By Spc. Jeffrey Ledesma; 1st Cavalry Division Public AffairsNovember 27, 2007
FORT HOOD, Texas - It is the day before Thanksgiving, a little after 1 a.m. when five passenger buses packed with 1st Cavalry Division Soldiers rolled in front of the roaring crowd of more than 250 people like Hollywood superstars.
In the warm hands of Central Texas, troopers with the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade and 2nd Brigade Combat Team returning from a 15-month deployment to Iraq reconnected with their family and friends at the division's parade field here Nov. 21.
For Lawrenceburg, Ky., native Jamie Neal, wife of Sgt. Russell Neal, the quick ceremony meant the conclusion of a difficult time.
"It's been hard," she said. "But I'm glad he's doing what he does."
During the beginning of the tour, Jamie had to go through the birth of her second child, 10-month-old Grace, all on her own. Neal, an apache mechanic with 4th Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment of the Warrior Brigade, went home to see his wife, 3-year-old son, Isaiah, and his baby daughter six weeks after she was born.
Neal headed back to Iraq. Later, she remembered receiving news of her husband's three-month extension in Iraq and the feeling angry.
"That night I put the kid's to bed and cried myself to sleep," Jamie said. Luckily, the long road of separation has come to an end for this family.
Jamie said she was anxious to see how the baby would react to her father. Grace frequently heard her father's voice on the phone, but this was the first time in eight months the father and daughter would come face to face.
"I am extremely happy to have him back home with his family," Jamie said. The Neal family isn't the only family thankful this Turkey Day.
Fourteen-year-old Mercadez Jenkins of Temple, Texas, along with her mom, sister, nephew and brother also reunited with her father, Staff Sgt. George Beasley, a truck driver with the Wagonmaster's 15th Brigade Support Battalion.
"He calls me his little monkey and I call him my big gorilla," Mercadez said. "The first thing I want to do when I see him is jump on his back and say, 'Welcome home my big Gorilla!'"
Despite keeping in constant contact via email and telephone, Mercadez hasn't physically seen her father since Christmas. But Thanksgiving this year with her father and much more food, she said, has everyone more excited and in the holiday spirit.
"On this eve of Thanksgiving we truly are thankful," said Brig. Gen. Frederick Rudesheim, the Fort Hood installation commander, as he addressed the returning troops before releasing them into the waiting arms of loved ones.
He closed with a little reminder that, as Soldiers and family members come together for the holidays, to keep those who haven't made it home yet in their prayers.