The soldiers in the Idaho National Guard's 116th Brigade Combat Team will be back home by Thanksgiving. It's an exciting time for the families of the 1,800 soldiers who are wrapping up an 18-month deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom with most of the last year spent in Iraq. It's also a little nerve-wracking.
The soldiers will be coming home to so many changes: Babies have been born and have started walking; spouses have gotten healthier; wives who never thought they could fix a leaky faucet or a flat tire have learned to make do on their own.
"I've spent the time working on myself," says Melissa Johnson at a yellow ribbon making marathon last week in preparation for the Guard's return. "I've lost 25 pounds. I've learned to play the guitar."
She knows she'll be learning to be married to her husband (of eight years), Specialist Aaron Johnson, all over again in the coming months.
"You both change," Johnson says. "You have to kind of date again. It's almost like getting remarried. You have to find out those little things that bother you. And you get to find out all over again why you love each other."
Idaho military family assistance coordinators have been flooded with calls as the soldiers have started to come home, says Tom Obstarczyk, a coordinator in Boise.
The first question: When will my soldier be home?
The second: What should I expect?
That second question is a toughie.
"We tell them not to expect the same person that left," Obstarczyk says. "They've grown and so has their spouse. We talk to them about the 'new normal.' "
That's something Johnson already is prepared for. This is her husband's second big deployment (the first was in Egypt) and she knows that there will be a period of reacquaintance, both with her and with the couple's 6-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter.
"It'll probably be hard to get the kids to go to school," says Johnson, especially for the next month before her husband goes back to his job at Aladdin Bail Bonds.
She doesn't think her husband will find it hard to transition back into the family.
"He's just an easy guy," Johnson says.
It will be the first real chance for Sally Grimes and her husband, Spc. Christopher Chesak, to be together as a married couple. They've been together for seven years, but didn't marry until shortly before Chesak's deployment.
And it will be Chesak's first experience living with a toddler.
(You may recognize Chesak's name. He's written periodic accounts of his time in Iraq for The Idaho Statesman, including Tuesday's overview of what his platoon missed out on back home.)
Chesak missed 10-month-old Lillian's birth. He was in Kuwait waiting to catch a plane to Iraq when she was born.
While Grimes has had plenty of time learning to adjust to the hectic life that comes from chasing a very mobile baby around, Chesak hasn't. "He doesn't have a lot of experience with kids," Grimes says. "We've talked a lot about what he should expect.
"She started crawling at six months. She's already taken her first steps. Now she's ready to take on the world."
For starters, there's kid-stuff all over the house. And any plans for quiet, romantic dinners at the couples' favorite restaurants are probably out for a few years.
There will be a similar scene at the Loomer house. Although Jayme Loomer will be welcoming back Marcus, her husband of four years, for the second time (he did a previous stint with the military in Bosnia), he'll be coming home to a toddler, too.
Loomer's husband was on leave in Boise when Dylan was born 10 months ago, and he spent his son's first 10 days here. Except for a little bit of leave time, he's been gone for nearly a year.
All the parenting decisions Loomer has been making on her own are getting a second voice as her husband's arrival gets closer.
"I've gotten to make all of the decisions for Dylan," Loomer says.
Giving up control might prove to be a challenge, but one thing Loomer isn't worried about is how Dylan and her husband will bond.
The first thing Dylan smiled at: A picture of his dad.