By Tony Parra
When Harold Edwards of Portales left for Iraq on Jan. 2 he told his family he probably wouldn’t be back in time for Christmas.
Things took a turn for the better as Edwards and the members of his platoon were allowed to return after 11 months of duty in Iraq giving him the opportunity to spend today opening presents with his family. Edwards was given his orders by the military to be in Iraq for 12 months, however, those orders changed in October when military officials said Edwards and his platoon would only serve 11 months in Iraq.
“I’m glad he’s home,” Colleen said. “Christmas is about being able to be with the people you love. I didn’t know if he was going to be home because you never know with the military. They still could have changed his plans (after October).”
The change allows Edwards to be with his wife Colleen and their three children, 19-year-old Jesse Davis, 14-year-old Heidi Brown and 12-year-old Amber Edwards today to celebrate Christmas together. Edwards, a Staff Sgt., has served in the military for 17 years, a combination of seven years in the National Guard and 10 years of active duty.
Harold and Colleen, his wife of 13 years, have spent every year together during Christmas despite serving in the military. Edwards said the family has spent Christmas mornings together even though he’s had to work shifts as a deputy for the Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Department before Christmas morning.
Harold and Colleen moved to Portales in 2001 and Harold has served as a deputy for the sheriff’s department for the last three years.
This year, Harold had to return a couple of weeks early to be with his wife while she had surgery. He arrived before Thanksgiving, spent Thanksgiving in Portales then had to report to Fort Hood, Texas for a week. He said he returned and continued his job as a deputy on Dec. 6.
Harold said he has served the U.S. Army in volatile times in Iraq and every time he leaves his family behind it has been difficult. Harold remembers one instance that effected him a great deal. He said he was going to be leaving for duty in May of 2004 when his oldest daughter, Heidi, told her mom she feared the worst.
“Heidi said, ‘If daddy goes to Iraq he’s going to die’,” he recalled. He said it took him back, but that he made sure to stay in contact with his family as much as possible to reassure them he was OK.
Edwards said one of the things he did while he was deployed was running convoy from Tallil Air Force Base to Baghdad.
Harold said he kept in contact with his wife and children, mainly through e-mail.
“There was never a day that went by that I didn’t think of my family and wonder what they were doing,” Harold said. “I thought of my family, here, at the sheriff’s department and wondered how they were doing.”
Colleen, who works as a nurse and travels around southeastern New Mexico to provide health care, said it’s been tough to be without him for most of the year.
“It’s been stressful,” Colleen said. “During his time away I had to carry the load. It was difficult for me. Heidi is in sports. I had to get her to all of her sporting events.”
She said she also had to serve as the lone disciplinary role for her children. It was an adjustment Harold had to make when he came back.
“I was antsy,” Harold said about his first week home. “I was worried about how they were going to receive me.”
He said they have adjusted to each other and once again and they share the household responsibilities. Harold is also adjusting to his other family with the sheriff’s department.
Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Rick Short said deputies work on Christmas weekend to cover the shifts and he said at least one deputy had to work Friday and Saturday and will have to work today and Monday. Short said even when deputies aren’t in uniform, there still obligated to protect and serve.
“We’re on duty all the time,” Short said. “We’re obligated to assist whether we’re having dinner at a restaurant or shopping in a grocery store.”
Even though the Edwards’ family will be complete this Christmas, Edwards wanted to recognize those who are still in Iraq and will not be able to be with their spouses or families. He doesn’t have to look far because Darren Hooker, who also works as a deputy for the sheriff’s department, is also in the National Guard and will spend Christmas in Iraq.
Lt. Darren Hooker is an officer with the 126th Military Police, a newly formed National Guard Unit out of Albuquerque.
“I wouldn’t know what to say to Darren’s wife if I saw her,” Harold said. “All I can say to those who have loved ones in Iraq is to be supportive of what they’re doing and be understanding. I know people would rather be with their families.”