Army Capt. Melissa Golschneider will spend Thanksgiving with her family in Durham before leaving for her home away from home for the past five years -- the Middle East. The 2001 Coginchaug Regional High School graduate will soon be delpoyed to Afghanistan for her third tour of duty.
"She's very excited about being home for Thanksgiving this year," says Debbie Golschneider, Melissa's mother. It's been several years since the entire family (which also includes Melissa's father, Andy and brother, Michael, who lives in Cheshire) spent the holiday together.
In 2007, as a member of the Army Corps of Engineers, Melissa spent Thanksgiving in Afghanistan where she carried out the dangerous job of clearing routes for other soldiers.
"Her first deployment there were times that I would be ready to pull my hair out because four or five weeks would go by without even an email," says Debbie.
Melissa was in Iraq in 2009 and spent last year's holiday at Lewis-McChord joint military base outside of Tacoma, WA.
"It has been a trying time at times. We're very supportive of her. You have to be supportive of what your kids choose to do. You just hope for the best, keep your fingers crossed and count on people to keep your spirits up."
Melissa was a freshman at Norwich University, a private military college in Vermont, when terrorists struck America on September 11, 2001. It was then, Debbie recalls, that her daughter seemed convinced that she'd made the right decision to join the military.
"We had actually called her to say if you want to come home, come home. That's a scary thing, especially for an 18-year-old girl, but she decided that's what she wanted to do."
Always a focused student, Melissa received a Congressional Nomination to West Point but ultimately chose to attend Norwich Univ., where she graduated in 2005. She continued her education, earning a Master's Degree in Geological Engineering from Missouri University of Science in Technology in October.
"When she was little she always said 'There are two things I will never do. I will never be President of the United States and I will never be in the military'. So of course, I said to her, well there's one down and one to go."
Presidential aspirations aside, when Melissa returns to Afghanistan for the second time, it's likely she'll be assigned to the same military base where she previously served as a Commander. The base, Debbie says, was still under construction when her daughter left to come home.
"She's excited to see it," she says.
The 28-year-old has already witnessed more than most will see in a lifetime. During her year-long deployment to Iraq, Melissa's office was located in former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's boathouse along the Tigris River.
"She's had great, great opportunities and great experiences. It's just a little nerve-wracking for us at home," Debbie says. "My heart goes out to anyone who serves anywhere. You're away from your family, you're away from your friends, you're away from the United States."
Debbie, who served 12 years on the District 13 Board of Education, admits there are some things about being a military mom she enjoys.
"I flew across the country by myself to Washington and that was great. It's been like a bucket list, I always wanted to see the sunset over the Pacific, hiking at Mount Rainier and when she was in Missouri we went to the [Gateway] Arch."
Melissa's travels are not without tragedy. Debbie says her daughter has had the initials of several friends who've died tattooed on her leg, including three soldiers who were killed in a suicide attack.
"I wish we would bring them all home. I don't see that there will ever be peace over there, I'm not entirely sure that they want peace over there," Debbie says while remaining supportive of her daughter. "Have we done good things? Yeah we have, but we've lost a lot of innocent lives."
Capt. Golschneider is currently based out of Ft. Drum, New York. We are thankful for her service and wish her safe travels during her third tour of duty.