LA CROSSE, Wis. - From the outside looking in, the Ehlers family of La Crosse is like many others. Parents Doug and Karen both hold full time jobs, raising three kids with a mortgage and a dog. "We have three girls." "I'm Maggie, I'm 10. I'm Emma, I'm 9. I'm Gwenna, I'm 7."
But this family is part of a special club. One that requires service and sacrifice.
You see this March, Doug will mark his 20th year as a member of the Navy reserves. For years Doug has put in that one weekend a month, two weeks a year service requirement. But last June the Ehlers got the call no military family really wants to get. "It was interesting because someone has that job of calling and they had called and it came up on caller id and when I told Doug that they had called, he's like 'oh no.' So you knew who was calling." "They called about 8 months out and told me that I would be deployed in 2011 and that I needed to start getting ready for all the stuff I needed to do."
The destination - Kuwait. "I don't think I had as good of reaction as you. I was more upset. Why now? Mostly just really worried about our kids."
For months they have been tackling a very long to-do list. First there's all the military paperwork that needs to be filled out, you need a will and a power of attorney, insurance needs to be changed. Then there's all the loose ends you need to tie up at home. "That list got long! Hurry up and fix everything!" "It's more of a piece of mind for me when I'm over there that things are gonna be okay over here."
And then comes the hardest task of all. Figuring out how to tell three little girls daddy will be going away for more than a year. "We definitely didn't want to ruin their summer. We didn't want to ruin any of the holidays and Christmas. So we told them in about mid-January. They cried of course right away. They wanted to know where. So we had to get out the map. It was hard, especially for our youngest to understand how long that is. Our oldest seemed to get it...but even our 9-year-old was like, 'won't he be back this summer?' Maggie finally goes...'he will not be back in the at all in 2011.' It's like, oh..."
"He gave us a locket with his picture in it so we can always remember he's close to us."
"Even though we're a part of the military, it's so easy to forget that people are over there everyday. Thousands of people are deployed and their families are at home and you do - you forget about it. People are doing their job. They're sacrificing." "If you know a military family and you know the mom or dad is deployed, call them. See how they are doing. Is there anything you need? Does mom need a break or a beauty treatment? I don't do that now...but maybe I'll start."
These days, every moment as a family seems to be a little more special, a little more precious. Because the clock is ticking down on their time together when the real 'service and sacrifice' begins.
Make sure to tune in for next weeks In Search of where Doug and Karen talk openly about their biggest fears over the next year. They also let us follow them to the airport as they say goodbye to Doug.