FORT WALTON BEACH — If there were five Veterans Days each year, Raquel Long would have a reason to observe each one, starting with her husband and then with each of the couple's four sons.

Long and her husband, Pete — an Air Force veteran now working a civilian job at Hurlburt Field — say they worked to instill a spirit of community service in their sons, but they didn't necessarily expect it to translate into military service.

"You've just got to be very, very supportive," Raquel Long said of the four young men, a blended family comprising children from previous relationships who have known only Pete Long as their father for most of their lives.

James Brooks, the eldest, was the first to join the military, choosing the Army. He joined in 2010 and served seven years, including time in the Middle East, until a medical discharge forced him out of a career he clearly loved.

"I was always headstrong to join the military," said James — whose 26th birthday is today, Veterans Day. "I knew exactly what I wanted to do."

Which isn't to say he found military life easy.

"It was a gut-check from the start," he said.

Now on the outside, James said it was hard to leave military life, especially the camaraderie.

"It was harder leaving the relationships that you make," he said 

The second eldest in the family, 24-year-old Zachary Brooks, couldn't be part of a family gathering last week. An Air Force firefighter, he is currently deployed in the Middle East.

A father of two, Zachary has been married since 2013 to his Choctaw High School sweetheart. Bethany Brooks, a student teacher at Silver Sands School, confesses she "wasn't too keen on it" when her future husband said he wanted to join the Air Force. She was particularly concerned when he expressed an interest in explosive ordnance disposal.

Having her husband working as a firefighter is a little better, she said, but she added that "really, any job in the military is going to have stuff that's going to happen."

Zachary has been deployed now for four months. It's his first deployment, and as far as the they are concerned, Bethany said, "we kind of get used to it, but it's hard on the kids."

Daniel Morales, the family's third son, is almost brand new to the military. At 20 years old, he's just now home from basic Marine training. He'll be home until Tuesday, when he leaves for infantry training.

"It was definitely fun," the close-shorn Daniel said of basic training, a touch of bravado in his voice. Like his brothers, Daniel credits his dad's example with prompting him to pursue a career in the military.

"I've looked up to him for a long while," he said.

Last in line is 19-year-old Wilson Morales, a Navy man currently training in Great Lakes, Illinois.

In a video chat, Wilson said he had a very personal reason for choosing a military career.

"It's more of a personal ambition to protect my nieces and nephews," he said.

Perhaps more than his brothers, Wilson has a keen sense of the potential price for a career in the military.

"I'm in until I either retire or lose my life," he said. "I'm willing to give my life for the life I dream of."

His brothers, though, also are mindful of the sacrifice that may be asked of them.

"I love this country," Daniel said. "Someone has to be ready to fight for it."

"They've been to military funerals," Pete Long said, somewhat starkly.

Still, the possibility of losing one of his sons is something he is forced to consider.

"It weighs on you a little bit," he said, "but when your time is up, your time is up. There are other fields that are just as dangerous, like police officers. Still, it doesn't make it any easier."

Raquel Long began to shed a tear as she considered the question, but put on a brave face.

"I can't tell you how proud I am of them. We just know that it's all for the greater good."