By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
WEST FORT HOOD – Capt. Manuel R. Ramirez loves Halloween.
It was only fitting that the company commander returned to Fort Hood from a 15-month deployment to Iraq on Oct. 31. He missed last Halloween, but Ramirez got home just in time to celebrate with his family: wife, Helen; 5-year-old son, Gabriel; and 18-month-old daughter, Aurora. Ramirez is commander of the 504th Military Intelligence Brigade's Headquarters Support Company, 303rd Military Intelligence Battalion.
Ramirez was one of more than 400 soldiers from the 504th Military Intelligence Brigade and 20th Engineer Battalion who returned to Central Texas. Half arrived late in the morning and the other half later that afternoon.
One of them was the military intelligence brigade commander, Col. Keith Geiger. The soldiers collected intelligence for Multinational Corps-Iraq, he said. The soldiers were spread over 35 forward operating bases in Iraq.
The soldiers were anxious on the way to the West Fort Hood gym where they would reunite with their families, the colonel said. It felt wonderful to come home to a cheering, sign-waving crowd, he said.
It's almost indescribable, he added, and "absolutely overwhelming to the soldiers."
The troops get a sense of support from family and friends through phone calls and e-mail, Geiger said, but they don't get that sense of emotion until they march into the gym and see all of the people waiting for them.
Gabriel and Aurora came to the gym that day dressed in their Halloween costumes. She was a mermaid and he was The Flash.
Gabriel and her dad always dress up as super heroes, Helen said. It helps the kids remember what their daddy does for a living, she added. Ramirez is Captain America – the soldier who represents America.
"It's an easy way for Gabriel to understand he's out there battling bad guys," she said.
That can sometimes be hard to explain to children, she said.
Ramirez is already dressed as a super hero, Helen said, referring to his Action Combat Uniform. He can't validly get candy if he trick-or-treats in that "costume," she joked, but he's still a superhero.
The Ramirezes have been married for eight years. They met at Auburn University – "Go War Eagles," Helen joked. The two are big football fans and he has kept track of the team during his deployment.
This is the couple's third deployment and Helen said she has found new and better ways to cope each time. This deployment had new challenges, though, because her mother died and it added another challenge to overcome. Still, Helen said, she has become more independent.
She has accomplished thing she never thought she could alone: performing maintenance on the car, getting the appropriate decals so she can go on post, replacing the garbage disposal, remodeling the house and taking care of two kids and two dogs.
Usually she would have a "honey-do list," but now she has a "honey-don't list," she said.
"Because I've already done it," she said proudly.
Helen said she didn't know what the family would do for the rest of the day. She doesn't like to put pressure on her husband to do anything; she just likes him to relax and readjust to being back home.
Other children in their Halloween costumes came to see their soldiers home on Wednesday. The Flash ran around the gym, chased by a ninja, Superman and a samurai.
Before the formation of soldiers ran into the gym, Helen doubted whether Ramirez would continue the tradition of taking the kids trick-or-treating because he might be worn out from traveling.
That question was answered after the soldiers were dismissed. After much searching, Ramirez finally found his wife, super hero and mermaid in the crowd. There were hugs and kisses before The Flash was swept up in Captain America's arms.
Would he take his kids trick-or-treating later that night?
"Yes," he exclaimed before flashing an excited smile.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7547