Sgt. Joseph James kisses his wife, Karen James, during the 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, homecoming Saturday at Fort Hood’s Cooper Field.
Khloe LaCombe, 8 months, pinches her father’s nose after Cpt. James LaCombe returned from Iraq with the 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division in a Saturday morning ceremony at Fort Hood’s Cooper Field

By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald

FORT HOOD — Sgt. Joseph James’ brother saw him first.

“Hell, I’m not waiting,” Lenny James said after yelling to the rest of his family, still searching for their soldier on Cooper Field during a homecoming ceremony early Saturday for the 15th Brigade Support Battalion.

The unit was the first from 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division to return from Iraq following the recent announcement of the end of U.S. military operations there. Since leaving in May, the battalion advised and assisted Iraqi security forces in the northern provinces of Diyala and Salahaddin.

Lenny James, 35, threw his arms around his big brother, and the two men embraced, their shoulders trembling on occasion from emotion.

The reunion was one of celebration, and also one of mourning for their mother, Beth James, who died of a terminal illness during her son’s deployment.

Joseph James and his family said her passing made this tour of duty, his third to the Middle East, the most difficult.

“We were pretty sure we were going to lose her,” he said. “When we did, it was hard, being that far away.”

The soldier, 42, said he was helped by a supportive noncommissioned officer chain that allowed him to take emergency leave just before his mother’s death this summer. The Chaplain Corps and his wife, Karen James of Copperas Cove, helped him cope when his mother died after his return to theater.

“The good, the bad, the ugly of this deployment — I wouldn’t have gotten through it without my wife,” Joseph James said. “I’ve got the best family in the world, and she’s the anchor.”

Karen James said she tried to support her husband as much as she could from home, and took comfort in his opportunity to spend time with his mom during his emergency visit. “He didn’t leave her side.”

“She was amazing, the woman was a saint,” Karen James said. “She always came to deployment ceremonies. Being here without her (is) hard.”

But, said Lenny James, who drove from his home in Abilene to greet his brother, “She’s here with us. … I think she’d be happy to know that after being over there for months that (Joseph) could be there in the end to make sure he didn’t miss anything.

“He finished everything we needed him to do so that she can have the things she has,” Lenny James continued, smiling at his 2-year-old daughter, Evie. “I couldn’t be prouder.”