CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Karl and Erin Ottmar do not take simple pleasures like going on a walk through their neighborhood with their two children for granted. The family is now making up for lost time. For nearly a year, the Chesterfield couple was separated by 7,000 miles when Karl, a U.S. Army reservist, was called up in Afghanistan. The 38-year-old father would need to leave his growing family behind and join his unit, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers Contingency Response Unit. Karl and his fellow soldiers oversaw construction projects in Afghanistan.
"Well, I’m not going to lie. It was really, really difficult," Karl said. "In Afghanistan there is always a threat that something bad could happen."
What made matters worse for Karl was leaving behind his pregnant wife. While Karl was gone, Erin was tasked with caring for their two-year-old daughter, Alana, working full-time and holding down the household chores.
Technology helped the family soften the blow from their separation. The couple would often use Facetime and Skype to communicate. Alana and Karl scheduled regular dance parties and share treasured moments with a pair of monkey dolls. Alana would hold one and so would Karl.
"He would do puppet shows for her so that definitely helped the relationship. It was a lifesaver. It really was," Erin said. "The fact that that was their time was really important. I still cry thinking about it. Just because she really did bond to him."
A bittersweet milestone arrived last Novemeber when Karl missed the birth of his baby girl, Delaney.
"I was incredibly fortunate that I was able to watch the birth over Skype," he said.
Seeing her was one thing, holding her was another. For that he would need to wait several months. The divided Ottmars became whole again on February 6 at Richmond International Airport when Karl returned safely from the danger zone. It was a homecoming months in the making for the man who answered the call of duty as a soldier and father.
"Yeah, all kinds of things hit you all at once," Karl said. "Feels absolutely wonderful to be back home."
Back on the ground in Richmond, Karl was able to hold his infant for the very first time.
“She was so light. So little. So small," he said. "I think having people back together is something you don’t appreciate until you don’t have that. It just feels great."
Erin wanted to thank all of the friends, family and complete strangers who lent helping hands while her husband was away for nine months. Karl, a Richmond Public School teacher, said he planned to return to the classroom next March. Right now he is relishing his time with his growing family. Karl also earned the Bronze Star during his time in Afghanistan for service to his country.
Greg McQuade and CBS 6 News are featuring local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email email@example.com.