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'Black Jack' Back for the Holidays

Staff Sgt. jason douglas, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs

Capt. Eddie Fazaldin, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, of Killeen, Texas, carries his 6-year-old brother, Abbas Salim, off Cooper Field, Dec. 19, as he and hundred others return from Iraq. 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs

FORT HOOD, Texas 12.21.2009 Candice Yoda spent the past year planning on Christmas for her two small children without her husband, Spc. Stephen Yoda, of 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.

For Yoda, along with the rest of 2nd BCT, the deployments to Iraq and the extension resulted in missed holidays. Yet, the forces that be made sure this time, the "Black Jack" Brigade would not miss another holiday season.

"We were so excited when we found out that he was going to be home before Christmas," said Candice of Marietta, Ga. "Holidays are always hard when your family isn't together."

The Brigade's previous deployment to Iraq was integral to the surge, and resulted in a deployment that lasted from October 2006 to January 2008, requiring the majority to miss two holiday seasons.

Col. Ryan Gonsalves, the commander of 2nd BCT, said the drive for the early return was supported by Gen. Raymond Odierno, the commander of Multi-National Forces: Iraq; Lt. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby, the commander of Multi-National Corps: Iraq; and Maj. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, Jr., who was commander of Mulit-National Division: North at the time.

"The leadership saw that the Transfer of Authority was close to Christmas and recognized 2nd BCT had missed several Christmases before,and moved the TOA back," Gonsalves explained.

The change did not happen overnight, and required the cooperation of the incoming unit, 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, based out of Fort Bliss, Texas, whose compressed and rescheduled their training timeline in Kuwait to meet the early deployment to Iraq. The decision to request the early redeployment began several months earlier.

"Planning began in early summer, and it was decided to adjust 2nd BCT's TOA by 10 days so they could come home early," Gonsalves said.

Gonsalves also said that Army leadership understood how hard Soldiers were working and wanted to do everything they could to get families and Soldiers what they deserved, namely to be home together during the holidays.

"For me, it's more that Soldiers are reunited with their families," Gonsalves said "Knowing Soldiers are with loved ones during Christmas time, even if it is a short time, is a huge opportunity."

Gonsalves, who has missed four Christmases in his career, three since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, doesn't have any big plans for the holiday season. "I'm just going to take it easy with my wife, and my kids are coming to visit," he said.

The Yodas said they plan on taking this gift and spent it with family.

"The holidays are extremely important for us," Candice said. "It's all about family time ... especially because we have been apart for so long."

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