National Guard soldiers return from Middle East deployment

Published 5:43 pm Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Stacie Collins shed tears of joy Wednesday when her son, Louisiana National Guard Sgt. Colby Collins, arrived at Chennault International Airport after being deployed in the Middle East for nearly a year.

More than 100 National Guard troops landed at Chennault after being deployed throughout the Middle East. Collins, 26, has been in the National Guard for nearly eight years, but this was his first deployment.

A native of Livingston, he said he looks forward to spending time with family, going hunting and “doing normal stuff.”

“It’s amazing,” Collins said of returning home. “It’s been a long year. I’m just glad to be back in Louisiana, honestly.”

Stacie said the family planned to eat seafood at her son’s request.

“I’m very happy to have him home,” she said.

Collins’ girlfriend, Mackenzie O’Keefe, said she handled his deployment better than expected. The two have been dating 18 months.

“I’ve never realized the toll that it does take on families and how strong these men and women are until you actually have someone you care about overseas,” she said.

O’Keefe said there were moments when their time apart moved slowly, but any communication with him made it feel like no time had passed between them.

“Now that he’s back, we just picked up where we left off,” she said.

Meanwhile, Matthew Gregory Sr. and his wife, Carolyn, of Opelousas were relieved to see their son, 22-year-old Specialist Matthew Gregory Jr., arriving in Lake Charles after being stationed in Syria, his first deployment, for nearly a year.

“It means everything,” Carolyn said of his return from deployment. “When he was gone, there were many sleepless nights.”

Gregory Sr. said he served 15 years in the Marines, which included tours in Somalia and Bosnia. He said his son told him he wanted to do more deployments than him.

“I said don’t do that,” Gregory Sr. said.

Carolyn said her son has 57 days of leave time, and he will return to finish college at Universal Technical Institute in Houston. He’s one month away from graduating, she said.

For now, Matthew and Carolyn are hoping their son won’t be deployed again. She said they’re planning a large, home-cooked dinner for him.

“He said he’s tired of MRE’s (Meal, Ready-to-Eat),” she said.

“He said he doesn’t want any more chicken,” Gregory Sr. said. “He ate it four times a week.”