Thousands of service men and women will celebrate the holidays in foreign lands this year, while their families wait and worry at home. The Williams family of Braggs knows "holiday heartache" all too well. They've seen too many Christmas dinners come and go with empty chairs at the table. But as News on 6 anchor Tami Marler found, the family will be reunited for the holidays.
"It's just been a hard, hard four years really. But this last year's just been really hard," said Jody Williams.
For the men in Jody Williams' family, military service is a tradition. Her husband Victor spent 24 years in the Army, and her sons enlisted as soon as they were of age. It's been nearly four years since they've all been together.
"It was hard when Victor was in Afghanistan but it was even harder when it was my kids," Williams said.
Especially difficult when she saw news stories about firefights in Iraq, where both Robby and Ryan were serving at the same time, just a couple of hours apart. On one day their separate units were battling insurgents in the same town.
"They was in the same town, I don't know about the military particulars, the firefight. They was in the same town, but didn't know it," said Williams.
Which may have been a blessing because the brothers grew up inseparable, and one of them had been shot in the chest.
"He's still my best friend," Ryan Williams said.
Ryan survived the bullet that shattered his chest plate, and a mortar blast that broke his foot. One of the toughest things about serving in Iraq was knowing his older brother was also there, somewhere.
"It was definitely stressful because I was always worried about him. I'm sure he was always worried about me," Ryan said.
"I knew they was strong-willed and they would survive and do well," said father Victory Williams.
That's Victorâ€™s "military" answer to his sons serving in the same war zone, but a father's answer digs much deeper.
"I had a military answer and that was it. That's still it. I couldn't show it. I couldn't show it," Victor said. "So the only thing you can do is uh, fight now and cry later."
After too many Christmas apart crying time is finally here.
"Mom and dad haven't had a Christmas with us here in three years. Itâ€™s going to be an emotional Christmas but probably the best one," Ryan said.
The Williams family became complete Monday night. The whole family gathered to pick up Robby from the airport, and what promised to be an emotional reunion was exactly that. Robby, his wife and baby spent the whole day traveling from their base in Germany. His parents, brother and loved ones welcomed them with plenty of hugs and kisses.
Robby says he's missed out on a lot in his two years overseas.
â€œMy family, Iâ€™ve been away from my family. Iâ€™ve missed 12-months of my daughters life, so you know, she makes my life thatâ€™s everything right there. You canâ€™t ask for anything more, you canâ€™t ask for anything less, said Robby Williams.
Robby says he looks forward to going to college when he gets out of the Army in October, his little brother Ryan will likely make a career of it.
But right now, the Williams family are eager to spend a few weeks just enjoying each other.