CHARLESTON, W.Va. – If you asked Sgt. Lisa Bias (search) what she's most thankful for, it wouldn't be hard to predict that her answer involves her four children.
For nearly a year, the four have been living with an aunt in Barboursville while Bias and their father have been on active duty.
"This is my first time in my 17-year military career that I've been separated from my children," the Ohio Army National Guard (search) engineer said in a telephone interview from a Barboursville motel after returning from Iraq.
The children's father, who last saw them in September, was not able to get leave. Bias said she and her husband have divorced since their deployment last year.
Bias, who serves with the 216th Engineer Battalion (search) from Youngstown, Ohio, was working as a security guard at Cabell-Huntington Hospital and living in Proctorville, Ohio, when her unit was mobilized last Dec. 18. Since then, her children — William, Jered, James and Kaitlynn — have been living with Bias' sister, Stephanie, in West Virginia.
She never questioned being deployed to Iraq.
"I probably didn't have to go," Bias said. "But I thought it was my responsibility to do so. When they asked me, I couldn't see not going."
Since March, Bias has been stationed in Tikrit, where she helped with construction work, including building a chapel and trying to reinforce bridges.
"All the things we tried to do were sabotaged," she said. "It's so unstable over there." At least three in her battalion have been "lost."
Bias arrived in West Virginia this past Tuesday and has spent the time becoming reacquainted with her children — aged 15 to 5. They've shopped at the nearby mall and have gone to the movies.
For the next two weeks, Bias said she planned to take her children on a trip to the Smoky Mountains and visit relatives before returning to duty on Dec. 9.
"It's been a rough year for me and the kids," said Bias, 35.
"You miss out on so much. I missed out on my daughter starting kindergarten. I missed out on my oldest son becoming a freshman in school ... going through driver's ed," she said.
Her son William, 15, said he has missed his mother's humor and jokes.
"You have to think that every day (that) goes by is one day closer for her to come home," he said.
Bias won't likely make it home for Christmas, but she hopes to return for good in February.
Meanwhile, she says this was one Thanksgiving where she could give genuine thanks.
"I think I took for granted things in the past, past Thanksgivings," Bias said. "Life is short, and you don't know that until you're faced with life and death situations, and you just never know what tomorrow's going to bring."