FORT HOOD — Sgt. Joel Preston never met his grandfather, retired Staff Sgt. Richard Preston, who served in the Army during World War II.
“He died when I was 2, but he still had a great impact on my life. He trained guys for Vietnam and Korea. And my other grandfather served in the Navy during World War II,” he said. “It was just a tradition I want to carry on.”
Preston deployed for the first time last March and said it was fantastic to be back at “The Great Place.”
After a yearlong deployment, 78 soldiers in Fox Company, 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, reunited with their families and friends during a homecoming ceremony Friday at Hood Army Airfield.
After a 10-hour drive from Neosho, Mo., Preston’s mom, Jeryn, was happy to see her youngest son.
“I just can’t describe it,” she said. “I’m just so relieved and happy and proud, just a mix of emotions. He looks wonderful.”
Another son, Pfc. Aaron Preston, is stationed with an engineering unit out of Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and will return from Afghanistan in September. “I’m so proud of my sons. It’s great to have him back,” Mark Preston said.
Gray Eagle flights
Stationed at forward operating base Shank, Fox Company provided division support for all of Regional Command East in Afghanistan.
The unit used the Gray Eagle, an unmanned aerial system, for reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition, as well as strike missions, said Capt. Glenn Anderson, the company’s commander. During its mission, the company operated 12 Gray Eagle aircraft, flying nearly 11,000 hours during the year.
The company was the first in the Army to do all the maintenance, flying and operating of Gray Eagles, which are similar to the Air Force’s Predator. It deployed 117 soldiers last March and safely brought back the entire company.
“They did very well,” Anderson said. “We gave great support to the guys on the ground.”
Hard to be apart
Growing up hearing horrendous stories from the grandparents about “crazy tours” during WWII and knowing the boys participated in covert operations, Jeryn and Mark Preston naturally worried.
Although they could talk to Aaron nearly every day, it was usually more than a month between phone calls from Joel.
“Of course I had concerns, but I’m just so proud of them (working hard and their accomplishments),” Mark said. “It’s been real hard for me. I’m just real close with my sons. ... It’s good to have (him) back and be able to call him whenever I want.”
The year away from family and friends was hard, Joel said. “It’s like a whole year of your life that’s kind of gone. The biggest difficulty is being taken away from your civilization and kind of thrown out in the middle of nowhere.”
And, although he and Aaron both were in Afghanistan at the same time, they never saw each other.
“It was nerve-wrecking,” Joel said. “It’s kind of one of those things where I want to be there for him, but I can’t.”
Back at Fort Hood, the soldiers will continue training on the unmanned aerial system, perfecting their tactics and techniques to support the entire division.
“Now they’re back from Afghanistan, they’ll be integrated to the division,” said Lt. Col. Phillip C. Baker, battalion commander. “They’re inside our battalion, but they work for the division, which is a big deal. It’s a capability that the division has not had before.”