The holidays are a wonderful time to enjoy the company of family and friends, but for many active and reserve military personnel who can't be with loved ones, it can be a lonely time.
Many businesses and organizations close at this time of year, but the military can't afford such a luxury. Defending freedom and facing the challenges of political unrest in many regions of the world requires our military to work 365 days a year.
Many members of the military won't be home for the holidays but, fortunately, not all military personnel are required to be away all the time. Many will be with their families this season and consider themselves lucky to be there.
"We all know it's a possibility when we sign up, but it's tough when it actually happens," said Army Staff Sgt. Connie Tobin, who has been in the U.S. Air National Guard since 1984.
Tobin spoke from firsthand experience. She serves as a medical technician and was called to active duty during Operation Desert Storm. Her unit was sent to Texas to backfill for other soldiers who went to the Middle East.
"My daughter was only 3 at the time," she said. "It was hard to leave her."
When not actively serving her country, Tobin works as a fourth-grade teacher at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School. She tries to schedule her military duties at times when they won't conflict with her teaching schedule, but she isn't always successful. She has on occasion been called for maneuvers during the school year.
"If I needed to go, I would in a second," Tobin said. "But I feel blessed to be with my family during the holidays, and we pray for those who can't be."
Mary Jane Hanley, a captain who has been in the Army Reserves Nursing Corps for 11 years, also is home for the holidays.
In the past, Hanley has been called to active duty at times of conflict.
"The not knowing can be unsettling," she said. "You try to be ready to go at anytime, but you just try not to freak out because you can't live your life that way."
Several years ago, her unit received orders to backfill at the Tripler Army Medical Center, a hospital in Hawaii. She also was called to active duty roughly about five years ago during the strife in Bosnia and some members of her unit have volunteered to backfill during the recent problems in Afghanistan.
"As conflict goes on, they need more and more people. That's when you get called," she said.
There are a lot of issues involved when these people are called to active duty. Many have full-time occupations outside their military careers. The call to duty can be an emotional strain when husbands and wives part, mothers and fathers leave their children, and even dogs, cats and other pets lose their owners.
Hanley's children are grown with children of their own, but she said it would break her heart to be away from her golden retriever and springer spaniel.
"It would be terrible because they're my babies," she said. "You can't talk to them on the phone like you can children and family, and they age so fast."
She was happy to be home for the holidays and she's been doing some holiday shopping for her dogs.
As thankful as she was to be home for the holidays, Hanley said she would go if the need arose.
"I like the concept of serving my country and am always willing to go, should I be called," she said.
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