What would it be like to be away from your family, your friends, your life for nearly a year? It is near impossible to imagine, yet for one Southwest Missouri husband, father, son, teacher and coach, it became a reality.
Joshua Loveland, a standout athlete at Sparta in the late 90’s, was set to begin his second season as a teacher and as the head girls basketball coach at Galena last summer when he learned in June that his U.S. Army Reserves unit—the 560th Transportation Detachment—would be deployed to Afghanistan for up to a year. The father of three would be leaving in September.
“We were originally over strength, and I was going to be one of the few to stay home,” said Loveland, who originally joined the Reserves in Jan. 2010 as a way to help pay for college. “However, as the process went along and some people were unable to go for various reasons, I found out we would be leaving for Afghanistan.”
Loveland would have to tell his wife of nine years, Daphne, that he would be leaving for an extended period of time, as well as his three young sons: Dexter (10-years-old), Walker (8), and Bayler (5). He would also have to tell his parents, friends, colleagues, etc.
“My wife handled the news very well,” said Loveland. “She was not excited about it, but handled it very well, and was very supportive. The boys didn’t take the news very well, but were also a little young to grasp the whole concept until I was actually gone. That is when it really sank in with them. My mom, Jonna Loveland, took the news harder than anyone.”
The Galena Lady Bears also took the news especially hard. The players had had several different coaches in their time at Galena and were looking forward to having Coach Loveland back for a second season.
“I think the players took it really hard,” said Loveland. “We had a great summer and were looking forward to a great season and then we all got the news. The school family and the community of Galena took it as quite a shock, I guess, but were unbelievably supportive not only to me but to my family as well. They will really never know how much it meant to all of us, even though I have told them repeatedly.”
David Sherer, himself a former coach and the current Athletic Director at Galena, was stunned when he learned the news. In fact, he first thought that Loveland had accepted a position at a different school.
“I first learned of his deployment during June in the summer of 2013,” said Sherer, who is entering his fourth year at Galena. “Josh had just come back from his summer guard duty in New Jersey. We had texted and communicated several times. He had no clue of the deployment at that time. I was at school that day in late June and Dr. Danny Humble (Superintendent of the Galena R-II school district) called me in his office. I walked in and Josh had his back to the door. Josh was about to take the girls up to a shoot out by the Lake of the Ozarks and I thought we were just going to meet to catch up on some things. When entering Dr. Humble’s office, I saw Josh holding some paperwork. I was initially concerned he had found another job and we were going to be in search for a new girls coach. He then told us the news that he had been called for a 10-month deployment to Afghanistan.”
Sherer’s immediate thoughts were for Loveland’s wife, children and family, who he had known for years. He could not imagine what the family was facing at that time.
“I had coached at Chadwick and Spokane against Josh when he was a player,” said Sherer. “His father is the long-time scorekeeper at Sparta at basketball games and I had built a relationship with him as well. Daphne, his wife, was a student at Chadwick and I taught her younger sister and brother-in-laws. I had my cows and pigs butchered and buy my meat at his wife’s family business in Old Field. I knew both sides of the family and hold them in high regard. I could not imagine what they were going through.”
With just a few months to prepare for the deployment, Loveland’s family, friends, and community rallied behind him. Fundraisers were held to help the family financially in Loveland’s absence, including a “Glowing for Loveland” 5K Run/Walk organized by Leanne Moody-Reaves, a fellow teacher of Loveland’s in the History Department at Galena.
Galena High School also held a deployment ceremony in Loveland’s honor on Sept. 4, 2013, at the school. There ceremony included patriotic songs played by the Galena band, a presentation by Congressman Don Phillips, and a plaque of appreciation presented to Loveland by his Lady Bears team. Each of the Lady Bears also gave Loveland a letter to take with him abroad. Loveland’s home community of Sparta, where he and his children reside, also went above and beyond in showing their support for the family.
“The support they have shown me is something that I will never forget,” said Loveland. “It was unlike anything I have ever experienced and I am forever grateful to the entire Galena and Sparta communities for the support they have shown, and the outpouring of love they have shown. It is hard to describe in words how much it really meant to us.”
“It was amazing…the sendoff at school and his family in attendance, the TV stations covering the event, the 5K Glow Run that Mrs. Reaves put on, the care packages and Christmas donations for the family,” said Sherer. “Sometimes it is hard for these students, because of their age, to fathom or understand the magnitude of war until it hits them this close to home. This was a teacher they saw or played for every day.”
