Soldier#8217;s gift of love hits home

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 29, 2005

Sgt. James Owens will be home for Christmas — and not just in his dreams.

The Lawrence County native recently returned from his tour of duty in Iraq, on leave to celebrate the holidays with his family, even though after an act of generosity, it was in question whether his brief vacation would even happen.

As a civil engineer with the 101st Airborne, Owens has been working to help rebuild areas in and around Baghdad for more than three months. Though he received permission to take leave from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day, he reconsidered after talking to a fellow soldier.

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“I gave up the leave that I had for another guy who was in the unit, because his baby was scheduled to be born around the 25th,” Owens said. “I gave it up to him so he could come home. But things worked out with delays so that I could be home for Christmas myself.”

Although Owens’ wife, Kym, didn’t relish the thought of spending the holidays without her hubby, she didn’t find his generosity too surprising.

“It’s hard to explain, because it’s something I would have expected,” Kym Owens said. “As dearly as we hold all of our family, our military community is just as much our family. I knew we’d be connected through the Internet even if he wasn’t here, but it’s amazing to be able to have him here.”

It wouldn’t have been Owens’ first time spending the yuletide in Iraq. Owens’ first deployment lasted from February 2003 to February 2004 and he was unable to return home. But that didn’t stop him and his comrades from spreading some holiday spirit.

“We observe it as much as we can,” Owens said. “As I remember it that year, we were staying in old airplane bunkers and I think I’ve still got pictures somewhere of a bunch of us standing in the bunker wearing frag vests with Santa Claus hats on.”

But of course, it just wasn’t the same as being with his family for the holidays.

Unfortunately, this visit is almost over with James scheduled to return to Iraq the day after Christmas. With any luck though, Owens will soon be home for good: His deployment is scheduled to end in September 2006.

A holiday leave just doesn’t just lift the soldiers spirit, it also means a lot to Owens’ family, including 6-year-old son, James.

“I’m happy that daddy gets to have family time,” James said. “And I get presents with my mom and dad.”

Owens has his own favorite holiday traditions, but one stands out, one that will keep him sustained physically just as these brief visits home sustain his spirit.

“Mom usually makes a heck of a meal,” Owens said with a smile. “It means a lot for me to actually come home for the holidays. I still love the area and I still call it home.”