duty stations have been divulged, meaningful relationships take form.

It’s these transactions that we’ve found to be at the root of what we do here at CADET — they all represent the strength and support of the West Point community. While snapping photos and snacking on Portillo’s at the Gibsons last weekend, we had the opportunity to expand that community. And what we found at house number 352 that day was a slice of America; the kind of America that was both familiar and beautiful to both of us. Family and friends, sharing memories and laughs, all brought together because of one welcoming, loyal, and ever growing community.

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