For Army Sgt. Ray Quick, the toughest part about being in Iraq wasn't the 130-degree temperatures, the long days or his close proximity to the enemy.
The hardest part about the war was being away from his wife, Jennifer, and his 3-year-old daughter, Raelyn.
While Ray spent part of the last three years serving two tours of duty in Iraq, Jennifer was in the states taking care of Raelyn.
"She didn't volunteer," Ray said. "I did. She's the real hero."
Ray finished his second tour of duty last month and was back from Iraq this past week visiting his parents in Craig.
In Iraq, the 29-year-old Ray worked at a dining facility for soldiers in Baghdad's Green Zone. In addition to feeding soldiers, Ray helped make sure 200 to 300 meals a day made it to local orphanages and Iraqi citizens.
Staying home was hard
For Jennifer, Ray's second tour of duty was much easier for her to deal with than his first.
When he went to Kuwait in fall 2002 to prepare for the spring 2003 invasion, Jennifer was left at home alone to care for their newborn baby and manage the couple's financial obligations. It wasn't easy, she said.
But dealing with the separation during Ray's second tour of duty, which ran from January 2005 to January this year, was easier, Jennifer said.
Any trust issues the couple had during Ray's first tour were gone, she said. E-mails and cell-phone contact made it easier to stay in touch.
Ray re-enlisted in the Army, and there's a good chance he'll be sent to Iraq again or to Afghanistan.
For now, the couple will move to Fort Carson, near Colorado Springs.
Ray said he plans to serve 20 years in the Army before he retires.
Making a difference
When Ray first joined the Army in 2002, he did it for the stability.
He had a new baby and construction jobs weren't stable enough, he said.
Ray re-enlisted, in part, because he believes in what the soldiers are doing in Iraq, he said.
"I do feel like I'm making a difference," Ray said.
The American people don't see a lot of the good things soldiers do in Iraq, Ray said, such as rebuilding schools and power plants.
Ray sees soldiers helping Iraqis every day with his work at the dining facility in Baghdad.
The 200 to 300 humanitarian meals Ray helps deliver daily may not seem like a lot to some people, Ray said. But for the children in the Iraqi orphanages and the Iraqis who need food, the meals make a huge difference, he said.
Despite calls from some politicians for reductions in the number troops in Iraq and opinion polls that show public support for the war waning, Ray said troops need to stay in Iraq until the country is stable.
"We need to stay there until the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government says, 'We're stable enough to handle the job now,'" he said.
Pulling out of Iraq too early would dishonor the troops who died there, Ray said.
"If we pull out, and the country fails, then what did they die for?" he asked.
The ribbon is cut
Ray's return to Craig from Iraq this past week marked a momentous occasion for his family.
On Tuesday night, Ray's mother, Sue, finally got to cut the yellow ribbon from the tree in her front yard.
The ribbon had been there since Ray went to Iraq a year ago.
His dad, Charles, said the family was thrilled to finally cut the ribbon but noted it was even more exciting when the family learned that Ray was coming home.
Now that Ray is home and can spend time with his family, he plans to do just that.
There is a chance he will go to the Middle East again, and although he doesn't want to leave his family again, Ray said he isn't worried about going back.
For now, Ray said, he just wants to spend as much time with his daughter as he can.
"I feel like I've got a year to make up to her," Ray said.