RUSSELL, Kan. – In the front window of Bob and Elaine Voos' house hangs a small white banner with a red border and two blue stars — one each for their daughter and son-in-law, both off at war.
Inside the house are much bigger changes. For these grandparents, the deployment of their daughter and son-in-law to Qatar for Army Reserve duty means caring for their five young grandchildren.
Their lives as empty nesters are now filled with taking children to school, helping with homework and extra grocery shopping. But they don't mind — to them it's just part of being a family.
"I just can't imagine saying no. That just doesn't click with me," said 47-year-old Elaine Voos.
As the days pass, Rich and Carissa Doctor's children have laid out big plans for when their parents return home: a party, kisses and lots of hugs.
"I'm going to squish them with my arms," 9-year-old Megan said. Added her 14-year-old sister, Monica: "We'll give them a big party."
But it could be six months to two years before their parents come back to this small western Kansas farming community of 4,700 people — the hometown of former senator and presidential contender Bob Dole.
The grandparents already had been keeping their grandchildren during the one weekend a month that the parents trained with their Reserve unit in nearby Hays.
But their new full-time parenting roles have brought about several changes for the grandparents, who had been accustomed to having the house to themselves.
Toys — a purple skateboard, two bicycles and two red wagons — are now strewn about the front yard of the their single-story wood cream-colored house. And their schedule requires extra planning.
Bob Voos, 49, takes the three oldest children — Monica, Megan, and 8-year-old Leah — to school on the way to work at the city water department. His wife drops off 3-year-old Micah and 2-year-old Lauren at day care before heading to her job at a restaurant.
The three oldest girls — Rich Doctor's children from a previous marriage — pitch in by keeping their rooms clean and doing laundry.
"They are well behaved and take care of each other," Bob Voos said. "They take care of one another pretty well."
Rich Doctor, 36, is a staff sergeant and Carissa, 22, a sergeant in a medical supply unit sent to Qatar, the U.S. Central Command headquarters for the war in Iraq. They met in the unit and married in 1999.
Elaine Voos said her daughter and son-in-law volunteered for deployment, believing it would cause the least disruption for the children if they went overseas at the same time.
"The possibility of being deployed was so strong that you might as well volunteer so you won't have to be waiting," she said. "They knew they had somebody who would help keep the kids."
And Carissa Doctor said she is grateful for that.
"They deserve a lot of credit for all of the support that they gave us and are still giving," Carissa Doctor said about her parents Sunday in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "They are wonderful people, and my husband and I are blessed to have them around."
Before leaving, Rich Doctor, a Russell police officer, had a talk with the children.
"Rich sat down and explained to them they won't be where the fighting is," Elaine Voos said. "I really think that was helpful. They are accepting of their parents being away."
The parents and children stay in touch with e-mail and occasional phone calls.
Elaine Voos awaits the day when parents and children are reunited.
"Everybody will be happy, but there will be some adjustments. They will have changed. The kids will have changed," she said. "It's a growth experience for everybody."