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Away from home for the holidays

November 13, 2005|By KRISTIN WILSON

kristinw@herald-mail.com

Shelly Smith and her son Ryan are hoping for a very special Christmas present this year.

All they want for the holidays is for Shelly's husband and Ryan's father, Army Staff Sgt. Dan Smith, to return home from Iraq.

Smith, of Fairplay, is expected to end a yearlong tour of duty in Iraq this month. The family readiness group for the 818th Maintenance Company out of Fort Meade, Md., is expecting Smith's unit back in the states, hopefully by Christmas, says Sgt. Bethany Byers.

That would truly be a gift, Shelly Smith says.

"Every day is hard without him here," she says. "We keep telling Dan there's a piece of our puzzle missing. A very big piece."

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The Smith family is just one of thousands of military families that experience, on a daily basis, the reality of a nation at war. With the holiday season rounding the corner, many are struggling with how to make the seasons bright while family members are thousands of miles away.

Patty Bolland of Boonsboro is trying to stay cheery as she readies a Christmas package for her son, Glenn Bolland, who is in the midst of a one-year assignment in Afghanistan.

She's located a 2-foot Christmas tree with battery pack lights and she'll be sending her son's unit a DVD of "Blue Collar Comedy Tour," which includes comedian Jeff Foxworthy - "something to make those boys laugh," she says.

It's a bittersweet time for Bolland and her family, getting ready for the holidays.




Shelly Smith and her son Ryan are hoping for a very special Christmas present this year.

All they want for the holidays is for Shelly's husband and Ryan's father, Army Staff Sgt. Dan Smith, to return home from Iraq.

Smith, of Fairplay, is expected to end a yearlong tour of duty in Iraq this month. The family readiness group for the 818th Maintenance Company out of Fort Meade, Md., is expecting Smith's unit back in the states, hopefully by Christmas, says Sgt. Bethany Byers.

That would truly be a gift, Shelly Smith says.

"Every day is hard without him here," she says. "We keep telling Dan there's a piece of our puzzle missing. A very big piece."

The Smith family is just one of thousands of military families that experience, on a daily basis, the reality of a nation at war. With the holiday season rounding the corner, many are struggling with how to make the seasons bright while family members are thousands of miles away.

Patty Bolland of Boonsboro is trying to stay cheery as she readies a Christmas package for her son, Glenn Bolland, who is in the midst of a one-year assignment in Afghanistan.

She's located a 2-foot Christmas tree with battery pack lights and she'll be sending her son's unit a DVD of "Blue Collar Comedy Tour," which includes comedian Jeff Foxworthy - "something to make those boys laugh," she says.

It's a bittersweet time for Bolland and her family, getting ready for the holidays.

"I'm a little bit excited about shopping for (Glenn) and coming up with clever ideas," she says. But then "I'm in the store and it comes and hits me that I'm sad. He's on my mind so much."

This is Glenn Bolland's second long-term deployment with the Army. In 2003, he spent a year in Iraq working as a medic with Bravo Company 1st 508 Division. He's also been on multiple peacekeeping missions as a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

Still, handling her son's chosen profession doesn't get easier with experience, Patty Bolland says.

"I think every time they go on a deployment you just have it in the back of your head, how many of these can they make and come home?" she says. But, through the worry, the Bollands proudly support their youngest son.

"When he joined the military, he knew he had done the right thing," Patty Bolland says. "He said, 'I'm a changed person.' He felt like he found what he was searching for."

Army Spc. Kelly Hurlbrink, 22, might not be home for Christmas this year, but at least she'll be in the same time zone as her family.

Hurlbrink spent Christmas in Iraq in 2003, during an eight-month deployment with the 82nd Airborne Division. With a little luck, Hurlbrink was stationed at the same base in Iraq as her older brother, Kevin Hurlbrink, now 24.

"That's what made it OK for me - the fact that he was there," Kelly Hurlbrink says about her Christmas away from home. "I think if I was there alone I probably would have been a lot more sad."

She remembers having a friend take pictures of her opening presents sent by her mother, Lynn Jones of Keedysville, as if it was any other Christmas morning.

Hurlbrink is still in the service, stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C.. The Boonsboro High School graduate won't get to come home this year for Christmas, but she will be sharing Thanksgiving with her family and fianc.

"Anything's better than Iraq," she says. "If I was in any part of the U.S., I'd be happy."

Being removed from her country, family and way of life made Hurlbrink appreciate "everything" so much more, she says. "Especially my family and how much they supported me when I was gone."

When Dan Smith said goodbye to his family on Dec. 13, 2004, it started a year of "misses," Shelly Smith says. Shelly and Dan spent their first Christmas apart last year. They also missed celebrating their anniversary, Easter and birthdays.

"We're going to wrap all our holidays up into one big thing" once the family's leading man gets home, Shelly Smith says optimistically. "Just being with him. That's all that matters. Anything to be together."

To take the sting away from his absence, Shelly and Ryan sent Dan care packages.

"That would be our way of celebrating with him," Shelly says, adding that hopefully this holiday season will be different.

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