While our men and women in uniform are fighting overseas, loved ones at home are praying for their safety and anxiously awaiting their return.
Dustin Riedemann, 24, of Le Mars, and his fiancÚ Autumn Brown, 23, of Waverly are one Iowa couple that has braved the strains of a 12-month tour in Afghanistan.
In 2009, Riedemann joined the U.S. Army.
With the United States being heavily involved in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it was only a matter of time until Riedemann would get deployed. That day arrived on May 1, 2010, when he left for Kunar, Afghanistan.
Brown's feelings were similar.
"When we said goodbye in person it didn't really hit me yet, it was just another 'hey, I'll see you later,'" she said.
Due to work and school, Brown was unable to attend Riedemann's sending off ceremony in Kentucky.
"Talking to him on the phone that day was devastating because it all really hit me and all I did the whole time was cry," she said. "There were moments when we would just sit in silence, not knowing what to say because we knew it was going to be very hard... But we had to do it and we knew we would get through it."
Once Riedemann arrived in Afghanistan, phone calls and Skype video calls on the Internet became the couple's main connection.
"We were able to talk on Skype about four to five times a week; sometimes more, sometimes less" Riedemann said.
"It was only as often as he could get to a phone or a computer," Brown added. "We would go days and even weeks without talking or seeing each other."
Despite the pain of separation, Riedemann had to focus on his responsibilities as an infantryman.
"When I was out on a mission, I put all my personal things on hold," he explained. "I couldn't have something like that clouding my judgment when I was out doing what I needed to do."
Only when he got back to the base would Riedemann allow himself to think and worry about his girlfriend back home.
For Brown, the attempt to blend out her worries about her boyfriend proved to be impossible.
"I tried my best to stay busy with nursing school, working and being with family and friends, but you can never really get away from it," she said. "I missed him terribly every day and would often have those moments when you just break down."
After nine long months of being apart, Riedemann finally returned to Iowa, even though it was only for a couple of weeks of leave.
The two were reunited at the airport in Omaha.
"There are no words to explain the feeling of seeing Autumn and my family once I got off the plane," Riedemann said. "I almost couldn't breathe and couldn't wait to feel her arms around me... all I could say to her was 'I love you!'"
Brown was equally thrilled to see "her soldier" again.
"It was the most amazing feeling in the world," she said. "You go through every emotion at once; from not believing he's really here to pure joy of feeling him hug you and getting that first kiss you've been waiting for forever to crying because you're just so happy."
The couple knew their time together was limited as Riedemann had to go back to Afghanistan to finish his tour.
Saying goodbye once again was incredibly difficult, but the end was in sight.
On April 30, 2011, Riedemann returned to the United States for good.
"The coming home ceremony was the most amazing sight," Brown said. "The excitement of watching his plane land, knowing he will never have to go again, watching them walk through the gates and then being released..."
Her soldier was finally home.
"When I hit that floor to go find him in the crowd, nothing else mattered, and when I finally saw him I jumped into his arms and finally got that kiss again," Brown recalled.
Even after Riedemann's return, the couple's time together was limited as he had to back to Fort Campbell, Ky., where he was stationed.
As if being separated for 12 months had not been trying enough, Riedemann and Brown now had to face an additional 15 months of not being able to see each other on a regular basis.
But those worries were put on hold for a while and all that mattered was enjoying the little time that they had together.
Brown stayed in Kentucky for about a week, then Riedemann was granted 30 days of leave which he spent in Iowa.
"We just tried to have as much fun together as we could," Riedemann said. "Going on our first date, going to a Chicago Cubs game... We just wanted to do things that we had missed out on during my year in country."
Riedemann has been stationed in Kentucky for almost a year now, and he makes the 600-mile drive to Waverly once month.
He and Brown also make sure to talk to each other as often as possible.
"We stay in touch via cell phone and Skype and we talk constantly throughout the day," Riedemann said. "It's hard to talk when I go to the field for training or when I'm at work, but during my off time we don't go more than an hour without talking to each other. We know what it's like not being able to, so we try not to go long times without talking."
Riedemann and Brown have endured plenty over the last two years. And yet separation and fear for the loved one's safety have only made their relationship stronger. With all these hardships behind them, it seems like a sign of fate that the two will be changing diapers when Riedemann gets out of the Army with an honorable discharge this August.
Brown is 19 weeks pregnant, and the couple could not be more excited.
After weeks of negative tests, Brown found out that she was pregnant on January 16 and kept it a secret until Riedemann came home that weekend.
When he arrived, Brown told him that she had a present for him and gave him little baby booties and a picture frame that said "Baby, picture coming soon."
"I looked at her and she just said 'yes!' and started crying," Riedemann remembered. "It means the world to me that she is having my baby. I love her more than anything, and I couldn't imagine anyone else."
The soon-to-be mother is equally excited.
"We are so extremely happy and blessed," Brown said.
To make their happiness complete, Riedemann asked Brown the question of all questions on February 17.
The two plan on getting married in the late summer of 2013, just in time for Riedemann's Army friends to get back from their next deployment so they can be part of the wedding.
The future looks bright for Riedemann and Brown.
"I will hopefully be working in my nursing profession and Dustin hopes to be a Police officer," Brown said. "We have both finished our schooling so all that's left is to get into our house, set up the rest of our lives and be happy and have a happy family."
Not having her fiancÚ around for many of the prenatal doctor's appointments is hard for Brown, but the end of their time apart is in sight as August is just a few months away.
"I am beyond excited and ready for him to get out of the Army," Brown said. "It's been a long hard road and we are ready to finally be together and have our family with no worries about anything anymore."