By Emily Baker
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – When the four Decker children told their teachers why they wouldn't be in school Friday, no one raised an eyebrow.
They had plans that even their teachers agreed justified missing a day of class. Their dad was finally coming home from a year in Iraq. He arrived back at Fort Hood early Friday afternoon with about 140 soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team and the 13th Sustainment Command.
The Deckers – Luis III, 17; Lisa, 16; Alexandra, 12; and Emilio, 9 – agreed the last year has been long and stressful. Their mother, Leticia, said they made it through by knowing their father, Master Sgt. Luis Decker Jr., was safe.
The family also relied on a support network of friends whose husbands and parents also were deployed.
"My coworkers understand and are there when I need someone to talk to during the day and know it's not good to keep things to yourself," said Leticia Decker, who works at Fort Hood's Head Start.
Sending care packages full of candy, video games, pictures and letters helped, too, but a significant source of strength was the support network because "it was weird without (Dad) there at Easter and Christmas and all that," Lisa said.
Along with relying on good friends, several families of deployed soldiers looked to organizations to help them through the year. The local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart has been supporting its adopted unit, the 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment, by providing a meeting place for family readiness groups, helping with Easter egg hunts and Christmas parties and by being willing to listen to family members who need someone friendly to talk to, said Marty Martinez, the chapter's president.
A few chapter members attended Friday's homecoming ceremony to greet the first soldiers from the battalion to return to Fort Hood.
"Anything we could do to support them, we tried to give them," Martinez said. "You could see it in the ladies' faces, the anticipation of their husbands coming home soon. They were so happy."
Martinez pointed around Starker Gym and chuckled when he found examples of what he was talking about. Women awaiting their husbands danced to loud music. Children ran around in circles. Parents fidgeted with paper flags. And after a long wait, their soldiers finally arrived.
The year was long but full of accomplishments, said Command Sgt. Maj. Charles Ross, the senior noncommissioned officer of the 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, also known as the "Buffalo Soldiers." Ross was among the soldiers who returned Friday.
The squadron's soldiers opened schools for children to attend in Iraq and shut down insurgent operations that were preventing the children from getting to school safely, Ross said.
"When we first got there, the school children were being blown up," Ross said.
The soldiers also opened canals to help farmers to produce the first plentiful crop in quite some time, he said.
They also re-established an Iraqi army battalion that was at 60 percent strength because of desertion. The battalion was up to nearly 90 percent manned and was motivated, trained and well-led when Ross left.
The Buffalo Soldiers also turned over the Babylon district in Alhila to the control of Iraq's military and police in a six month period, Ross said.
Contact Emily Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org