News: For his love of basketball
Story by Sgt. Robert Larson
FORT BLISS, Texas - All he wanted was to play basketball. 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 Soto Gym playing basketball.
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, Texas. 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 back stateside.
A close battle buddy, Sgt. Paris Idley, an automated logistics specialist, like Brown, was driving back to Fort Bliss from his hometown of Akron, Ohio, when he got the call that Brown had been killed.
“We deployed and everybody made it back, then Brown dies back here,” Idley said. “I was shocked.”
His company commander, Capt. Jamie Lemon, Alpha Company, 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.”
Lemon remembered Brown very well. The two had ridden in a vehicle together when the unit was part of the last convoy out of Baghdad, just a few weeks before. Lemon said Brown didn’t shy away from the conversation in the vehicle for those two days, even though he was riding with all females.
So they played basketball, Brown’s favorite pastime, 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.
Brown’s mother, Stephanie Caldwell, wasn’t sure that they could pull together the first tournament last year.
“I didn’t think that they had everything together,” said Caldwell. “It did make me happy to know that they thought that much of my son to do it.”
The tournament was held on Feb. 8, 2012, one year to the day that Brown had enlisted in the Army. His teammates in Alpha Company won the tournament the following day. This year, Alpha played Delta Company, and again, like the year before, Brown’s old company prevailed.
Flown in by Command Sgt. Maj. Rhonda Easter, the 123rd CSM, Caldwell was on hand this year to present the trophy to the winning team of the tournament that now bears her son’s name. 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.