MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This year, weve been following the Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment, as they patrol one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan. They left for Afghanistan in May and theyre nearing the end of their deployment. For the family of Sergeant Thomas Joiner, the Marines cant come home soon enough.

Catherine Welch, of member station WHQR, spent time with Thomas Joiners wife at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

CATHERINE WELCH: As Charmaine Joiners husband packed for his deployment last May, she slipped two things into his duffel bag: a note and a photo taken on their wedding day. In the picture, theyve just taken their vows and theyre standing outside.

Ms. CHARMAINE JOINER: Oh, he is just got a hand on my face and hes looking right at my face, and its really sincere. Gosh, I miss him.

WELCH: Theyve been married for four years. They met in a defense class for prison guards. She was a counselor for juvenile offenders. He was a guard. His time as a prison guard got her used to the idea of her husband working a dangerous job. It didnt prepare her for the job of running everything while hes gone. Shortly after he left for Afghanistan, she couldnt make ends meet. And they had to give up their house. She was essentially homeless, with five kids in tow, waiting for a home on base to open up.

Ms. JOINER: Living on base has actually put money back into our pockets. I mean, so, like our light bill used to be $500 a month, you know, now its not.

WELCH: The move, the deployment - its been tough on the kids.

Ms. JOINER: February, this is when Melody(ph) was born, of course.

WELCH: Charmaine Joiners tidy house is calm and quiet. There are only a few hints that this is home to five kids: the toys in the yard and family photos on display in the dining room.

Ms. JOINER: Theres Summer(ph), the oldest, and then Mason(ph), of course, is the middle, and then there is Amelia(ph), theres the 4-year-old, and thats Melody, the 2-year-old, yeah.

WELCH: Right after he left, 6-year-old Amelia worried about her dad and carried a photo of him around everywhere she went. Now Joiner says 8-year-old Mason, the only boy, is acting out.

Ms. JOINER: He really is aggressive with his language, you know. Hes just talking really aggressive, pulling away, you know, and just not the same little Mason.

WELCH: What they all fear is Dad not coming back. More than a dozen Marines from the battalion have died in Afghanistan, and Joiner says in the days before her husband left, he had to keep prodding her about having the talk.

Ms. JOINER: It was kind of, come sit down, we have to talk about this. You know, we cant beat around the bush. We cant ignore it. You know, theres, you know, something we need to talk about.

WELCH: So they did talk about how, if something happened, he wants her to raise their kids in North Carolina, and for her to go back to school. Its a subject Sergeant Joiner isnt afraid of. Earlier this summer in Afghanistan, he talked to NPRs Tom Bowman about the possibility he might die. When I visited Charmaine Joiner, she wanted to hear what he had to say. So, I played their conversation for her.

Sergeant THOMAS JOINER (U.S. Marines): Ive made my peace with God. Ive made my peace with my wife. If I do happen to die here, then my kids can be proud of that. If I do, then my wife knows what to do with the money so that my children will be taken care of.

Ms. JOINER: Thats exactly what we talked about, you know, and how things are going to be. And how - you know, he wants things to be or how he would like for things to go. And its just neat. Its neat to hear his voice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WELCH: Joiner leaned into the speaker, beaming as she listened to her husband -no tears.

Ms. JOINER: I just love him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. JOINER: I just miss him. Yeah, it just kind of makes me, like, flutter inside, like were all young and dumb again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WELCH: He could be home soon. She says some of their friends are already making plans to take off for Vegas as soon as the Marines return - not the Joiners. Theyre planning to pack in as much time together as a family as they can manage.

Ms. JOINER: I just I cant wait just to see him get off of the bus. I just cant wait to see his face again, and to feel him and to touch him and to know that hes really just standing there.

WELCH: When he gets off that bus, hell be carrying his duffel bag with the wedding photo inside. The picture is inscribed on the back. Shed written on it: Here, its not much, but its us.

For NPR News, Im Catherine Welch.

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