Earlier this year, more than 1,200 members of the Minnesota National Guard's 34th Infantry Division Red Bulls came home from a year-long deployment. The Red Bulls oversaw military command of the southern part of Iraq.
When we first met the Pereda family, they were anxiously awaiting the return of National Guard Cpt. Jim Pereda. While he was deployed, the family kept in virtual touch by video chatting over the computer. Minnesota Public Radio News caught up with the Peredas at their home in Rogers to find out how the homecoming has gone.
WELCOME HOME DAD
About a week before Christmas this year, Charlie Pereda, 9, practiced piano by playing "Silent Night" in the glow of the Christmas tree. Nearby, his younger sister and two younger brothers did homework and played videogames.
Charlie started piano lessons a few months after his dad, Jim Pereda, returned from Iraq. He said he likes having his dad back so they can do stuff like read together at night.
Last Christmas, Jim Pereda, 42, was still deployed. While he was in Iraq, Pereda would wake up in the middle of the night Iraq time to call his family over the computer.
At Christmas, the family set up a webcam so Pereda could talk to relatives and watch the kids open presents. It's what a lot of service members do these days. More than half the soldiers in Pereda's unit kept in touch with their families using web cams during the deployment.
Pereda said the family celebrated Christmas again when he got back in February.
"When I got home they had the tree up," he said, "they had all the Christmas lights on when I got home and presents underneath the tree, and so the first thing we did when we got in the house was we sat down and opened Christmas presents."
READJUSTING TO CIVILIAN LIFE
Now that he's home, they get plenty of in-person quality time. Pereda has resumed his civilian job as a stay-at-home dad, but took him a while to get back in the swing of things.
"I would be walking around and be like, why is the floor so messy," he said, "and it was like oh -- I guess I haven't vacuumed."
Daily life can be overwhelming after deployment to a place like Iraq. Pereda feels lucky that his job over there wasn't as dangerous as it could have been. He spent most of his time in a concrete bunker doing his administrative job, but he's still had ups and downs since getting home.
"Because you get used to the regimented life there and things and then when you come home and you've got 45 different ways you can go, it's a lot harder on some people," he said. "It's almost like you get institutionalized.
"Just even going out to dinner; you open up a menu and you're like, 'I got 45 choices? I don't just walk through a line and grab what is there?'"
The kids briefly had trouble concentrating in school when he got back, and Jim Pereda and his wife Peggy, 40, had to renegotiate their routine.
The Peredas said the Minnesota National Guard programs designed to help military service members and their families reintegrate successfully really helped them understand how to manage conflict at home and stay alert for signs of emotional trouble.
But Peggy said Jim still had to re-acclimate to family life.
"When he was done with work, when he was in Iraq he'd go back to his room or to the gym or whatever and his time was his," Peggy Pereda said. "He didn't have to worry about getting anybody else to bed, getting homework done, any of that kind of stuff. So I think that was probably one of the biggest adjustments for him being back."
Pereda said she and her husband have handled his return well because it wasn't his first deployment. Between the Navy and the National Guard, Pereda has 20 years in the military. Still, it was an adjustment for the family -- just like it was when he deployed.
"Everything is unsettled, you know, everything is thrown up in the air and we have to figure out how it's going to be. So in that sense it's the same both times," she said.
Peggy Pereda is a statistician at Boston Scientific. When her husband was gone, she got up extra early and stayed up late to juggle her duties at work and at home. She had no downtime, so she really appreciated her generosity of her friends.
"So, one day I came home from work -- I still get choked up -- the neighbor is on a ladder putting up my Christmas lights," she said.
The neighborly gesture caught her off guard, and it was help when she most needed it.
About a month after Jim Pereda got they had a party.
"I guess we called it a 'Welcome Home' party, but in our eyes it was a 'Thank You' party," Jim Pereda said. "Peggy and the kids sat down and wrote down all these cards and put them all over the tables, like: thank you for putting up our Christmas lights, thank you for shoveling the driveway, thank you for dinner, thank you for putting the wrap around our trees, thanks for mowing the lawn."
Pereda said he's still getting used to how much his kids have grown since he deployed. This month, all four were all big enough to help decorate the house for Christmas.