Loveland left for Ft. Hood, Texas, on Sept. 5, and after a few weeks was deployed overseas to the Northern Region of Afghanistan at Camp Marmal. The base was located near Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan’s fourth largest city. Loveland worked on a flight line while deployed.
“It was a great experience,” said Loveland of the deployment. “The base where I was stationed was represented by 21 different countries. I had the opportunity to work hand-and-hand with a lot of people from different countries and backgrounds and meet a lot of really interesting people. The local people there would go out of their way to be liked, and it was just really a great experience for me as a teacher and a leader.
“There were so many countries there all working together toward the same goal,” added Loveland. “Here at home people often times feel that the U.S. is the only country that is working in Afghanistan, but there are 20-plus countries there all working together to accomplish the goal of spreading democracy and peace to a land that has a history of violence. It was truly a neat experience to work with people from so many different countries.”
The hardest part of the deployment for Loveland, it should go without saying, was being away from his family. It is easy to forget how little things like taking your young son to basketball practice can be taken for granted. Of course, there were also the missed milestone events, such as birthdays and anniversaries. In fact, Josh and Daphne “celebrated” their 10th wedding anniversary last December, albeit about 7,500 miles apart.
“We celebrated in our own ways, without one another,” said Loveland. “She was here at home, and I was in Afghanistan. I was able to communicate with her, and her parents took her out to eat and gave her the ring that I had picked out and sent home.
Josh stayed in regular contact with his family, often daily, and usually by using Face Time on his iPhone. While he appreciated being able to “see” his family, though, it did not replace being home in the flesh.
“The hardest part was holidays, birthdays, and sporting events,” said Loveland. “Not only did I miss coaching my girls at Galena, but I missed my boys playing basketball, baseball and Mighty Mites. That was by far the hardest part of the deployment was just missing my family.”
Meanwhile, back in Galena, Sherer stepped in to coach the Lady Bears in Loveland’s absence. Galena finished with an 18-10 record and a trip to the district semifinals.
“It was a totally different experience,” said Sherer, who played college basketball and coached men’s basketball at the collegiate level, and spent 14 seasons as a boys coach at various schools prior to coming to Galena as an administrator. “The experience was astonishing. I coached them no different than I coached any boys team. They responded well and they worked hard. For everything that those girls had been through, with three different coaches in three different years, and with three very different approaches, and for them to put out that kind of effort was a testament to the girls and the work ethic Josh had instilled in them. It was an honor to coach his team last year.”
Loveland landed stateside on July 7th of this year, and was back home on July 12th. It was quite a homecoming for Josh, though he was somehow able to keep the fact he was home a surprise from family and friends.
“My brother picked me up at the airport, and no one else knew that I was coming home that day,” said Josh. “He took me over to his house, and I hid in his bedroom while my wife and kids came over unexpectedly. After they settled in his living room and they were visiting, he came and got me and I walked into the living room where Dexter nearly tackled me as he ran and jumped into my arms screaming ‘Dad, Dad!’ It was one of the best moments of my life and I will never ever forget how it felt. Then they all got up and came and hugged me and we all just held each other and we all had tears of joy flowing down our faces. Shortly after that we began surprising the rest of my family in the same manner. It was a lot of fun!”
One can learn a lot about themselves when put into a situation such as this. Josh Loveland learned that he can do anything he sets his mind to do.
“No one wants to go and spend 10 months away from your family, especially in a foreign land, but with great support, and deep faith, you can do anything,” said Loveland. “One thing I learned about not only the Sparta community where my family and I still live and are highly involved, but in my work community here at Galena is that there are a lot of really good people out there. I had a lot of support from my family, which was to be expected, but the support that the community showed me was just unbelievable. I am truly blessed to be able to call a lot of these people my coworkers and friends. The people in the Galena community did things for me that I never expected, and made me feel like I was a part of something bigger than just a school, like I was a part of their extended family. It is something that is very special to me, and I will never forget.”
The word “sacrifice” gets thrown out quite a bit these days, oftentimes without justification. However, in the case of Loveland and his family, a hefty sacrifice was made, and one that citizens all over the country benefitted from. Of course, even in reflecting upon the sacrifice he made, Loveland deflects any praise with great humility.
