JEFFERSON, Iowa - This holiday season the number of Iowans serving their country in the middle east is much lower than previous years.
However, there are many Iowa families who will be missing their loved ones in the military every holiday season. Ninety-one Iowans and people with ties to Iowa have died in Iraq or Afghanistan since March 2003.
Matthew Nielson from Jefferson died in a mortar attack by insurgents last summer just two weeks before his unit was scheduled to return the United States. Nielson was the oldest of eight and graduated Cum Laude from the University of Northern Iowa. His goal in life was to climb as high as he could in the Army's chain of command.
His parents say they're doing better, but 16 months after they buried their son they still deal with a wide range of emotions every day.
"There probably are character benefits and other benefits in suffering, but you just don't expect it to last so long. I think we'll be OK, it takes time. Maybe until the end of time for me," said Matthew's father, Roger Nielson.
According to the Iowa National Guard, only about 125 soldiers and airmen are deployed.
The Department of Defense reports approximately 900 Iowans are serving in active and reserve forces for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.