When Both Parents Go Off To War

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Charles McCottry's a master sergeant. And in his house he's a one-man Army, CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann reports.

A single parent with four kids.

"How's school today, man?" McCottry asks his son.

From school pick-ups to doctor visits - he's it.

McCottry's done one tour in Iraq. Now it's his wife's turn. Cpt. Barbara McCottry, a nurse now in Baghdad.

This family has spent only ten months together in the last three years.

She wasn't home for Jordan's second birthday.

Not that he noticed.

"Go give Mama five. Yeah, that's not Mama. That's not Mama. That's okay," he says as his son, Jordan, reaches for the wrong people in the room.

To little Jordan, anyone, even our CBS News soundman, could be "mama."

"He doesn't have a clue that he has a mother," McCottry explains. "It hurts me," he said.

Today's U.S. military has 80,000 families like the McCottrys - husbands and wives both in uniform.

For these families, multiple tours in Iraq involve tough choices.

In Des Moines, Ruth and Brian Lerg loved the military - but love their family more.

In Iraq they both served as Army captains: she was a nurse, he was a pilot.

But these days, only son Owen wears a uniform - he's in Cub Scouts.

Both parents left the service, haunted by one deployment memory: handing off Owen to be raised by his grandparents.

"All I could do was stand there and cry, and just watch my little boy go away," Ruth Lerg says.

Read More At Couric & Co.: When Mom And Dad Both Serve
What the Lergs now have, Charles McCottry still wants: a family's chance to share more moments.

So CBS News took a family video to Barbara McCottry, at her post in a Baghdad hospital.

"I'm amazed at how big he is," she said. "I'm going to feel like a stranger when I get home."

She called on Jordan's second birthday.

"Say, 'Hi Momma,'" Charles McCottry says.

His big day became her big gift.


"Tell Momma 'bye-bye,'" he says to Jordan.

"Bye," Jordan says.

"Say, 'love you,'" Charles says to Jordan.

"Love you," Jordan says to his mom.

"Love you." Just two words, but that's a start.

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    Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.