After Ed Jacobs and Robin Ardner married, they gave birth to a daughter, Olivia, who joined siblings from her parents' first marriages. Now age 9, she is the youngest of the couple's eight children. Six are boys, and five of them are in the military.
Brandon Ardner, Craig Ardner and Patrick Ardner are the sons of Robin Jacobs and Dennis Ardner. Brad Jacobs and Brock Jacobs are the sons of Ed Jacobs and Theresa Jacobs.
"It's two families together. Three of the boys are hers and I have three sons," Ed explained. "It's just the way the good Lord gave 'em to us. They're a blessing. Actually, we look at them as miracles."
"He has an older daughter, and we share a child together," Robin said. "'His, Hers and Ours.' Remember that show?"
Brad, age 27, could not get into the Marines due to a knee injury, so he joined the Navy. Brandon, 26, operates tanks in the Army. Craig, 23, and Patrick, 20, serve in the National Guard. Brock, age 19, also is a Navy man.
At the time of this interview, the couple was hoping for a call from Patrick, who was about to leave North Carolina for Germany before heading to Afghanistan. He chose to be part of the infantry. He told his mother, "If I'm going into the military, I want to know how to use my gun."
"Brandon is in Afghanistan right now. Patrick left today, and Craig will leave right after Christmas," Robin said. "Brad is in Mississippi, in school."
"We have no clue where Brock's at. He's not allowed to tell us," Ed added.
Limited employment options and the high cost of post-secondary education were reasons their sons enlisted. Brad had spent two years at Otterbein College and knew his parents could not help much with his expenses. Military benefits could help to offset Brad's growing debt. Now, he is in law school and is on track to graduate this January.
"Right now, he's in a school that's mandatory by the Navy. He's been there about a year," Ed said. "They have what's called a 'fast-track' school. It's 12 hours a day. Anything below an 89 (percent), you're automatically booted out."
The Jacobs believe their sons will be able to obtain better educations through the military. Even while deployed overseas, Brad and Brock had access to online classes.
Ed said Brandon went into the Army right after high school in hopes of learning a trade and having some opportunities for adventure, but his outlook has changed somewhat. Brandon has not been able to take any classes as yet. Although his tour is supposed to end in January, that could change. Even so, he has re-enlisted. Robin said Craig enlisted before graduating from high school.
Although Robin and Ed have done no military service themselves, other family members are veterans. Robin's father, grandfather, uncles and stepbrothers served in the military.
"Her grandfather was a highly decorated World War II vet," Ed said. "My dad was a Korean War-age veteran. My two brothers were in service. I was the only one that wasn't."
Technology has given soldiers more ways to connect with their families during deployments. In a recent conversation with Ed's mother, the couple talked about modern communication that gives reassurance to loved ones at home.
"Years ago, it would take months sometimes, if they would get the letters that were sent, compared to now. We can Skype with the boys when they're available," Robin said.
"I just learned to do the Facebook thing so we can keep in touch. Sometimes, they're able to get to a computer and get on stuff so we can talk to them," Ed said. "Brandon was able to see his baby being born on Skype. They set a computer up to where he could be with his wife when the baby was born in September."
Even with five sons in the service, Ed and Robin are not overly enthusiastic about the military. Ed is concerned that the U.S. government does not always give the troops enough support. Brandon has told his parents they often must do without basic items such as laundry detergent.
"This is our military that our tax dollars are paying for, and they don't have simple supplies like that," Ed said.
In an effort to keep civilian deaths to a minimum, restrictions have been imposed that keep troops from doing what they need to do. As an example, Brandon had told his parents about rockets being fired into their camp. When the unit determined where the shots were coming from, they fired back and took out the source - only to be disciplined for acting without permission.
Brad said it was difficult to know which Afghan or Iraqi natives could be trusted, and soldiers often have difficulty defending themselves against unconventional tactics, such as insurgents putting a bomb in a child's backpack.
"They hide right in the houses with the women and the kids and know they can't touch them," Ed said.
In other cases, Ed said, troops may not get thorough training before their duties start, or they are assigned to jobs they were not trained to do.
"Brandon's first tour was in Iraq, and he was trained as a tanker. Well, he never saw a tank over there. He kicked in doors and dragged people out and arrested them until they figured out if they had the right people or not. They kind of learned on the fly," Ed said. "I think these guys are over there doing the best they can do with what they've got."
Prayer is an important part of daily life for the Jacobs. Robin said she and Ed are always on edge when the phone rings, wondering which son may have been injured or killed.
"When Brandon was in Iraq, a recruiter was coming down the sidewalk, and my heart just stopped. But he wasn't coming here. He was going to see someone down the street. You just brace yourself," Robin said.
During the summer, the Jacobs got a call asking the whereabouts of their son. The caller said he was missing. Robin asked which son he meant, but the caller was confused and said he would get back to her. In the meantime, Robin called Craig to see if he knew anything. Eventually, they learned that two sets of orders had been issued for Patrick. He couldn't report to Medina and Columbus at the same time, so he was reported missing at one location.
"We can do without those phone calls," Robin said.
They also worry about the mental and emotional effects military service may be having on their offspring. Brandon's first tour of duty was in Iraq and the second in Afghanistan. He has been hit by two improvised explosive devices.
"Our sons that have served time over there, they're not the same kids," Ed observed. "Brandon was home in September ... and he just isn't the same boy. He's seen too much and been around too much. It's sad to see it in their faces, in their eyes. Their voices change. Everything about them changes when they see the stuff they're seeing."
Robin said she has become more aware of the sacrifices her sons have made in choosing military service.
"I hear some of the people I work with ... complaining about this or that and I think, 'My son hasn't had a shower for a week.' One day I was out at Walmart and this lady was screaming and yelling at her child ... my son hasn't seen his, hasn't held his. He won't be able to hear his first words or see him take his first step," Robin said. "The boys were a handful growing up, constantly a handful. They weren't angels, but I would give anything to have one of those days back again."