A UT nursing instructor spent the past six and half months in the middle of a combat zone helping our wounded warriors heal.
Friday night Captain Tess Kennard's students, co-workers, and family surprised her at McGhee Tyson Airport to give her a "Big Orange" welcome home.
"This is our way of showing support for Tess," said Janet Brown, Kennard's coworker. The big crowd held signs, waved flags, and chanted "We Love Tess" at her arrival.
"Coming home and having my colleagues here, it really means a lot," Kennard said, tearing up.
Kennard is a clinical instructor at the University of Tennessee School of Nursing, but she's also a captain in the U.S. Navy Reserves. She added another title during her deployment: Officer in Charge of the Warrior Recovery Center in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Working nearly seven days a week, Capt. Kennard helped to heal battle scars of mostly young American soldiers, but she also took on emotional wounds.
"I did a lot of consoling them and talking to them. Just a lot of mothering at times. I think that was what was needed. It was a very rewarding position," Kennard said.
Her husband, David, knew the dangers of his wife's location. The Vietnam veteran said he never stopped worrying.
"I thought about that everyday," David Kennard said.
"We had rocket attacks. They would hit usually off the compound but usually you would get into a bunker until it was cleared," she said.
Now after taking care of other troops, Capt. Kennard can get some rest and relaxation of her own, with a sense of pride and accomplishment for serving our country.
"I'm immensely proud of her for what she's done and what she's experienced," said David.
"I really wanted to serve, I wanted to do my part. And I got to do that," she said.
Capt. Kennard has been in the Navy Reserves for 30 years. She was on active duty for four years before that. This was her first combat deployment.