More than 3,000 Iowa National Guard soldiers have now arrived in Afghanistan. Their mission keeps them apart from family and friends — and that separation, they say, is especially difficult during the holidays.
Pfc. Colton Seydel, 20, of Solon, who’s serving with Company B of the 1-133, has wanted for years to serve his country. But that desire places him in danger and causes his family back in Eastern Iowa to worry.
“I miss not getting to see them and talk to them,” Seydel said. “It’ll be hard on them, especially my mom. She likes having me around a lot.”
The deployment has put a lot of stress on his mother, Linda Seydel.
“You never expect the kid you’re raising to go off into a war zone. That’s not even in your repertoire. It’s totally surreal,” she said. “As a mother, back here, you don’t have the ability to protect them. Not that you do anyway when they’re that age, but you just feel helpless sometimes.”
But that’s not the case, the soldier said: “She keeps things organized for me.”
When Linda Seydel heard what her son had said, she laughed.
“If Colton was back here, he’d probably say I was in his face. Now that he’s overseas, he’s saying I kept him organized,” she said.
Colton’s sister, Anna, 14, and Linda’s partner, Doug Richou, also miss having the whole family together.
“I try to be as supportive as I can and help out in any way,” Richou said.
Anna Seydel said she misses her brother’s sense of humor and support.
“He’s really funny and always makes jokes and lightens the mood,” she said. “He always has good advice to give so I can always count on him to help me out.”
Lee Seydel said he has always had a special bond with his son. Every photo he sees of Colton brings a smile to his face.
“He’s taken a big step for the country. It’s something to be proud of, certainly scary, but something to be proud of,” he father said.
Colton Seydel said the distance means the pair don’t get to do the everyday things they enjoy.
"Me and my dad are pretty close like friends,” he said. “We hang out a lot and do a lot of stuff like work on cars.”
Lee Seydel said he raised Colton to be a leader — but he worries that characteristic might put his son in danger.
“The thing that scares me the most is that I’m afraid he’s going to step up when they need someone to step up or when something goes wrong,” he said.
The dangers of the mission have been on everyone’s mind lately.
“It’s hard knowing he might not come back,” Anna Seydel said.
While it’s difficult to celebrate the holidays without their son and brother, the family says being apart from him every day is much tougher.
“You can’t really prepare yourself for that kind of a hole,” Lee Seydel said.
“The thing that is my saving grace is knowing he’s where he wants to be,” Linda Seydel said. “This is what he wants to do. This is what he signed up to do.”
Spc. Kevin Reilly, 21, of Oxford Junction, said his fellow Company B soldiers feel like a surrogate family. But he still has a hard time being away from his loved ones, he said — especially this time of year.
"My birthday falls right around Thanksgiving, too. So that makes Thanksgiving really rough because I’ve only spent two birthdays from my mom and dad,” he said.
Back in Iowa, Reilly’s parents, brother and sister think about him constantly.
“I feel like, as much as I have a son missing, I also have a really good friend missing, too,” mother Carol Reilly said. “He’s the one who understands me the most.”
Kevin Reilly said he misses his mother’s good advice.
"My mom is my voice of reason. Whenever I have issues, she’s the one I go to,” he said. “Not being able to call and talk to her has been kind of rough.”
---- Another adjustment, the soldier said, is not being around to help his father.
---- “Dad’s the handyman around the house. He and I do a lot of work together. I miss he and I working outside,” Reilly said.
John Reilly agreed that they’re a good team.
“He’s the one that’s sensitive to when things need to be done,” he said of his son.
Two of the family’s other sons are also in the military.
“Even though you’re keeping busy and trying to keep it off your mind, it’s always there. It’s an ever-present loss or absence,” Carol Reilly said.
Spc. Coleman Reilly, 23, who’s serving with the 2/34 BSTB, is in Afghanistan with his brother right now.
“Coleman’s probably the most focused of three. But when it’s time to have fun, he likes to have fun, too,” John Reilly said.
And Pfc. Jake Reilly, 18, has almost finished his training and may request to deploy to Afghanistan.
“Yep, we cry when you ask where the boys are or how they’re doing,” their mother said. “We cry because it brings it to the surface. But we want to know you care, too.”
Even though they’re busy with their duties, all three sons try to stay in contact as much as possible.
“I really love my family a lot,” Kevin Reilly said.The Reillys are looking forward to the day all seven of them are reunited.