In Search Of...Service and Sacrifice Part 5

Final installment in the life of a local military family

Published On: Dec 16 2011 07:40:48 AM CST   Updated On: Dec 16 2011 09:06:03 AM CST

LA CROSSE, Wis. -- Holidays are supposed to be a time for traditions.  For food and football.  For family.  That's what they're supposed to be.  But when Thanksgiving rolled around last month, nothing was as it's supposed to be - for the Ehlers family of La Crosse.  "It's different"

It's been a rough nine months for Karen Ehlers and her daughters Maggie, Emma and Gwena.  Back in February, we first met the family preparing to send father, husband and service member Doug Ehlers off on a 13 month deployment to Kuwait.  "He gave each of us a locket with his picture in it.  So we can always remember he's close to us."

We watched as they said goodbye. 

We watched as they welcomed him back on leave....only to have to leave again.

And now here they are facing the holidays without him.  "We'd be putting up the tree and he'd be helping us get the ornaments on the top of the tree." "They say things like, I just wish Daddy could be here."

But what the girls don't know is that right now Doug is at the La Crosse Airport getting ready to surprise them.  And he is back - for good.  "Today I'm arriving home about 3 months early."

Doug's early arrival is part of the drawdown of troops happening in the middle east. "We really didn't know if it was going to happen or not. They closed four of our bases in Iraq and Kuwait and we didn't know who was going to get to go or if they were going to let me go because I was one of the leaders.  Probably about 2 weeks now that I knew I was going and the worst part is just the waiting. It's agonizing."

Back at the house, Karen is in on the surprise but the girls have no idea.  And as their dad gets closer and closer to seeing them, the butterflies are setting in.  "Nervous and excited." "Daddy! Daddy!  Are you home forever? Yes. YAY!!!!"

We have followed this family throughout their journey, this incredibly hard journey.  And we've learned along the way that our country asks a lot of the men and women who serve to protect it.  But it also asks a lot of the families being left behind.

So to those of you like the Ehlers, who have given so much of yourselves for the rest of us, during this holiday season and always - we say thank you. Thank you for your service.  Thank you for your sacrifice.