December 24, 2008 Edition

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Soldiers return in time for holiday

Josh Gray enjoys homecoming with family

Josh Gray and his family sit around the Christmas tree. Gray was one of the soldiers who completed a tour of duty in Iraq, returning to the United States on Dec. 11. He is thrilled to be home with his wife Raquel, five-month-old son, Beau, and two-year-old daughter, Chantelle.
TD Photo ~ Frank Witowski Jr.

Frank Witowski Jr.
Staff Writer

"I'll be home for Christmas. You can count on me."

These words from the familiar Christmas carol rang true for Alpha Company 2/153, 39th Brigade who returned to the United States Dec. 11 following a tour of duty in Iraq.

Josh Gray, 23, was one of the soldiers who was deployed Jan. 7 and arrived in Iraq in the spring. He arrived home in Walnut Ridge Dec. 17.

"I'm so very happy to be home for Christmas," Gray said. "It's the greatest Christmas gift being home with my wife and kids."

Gray said he joined the National Guard in December 2003 when he first turned 18 and had his first tour of duty this year.

Gray came home for the birth of his second child, Beau, July 9, who suffered from complications at birth from respiratory distress. After his newborn son came home from the Intensive Care Unit at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, Gray had to return to Iraq.

"It was hard to leave him and Chantelle (his two-year-old daughter)," Gray admits. "I'm ready to be back with my kids."

He said it was difficult being so far away from his family, but "I had to do my job."

Gray's served as gunner/driver and his job was to escort Third Country Nationals (TCNs). TCNs supply food and fuel to different areas around Iraq in armored security vehicles and HUMV (hummers).

"All in all, I believe the deployment went well," he said. "Soldiers were brought in from different states and we all worked well together."

He said he did become good friends with some of his comrades who became like brothers and sisters to him.

Gray said he is grateful to be home especially as other units are being deployed for longer periods of time.

He had the opportunity to stay on active duty through the U.S. Army but chose to stay in the Guard because "I want to spend more time with my family."

"Having him home is the best Christmas present," his wife, Raquel, said. "I'm glad he's home to help as it's been rough taking care of two kids."

Since he's been home, Raquel says he's been spoiling them, and Chantelle loves calling for daddy.

"I'm just happy to be home and glad to get back to [normal] life," he said.

Gray's wife and kids weren't the only ones thrilled to have him home.

"I'm very excited he's back, especially in time for Christmas," his sister, Monica Long, said. "He has one of the biggest hearts, and I love him bunches."

His aunt, Lana Gray, feels a burden has been lifted since he arrived safe at home. "I thank God every day that he's been home because it's been a long year that he's been gone," she said.

Gray is the son of Chuck Gray of Walnut Ridge and Peggy Gorecki of Indiana. His grandparents are Ray and Wanda Powers of Walnut Ridge, Perry Gray of Alicia and Janet Lemon of Indiana.

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