Nic and Autumn Kletzien haven't seen each other in four months. Not physically, at least. They do get the chance to chat on the computer nearly every day.
"Being able to have that connection and receiving phone calls or being able to Skype with him helps a ton," says Autumn, a finance manager at Reinhart FoodService in La Crosse.
The couple met through mutual friends a couple of years ago, and now they don't exactly have your typical relationship for a couple of newlyweds. The two tied the knot last April at Devil's Lake, but by the end of the year Nic was on his way to Afghanistan with the Army National Guard, and Autumn stayed home in La Crosse.
"I think what's hardest is knowing that he misses a lot," says Autumn, pointing to everyday events like grocery shopping.
This is Nic's third deployment, but the first time he had to leave the side of Autumn and her 6-year-old son Noah.
"It just makes it so much easier just knowing that my best friend is at home and taking care of things," says Nic, a Sergeant First Class in the National Guard.
For their one-year anniversary they enjoyed their usual chat. "Our first anniversary, instead of the traditional couple getting to spend it physically close, we got to spend it over a Skype session," remembers Autumn.
Because Autumn couldn't be with Nic on their special day, she wanted Nic to have something special by his side. She wanted to give him some extra love and warmth to remind him of the one waiting for him to come home.
"Although I'm not a quilt-maker, I had this far-set goal of mine that I was going to make him a quilt," she says.
Autumn hadn't sewn in more than 15 years and had never quilted in her life, but there she was, every night, every weekend, pouring her heart into the fabric to document their journey.
"I think a lot of quilts tell a story. And for the quilt that I made, it really tells our story. And it's a love story," beams Autumn.
Nic knew he was getting a quilt, but had no idea what it would look like. "The stitching is red, white and blue. It's incredible," he says.
"My favorite part of the quilt is probably the yellow ribbons. That was the pattern that I came up with on my own," says Autumn, referring to the hard work she put in to make her own square design. She even found the special camouflage Nic is wearing for this deployment.
"There's the flag patch which is the flag patch he wears on his uniform," she says, pointing to a picture book that documents her work. The main color of the quilt is red, which represents Nic's artillery unit. Red was also one of their wedding colors for the same reason.
Also included in the quilt are Nic's deployment logo, the badges from his uniform, and special patterns, like shooting stars, eagle's wings and a heart pattern.
Nic's favorite part of the quilt is one of the sayings featured on it that reads, "With my whole heart, for my whole life, Mrs. Kletzien."
"I get excited seeing the Mrs. in front of my last name," says Nic.
Autumn is ecstatic at how all her hard work turned out. "Pulling it all together and seeing how it came all together and what each of the pieces signified was really amazing."
Nic's had the quilt for a few weeks now. "I sleep with it every night. It kind of zones me in when I go to bed every night, because it's that constant thing that's there," he says.
He can't see his wife every night, but now Nic can sure feel her warmth, and dream of the day that he and the quilt make it back to La Crosse to start a new chapter with Autumn and Noah by his side. "It's something that we can look back on and remember if we're going through a tough time at home, we've been through tougher," Nic says.
Autumn says Nic is expected to return by the end of 2013, and she and Noah can't wait for their house to be whole again.