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Mother prepares for daughter's deployment to Afghanistan
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Quiet, shy, and backward describes the little girl Jodie McCallister raised.
Today, Kayla McCallister, 23, sends home pictures of herself in Army fatigues, holding weapons, smiling confidently and training to serve her country.
Jodie said nearly two years ago her oldest daughter made a decision that would change her life.
Kayla was a 4.0 student who graduated from Marysville High School in 2007 and went to Bowling Green State University that fall. During Thanksgiving break in 2009, she dropped the bomb on her mother: She wanted to be a soldier.
"I sent my little girl off to be a full-time student at Bowling Green," she recalled. "Her junior year she came home at Thanksgiving and said she enlisted in the Army National Guard. I said, 'OK.' (I thought) we were talking about sororities, not the military."
Her sudden decision was a surprise to her family, but not the first shock her family has dealt with.
On Nov. 19, 1997, just before Thanksgiving, Jodie had to tell a 9-year-old Kayla and her two younger sisters that their dad had died in a car accident and gone to heaven.
"I remember it was Taylor, my middle one, who said, 'So what time will he be home tomorrow?' Kayla just cried and was very quiet."
Knowing her father is watching may be Kayla's motivation for her military choice.
"She always had the desire to make him proud," said Jodie, but it was a blow for her.
"I cried. I was a little upset because I didn't think that was the game plan." Jodie said that didn't last long, though, because she knew the move would fulfill her daughter.
Last month, Jodie found out Kayla was being deployed to Afghanistan. The one-year deployment includes training in the states, but no one will know when Kayla's unit will leave for Camp Griffin in Afghanistan. For security reasons, all they know is it will be sometime in January.
The holidays are taking on a little more meaning this year.
"We're really going to put our heads together to figure out what to get this child for Christmas," Jodie said. "They like the strangest things when they go over there - word puzzles and stuff to keep them busy."
Kayla is in Camp Shelby, Miss., now and is getting ready to head to California for 11 days of field training. She will have two weeks to come home and celebrate Christmas before she leaves.
"I think Christmas this year we're going to spend every waking moment together that we possibly can."
Jodie said her other daughter, Taylor, 20, is expecting a son in January, and Kayla will miss the delivery.
Both of Kayla's sisters are proud of her, even though they had a hard time accepting her decision to join the military.
"I think they thought she was nuts. They (wondered) what was going on with her. … But they are both very proud."
Taylor has fought her own battles. She struggled in high school with heroin addiction and now she and her mother participate in area drug rehab programs and presentations to Union County middle schools.
While Taylor and Kayla talked briefly about Taylor joining the military, it is their youngest sister, Hunter, 15, who is ready to follow Kayla's footsteps. Jodie says Hunter seems very serious about joining the military.
As for Kayla's assignment in Afghanistan, Jodie said, "I'm very scared. I keep thinking, 'This is my little girl.' She keeps reminding me, 'I've been trained just like everybody else. I'm just trained as the guy or girl next to me or the enemy across from me.' I forget that. I just can't picture that."
While Jodie says she's concerned about Kayla's assignment she's dealt with worse.
"I've got a kid going to the war, and I had a kid addicted to heroin. I'm more likely to worry about my kid addicted to heroin whether or not I'm going to wake up to a child dead than I am Kayla going to the war. She'll be fine. She'll be OK. I have to believe that."