By Mollie MillerJuly 24, 2008
FORT RUCKER, Ala.--Around 6:30 p.m. July 20, Dee DeJesus started breathing again.
Standing in the parking lot in front of Fort Rucker's Air Traffic Services Command headquarters building, the mother of three craned her neck, trying to catch a glimpse of the source of the thunderous rumbling echoing through the Alabama sky.
Then, above a hedge of green bushes, Dee saw what she had been waiting more than 13 months to see - a procession of Fort Rucker Military Police cars and Patriot Guard Riders leading a tour bus toward where she was standing.
Her husband, Staff Sgt. Lenny DeJesus, was home from war.
"While he was gone, I was just trying to hold it all together, just holding my breath and hoping that he was safe and praying for God to watch over him," she said. "Finally, I can breathe again."
Lenny was one of 18 Soldiers from the 164th Theater Airfield Operations Group (TAOG) who returned to Fort Rucker Sunday following a nearly 14-month deployment to Iraq and Kuwait.
As the bus pulled to a stop in front of the dozens of Family members and friends including Dee and her children, Ashley, 17, Brett, 12, and Leah, 4, a loud cheer erupted from the crowd as they excitedly waited to greet their Soldiers.
"We are so excited," Dee said as she brushed away a few tears. "All the emotions from the whole year, the good and the bad, are just hitting us all at once."
Since leaving Fort Rucker June 6, 2007, the 164th TAOG, led by Col. Jerry Egbert, has been busy working to improve air traffic services in Iraq and Kuwait. For the past 54 weeks, the Soldiers of the 164th TAOG, the first unit of its kind to deploy in support of the Global War on Terrorism, was responsible for making Army airfields better, assisting the air traffic controllers in the towers and providing general standardization and oversight of airfield operations in Kuwait and Iraq.
During a short formal ceremony Sunday evening, Egbert thanked his team for their hard work during the deployment and thanked the Families for their constant support.
"Families, we owe you more than words can express," he said. "You are all vital members of the Army team."
Lenny said he was proud of all that his team was able to do during the deployment and he knows the unit made a difference for the warfighters in theater.
"We accomplished a lot," he said. "We really helped the Aviation community in Iraq."
As Dee waited to take her husband to his new home in Bowden Terrace, one the Family moved into just five weeks ago, she explained that she believed the deployment had made her marriage and her Family stronger because it forced them to communicate better.
"We were always madly in love but now we love each other even more," she said. "I'd rather be married to this guy and see him one day a year than be married to anyone else on earth and see them every day."
Wrinkled, bleary eyed and a little stir crazy from a long and twice delayed trip home from war, Lenny crossed the threshold of his new home in Bowden Terrance just a little past 7 p.m. A shower and clean clothes were calling to him but there was one thing he needed to do first.
Stepping to the window above his kitchen sink, Lenny gently pulled the Blue Star Banner from the front window and inscribed it with the date of his return. As 4-year-old Leah hopped around his legs, anxious to tell her daddy about everything he missed during his many months away, Lenny gathered his little girl up into his arms, looked around at his new home and his happy Family and he let out a small sigh - he too, could breathe again.