Sunday February 24, 2013

STOCKBRIDGE -- Two new pals visited the Stockbridge Grange Saturday. They'd only known each other for a week. They are both named Brian Rice.

Army Sgt. Brian Rice was being welcomed home with a gathering of friends and supporters after serving for a year in Afghanistan.

When he returned home a week ago, he met his bright-eyed 5-month-old son, Brian Rice, for the first time.

According to Sgt. Rice's mother, Barbara, and his wife, Carolina, the two Brians have been inseparable ever since.

Rice, 26, was serving with the 411th Army Engineers Battalion. He joined the U.S. Army Reserve as a junior at Monument High School.

Army Sgt. Brian Rice chats with a friend while holding 5-month-old Brian Rice as his wife, Carolina Rice, adjusts the infant’s sock during a welcome
Army Sgt. Brian Rice chats with a friend while holding 5-month-old Brian Rice as his wife, Carolina Rice, adjusts the infant’s sock during a welcome home party for Sgt. Rice in Stockbridge. (Scott Stafford / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

At seven months into his deployment, on August 26, 2012, he found himself on a computer chatting via Skype from Afghanistan with a delivery room in the Berkshires while his wife gave birth and his mom served as birthing coach.

"It was hard, watching from so far away," Sgt. Rice said, holding his son in his arms. "It was very emotional, and joyous, almost as if I was there."

He said that without Skype, "it would have been a lot harder."

Barbara Rice recalls the experience.

"It was thrilling but sad," she said.

Carolina Rice said she was a bit anxious about her husband meeting his son for the first time.

"I was a little nervous about how it would go, but he (Sgt. Brian) just loves him (little Brian) to death," she said. "He jumped right in -- and he lights up every time he comes in the room."

She said the pregnancy and first five months after birth were difficult without her husband at home.

"You still spend a lot of time alone, and I didn't have a car, so I felt kind of stranded at home," Carolina Rice recalled.

But her family and the Rice family were quite helpful through it all, she noted, with someone coming by to help nearly every day.

"They were a big help," Carolina Rice said.

Upon meeting his son for the first time, the sergeant said it was an "overwhelming" experience. Now, a week later, he said he's working into the routine of fatherhood.

"I think I'm doing OK," he said, his wife nodding her agreement.

Now, Sgt. Rice is planning on taking a couple of weeks to spend time with his wife and son before he returns to his job as seafood manager at the Canaan, Conn., Stop & Shop.

Rice's family has a bit of a military history.

His brother, Adam Rice, is also a sergeant in the U.S. Army. He just returned from his fourth tour in Afghanistan about two months ago. He is currently stationed at Fort Bragg.

"I think they both went into the Army probably because I was in the Navy," said the Rice patriarch, Frank Rice, with a grin.

"Now it's a big relief that he and his brother are both back," added Barbara Rice.

When news reached home that Sgt. Brian Rice would be returning from his deployment, the Rice family and the Here At Home Committee pulled together a welcome home party.

Sgt. Rice was escorted to the party by four police cars -- complete with flashing lights -- and was greeted in the driveway by several dozen well-wishers. With him were his wife and son.

Frank Rice had to search for the words to explain his feelings upon both his sons' return from a war zone.

"I can't explain it," he said. After a pause, he continued. "Sure am happy. It's good to have ‘em back."

Barbara Rice said it was hard year to pass knowing her sons were at war.

"It's a challenge for sure," she said. "You have to have someone to talk to who understands -- most people don't know what it's like to spend the holidays without your kids. I hope neither one of them ever go back again, but you just don't know."

To reach Scott Stafford:
sstafford@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6241.
On Twitter: @BE_SStafford