Knoxville (WVLT) - Many US soldiers are away from their families this Christmas as they continue their mission in Iraq.
WVLT Volunteer TV's Stephen McLamb sat down with one family whose son is away this year and finds out about just how much they've learned to appreciate family when one of their loved ones can't be home for Christmas.
Andrew Simmons has always been home for Christmas but for the first time he's not as he continues to serve his country in Iraq.
His mother says she heard it was hard when a son isn't home and now she knows.
"Even though he's not here physically, he's here in spirit," says Holly Simmons.
"It's a little weird. You miss having him here as far as opening his gifts because we all sat down last night with all the family except him," Daniel Simmons, Andrew's brother.
The Simmons family is preparing Christmas dinner and this year without their son Andrew who is serving in Iraq.
The highlight of the day was an 8:30 a.m. phone call.
"I was excited. I was hoping he'd get to call today. Of course, it's a special day and it had been almost a week since we'd heard from him," says Andrew's father, Mike Simmons.
"But I've been teary the last couple of days so just getting to talk to him I'm fine now," Holly says.
Believe it or not, the Simmons family did not exchange presents with Andrew. He told them Christmas is what they do for him all the other days of the year.
"Because you have sent boxes and boxes and I don't want anything for Christmas," Holly says.
Boxes of real food from home like candy or tuna, food used for missions which sure beats food from Uncle Sam.
"MRE's I think or they can take these home foods or what have you to kind of liven it up a little bit," Mike explains.
But Holly did get one gift from her son Daniel on behalf of Andrew, a small plaque which says although he's away he loves her.
"I cried," Holly says. "They wanted me to read it out loud and I couldn't."
"You see how sad it can be without somebody here. You miss their presence, their jokes," Daniel says.
As the Simmons family goes on with Christmas without Andrew, they did get one gift from Andrew not being home, the gift of appreciation.
"Once you don't have it, you realize how much you really enjoy it and enjoy that person especially," Mike Simmons says they're keeping their fingers crossed that Andrew will be home in the spring or early summer, and that next year they'll all be together again.