The Marines of Lima Company, a reserve unit from Columbus, Ohio, understand war is not just fought on the front lines. Their unit was the hardest hit in the Iraq War -- in 2005, they lost 23 men and over 40 were wounded. Now, five years later, Lima Company has been called to serve again, deploying this time to Helmand Province, Afghanistan -- a Taliban stronghold -- leaving their families behind.
Their stories of hope and loss from Helmand and Columbus offer a new picture of the war, one rarely seen. For those left to fight at home, the war is not a policy debate -- it's an empty chair at holiday dinners, a delivery room without a father.
The Home Front
"My child is going to war. I am not okay."
For Linda Bokros, saying goodbye to her son Dan was the hardest thing she's ever done. "It's just a little knot that's in your stomach and it never goes away," she said.
Lance Corporal Dan Bokros, just 21 years-old, left for Afghanistan with Lima Company's nearly 200 Marines in August. He was married just days before he left for war, and for his new bride, the infantry unit's nearly year-long deployment came at the wrong time.
"It was such a happy time," Christy Bokros said, "And then he had to go."
Christy and other wives, Linda and other mothers, have the same fear. They're proud of their loved ones, but nervous.
"Am I going to get a phone call next week, next month?" Kim Van Deventer, the wife of Sgt. John Van Deventer of Lima Company, asked. "Is someone going to knock on my door? You never know."
For the little ones, it's just as hard.
Five-year-old Sierra Blackwell knows her father, Staff Sgt. Dan Blackwell, is a hero.
"He's a good guy. He's the guy who saves the day."
On the Front Lines
The troops are mostly new, but they all know Lima Company's history. Some of the younger Marines said they're frustrated because they have not yet seen combat. They want to be doing more.
Others' minds are on family back at home. While in Afghanistan, they're missing some of life's most precious, and trying, moments.
Blackwell and his wife Jackie have three children. From the command center in Afghanistan, his biggest concern is not the Taliban, but his 3-year-old son Logan.
"My son is in the hospital, and that bothers me. I would much rather be with him," he said.
Logan, the Blackwell's middle child, was born with a rare intestinal disease that required a transplant when he was just 8 months old. Since Blackwell arrived in Afghanistan this fall, Logan has taken a turn for the worse.
Jackie sent a message to her husband letting him know their son's intestines were still bleeding. Logan is in serious condition at a hospital in Cincinnati. Seven thousand miles away, Blackwell can only watch from a computer screen, helpless.
"I just want to make sure my son gets the best care possible," Blackwell said. Meanwhile, at home, Jackie said she hopes her son will be able to come home for Christmas.
Another Lima Marine hopes for the best a world away -- waiting for word from home about a special delivery. Marine Sgt. Ken Pompilli and his wife shared the birth of their first child -- a daughter, Reilly.
"It just kind of happened, I'll be due during the middle of his deployment," Melanie Pompilli said in August. "I'm anxious, a little nervous."