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Deployed Soldiers Return in Time for Father’s Day

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 18, 2010 – Army Sgt. 1st Class Roland Lueras left for a year-long deployment to Iraq on Father’s Day last year, missing his family’s usual gift-giving celebrations.

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Army Master Sgt. Donald Towers poses for a picture with his grandchildren, Jamie and Waylon, shortly before his deployment to Iraq in June 2009. Courtesy photo

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But this weekend, it will be his 8-year-old son, Austin, who will receive the special gift: his father. Lueras is one of about 80 Army National Guard soldiers with the 203rd Military Police Battalion based in Athens, Ala., returning home tomorrow, just in time for Father’s Day.

“Austin is going to go nuts when he sees him,” his mother, Alisha Lueras, said. “He missed him a lot.”

The unit’s family readiness group will host a cookout tomorrow to keep families occupied before the soldiers pull up to the Athens armory. But the moment the commander orders the soldiers’ dismissal, the Lueras family plans to pack up and leave for a week-long vacation in Clearwater, Fla., where they’ll celebrate their soldier’s homecoming and honor him for Father’s Day, Lueras said.

“Roland is the only one Austin will get in the ocean with, so he’s thrilled his father will make it back in time to go to Florida,” she said.

The timing is right for the beach vacation, Lueras noted, especially since Austin had such a tough time over the past year. Several months ago, Austin had stumbled upon the Military Channel while flipping through channels to find cartoons. He saw story after story on Iraq before his mother realized what he was doing and blocked the channel, but it had already left a lasting impact, Lueras said.

“He got in his head that his dad wasn’t going to come back,” she said. “He didn’t want me to talk about his daddy, and he couldn’t even say daddy. It took months to get him to talk to his father. He was scared.”

It took time and patience to “straighten him back out,” his mother said. Now, Austin is focused on more positive thoughts: his father’s homecoming.

“I’m excited I’ll have a chance to play with him on the Xbox again,” he said last night.

Heather Moore also can’t wait until tomorrow, when she’ll see her father, Army Master Sgt. Donald Towers, again after their year-long separation. Her family -- including her 7-year-old son, Waylon, and 4-year-old daughter, Jamie -- will be waiting for the bus to pull up outside the armory.

Her father last deployed when Waylon was 18 months old, Moore said. But even then, it left a powerful impact.

“[Waylon] still remembers it,” Moore said. “He knew his grandfather was in Iraq, but not what he was doing. He’d say, ‘Papa is in Iraq mowing grass.’

“They used to get on the riding mower and cut grass together,” she explained, and the idea of his grandfather mowing grass in Iraq was a concept he could understand.

This time around, her son had a better grasp on why his grandfather was in Iraq, and his teacher and classmates provided much-needed support, Moore said.

The students became pen pals with Waylon’s grandfather, and Austin’s teacher arranged video calls on Skype, she said. The students asked the soldier a variety of questions about his daily life and job, and after the group call, Waylon had an opportunity to talk to his grandfather alone.

“The school was very supportive,” Moore said.

Waylon and his grandfather have a special closeness, Moore noted, a bond that her father said factored into his decision to deploy.

“He said he wanted to [deploy] because he didn’t want what was happening over there to happen in my son’s backyard,” she said, struggling to hold back tears at the thought of her father’s sacrifice. “It’s a lot; he didn’t get to come home at all this year.”

But with the homecoming at hand, the family is planning a busy weekend for her father, Moore said. Her cousin is getting married tomorrow, and the family will go straight from the homecoming to the wedding. Her father even bought new fatigues so he’d be clean and pressed for the wedding, she added. They’ll follow that up the next day with a party at her mother’s house where friends and family are invited to stop by to welcome him home.

“He asked us to keep it low-key, but that’s not possible in our family,” Moore said. “It’s going to be an extra special Father’s Day.”

Moore’s mother, Ruth, said she’s glad her husband will be home in time for Father’s Day, but is even more grateful just to have him home safely.

“I’m just so glad everyone is coming home safe and sound,” she said. “We’re very fortunate no one [in the unit] has been injured and are able to come back at one time and celebrate with their families.”


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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Sgt. 1st Class Roland Lueras, his wife, Alisha, and son, Austin, pose for a picture during an outing to an aquarium in Tennessee, April 17, 2010. Lueras was home on leave from a year-long deployment in Iraq. Courtesy photo  
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