LOUISVILLE, Ky. — There are nearly 18 million veterans in the United States. 18 million experiences, stories, and accounts of how serving changes them.
The families of those 18 million men and women are also changed when their loved ones are deployed.
Myrranda Gentry is the wife of a veteran, but she’s also another kind of hero on the home front: a mom.
"I always get the question where's Daddy? When's Daddy coming home? And you don't know and that's the hard part. You have to be honest. You don't know,” Gentry said.
She says there is no way to prepare your kids and home life no matter how much time you have in advance. It’s an adjustment physically, emotionally, and mentally that everyone handles differently.
"So it was very hard to try to plan and prepare yourself and it was hard for him to have to leave us like that but you have to do what you have to do when you're called to do it,” she said.
Shortly after they got married, her husband found out he was getting deployed. Not long after that, she found out she was pregnant.
It turned into a time in her life when she was pregnant, taking care of a full house, and putting on a smiling face for the kids while her husband was thousands of miles away.
"The day that they leave is the hardest day and going days, weeks, months, without no communication, not knowing what's going on, waiting for that phone call, waiting for that email is probably the hardest part because you can't prepare for it,” Gentry said.
Although total strangers, Donna Salib had many similar feelings -- except her children weren't the ones asking questions. She was thinking about her son, who is re-enlisting after returning from his first deployment.
"I think some of the hardest parts for me as a mom was...just knowing that I'm not going to get that hug some holidays," Salib said.
Coming from a military family, there were some things she knew to anticipate with her son's deployment, but there were others she didn’t expect.
"You have that feeling of, my gosh this isn't happening and then you have this proud moment because he's serving the country. But then you are overcome with that worry, ya know, where are they going, what are they going to be doing, how long are they going to be gone,” Salib said.
She knew this time was different.
"In a mom's mindset, nobody takes care of them like their mom. Because some of the stuff he was doing he couldn't tell me where he was going or how long he'd be gone. He'd be like, Mom I've got to go somewhere and I'll talk to you when I get back…your heart goes to your stomach cause you don't know."
Both Salib and Gentry watched their loved ones leave as one person and come back another. They are just a small sample size of how the mission doesn’t end when servicemen and women return home.
Still, it’s a reminder of how lucky they are to be some of the few to make it back to their loved ones.
"Him coming home was...We were going to be a family again. We don't have to not have the phone calls, we didn't have to wait and worry if he was coming home, if we were going to have to begin a new normal without him," Gentry said.
"Knowing that he was coming home was the biggest relief, I got to tell my kids, Daddy will be home to tuck you in bed."
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