One soldier, a favorite son of Bridge City, has returned home for his mid-deployment leave. For Micah “Big Mike” Ellender this vacation is just that, a short enjoyable break from dealing with the ravages of war, which is simply his job.

In the early morning hours, after a week of eight varied flights and travel through six time zones, Ellender’s plane touched down in Houston. “It felt amazing touching down on American soil!” Ellender shared recently.

He had trouble choosing between Taco Bell or McDonald’s and decided on both.

“The sight of smiling civilians was a very welcomed sight; and don’t get me started on the women…” Ellender has been in combat for several months in a heated area of Afghanistan.

Ellender is an easy-going young man with a singular focus for now: being a soldier. This ability to keep his gaze allows everything else to be icing on the cake. It affords him the ability to truly enjoy time with his family, a warm soft bed and a plentiful array of foods. “I don’t think I’ve taken a single bite without it being an ‘ahhhhhh moment’. I’ve looked forward to so many foods, especially the ones Southeast Texas are so famous for, like the fish fries and the Mexican food. Half a dozen Thanksgiving type meals doesn’t hurt either.”

Though Ellender’s parents originally had organized a large official reception upon his touch down, with the various flight delays and cancellations they chose to meet Ellender in Houston upon his arrival.

“I didn’t mind a bit,” he said of it being a more intimate homecoming. However, as they crossed the Veterans’ bridge flashing police lights stopped them. “I thought to myself I’ve been in Texas for less than 12 hours, what could I have possibly done? They stopped traffic and escorted us all the way home, which was very special for me. I appreciated the fact that I had officers from local, county, and state departments willing to do such a patriotic act in the middle of the night.”

This is also typical of a true soldier’s mind set. They are not heros they are just doing their job. As with all soldiers, Ellender gives tribute to those he calls the ‘true heros,’ those who sacrifice life and limb. “I know it’s a little cliche, but it’s cliche for a reason…I am no hero. Sure I am doing a tough job that most aren’t willing to do, but once it’s all said and done I come home to loving family and friends.” He finds it difficult to be away from his platoon; his job. He also finds it odd that he feels almost out of place in the home where he grew up. But this is the mind of one who fights with his comrades for the freedoms of those he loves and others with whom he would never even sit and have a meal.

For now, his ‘real’ home is with his fellow soldiers on a bunk or piece of ground or atop a striker. It is a mixed emotion for Ellender to be home. “ Still, I can’t argue with a 24/7 McDonalds. I think the only thing I’ve missed more than the Big Mac is my family. They’ve constantly supported me throughout this deployment with prayers and packages. Next to ammo and water, those two things are pretty important,” said Ellender. Accordingly he admits being in combat and living on foreign soil in our current situation of war, one learns to appreciate the things most would take for granted. It doesn’t only mean hot meals and comfortable sleeping arrangements, but even plumbing or a smile from a friendly individual without having to keep one’s guard up. He is one of the few willingly keeping war on foreign soil and away from the very backyards we casually mow on Saturday mornings.

Still, Ellender who is seldom found without a smile, has seen the worst mankind has to offer to his fellowman.

“I get through the tough times the same way I get through the easy times. I just do whatever it takes to make the people around me laugh, and in doing so my spirits are lifted,” said Ellender. He is known for his ability to keep others around him entertained.

He is comfortable before an audience of many or a handful of exhausted brothers who are banded together in a common experience. His job as soldier, son and friend come together to create a unique individual with a unique perspective. He has the mind of a true soldier. There is a separation, but it is needful. Until he is permanently home and out of harm’s way, he is on guard. He is thinking about those who are sleeping on cots, eating MREs and listening to gunfire and explosions. He is thinking about needing to go back. Officially, he has four more months ahead.

Recently, seated next to his mother on the front pew of his home church, a soldier home on leave, watches the activities. He leads the children’s toy parade, carries a flag, listens to the choir, hugs necks and poses for photos. These are the small and at time mundane activities they enjoy daily. They are the very activities he now fights to preserve. For Micah Ellender, risking life, is his job.