Karen Tolkkinen
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Lt. Col. Brian Douty sat at a desk in a nondescript office, window blinds blocking the searing Middle East sun.

Seven thousand miles away, his dad, Bob Douty, stood in the kitchen of the Pipestone home where Brian grew up, watching his son's tiny video image on a cellphone.

It was Friday morning in Pipestone. Getting near dinner time in the Middle East, where Brian serves on active duty in the U.S. Army. Over an encrypted video chat, their voices came through strong and clear.

"Nice to hear ya, Brian," Bob said. "When's the last time we talked?"

"Was it two weeks ago, I suppose?" Brian responded.

Retired U.S. Army Maj. Robert Douty talks with his son, Lt. Col. Brian Douty, via encrypted video for an early Father's Day chat.
Retired U.S. Army Maj. Robert Douty talks with his son, Lt. Col. Brian Douty, via encrypted video for an early Father's Day chat.

It was an early Father's Day call between father and son and several family members. The celebration has proved especially poignant this year for both men, and not just because Brian is deployed.

Bob and his wife, Meiko, who met when he was in the service in Japan, raised three sons — Jeffrey, Joseph and Brian. All followed their father into military service. Last year, their seemingly healthy son Joe died of heart failure while in the water near their family cabin on Lake Shetek. It was unexpected and traumatic and they considered selling the cabin before realizing how much Joe would have hated that.

Joe was the middle child, the planner, the guy who liked to get things done today. He had taken over the family manufacturing business in Pipestone, Wilson Manufacturing Co. He had a wife and four kids. He never said no to anyone, a volunteer firefighter who was part of nine different civic organizations in Pipestone.

In the wake of their loss, Jeffrey, the oldest brother, the gregarious people-person, gave up a longtime career in North Dakota to move back to Pipestone with his wife, Kristie, to help with the business. Brian, the youngest, the one who can master pretty much anything he tackles, went to the Middle East with the Minnesota National Guard's 34th Infantry Division.

It's the first Father's Day without Joe. First Father's Day without their dad for Joe's kids, too.

"Seems like we're having all kinds of events that they're going to have to overcome," Bob said.

And now his youngest son is in the Middle East. Despite ongoing violence involving Israel, Gaza, Lebanon and Yemen, Bob isn't too worried about him being in the region. He trusts that the military will protect its soldiers, voicing appreciation for the National Guard funding and support provided by Minnesota. And Brian is scheduled to come home sometime this summer. His wife, Bob said, might feel more anxious.

Like good Minnesotans, they talked about the weather. Pushing 114 degrees where Brian is stationed. It's been in the 80s in Minnesota, Bob countered, realizing the futility of trying to compete with Middle Eastern heat. Bob told Brian about all the rain that had come to Minnesota. Brian said they were finally allowed to go outside again so he was able to run outdoors in the early morning.

Brian asked if his mom had been out fishing yet. Her face crumpled. Tears threatened. No, she said. It's still too hard. The memories of Joe's death are too raw.

Emotions ebbed and flowed. They laughed over memories of bologna-cheese-pickle-and-catsup sandwiches from childhood. They wiped away tears while talking about a 1943 military Jeep Bob restored and recently drove in a parade with a plaque on the front bumper saying "In memory of Joseph CW3 Douty." The CW3 stands for chief warrant officer 3.

They wanted to share their phone call with the Star Tribune to remind the public that military families are still deploying, still coping with hardships as they carry out the military duties they signed up for. Brian also wanted to thank all those who show up to send off the troops and who send care packages.

"It certainly brings a smile to everybody's faces when they open up them boxes and see some local Minnesota candy or whatever it is that you can't get anywhere else," Brian said.

Brian said told the family he likely will not be home for a golf tournament they are planning in July to raise money for scholarships in Joe's memory. Every civic group Joe belonged to will be there with information or activity.

Then they said their goodbyes. Brian had to run to a meeting.

Afterward, his dad drove out to the cabin to mow grass.

Life is like that. It keeps moving on despite our losses.