875th Family's Tumultuous Year of Change

Paragould -   It's impossible to know all the sacrifices our American soldiers make every day to protect our freedom.  We reflect on just one of those families who've endured alot this past year.  This war is a time that forever shaped their lives--in both big ways and small.

Counting is a big part of class in Resource Teacher Ashley Dean's classroom.  Counting to fill out math worksheets.

"One, two, three," counts Ashley with her students.

And counting the days until their teacher's husband comes home from the war in Iraq.

"The kids at school, they tell me, 'Miss Ashley, did you know your husband is coming home?  He's in the states!' You know they have no idea," said Ashley.  "But, they're just so excited. It's wonderful."

Smiles are easier now, but they haven't always been.  The past year has been a difficult one.  Ashley found out her husband was going to Iraq at the same time her mother was diagnosed with cancer.  Her husband had to sell his business since there would be no one to run it.

And Ashley and daughter, Evie Claire, moved in with her parents.

"And, then my mom was sick and she passed away in January," said Ashley.  "So we've gone through war, a new baby and my mom passing away all this year."

Zaniel Dean arrived earlier than expected.  Lt. Tim Dean couldn't get home in time for his birth, but laid eyes on him for the first time 10 days later.  Time has passed since then...

"He hasn't seen him since except for pictures," said Ashley. "He was 7 pounds when he was here and he's 19 pounds now. So it's going to be a big change when he sees him."

"This is my countdown clock."

Now that months have turned into weeks and now days..

"It tells me how many hours, how many days and how many seconds it is until the end of tour," explained Ashley.

Ashley says she realizes how important her faith has been during this year of tumultuous change.   She's read Psalm 91 twice everyday--putting her husband's name into the verses.

Friends stepped in to help during the rough spots and students remind her just how thankful they are for her family's sacrifice.

Cards and letters made by the smallest hands await Lt. Dean.

His arrival home just days away signals an end to duty for his country and a momentous beginning with his family.

"I will hold it close to my wedding day and the day that my babies were born." said Ashley.  "Because in my mind it's almost like a second wedding day. Because we've been through the pre-war phase of our life. Now he's coming home and we've actually planning a second honeymoon. The only difference this time is that we have two children."

Lt. Dean's father served in Vietnam.  Ashley said he's told her that he did not find the support the community has shown for the 875th Engineer Battalion.

She says she's simply amazed by it all and plans to document everything to share with her children in years to come.