Anita Stark Lewis has quite a few loose ends to tie up before she departs for Fort Polk, La., Sunday morning on her way to war-torn Afghanistan.
In addition to packing and sifting through a pile of paperwork, the 40-year-old Naval Reservist and mother of four plans to spend every waking moment with her family and loved ones.
She is scheduled to ship out next week - for a year.
"When I first found out about my tour of duty overseas, it was two days before Christmas, so you can imagine the timing being a huge shock to my family and me," said Lewis, who has lived in York for 30 years.
"For the past few years, however, as ... conflicts escalated, I knew that shipping out was becoming an inevitability."
But for Lewis, it also was a looming certainty that she derived a great deal of pride from. For her entire life, she never wanted to do anything else.
"My father, James Stark, served for over 22 years in the United States Navy and achieved the rank of chief petty officer," Lewis said. "Growing up, I knew that everything I would accomplish, whether in education or otherwise, was just preparation for what I truly wanted to do, which was go into the Navy like my father."
A self-described "military brat", Lewis' upbringing was dictated by where her father was stationed until finally moving to South Carolina in 1981. She graduated from York Comprehensive High School and earned an associate's degree in accounting from York Technical College in 1988.
Though she maintained aspirations to join the Navy, the birth of her oldest son, Brandon Stark, that same year prompted her to put that career path on hold.
But in 2001, at the age of 31 and happily married with children to Wayne Lewis, Anita finally saw her opportunity to fulfill her patriotic dream.
"I joined the Naval Reserves on June 13, 2001, just prior to 9/11," Lewis said of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. "I became an IT2, which mainly deals with computers, radios and other technological equipment.
"Though a lot of the technology I was trained to handle has been outsourced over the years, I still have had a lot of functions inside my unit."
For the next nine years, Lewis would go through annual training, which would send her to various outposts for two weeks at a time. That included a stint in Hawaii, which she called "an absolutely terrible experience," sarcasm dripping from every word.
Until that day in December 2009, Lewis primarily focused on raising her four sons as they entered adolescence. And for Brandon, led by the example set by both mother and grandfather, his desired career was settled before he graduated from high school.
"I've always said to my kids that they have two options - college or the military," Lewis said. "Brandon was 17 when we first visited with a Navy recruiter, and five years later, his rank is machinist mate (or MM3) on the USS Eisenhower."
The Stark family has roots in naval service, a tradition Lewis would like to continue as her younger sons grow into adulthood. But as she plans for her tour in Afghanistan, Lewis only has a fleeting idea of what her designation will be once she arrives.
She only knows that it will be ground deployment, and that, combined with the danger and uncertainty of the conditions she will face, has her justifiably nervous.
"Being acclimated to the Navy, it stunned me when I heard I would be deployed on the ground," Lewis said. "I still don't know entirely what I'm going to be commissioned to do over there.
"The fear of the unknown is what has me a little scared."
Based on a 10-week training program that began in May, Lewis assumes she will be a combat adviser when she arrives in Afghanistan.
That training, which Lewis described as "extremely helpful but compressed," included weapons training, operating a military-grade Humvee, and learning the basics of Dari, a language indigenous to Afghanistan.
"If I'm assigned to a combat adviser position, my main duty will be to give Afghani locals the tools to sustain themselves once the U.S. campaign ends," Lewis said. "We don't want to force our ideology down their throats, just give them the skills to survive and fight back."
But now, counting the minutes until she kisses her family goodbye, Lewis bides her time as Sunday morning fast approaches. Though the mood is unquestionably somber, Lewis received a nice surprise last month that helped give her a sense of emotional closure.
"July 26 was the day Brandon came home from a seven-month deployment," Lewis said with a smile. "The Navy found out I was being sent to Afghanistan, and gave my son first leave so he could come home. I wouldn't have seen him otherwise."
As for her family's morale, Lewis offered insight into what all families should do if a loved one is deployed.
"I'm extremely thankful that my family is so supportive of what I feel is my duty to this country," Lewis said. "To the other families out there, be supportive at all times, no matter how much sadness or fright you may feel.
"I feel comforted that my family understands how much this means to me."