Father First, Soldier Second

August 1, 2007 - Posted at 7:20 p.m. CDT

PARAGOULD, AR -- It's been a happy homecoming for many Region 8 soldiers home on furlough.  A time to catch up on a little rest and relaxation, and a chance to visit with friends and see family.

For one Paragould soldier, his return home Wednesday meant a chance to reconnect with his one-year-old son.  Someone he's only seen twice before.

A racket that would drive most parents crazy is music to Army Specialist Alex "AJ" McDougle's ears.  Home on an 18 day furlough, he's spending every moment with his wife Alana and one-year-old son Riley.

"He recently started talking about six months ago and he got to the point where he would answer the phone every time I would call home now so it's a pretty nice thing to be able to talk to my son now," said Alex McDougle.

Riley may not know it now, but the military has played a big role in his life so far.  His dad, traveling from Ft. Hood, Texas, just barely missed his birth and then two weeks later was deployed to Iraq.

Home once before, McDougle remembers the pain of leaving his son on his last furlough.

"He started crying when I started leaving and he started trying to run up to me, trying to not to get me to go pretty much," said Alex McDougle.

"At first he didn't really remember what he looked like because he was so small when he left but they've started bonding again and playing again, so that will get him going again.  The playing, he likes to play," said McDougle's wife Alana.

McDougle's tour of duty will be up in four months, but he believes helping the children of Iraq will in turn one day help his own.

"All of us love kids, most of us in the military have kids so we understand what it is like not wanting our kids to grow up around violence and death so we do the best we can to help them out any chance we get. we give them money, food, water, supplies, anything we can we generally give it to them," said Alex McDougle, "I don't regret what I'm doing at any given time...if I sacrifice some time watching him grow up, gives him the freedom to do what he wants, go to college, be whatever he wants to be, I'm fine with that."

McDougle's furlough is scheduled to last 18 days.  Also, members of the 875th Engineer Battalion are slated to come home in mid to late September.