Capt. Daniel Fishback has decorated his sleeping tent with pictures of his wife, Cortney, and kids, Dylan Marx and Ashtyn.
"They are my entire world," he said one evening as he showed off family portraits. He gets excited when he gets mail, he's thrilled when he gets to talk with them on the phone.
Like all soldiers, Fishback worries about how his family is faring without him back home. But Fishback has extra reason for worry.
"If I call home and Cortney tells me Dylan went to bed early, I immediately start wondering if something is wrong," Fishback said. "I'll worry all night long. It's hard not to."
Dylan, his 6-year-old son, has cystic fibrosis - a disease that usually attacks either the respiratory or digestive system and eventually can lead to an early death.
"Most kids have one or the other," Fishback said. "Dylan is one of the few that suffers from both."
Some children with cystic fibrosis live to see their teenage years. Some are lucky enough to hit 30.
"We already don't know how long we are going to live," Fishback said. "But when somebody's life is already cut in half, you want everything for them."
Fishback, a supply officer with the Fort Eustis-based 7th Transportation Group, didn't learn that he would be deploying until two weeks before it was time to go. The thought of being away for a year terrified him. Now that he's away, he feels guilty that he isn't there to help.
So the good news the Fishbacks received this week was especially welcome. Dylan, the Fishbacks learned, has been chosen to have a wish fulfilled by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
He won't get his first wish - which was to go to Kuwait to visit his father - but his other options aren't bad.
A trip to the Super Bowl is Dylan's first choice. If that can't be worked out, he'd like to visit Disney World. Or the Mall of America.
"He's a normal little boy," his mother, Cortney, said by phone from her home in Newport News. "He looks normal, he acts normal. He just has to take treatments every day, go to the doctor every three months and not get sick."
For Dylan, each day begins and ends with a series of treatments and medications.
"Twice a day, for about an hour total, we have to hook him up to this $15,000 machine that pounds his chest," Fishback said. "It basically sends vibrations into him that loosens up the mucus in his lungs and then he has to cough it out."
Dylan has to breathe regularly from an inhaler that sends antibiotics into his lungs to keep him from getting sick.
"We try not to limit him in what he does," Fishback said. "We take him to the park and let him play with other kids in the sandbox all day long. But we have to watch to see if other kids around him are sick. Because where most kids just get the flu or a cold, Dylan really gets it and could end up in the hospital."
Because of the way the disease attacks his digestive system, Dylan also has to be careful about what he eats.
"He can't eat a lot of junk food like other kids can," Fishback said. "He also has to take multi-vitamins and medication to help him digest his food."
On Nov. 1, Cortney said, a representative from the foundation is supposed to talk to Dylan about his wish.
Once his father explained that the trip to Kuwait was out, Dylan "decided he wants to go to the Super Bowl, maybe meet a couple of players, get some autographs," Fishback said.
Dylan got interested in football last season, when he watched games with Dan.
"I couldn't be more proud of what he wished for because he wasn't just thinking about himself," Fishback said. "He said he wanted to do something the whole family could enjoy. He's the coolest son a dad could ask for, he's sweet and he has a big heart."
Right now the only kink in the plan is figuring out when Dylan will get his wish. Fishback is scheduled to be in the desert until September 2005 with a two-week break home around the holidays.
"I really want to be home with my children on Christmas morning," he said. "But with this wish, I'll ask Dylan what he wants. If he wants me to try and move my leave to be there for his wish, I'll do that."
Fishback said he thinks about his family every chance he can take his mind off work.
"I do stress about it," he said. "Mostly because if something were to happen I can't just snap my fingers and be there."