Alex Baker was destined to be a soldier since the day he was born.
“This goes way, way back because my grandfather, his great-grandfather, was in France getting shot at on Nov. 11, 1918,” his mother Pam said. “So when Alex was born I said I did that to honor my grandfather - I had a boy on Veteran’s Day.”
On Nov. 11, 2009 Alex turned 23 - in Afghanistan.
“It’s hard,” Pam said. “We’ve been preparing for it just nearly all his life. He’s wanted to be a soldier since he was little. And when we got the news of his deployment, which was about this time last year, I told my brother, ‘I have always known this was coming, but I am still not ready.’”
Alex, a 2005 graduate of Stephenville High School, began fulfilling his dream at a very young age.
“He started in the Civil Air Patrol when he was 12,” Pam said. “He has always had that military bearing and he has always wanted to fly.”
It is, after all, in his blood.
Both of his grandfathers were in the Army. So it came as no surprise that Alex entered into the Corps when he left for college at Texas A&M University. There was a surprise, however, when Alex changed his military course.
“He dropped his Army contract to go National Guard because his ultimate goal is to fly helicopters. He said, ‘Mom, this may be deployable.’ And deploy they did,” Pam said.
Alex is now an army specialist in the National Guard. He is one of a dozen soldiers on an Agricultural Development Team serving in Afghanistan.
“(The team is) teaching people to grow their own crops and to be more self-sufficient,” Pam said. “The country has been war-torn for so long, they farmed for centuries, but the generation to generation knowledge has been lost.”
Alex is on a 13-month deployment, which will end sometime in January.
Alex’s family misses him - especially during the impending holidays.
“This is the first time (he’s absent for the holidays) and it’s not going to be pretty,” Pam said. “We are, of course, going to have Christmas and his birthday when he returns in January. We’ve kind of dreaded it all year, but we’ll make it.”
Alex’s older sister Sara said missing him for the holidays and the nearing of his homecoming is taking its toll.
“It’s getting to be the last month or two and it’s just getting more stressful because we are more anxious now,” she said.
Sara, 25, has taken an emotional journey since her brother’s departure.
“I know I would worry about him even if he was older than me, but he is my baby brother and he’s the only one I’ve got,” she said. “I stress about him and I stress about (my parents). I am the only child here right now. It’s weird and I am ready for him to be back.”
The Baker’s worries and frustrations only grew in October when four of the team members were hit by an IED. Two were killed. The other two are recovering in Texas.
“It’s made things very stressful for the last month,” Sara said. “They are there to help (people) of course, but IEDs don’t discriminate. It’s kind of sickening.”
“It made it emotional for us,” Pam said. “The team has been living together for about a year and they are very close. They are good guys.”
To pass time and ease worries, the family has made several APO boxes and shipped them overseas to Alex and his team members.
“There has been an APO box on our kitchen table ever since he left,” Pam said. “He said, ‘We all share but nobody gets as many boxes as I do.’”
The boxes are filled with Alex’s favorite goodies - including candy and Dublin Dr Pepper.
“It’s sort of the most intimate contact you have with him - making him candy and sending it to him,” Sara said.
And although he is halfway around the world, Alex’s family still gets to see him thanks to Web cam technology.
“About once a week we talk to him on Skype,” Pam said. “Missed calls are very frustrating. But since we’ve discovered Skype, we send Facebook messages and set up a time for him to call.”
Seeing Alex’s smiling face eases the pain of his absence.
“It really does help,” Pam said. “He is pretty quiet and when you can see him it is easier to have a conversation with him.”
Alex is scheduled to return home in January. Although they don’t have a specific date, the Bakers already know what their first order of business will be.
“We’ll have to stop at Railhead BBQ,” Pam said.
Second on the list is handing over Alex’s senior Aggie ring, which arrived last week.
“We have strict instructions not to open it,” Pam said.
For now the Bakers are sitting tight and wishing their soldier was home for the holidays.