Debbie Thomas' cellphone lived in her hand. She didn't sleep much.
A mother spends so much time protecting her child, but when her two boys are deployed to Afghanistan, there's not much to do but hope for the best.
"It was probably the worst thing I have ever been through as a mom," said Thomas, a Manchester resident. "I feel like I got a double dose because it was two. I don't know what it'd be like to just have one go."
In 2008, her eldest son Mark Thomas Jr., then 22, decided to join the Army.
"He said [to his brother], 'Hey Chris, do you want to go?'" she recalled.
Christopher Thomas, then 18, said yes. So on Sept. 27, 2008, they left for basic training at Fort Benning in Georgia.
The two boys complement each other well. Fear is not a word in her youngest son's vocabulary. He's extremely social and is always up to try anything once, Debbie said.
Mark, however, is more comfortable in his box. He's open to trying new things, but when possible, he likes to keep his home base nearby, Debbie said.
At training, his little brother served as that taste of home as the boys were "battle buddies" at Fort Benning, Debbie said. They did everything together. They shared bunk beds and parachuted out of planes and pranked their comrades.
They were infantrymen - a fact that worried their mother.
"That was probably the most devastating thing," Debbie Thomas said. "I didn't mind them going into the service. But real bright, real well-educated boys ... right on the front lines."
Her sons left for a 12-month deployment in Afghanistan December 2009, but they were on opposite sides of the country, which Debbie said was a little "unnerving."
Debbie can put together pieces of that year of their life to create a glossed over portrait of her sons' experiences.
Mark was on foot patrol. He was involved in heavy fire and slept on the side of mountains in the wilderness. Chris saw less bullets and mainly manned computers.
But details are sparse.
"They've always told me, 'You don't need to know all that, Mom,' " Debbie said. "They know what it does to me, and they know that I won't sleep and that it upsets me."
Chris is going to make a career out of the military and plans on working in counter intelligence. But for now, he's safely in Italy with his wife and newborn baby boy. Debbie's only seen him a handful of times since his deployment.
But since Mark has been working at Arlington Cemetery in Virginia since April 2011, she's seen how fighting can wage a war on the mind.
"He has PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] type symptoms as any soldier would first coming back," she said. "It's hard for him to be in crowded, loud areas. He doesn't like sudden noises. He doesn't like a lot of commotion. He wasn't sleeping well when he first came home, as with every soldier."
Her young boys went off to war and grew up.