When her husband left for Kuwait last fall, Denise Jackson knew he’d be gone up to a year. Wednesday night, she got a pleasant surprise from the Army: her husband back, after only six months.
“Even leading up to today, I knew nothing is final until you hear they’ve landed,” the Colorado Springs woman said. Master Sgt. Eric Jackson was among 33 soldiers from Fort Carson’s 43rd Area Support Group to arrive home late Wednesday. They were among the first of the 1,800-soldier unit to deploy in October, and they were sent home early when their job was done. “It doesn’t happen too much, so this is wonderful,” said Eric Jackson shortly after arriving at a homecoming celebration on the post. “It’s good to be back home with my family.” Accompanying the 33 soldiers were 36 reservists from the Denver-based 1835th Medical Detachment. Maj. Madeline Belarde of Pueblo was among the combatstress counselors. She is 52 and a grandmother, and 40 family members were waiting for her at the post. “It was like Christmas and your birthday and your wedding and the birth of your child at once,” Belarde said. “All the birthdays we missed were right here.” She said she wouldn’t volunteer to go back to Iraq, but as a soldier, she was proud to be there, grandmother or not. “It was a place for a grandmother,” Belarde said. “We did good work. We provided mental health counseling, so we were able to do a great job for our soldiers.” Her family prefers her here. “She’s here, she’s safe, she’s out of Iraq,” said her husband, Jim Belarde. “Even when she got to Germany, I felt much better.” Col. Dennis Doyle, the rear commander for the 43rd Area Support Group, said the 33 soldiers who came home were from the unit’s headquarters. They had been working to ease the transition as the military swapped out 135,000 soldiers. They were the first soldiers from the unit to return — and probably the last until the entire unit comes home in October. “I’m sure it’s a nice treat for the families,” Doyle said. The timing of the return was perfect for the family of Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Dahl of Colorado Springs. His son, Ryan Dahl, graduates from Coronado High School next week and, thanks to the early return, Jeffrey Dahl will be there. “He would have been so disappointed to miss something like that,” said his wife, Sherri Dahl. The families of the combat-stress counselors had to go without them for longer. The medics have been in Iraq for a year. Patrick McAleney of San Antonio had to find ways to cope with having his wife in a war zone. “It’s wonderful to have her home. You have no idea what it’s like to run a household, run a business and manage elderly parents on your own,” he said. “When your spouse is in a foreign country with a war going on, it’s even worse.” Said his wife, Lt. Col. Rebecca Dyer: “I missed my dog and my husband and breakfast tacos and the (San Antonio) Spurs and beer, beer, beer.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 476-1605 or firstname.lastname@example.org