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Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - 12:26am
FORT BLISS, TX — All he wanted was to play the game. Pfc. Preston Brown loved basketball. While deployed to Iraq in 2011, he would spend all his extra time playing the sport he loved. When he returned to Fort Bliss in early 2012, he spent many hours at Joshua W. Soto Physical Fitness Center playing.
On the night of Jan. 15, 2012, Brown, being a good battle buddy, decided to skip going to play ball and instead went with two friends to a local club in El Paso. While Brown and the other two Soldiers were leaving the club, shots were fired in the parking lot. The Soldiers were caught in the crossfire.
While the three dropped to the ground, Brown was struck in the head by a stray bullet. After months of being deployed and coming home safely, Brown was killed after only a few weeks stateside.
Brown’s company commander, Capt. Jamie Lemon, Company A, 123rd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, remembers getting the call, three hours after the incident occurred, and being told that one of her Soldiers had been shot.
“When you get off the plane, you breathe a sigh of relief that you brought all your Soldiers home safe,” said Lemon. “Then to lose one of them while on block leave, it’s one of the worst feelings ever.”
So they played basketball at Soto Gym Feb. 28, to honor their fallen friend. The battalion was planning on holding a basketball tournament to raise money for their battalion ball. Lemon convinced the battalion’s leadership to honor Brown by holding the tournament in his memory.
The first tournament was held on Feb. 8, 2012, one year to the day that Brown had enlisted in the Army. His teammates in Company A won the tournament the following day. Again this year Brown’s old company prevailed.
Flown in by Command Sgt. Maj. Rhonda Easter, the 123rd command sergeant major, Stephanie Caldwell, Brown’s mother, was there this year to present the trophy to the winning team. She has been to El Paso several times since her son’s death, but this time was different.
“I want the Soldiers to know that we are grateful for what they are doing here today,” Caldwell said. “This is the first time I have come to El Paso that I have not wanted to leave immediately.”
Lemon hopes that this will continue to be an annual event for the 123rd.
“You don’t have to have known the person to know the spirit behind this tournament,” Lemon said.
So they played basketball again this year, to honor the young Soldier who had made such a huge impression on those around him. According to his mother, Brown would be smiling to see his friends and battle buddies playing the game he loved.