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February 3, 2006

Savannah -- Thousands of Georgians are on the front lines of war, on missions many of us can't imagine. Their loved ones are enduring worries some of us couldn't bear. One woman has worried more than most. Her husband deployed to the middle east four times in five years. As she anxiously waited for his latest return, she got horrific news from another part of the world.

As Melinda Olver gets ready to welcome her husband home from war, she remembers the night he first came into her life. "I met Brian in a bar downtown," remembers Melinda, laughing. "I knew that night I was going to marry him."

Five weeks later, Melinda Lotti and Brian Olver were engaged.

Melinda quickly called the one person who's opinion mattered most. "My mamma, I called her and she said 'Let me call you back, I just need to think about it.' My family thought I had lost my mind."

But a year later, they were married, and Brian was n Sergeant based at Hunter Army Airfield near Savannah facing his second deployment to Afghanistan. "We got married August 31st, and he deployed early October."

Two deployments to Afghanistan and two more to Iraq made the first years of marriage anything but ordinary. "He left around January 24, 2005. So we're just a couple days shy of him being gone a full 365 days."

And now, just a couple hours shy of their final homecoming. "I'm excited all of it's over. Well, almost."

Waiting for Brian at home in Savannah are his wife, his three cats, and a pile of wrapped presents. "They've been pretty much my only company for a year," she said with a laugh." "For me, it's worth the sacrifice to wait for him to come home."

"To him, Christmas came and went without him but hopefully it will be a little something here to let him know everybody thought of him at Christmas time."

In about six hours, Melinda will be reunited with her husband. "Now, the nerves are starting to set in."

Never has a reunion for the Olvers meant so much. "On August 22nd, I got a phone call from Atlanta. My mother and brother we're traveling in Peru and there was a plane crash."

The airliner carrying Melinda's mother Sherra Young and brother Steve Lotti crashed in a Peruvian jungle. "I fell on my knees and said.... 'I don't not want them to be in pain, whatever that means.' I didn't know if they were suffering in the middle of the jungle. It was terrifying."

She didn't know if they were alive or dead, and she was alone. "I wanted him to hug me and tell me it was going to be okay. I didn't have that luxury."

She was able to call her husband. "He was just devastated, and didn't know what to say." Helplessly thousands of miles away, Brian could not be there for her in her worst hour. "I was concerned about Brian who was going to combat, not my mom and brother who were going on vacation."

The next day brought news of survivors, but her brother and mother had died. "I cried, I fell apart, and pulled back together I knew my family needed me." With help from a Congressman, the military and a lot of prayers, Brian made it home. "With Brian there, I knew there was someone I could lean on and that he would be strong for me."

On August 31st, Melinda buried her mother, a 33 year kindergarten teacher and mother of four who was loved for her big smile and even bigger heart. "She was just the most special woman that I've ever known. I'll try the rest of my life to be somewhat like her."

She also said good-bye to her 28 year old brother. "His life was so exciting. He was Indiana Jones."

The world traveler and archeologist had just come home from serving two years in the Peace Corps in Bolivia. "I can say Steve died with a complete life. He just completed it a lot faster than most of us do."

Melinda was suffering unimaginable grief, sorrow that Brian knew all too well. "He lost his father in a plane crash. He knows that hurt and that feeling."

Brian's father, Lt. Colonel Eric Olver, died in a military plane crash when Brian was just nine. That experience helped him help her even after Brian went back to Iraq two weeks after the funerals.

"He's kept me moving forward. He's a great inspiration because he's been through this the same. He has a positive life after it, even though he's had something tragic happen to him." Melinda was alone again and lonelier than she'd ever been with Brian gone.

"My family now is Brian. I've always said my home is with Brian so where ever that it."

"I get to go to bed every night in my own bed, I'm homesick because he's my home." "When I want to share something and Brian's not here, it was always my mother who I would call. There are days when I fell really lonely."

But soon at last part of her loneliness will be gone. At Fort Stewart, Melinda waits with hundreds of other military families. They're now just minutes away from welcoming their soldiers home from war. "It's coming more and more realistic as the time gets closer." The crowd spots the buses carrying the soldiers. "I have my sign that identifies me as Mrs. Sgt. Olver," Melinda says.

She hopes her sign will be a bright beacon leading Brian to her at last. The families attack the field, Melinda is lost in the wave of folks. But then she spots him. "I can't believe how skinny you are!" she exclaims. He's a little skinner, but safe and ready to get home. With Brian at her side, Melinda too is home again.

"There was nothing I could do from where I was," said Brian. "I could sit there and talk on the phone. I couldn't hug her, hold her, can't be physically there for it. It sucks, it's tough." As a soldier his task was to secure and protect the top commanders. But in Iraq, he felt helpless knowing he couldn't protect the woman he loved. "I knew I had to get home, I knew that much."

And tonight that desperate hope became a reality. "I had to suffer a horrible loss in 2005. But in 2006, I got to have this night. You can't even imagine the feeling I have right now. Now they're as happy as the night they first met. "The happiness that I have tonight makes up for a lot of the unhappiness I had to experience in 2005."

Brian is back with Melinda. Back home for good. Sergeant Olver earned the Bronze Star for valor in Iraq and was also part of the unit that saved Private Jessica Lynch there.

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