SPRINGFIELD, Ore. -- It all began nine years ago. Since the attack on America, thousands of local troops have left life in the United States behind to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lance Corporal Tanner Holton is one of those troops. Originally from Florence, Holton is a combat engineer and gunner with the 9th Engineer Support Battalion. It's a Marine Reserve unit out of Eugene is currently stationed in the Helmand province, north of the Pakistani border.
Two embedded KVAL journalists are stationed with the battalion. Freelance journalist Cali Bagby and University of Oregon journalism instructor Dan Morrison are multimedia journalists for KVAL News. They send video and photos from the conflict zone to KVAL.com and to newscasts.
That's where Holton's mother, Joni Holton, caught a glimpse of her son.
"All of a sudden he was there," said Holton. "His face was on the television and I could hear him talking. I just lost it. I haven't seen him for a while and I won't see him for a while so it was like the best gift I could ever have."
Joni Holton describes her son on a sunny Saturday morning at a Springfield picnic. Dozens of Marines, troop families, and loved ones of those still in the conflict zone gathered to share in games and barbecue.
The picnic is an annual event designed to get Military families together.
But many of them, like Breanne Wubben, are coping with life while their significant other is abroad.
"It's great to be able to come down here and experience a bond that nobody understands unless you've been a part of it," said Wubben. "Having a baby without him was really hard but we were actually able to Skype during the delivery so that was pretty neat, but it's tough."
For many families, this annual gathering has special meaning. This year the gathering is “more somber than usual” because it falls on Sep 11.
"Everyone kind of goes on during their day and kind of forgets that that happened nine years ago," said Wubben. "But we're here and we're still sacrificing for that."
Troops from the 9th Engineering Support Battalion are expected to return to Eugene before the end of the year.
You can follow local Marines and life on the front lines by going to our website. Catch photos, videos, and articles by Bagby and Morrison by going to KVAL.com.