FORT DRUM, N.Y. - Imagine being married for almost 18 months, but spending only one of those months together.
That is exactly what Scott and Katie Horrigan experienced when Scott - an Army captain who commands the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment's Alpha Company - deployed with the 10th Mountain Division in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Scott and Katie wed on New Year's Eve 2005, one month before Scott was due to deploy to Afghanistan. He returned with his battalion on May 31, 2007, exactly 17 months after he and Katie got married.
Even without the impending deployment, the first month of the Horrigans' marriage was a lot to handle. They learned Katie had become pregnant on their honeymoon, and they quickly bought a home in Watertown, N.Y. With Katie in Denver completing her nursing degree, Scott sent Katie real estate listings online.
Katie went on to face several other challenges during Scott's deployment. She gave birth to their son, Mitchell, on Oct. 4, 2006, as Scott listened in on speakerphone from halfway around the world in Afghanistan. She welcomed Scott home for two weeks of leave in November and then learned two months later that Scott's deployment would be extended by 120 days.
Army Families anxiously await their Soldier's return from a deployment, but Scott and Katie were especially excited for their reunion - they'd finally have the opportunity to be together as newlyweds and as a Family for the first time.
Homecomings are a time for preparation and excitement, and Katie did all she could to have things just right for Scott's return.
"I ate really healthy, I did a lot of work on the house to be sure things were done before Scott got here, and I tried to help Mitchell begin sleeping through the night," she said. Katie also was working against the clock to have their kitchen renovation complete so she could have fresh, homemade cookies waiting for Scott.
"My friends from home joked that I would have a plate of Oreos on the counter, but I made sure I found a way to bake cookies for Scott. I thought that would be a great way to say, 'Welcome home to our new house.'" she said.
After Katie and Scott learned that the deployment would be extended, preparation quickly turned into anticipation of being back together.
"I was extremely scared and nervous for the originally scheduled homecoming in January," Katie said. "Scott and I experienced so many changes, and I worried about being able to adjust together. But after the news of the extension, the homecoming became more about him being home safe and less about how our lives would be. … I just wanted him home."
The separation wasn't easy for Scott. "The toughest part was not being at Mitchell's birth; I know that is something I will never be able to make up," he said. "Katie was always quick to take a picture or a video, and although a poor substitute for the real thing, it allowed me to experience special moments. … But I was ready to be there experiencing them with her."
It's not easy to go from one environment to another; Scott reunited with his new family in a new house, and he did so after returning from a forward operating base that he commanded along a dangerous border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. But the adjustment has been pleasant.
"Just being with Katie and Mitchell has allowed me to decompress and be relieved of the stress of the deployment," he said. "It's been great."
Despite the delay, Katie is finding her new life rewarding. "I am so happy to have Scott home safe again," she said. "The best part about having him home is being able to enjoy the changes that have occurred in our life. … It has been very rewarding to finally share the experiences of being newlyweds, new parents and new homeowners together."
The couple is facing a few challenges now that Scott is back, but Katie expressed her optimism with a laugh and a big smile.
"Well, considering we are both stubborn Germans with Irish tempers, I'm pretty sure there will always be challenges for us," she said. "But we always work through everything."
Scott acknowledged it has been difficult jumping into both the role of husband and father.
"My last experience here was as a single man with an apartment and really no other responsibilities than work," he said. "While I was gone, Katie managed to build a family, of which I was the final piece in the puzzle. The father role has been the most difficult. I had never been around babies before, but now I find myself alone with Mitchell trying to figure out solutions for problems. … But along with Katie, I'm surviving."
Katie shared that all the new thrilling things in their life also can cause some stress for her. She said she realizes there will be an adjustment period.
"It's great having Scott home; however, I wouldn't say that things are less stressful," she said. "Yes, I no longer have to worry about him being at war, and that is a stress that I am very glad to be rid of. But, now, we have the stresses of being newly married and never living together, being new parents together, and being new homeowners all at once.
"My biggest challenge has been letting Scott do things the way he wants to do them," she continued. "I have gotten very used to doing things my way after being alone for 16 months, and it is hard for me to realize that it's OK to do things other ways."
Throughout the homecoming experience, Scott and Katie have realized the importance of working with each other to overcome challenges they face during the transition.
"Katie developed a routine that I am not used to, … and it takes a lot of patience from both of us, a lot of understanding and just talking to each other," Scott said. "We both had our own way, and now it's time for us to develop our way of doing things."
Scott said he and Katie "know how to take things in stride, and when it becomes difficult, I just remind myself to be more patient."
(Megan Han is the wife of Army Capt. Pierre Hanof the 10th Mountain Division's 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment.)