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Henry soldier home for the holiday

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

The long Thanksgiving weekend will be extra special for one local family this year, thanks to the return of their favorite man in a military uniform.

Army Spc. Joshua Brooks, 23, of McDonough, surprised mother and father when he came home Nov. 17, for 19 days of leave from his post in Katterbach, Germany.

Although Joshua had known for approximately a month he would be able to make the trip for the first time since June, he kept his visit a secret from his loved ones.

Brooks' mother, Linda, works as a legal clerk for the Henry Daily Herald. She says she was "shocked" when her son arrived home unexpectedly, but welcomed him with open arms. "He came in the door while I was in the kitchen and made a comment," says Linda. "I looked up and couldn't believe it was him. Normally, he lets us know when he can get leave, and when he can't. This time, he was just being sneaky."

His father, Joe Brooks, says he was "pleasantly surprised" when a delighted scream by his wife alerted him to Joshua's presence.

"I kind of suspected he might come home for the holidays," says Joe, an Army veteran himself. "We've missed him for several holiday seasons during his tours of Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Korea. You go in [to the military experience] knowing you're going to miss something, and not to plan on getting home for all of it."

Joshua Brooks has been in the Army for more than three years, and currently works as a repair mechanic for CH-47 helicopters. He is the second of four children, who also include 20-year-old Sarah, 29-year-old Jennifer and 34-year-old Daniel, who has served in the Army for the last 17 years.

Joshua says he is no stranger to spending the holidays away from home. "I flew two missions on Christmas Eve [last year], and I was doing maintenance on Christmas Day, so I was actually busy doing stuff," he says. "To me, [Christmas] was just another day."

His mother, however, disagrees. According to Linda, being away from her son for the holidays in 2007 was difficult for everyone in her family. "When you have a big celebration and there's one [person] missing, it just makes it hard on everybody else," she adds.

"But, we did have Christmas for him in July when he came home. We had a turkey dinner, and the Christmas tree was still up at his grandmother's house."

Linda says another holiday tradition for birthdays and holidays, for which Joshua is unable to come home, is to send him gifts, cookies, cakes and other items, so he "doesn't miss out" on those celebrations entirely. "I feel for all those other moms whose babies can't be home," she says while holding back tears.

Sarah Brooks insists she knew her brother would come home for the holiday, despite Joshua's statements to the contrary. She adds that she has enjoyed spending time with him during his leave period, as only a sister can. "I like him being at home, because I like aggravating him."

Linda Brooks says she has enjoyed watching Sarah and Joshua "picking on each other" in recent days. According to her, the holidays are more festive and enjoyable when her children are with her. "We went from having two kids at home all the time, to one leaving and then the other when Sarah moved out," says Linda. "The first Christmas Josh wasn't here -- last year -- was the hardest. I didn't even want to put up a Christmas tree. I didn't want to have Christmas, because one of my babies was gone. It took a lot for me to put a tree up, and it was a small tree."

One aspect of Joshua's time in the military which Joe says is an improvement over his own, is his son's ability to maintain contact with the family. According to Joe, e-mail and web-based cameras are among the tools which have made such communication possible. "Having the technology to talk to your child while he's in Iraq, a combat zone or an overseas station is wonderful," says Joe. "I served [in the Army] between 1972 and 1977, and had to wait in line to get access to a phone to make a collect call, just to keep in touch with my family. To be able to link up, see him and talk to him ... it puts you at ease, and lessens your worries and your fears."

Still, Joe says computers are "no substitute" for having Joshua home.

Joshua says he is thoroughly enjoying being with his family during the holiday season. He relishes the chance to enjoy his father's peach cobbler, his mother's sweet tea and other reminders of home.

Joshua is scheduled to fly back to Germany Dec. 4. He will return to Savannah in January.