Master Sgt. Stephen Peterson, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, embraces his daughter, Kendra, 6, during a homecoming ceremony for the brigade Thursday at division headquarters. The ceremony signaled the official conclusion of the unit’s advise-and-assist mission in Iraq. The brigade’s homecoming came the same day that the U.S. officially marked the end of the Iraq War.
Jennifer Peterson, center, her son, Brandon, 4, and her daughter, Kendra, 6, cheer as Master Sgt. Stephen Peterson, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, returns to Fort Hood Thursday after his unit spent about seven months in Iraq.
By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald

FORT HOOD — More than 20 years after deploying to Iraq for the first time, Master Sgt. Stephen Peterson is home for good, for now.

The soldier, who participated in the invasion of Iraq in 1990 during the Gulf War, returned to Fort Hood’s Cooper Field Thursday with other 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, troopers following a seven-month deployment to Iraq. It was Peterson’s fourth tour to the country since 2003.

After his release from formation, Peterson rushed into the arms of his wife, Jennifer Peterson, hugging her for a long while as tears fell down his cheeks.

“Elated” was the word the soldier used to described the reunion with his family, which included daughter Kendra, 6, and son Brandon, 4. “It’s gotten tougher being away as they get older.”

Peterson, 45, said it was a privilege to have been part of the first and last days of the Iraq conflicts, with all U.S. troops leaving the country by the end of the year. “It’s good feeling. It’s been wonderful to see the transition from Desert Shield and Desert Storm to now.”

Although much of Iraq must still be rebuilt, he said, “I think they have everything in place.”

The brigade, which deployed to Iraq in May, was stationed mostly in Diyala and Salahuddin provinces in an advise-and-assist role in support of Operation New Dawn. The unit moved to Kuwait this fall and assumed an observation mission, in case it was needed again in Iraq.

Troopers were notified just weeks ago that they would return home in time for the holidays.

Jennifer Peterson, 41, said she and her children were looking forward to spending Christmas with her husband. In the past, the family has celebrated Christmas at different times of the year to accommodate his deployment schedule, but that arrangement gets harder as the children become older, she said.

Brandon, dressed in a three-piece brown suit for the homecoming, said the best thing about Christmas is his dad coming home, and the best thing about his dad is: “that I get to kiss him.”

Despite the difficulties inherent in a military marriage, Jennifer Peterson said she and her husband are still deeply in love after nine years, and they function as a team.

“I went into this with my eyes wide open,” she said, recalling their first date at a Chili’s restaurant near Fort Gordon, Ga. “He literally looked at me and said, ‘I’m a career soldier, and my goal is to be a command sergeant major and if you don’t like that, then we’ve had a great lunch.'”

Stephen Peterson said the key to a military marriage is “keeping your spouse informed.”

His wife agreed. “He keeps me abreast of everything, and I think that’s why we’re so close, and I don’t freak out about anything.” At the same time, Jennifer Peterson said her husband is a soldier’s soldier who “blooms when he’s downrange. … I’m just so proud of him, and it’s time someone knew it.”

Col. John Peeler, brigade commander, uncased the brigade’s colors at the ceremony, signaling that most of the brigade is now home. The action also restored the unit to a brigade combat team from an advise-and-assist brigade.