Such is the case of 26-year-old Steven Carbone, a 1996 graduate of Altus High School and the third in a Catholic family of seven children ages 22 to 28. Carbone is a Spec. 4 in the U.S. Army stationed with A Battery, 1/27 Field Artillery based in Babenhausen, Germany.
Carbone gets two weeks to visit his Altus family before returning to the combat zone.
His particular job skill is directing rocket launch systems by computer.
His unit has been in Baghdad since day one of the war, March 20, 2003, and has been there ever since. His is a rapid deployment unit, meaning that as soon as a deployment begins, his unit has to be ready to depart.
"We had two-and-a-half weeks to prepare to go," Carbone recalls, "a lot to do in a short amount of time." He arrived in Kuwait on March 7.
As a single soldier, without a wife or children, a vacation was not something Carbone thought he could look forward to or even plan for, any time in the near future.
Carbone said that allowing personnel to return for vacation calls for a delicate balance of manpower.
Carbone's mother was hospitalized five times over the past year. The chaplain learned of this and, in turn, gave up his vacation slot for Carbone, so he could return home and spend time with his family.
Carbone joined the Army in May 2002. "Basically, I really wasn't doing anything else with my life," said Carbone. "I wanted to travel and felt like doing something good. With everything going on -- people wanting to help -- this was my way."
Before enlisting he lived in Altus and worked at Val's Restaurant, United Grocery, and periodically attended college. He was with the Army National Guard for six years with 1/171, a battalion for his job specialty.
According to Carbone the living conditions have changed drastically over the last 10 months. Upon arrival, during combat operations, he lived in a tent city in the middle of the desert and slept on a fold-out cot.
He has since moved into an old, run-down building outside of Baghdad International Airport called Camp Victory, though he still sleeps on that original fold-out cot. According to his mother, Carbone has been unable to sleep on a mattress since his return home, so he has been sleeping on the floor. "Sleep is overrated," Carbone said. "Your body is an amazing thing-- it can adapt to anything."
At first, he lived on three meals ready to eat (MRE's) but now eats very well. Proper dining facilities have since been set up, serving three to four hot meals a day.
"Basically, life just gets better the longer you're over there," said Carbone.
Physical training (PT), as the Army is so famous for, is left up to the soldier under combat conditions.
"You can work for two hours or for 24 hours" depending on the circumstances, said Carbone. It is virtually impossible for everyone to come together at a set time for PT. It is up to the soldier to see that he or she stays physically fit.
Carbone said he has become more reliant on his fellow soldiers in the combat zone.
"They become more than just friends like your mother, father, sister, brother -- everyone you need them to be," he said.
Should there be a disagreement, there are no hard feelings the next day. "Every day there's a smile -- good news to be shared -- bad news to be shared," said Carbone.
His unit was treated to a visit from some true American heavyweights. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) went over and spent four days entertaining the troops.
Carbone and another soldier got to be drivers for the wrestlers.
While there "Smacked Down Live from Baghdad" was taped to be aired on Christmas day. Some of the those who came were The Big Show, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Vince McMahon. Carbone had his photo taken with Austin. Carbone said it was a real morale booster for the troops.
The wrestlers met with the troops, went to visit wounded soldiers at the hospital, and visited with Lt. Gen. Sanchez, commander of the ground troops in Iraq, or as Carbone puts it, "the Head Honcho in Baghdad."
"You would never think professional wrestlers are as nice as they are -- you expect them to be mean," said Carbone.
"Whatever the reason was we got sent over there for -- it just doesn't matter anymore," said Carbone. "Once you see this place, and lack thereof -- the oppression -- what it's like to really be struggling -- you're kind of at peace for why you are over there."
He was able to surprise his family with his return home; all but a sister whose help was needed in making the travel arrangements and an "unbelievably dear friend."
He brought that friend "something real meaningful" back as a gift, though according to Carbone, it is difficult to shop under combat conditions, or even to find items to purchase.
This friend sent him a picture of her holding her nephew. He took that photo and had an oil portrait painted from it then hand-carried it back to the States.
His flight home took five days with layovers, delays and a stop in Midlothian, Texas where his younger brother, Clifford, is an elementary school music teacher. A C-130 flew him from Baghdad to Kuwait and he flew commercially from Kuwait to Dallas. When the crew noticed his uniform, he was upgraded from coach to first class.
While in Baghdad, the children in his brother's class sent him letters, cards and an American flag with all their signatures on it. Carbone went to the school and hung out in each of his brothers classes throughout the day. He spoke to the kids and answered their questions.
"They're blunt," he said of the youngsters. "Oh man -- they asked some tough questions."
Carbone said he hasn't lacked for mail from the homefront sent by his network of friends and family.
When asked what he has enjoyed most since his return home Carbone said, "I just wanted to see my family -- my friends -- and see the place I call home. I don't know, I just enjoy being home.
"You're gone for 10 months. You want to come home and do some things you haven't been able to do, like wanting to spend time with family or to eat at McDonalds," said Carbone. "But it's not a big deal. It really doesn't matter what I do here ... because I'm here!"
Val's has been a favorite hang-out since his return. "I've got family here," he said, expressing his deep feelings for his dear friends at the restaurant.
Carbone said he occasionally enjoyed a drink before leaving the States and that Germany is famed for its beer, but all that has changed in Iraq, where alcohol is prohibited due to Muslim law.
Before going to Baghdad, his family and friends labeled him a 'pretty boy.' He did his own laundry, ironing and the like, and always took care of his hair and grooming, with frequent trips to the barber. "All my friends know, "If I'm not clean, I'm just not right!" said Carbone. Now, they all must think, "he's having a tough time."
He returns to the war effort in Baghdad on Jan. 19. His unit has sustained no casualties to date, though he said one soldier lost an arm and there have been other injuries.
"We have been somewhat lucky, fortunate and blessed," said Carbone, who says his unit continues to face attacks in the conquered nation.
Of life in Baghdad, Carbone asked, "How can I paint a picture that I know most people can't comprehend?
"The insurgents operate with the element of surprise, picking times when they feel it's least expected," said Carbone.
According to Carbone, Iraqis are getting more and more involved in the process of running their country and now it's not so much the military doing it all. He sees Iraqis regaining more control as each day goes by. "There's just as much good going on there as bad stuff happening," said Carbone.
"More people that are educated are willing to stay there now" to help their own people and country progress said Carbone,
Carbone's plans for the future? "Not to go to Iraq anymore!" he said jokingly. But return he must. He wants to finish up school and gain as much knowledge and education as he can.
He says he has occasionally regretted enlisting in the Army but then he asks himself, "Who doesn't have regrets about their job occasionally? I have my days-- everybody does. You suck it up and you drive on!"