ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
We're going to return now to a Marine family we've met before. Lance Corporal Josh Apsey is a member of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, known as America's Battalion. We followed these Marines throughout 2009 when they spent six months in Afghanistan's Helmand Province. We also met many of their families, including Apsey's parents. They worried about their son - all the time - waiting for the phone to ring. Halfway through that deployment, our reporter happened to be visiting when he called.
M: Hey, Josh. How you doing, son? I'm doing great. It's great to hear from you. Hey, listen, I know your mom wants to talk to you. And I love you and I miss you, and I just can't wait to see you, son.
SIEGEL: Catherine Welch, with member station WRNI, caught up with the Apsey family just before he was due to leave.
CATHERINE WELCH: This is one of the last times Josh Apsey will sit down for dinner with his parents before heading back to Afghanistan. Vicki Apsey buzzes around the kitchen. She's making meatloaf and stir-fried brussel sprouts.
M: Most people don't like brussel spouts, but got a good recipe here so we'll give it a shot.
WELCH: Last time, a Bible his mom gave him was his most treasured possession. This time, he's leaving it behind. It's full of sand from Afghanistan and now, his mom will turn to it for comfort. Josh is bringing the Kindle he got for Christmas.
SIEGEL: I'm definitely stocking that up with lots of books.
WELCH: And he'll return to war with a keepsake from his granddad.
SIEGEL: This is a four-leaf clover he found when he was with the Army back in '58. And he gave it to me, and I've kept it in my wallet ever since.
WELCH: Knowing what to bring is nothing compared to what he learned on the battlefield, in one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan.
SIEGEL: When we first landed last year, it was kind of a rush - you know, all that adrenaline - and then it was kind of a surprise to actually land there on the ground and to have rounds coming at me. As soon as we land, I'm pretty confident I'll know exactly what I have to do, and I'll be the first one to move, and I can help anyone else who's new to it.
WELCH: How did you deal with it?
SIEGEL: I'm not going to lie, there was a period when I went internal and said, you know, I don't necessarily need help from the outside. I don't need to speak to my family about, you know, what's going on.
WELCH: Mostly because he wasn't sure himself what was happening.
SIEGEL: You might just find yourself - just sitting there, staring off into space, thinking about something that maybe took place a few months before, and just thinking about how you could have done things differently.
WELCH: Josh was 18 years old he left for that first deployment. He's 20 now and has a wife, Carolyn. The couple sat next to each other at the dinner table. His father, Tom, said grace.
M: Lord, again, we just thank you for this opportunity to be together tonight.
WELCH: Have you guys had that talk?
SIEGEL: Not really. She is kind of putting it off.
M: I'm putting him off, yeah.
SIEGEL: We'll probably have it here soon.
M: Yeah. The closer it comes.
WELCH: All through the conversation, Josh's father sat quietly at the head of the table. He understands that his role will be different on this deployment, too.
M: I think it's going to be hard, and I think it's going to be hard because of our new family member in Carolyn, and helping her get through it. But I think all three of us together, you know, with a lot of prayer and a lot of support, it's going to even it out.
WELCH: For NPR News, I'm Catherine Welch.
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