ATLANTA, Ill. - When Kyle Combs and his younger brothers, Jacob and Cory all wear their U.S. Army service uniforms, even their own father and mother, Kevin and Christy Combs have trouble telling them apart sometimes.
"They all have the same haircuts and they all look the same and are even all about the same height," Christy said. "Even when they were younger, I would call them by the wrong name sometimes."
"From the back, sometimes, you just don't know which one you are talking with," Kevin said.
All three brothers are currently on active duty, but all three managed to make it home for the holidays, and were joined by another brother, Carlos Sanchez, and sister, Maria Sanchez. It's been five years since the entire Combs family of Atlanta was together for the holidays, and they don't know when it will happen again.
Kyle, 29, joined the National Guard in 2002 and currently still lives in Atlanta, and along with his duty as a volunteer on the Atlanta Fire Department, also serves as a staff sergeant at Camp Lincoln in Springfield. Jacob, 23, joined the Army in August 2009 and is now stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011 and is currently deployed in Kuwait. He will leave to return to his post on Wednesday. Cory is in basic training in Fort Jackson, S.C. He returns to his unit Friday.
"It has been amazing to have them all return home because we just aren't sure when the next time we are going to be able to all celebrate the holidays together," Christy said. "We have been planning this for months and there were times we weren't exactly sure we were going to be able to do it. But it happened and I am so grateful."
All three Olympia High School graduates say they are proud to serve in the military but family also comes first.
After his high school graduation, Kyle didn't have the desire to attend college and began a career with the National Guard instead.
"I don't really feel like I chose the service, I felt like the service chose me," he said. "I just didn't have the desire to do the school thing, so I flirted with joining the Coast Guard and ended up going to the National Guard and it has really worked out well. I guess my brothers just saw how awesome I was and so they followed their own paths into the service."
Jacob also felt the desire to join the military and considered the National Guard.
"I wanted to see the world and felt like it was everything I wanted to do," he said.
"I just followed in my older brothers' footsteps," Cory said.
Staying in touch with such a large family is difficult. However, the entire family uses social media such as Facebook and Skype to stay in contact with each other.
"It's not easy, but it is something you get used to," Christy said.
For Kevin and Christy, having the three sons home for the holidays allows them to momentarily put aside their concerns about having three children in the military at the same time. At one point in time, both Kyle and Jacob were stationed in Afghanistan at the same time.
"I had faith that everything was going to be okay," Christy said. "I had faith that someone was watching over them and not just me. You have to believe and have faith that they will come back."
"It is about faith," he said. "I trust them and I trust everyone else that they will come back safe. Having everyone make it back for this Christmas was just a wonderful feeling."
Kevin Barlow writes for The (Bloomington) Pantagraph.