OGDEN -- One group of veterans may not have been able to bring two warriors home for the holidays, but they did manage to make the season a bit merrier for their families here in Utah.
On Saturday afternoon, American Legion Baker-Merrill Post 9 hosted a Christmas party for two households whose husbands and fathers are far away, serving their country. Both men are in the Utah National Guard, currently deployed in Afghanistan.
It's the first time post members have hosted such an event, but not the first time they've thought about it.
"It's something we've wanted to do the last couple of years," said Barbara Beck, 2nd vice commander for Post 9. "Unfortunately, we just haven't been able to connect with any families in the past."
But this year, they were able to find two families -- The Bryners of Cache Valley, and the Kinsmans of Murray -- with which to share a little holiday cheer.
The 12 people in the two families were served a ham dinner, then received gifts from post members. Those gifts turned out to be the hit of the afternoon, with young ones clutching Legos and other toys to their chests, and remote-control vehicles zipping all around the dining area.
"We feel like the families go through these hardships on their own, not having their husband and father, and we just wanted to honor the wives," said Gayle Warren, auxiliary president for the post.
Nattilee Kinsman, of Murray, brought her three children and her mother to the party. Kinsman's husband, Kasey, has been deployed eight months now. It's easy to remember how long he's been deployed, because the couple has a "little time-marker" as a reminder. Their daughter, Ada, is eight months old -- and yes, while dad had just been deployed at the time, he was still in the States, so he was able to come home briefly and see his newborn daughter. Kinsman says her husband should be coming home somewhere between February and April.
"It's been hard," said Nattilee Kinsman's mother, Peggy Rogers, a Pleasant View native who attended Weber High School. "He left in April, and Nattilee's dad passed away in May. And then there's the baby, too. But we have good family and friends, and even people we don't know, like these (at Post 9), who are so supportive."
Janelle Bryner, of Cache Valley, brought her six children ages 1 to 13 to the party. For safety purposes, she requested that her husband's name not be used. He's expected home this June.
"We keep trying to pray him home, but it's not happening," Bryner said.
Bryner says it's nice that the post did this for them, but wonders "if there wasn't a more deserving family out there." Still, she greatly appreciates what the post is doing.
"These men and women seem very wonderful," she said. "They're people with really big hearts."
Nattilee Kinsman says one thing she's learned during her husband's deployment is to not turn down assistance.
"I've kind of learned that the service is for the giver and receiver as well," she said. "There have been others who reach out and want to help, and in the beginning I'd say, 'I'm OK, I can do it on my own.' "
Now, she says she accepts help gratefully.
Bryner and Kinsman say they're especially grateful for the little things each day.
"This little girl said 'Daddy' for the first time this morning," Bryner said, nodding toward her 16-month-old daughter in her lap. And fortunately, they were on a Facetime call with her husband at the time.
"He got to hear it," Bryner said. "I love it when he's there for her firsts."
The Kinsmans have also taken advantage of video chats with Dad. Just the day before, 10-year-old Jaqai Kinsman got to Skype with his father -- at school, with all of his classmates. His fourth grade class had sent care packages to his father's unit, and they set up a Skype chat where the students got to ask Sgt. Kinsman questions.
And Nattilee Kinsman offers a final bit of advice to those who are wondering how they can help families whose loved ones are far away, serving their country.
"Act on your thoughts," she said. "If you have a neighbor or friend affected by a deployment, and you think, 'Should I take them dinner?' Take them dinner."
Contact reporter Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/mark.saal.