The buzz and rush of Christmas preparations have given Colleen Walquist of Willmar something to focus on so she isn't constantly reminded that her soul mate, 1st Lt. Robert Walquist, won't be home for Christmas.
Because of the extra energy she's pouring into Christmas to "make everything perfect" for her four children, Walquist was ahead of schedule for shopping, wrapping and decorating for the holiday.
She's been thankful for the distraction of the holiday preparations, but at the same time is dreading spending Christmas without her husband.
Lt. Walquist is currently deployed in Iraq. He's also served in Korea and in Desert Storm before he was married.
This is the first time the couple has been apart for Christmas.
Walquist said she'll do the same family traditions this Christmas as always, including family dinners with everyone's favorite dishes and waking up to presents on Christmas Day.
"I couldn't not do those things for my kids," she said.
But without her husband, who is a "big fan of Christmas" Walquist said there will be "an empty spot" in their house and hearts.
In an e-mail interview, Lt. Walquist said he also tries to stay busy with his mission and not think about Christmas and family too much.
"I do wish I could spend the holidays with my family. Your children are only young once and the joy of watching them open their presents is priceless. I have become more aware that time is a finite resource and soon your children will be grown and out of the house," he said.
"That being said, if I can't be at home, I don't mind being here with our troops. They are like family too."
As an executive officer, Lt. Walquist said he'll give his soldiers a few hours off during the holiday so they can call their families, correspond with web cam and have a holiday meal that he'll help serve.
"It is the least we can do for all the hard work these soldiers have given us," he said.
Once the busyness of Christmas is over, Colleen Walquist said she's not looking forward to the loneliness that the "dead of winter" will bring as they wait for the deployment to end.
Their four daughters have their times when they just absolutely have to talk to daddy," Colleen Walquist said. Their prayers are constant that he'll return home safe.
Lately, one of her daughters will "get up late at night and just cry. She just misses her daddy."
"I know that my family is strong. Although I also know that this deployment has been hard on my wife and children," wrote Lt. Walquist. "I wish I could make it easier for them."
Colleen Walquist encourages families to talk to their children to let them know that some of their classmates may have parents who are in Iraq. Doing that might prevent children from making off-hand, hurtful comments to others.
Walquist said she is grateful for the support she's received from co-workers, the community and the Family Readiness Group and is thankful for the compassion and concern that teachers and students have given to her daughters, herself and her husband
"We have received countless letters and boxes from many areas of our community, like schools, churches and civic organizations," wrote Lt. Walquist.
"Their dedication to supporting the troops is truly patriotic, and very much appreciated by all of us here. I would also ask that you keep all of our troops in your thoughts and prayers as we work toward accomplishing our million."
A surprise visit
Colleen Walquist of Willmar was able to see her husband, First Lt. Robert Walquist, in November during a surprise return home that was arranged by the company he works for, TriState Hospital Supply Corporation. The company flew Colleen Walquist to Michigan in order to accept the Patriot Award on behalf of her husband.
As the award was being announced, her husband stepped from behind a door and into the auditorium.
"My heart was almost out of my chest," she said, recalling the surprise.
A video of the event that was made by TriState Hospital Supply Company can be seen at the company's Web site: www.tshsc.com.