“Sometimes you don’t realize how good things are until they are taken away from you and you don’t have them anymore,” said Loveland. “I won’t lie to you…I was not at all excited about being deployed to Afghanistan. I wanted to stay home and be with my family, teach, and coach basketball. However, that isn’t what God had in store for me. I think in some way shape or form we all have to make sacrifices. Many people have made the same sacrifice long before I did, and some had to give the ultimate sacrifice, that being giving their lives for this country and its people. We should all be very thankful for all the men and women past and present who have served this great nation. I have been home now for a month, and looking back I am grateful for the chance to serve my country and to experience the things that I got to experience while I was in Afghanistan, and I have never been prouder of anything that I have accomplished up to this point.”
“However, it wasn’t only me that had to sacrifice,” added Loveland. “My wife and kids probably sacrificed more than I did. My wife raising three boys by herself, taking them to football, baseball and basketball practices, when most of the time they were on separate teams. My kids doing all the things they love to do with me, now had to do them without me, making it that much more difficult for them. They also don’t fully understand why Dad had to be gone, and to them it didn’t seem fair for their dad to be taken away from them, when everything they did, everyone else’s dads were able to be there and theirs wasn’t. It was a sacrifice all the way around. Thankfully we made it through and now we can look back on it and reflect what it was like, and hopefully learn from it and make ourselves better after having experienced it and grow stronger together.”
“In my opinion you almost can’t describe the sacrifice Josh made,” said Sherer. “He honored his commitment to country and the citizens of this fine country. In Hebrews, it speaks of putting the needs of others in front of your own. What an act of selflessness and he did it with a smile and an infectious attitude, while most of us would have been showing our emotions and disappointment.”
Loveland intends to use the whole experience to make him a better husband, father, teacher, and coach. He said he intends to value the relationships he has with his wife and kids even more so than he already did, and to take better advantage of the time spent together. Already, the Lovelands have done their best to catch up on lost time, and have had a lot of fun in the process just doing things they love to do as a family.
“When the relationships that you have with people you love are taken from you, you get a deeper sense of how much they really mean to you,” said Loveland. “I think my leadership skills from my military experience will show through more now as a teacher and coach, as well. I think my experiences will bring more passion and a higher level of intensity to both teaching and coaching. Hopefully I can be a good example to not only my kids, but everyone I come in contact with.”
Loveland has already made a mark on those who know and love him. He is held in the highest admiration by his friends and colleagues.
“He is a true depiction of what a man is supposed to be,” said Sherer. “He’s level-headed, personable, gentle, tough, faith-based, loyal, understanding, responsible, and family-oriented. He just flat out gets it. Josh showed and shows what men do and who real men are. He exemplifies what commitment stands for and represents, and when times are hard you persevere through them and not around them.”
A new year has begun at Galena. You will find Mr. Loveland teaching junior high geography and history, or maybe keeping his high school students updated about current world affairs. It will soon be time for Coach Loveland to grab a whistle and for some Lady Bears to line up on the baseline. Things are starting to return to normal.
“I am most looking forward to building new relationships with my students and rebuilding the relationships I had with the staff and community,” said Loveland of the prospects of a new school year. “I look forward to sharing my experiences with not only my students, but the community as well. I am really excited about being back and teaching and coaching and look forward to a great year.”
The people of both Sparta and Galena need to be commended, too, for their unconditional love and support for the Loveland family. One of their own needed comfort and support and each community responded.
“I would like to thank everyone who has supported my family and I in this difficult time in our lives,” said Loveland. “I want to especially thank the Sparta and Galena communities for making us feel loved and appreciated. I would like to thank Coach David Sherer for stepping in for me and doing such a great job. I want to give a special thanks to my family for helping out my wife and kids while I was gone. I want to give a special thanks to my wife for sticking it out with me while I was gone, doing a great job with our children, and supporting me so much over our last 10 years of marriage together. Two of the hardest jobs as a wife are being the wife of a soldier, and the wife of a basketball coach, and my wife is both. She is an amazing woman and I cannot thank her or tell her how much I appreciate her enough. Lastly I would like to thank God for the experiences that he allowed me to experience, and for bringing me home safely. Thank you all very much!”
No, thank you, Josh Loveland.