The signs are everywhere at the Chisum house. On the living room table, Major Randall Chisum's military coins. In the corner, the gear he wore half a world away. And beyond the playful scene of family fun, a sign that says it all.
"We were going with the expectation of being over there 18 months and not to get our hopes up high," said Maj. Chisum. "Our orders said 18 months, if not more, so anything else is icing on the cake."
Chisum and his fellow soldiers are home from Iraq after a year of reconstruction efforts in the wartorn country. For the homes they had to leave behind, they too deal with the realities of war.
"I didn't know how we would get through," said Cindy, Maj. Chisum's wife. "I knew we would, but I didn't know how. We prayed a lot, and we relied on friends a lot, and we had a lot of support."
"We had some Internet," said the major. "I was always e-mailing. Phone...we had some telephone abilities. It was just a matter of getting through. It's hard getting through. The communication's pretty bad."
For Maj. Chisum, it was the little things he missed the most: shopping, running water, and the sound of a happy child.
"I'd be out visiting on one of the missions and be interacting, and I'd hear the little kids laughing," said the major. "And it just hits you that you haven't heard kids in a really long time, or the laughter of little kids."
For the entirety of their dad's deployment, the Chisum kids didn't play a video game they shared with him. They didn't want to get a leg up on him. So the news of his return was music to their ears, and not solely for their gaming desires.
"We'd be doing what we'd normally be doing," said Janna, one of the three Chisum children, "and we'd have to stop and we'd break out into dances in the middle of the grocery store because we were so happy."
The signs are everywhere in the Chisum house, especially in the pictures, the signs of duty, honor and committment, to one's country and to one's family. In this holiday season, there's one gift greater than anything under the tree.
"Just that I made it home," said Maj. Chisum. "It's a blessing I got home."