Casey R. Harrell, an Ohio National Guard sergeant who returned home from Afghanistan on Friday, got a second “Welcome Home” celebration, this one a surprise, at the Northeast Ohio Correction Center where she works.
“It’s exciting to know they didn’t forget me,” said Harrell, a correctional officer at Corrections Corporation of America’s private prison on Hubbard Road, during Tuesday’s event.
Harrell, 24, a member of the ONG’s 838th Military Police Co. based in Austintown, returned from a year in Afghanistan to a celebration with friends and family Friday at W.D. Packard Music Hall in Warren.
While in Afghanistan, she was attached to the Guard’s 324th MP Co. in Middletown.
It was her second deployment to the Middle East. In 2009 and 2010, she was stationed in Iraq.
The prison officials worked with Harrell’s mother to host the surprise event, which included family members and a room full of co-workers.
“Casey embodies the qualities we look for in an employee, a co-worker, and a friend,” said Candace Rivera, quality assurance manager at NOCC. “She strives for excellence and takes pride in not only her duty to protect the community as a correctional officer, but her duty to protect America,” Rivera said.
She also embodies the qualities her parents want in a daughter.
“She is so special. She is very strong physically and mentally. She is able to take care of herself,” said her mother, Sheila Harrell of Howland.
The family, consisting of her father, Ted, and siblings Nicolette and Tyler Harrell, also were concerned about her safety while she was deployed.
“The two hardest days of my life were when I said goodbye to her when she went to Iraq and Afghanistan,” Harrell’s father said.
He thanked NOCC for the “Welcome Home” celebration. “It was phenomenal,” he said.
Casey Harrell talked about her deployments.
“You make friendships you can’t build any place else,” she said.
She was a private when she was sent to Iraq, but she was a sergeant in Afghanistan in charge of other soldiers.
“I felt protective of them and wanted to make sure they returned safely. We became very close,” Harrell said.
That being said, Harrell said Afghanistan was her last deployment, and she plans to leave the Guard in March 2015 when she will have eight years in the military.
She said she loves her job at NOCC and her co-workers.
“They are wonderful, and you can trust them to have your back,” she said.
Now that she is home, Harrell has a “bucket list” of things she wants to do.
She said she wants to have LASIK eye surgery — a procedure that corrects certain vision problems, reducing or eliminating the need for eyeglasses or corrective lenses — and has to go shopping for clothes, something she said she doesn’t enjoy, but is necessary.
Not a large woman, she became a runner in Afghanistan and lost 20 pounds.
And, as a result of her interest in running, she said she is in training for a half-marathon.