By Amanda Kim Stairrett

Killeen Daily Herald

"Home" conjures a lot of feelings during the holiday season and perhaps no one feels that more than Fort Hood soldiers deployed to Iraq.

The 1st Cavalry Division started deploying its forces in August and finished at the beginning of November.

It is a bittersweet time for the Fort Hood community because while the First Team troops were departing, it meant that the 4th Infantry Division was coming home – a sweet, long-awaited present for thousands of families. The last plane of 4th Infantry soldiers touched down at Robert Gray Army Airfield the night of Dec. 18.

Others units across Fort Hood – III Corps, the 13th Sustainment Command, 504th Military Intelligence Brigade, 36th Engineer Brigade – also have deployed troops.

For the Fort Hood soldiers overseas, their deployment kicks off with the holiday season and "home" is represented by the few things they could take with them: photos, mementos and memories.

This is 1st Lt. Alphie Sachnik's third holiday-season deployment and he tried to make himself feel more at home by sending out Christmas cards and shopping for presents online. Sachnik brought photos of his wife, two kids and his mother-in-law's chickens with him to Iraq. He included the chickens because his kids like to pet them and it reminds him of home.

He will get through the holidays by thinking not about what he's missing, but thinking about what he gets to do next year.

Staff Sgt. Charles Armstead does the same thing. He knows that home is something that's there, but being in Iraq, he can't touch it. It's hard, Armstead said, but he focuses on what he wants to do with his family when he gets back.

Home is represented by one thing for Staff Sgt. James Baxter. His wife recently

e-mailed him a photo of his 2-year-old son, who fell asleep under the Christmas tree while waiting for Santa.

Soldiers and their families are used to change, but as any Texan – or Texan soldier for that matter – will tell you, Texas is more than just "home." It's a state of mind that can bring a bit of the Lone Star State anywhere, even if that anywhere is more than 7,000 miles away in Iraq.

That Texas bond helps create camaraderie during a deployment. When a soldier finds another Texan, it creates a certain kinship, Sachnik said.

"I'm always happy to meet another Texan," he said.

Coming from a state that has food in its shape and Texas versions of everything from beer to pickup trucks, finding pride isn't too hard for these soldiers. In fact, Baxter said that being a true Texan means having untiring pride.

Non-Texan soldiers will say something bad about the state and immediately three or four Lone Star soldiers will come to its defense, he said. If you're going to talk about Texas, be careful, Baxter warned.

"And make sure you're not standing near any true Texans because they will invite themselves into the conversation and you probably do not want to hear what they have to say," he said.

Texas has its Texans and Texans don't put up with anyone who messes with home, Sachnik.

Armstead is always in competition with his soldiers pretty much every day about whose home is the best, he said. It's not hard for him to prove his devotion to his state: he has a tattoo of his beloved Texas.

Baxter loves his state so much because of the variety. He was a recruiter on the Arkansas-Oklahoma border and, nicely put, didn't think there was a whole lot to do.

"Consider it a privilege to come to Texas," Baxter said.

Pfc. Tommy Johnson says people immediately know he's a Texan when they hear him talk. Baxter, Armstead and Sachnik all have a light, smooth Texas sound, but it's Johnson who's got the drawl the word "y'all" was made for.

Johnson gets a hard time "all the time" about his accent, he said.

Being a true Texan is all about pride and representation, the soldiers said. Johnson said he doesn't see the kind of pride Texans have in a lot of other states. Anyone can be a "regular Texan" as long as he or she has pride in the state, he said, but a "true Texan" must be born in Texas.

To Armstead, being a true Texan means to represent the state in every way possible, no matter if he is in Iraq or the Gulf Coast.

Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at

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