RENO, NV - "We're a medivac unit, so we're out here saving lives. You get a great feeling by knowing you've helped someone." Rebecca Sabatini spends her long days as a supply sergeant with the Nevada Army Guard’s C Company, 1/168th General Support Battalion.
In an interview with KOLO 8 News Now’s Sarah Johns in November of 2013, all Rebecca could say about her location was, "I'm in Kandahar."
Her job, making sure these helicopters are equipped to rescue our boots on the ground with lifesaving tools.
"It is a huge sacrifice," she says. Not just for her, but her entire family. See, Rebecca doesn’t just answer to the title “Sergeant.” She also answers to “Mom.”
"I've had to move my kids from their school that they were in to be able to go stay with my parents,” Rebecca says. “They had to be uprooted and moved to a new school in order for me to come out here."
As the sun sets in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on the other side of the world dawn is barely breaking above the Pine Nut mountains in Dayton, Nevada.
In this sleepy neighborhood, flags wave proudly outside one home. The blue star, indicating a loved one is serving overseas. And inside, a family is serving our country, too.
Ann: "Here's the little one.”
Sarah: “Well, good morning.”
Ann: “This is my little blue blob."
Ann Kleinendorst and her husband, Vance, are raising their three grandsons while Rebecca is deployed. The entire family is feeling the affects of her absence. And Rebecca’s new husband is in the Guard, too. His travel responsibilities mean Grandma and Grandpa are:
"We are Grandma and Grandpa, we are Mom and Dad, we are (giggle) their nurse, their cook, we are their entertainment. And their taxi! Big time taxi."
Ann has the morning shift. She says, "In the morning I'm in charge of getting them up, getting their breakfast, feeding them, making sure they're clean and clothed, and getting them to school."
And while there’s a lot of day-to-day, 365 day-to-days means Rebecca is missing a lot.
Proudly pointing to notes written on her hallway in Sharpie, Ann says, “When Rebecca left we measured and weighed each of the boys… Now when she comes back, we're going to weigh and measure them again. Jacob has grown at least, well, I don't even want to say, but at least two to three to four inches. He's really turned into a big teenager since she left."
"He just started high school this year,” Rebecca says from Kandahar. “So that's another thing that makes it really hard is you know they're starting all these new things and I'm not there to be with them. And, you know, help support them through that… My two oldest ones, they did football this year. My youngest one did basketball, so I got to miss all their games. But, they video taped them for me."
So what were the times within the past year where the boys felt Rebecca’s absence the most?
"I had my (14th) birthday a few months after she left,” Jacob says.
Sarah: “What was that like?”
Jacob replies, “Um, it's not too easy to have your birthday with just your grandparents and stepdad and your little brothers."
But for 12-year-old Brandon, "I really thought Christmas. Because I got the presents that I really wanted, but she missed it."
Ten-year-old Christian’s response is a little more philosophical, "I haven't seen her in a long time. And now I know what it's like without her."
Sarah: "Do you think that having your mom deployed is different then, let's say, having a dad deployed?”
Christian: “Well, dads don't do as much as moms. Like they clean the house, make things look better, they cook!”
Brandon answers the same question with more emotion, “Definitely. Like, a man, sometimes you can go longer. (Pauses.) But your mom is more special.”
Brandon: (Shrugs.) “To me she is,” and he starts crying.
"It's hard, but what I'm doing out here is very important and my family understands that,” Rebecca says. “And I've had a great experience out here, so it's something that I really enjoy doing. I love what I do."
And her sons have a greater appreciation for her because of her service. Brandon says, “I respect her more. A lot more."
"She's saving people's lives,” Christian says with a beaming smile. “She's doing a lot of good things for other people. She's serving for the country."
Sarah: "Were you scared?"
Jacob: (With a big sigh) “Not really. But. Yeah. Because there's that chance that the person who's going to be deployed of being in the danger of dying."
"I think that the boys have been very, very brave this year without their mom,” Ann says. “It was very hard for them to be without her this year.”
While the daily grind continues in Dayton, Jacob catches the bus to head to high school.
An hour later, Ann loads up the minivan and drives Brandon and Christian to grade school. “I have put more miles on my car this year than I can imagine."
It’s not just the boys who have grown in the past year.
"My husband does have to cook on his shift. Which he never did before," Ann says. "We've learned a lot of patience, that I had no clue we had. (Giggle) I do believe that we have gotten closer because we do have to work together more."
And after a year of personal growth for every member of this military family, the time has come. They stand, staring out the window at the American Airlines gate. Only a few families are allowed passes to greet their heroes as soon as they step foot into Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
"She's coming. She's coming. Chris is pointing. She's in the terminal. Wooooooooo!!!!"
Rebecca: "OhmyGod! Look at you guys!"
Rebecca and Chris kiss, "You guys look so handsome, you're so big!"
A reunion every person who served this past year had been waiting for. And just a few moments later? The entire community welcomes all our heroes back.