He was in seventh grade, with shelves of Hot Wheels cars, an amateur drum set and University of Kentucky curtains in his room.
Now he’s a corporal in the Marine Corps, just home from fighting in a war that started before he could get into PG-13 movies.
While I have mixed feelings about the war, they do not waver when it comes to my brother.
On Thursday, Dustin came home a day early after spending eight months in Afghanistan — his second tour — to surprise my parents.
They were expecting to pick him up at the airport Friday and had come to a local bar to sign a Welcome Home banner and to plan a surprise party for him on Saturday.
Or so they thought.
When their backs were turned, looking at all the signatures on the banner, Dustin came out from the back of the bar and up to the stage, where they turned around, stunned, grabbing him into hugs.
The bar was full of family and friends — and even a TV crew — and everyone applauded and hooted and hollered and whistled. Buckets of beer and shots of all types were ordered all around.
It was a homecoming befitting a Marine with a family that parties as hard as it loves.
(And worries about one other as hard as it parties.)
His last homecoming was more subdued.
When Dustin came home in 2009, my dad was still recuperating from a heart attack.
I remember Dustin calling that night and us rushing the cell phone to my dad’s room in the intensive care unit — ban on cell phones be damned.
We had thought that Dustin was going to have to be flown home early because my dad wasn’t going to make it. My sister even got in touch with the Marine Corps, laying the groundwork for him to come home.
Thankfully, my dad pulled through, and this time around my family wanted to do it up right.
My stepmom, Dana, put the plans in place for the big surprise, and no one let the news slip early — a surprise in and of itself.
Though the night will likely only be remembered by a few dozen people, it will forever be a happy and important part of my family’s history.