TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The holiday season can be tough for people who have to spend it away from family, and that’s especially true for troops in American military service.

And the hardest part is often the simple things many people take for granted.

“Just missing them open presents,” said Major Haley Middlebrook of the U.S. Army. “And watching your kids experience the holidays. You’re missing that because they’re so young, maybe it’s first time they’re experiencing it, and you don’t get to be there for that.”

Middlebrook and her husband are both in the military. She says when one of them is home and the other is deployed, sometimes being home is the harder job.

“Honestly, my husband’s been deployed more than I have,” Middlebrook said. “But it’s harder to be the parent left behind trying to do everything. Plus, I have a hard time asking for help, so when friends show up to help me out, that’s always huge.”

Lt. Col. Carla Kiernan of the U.S. Army said her adopted family “downrange” is a huge support system around the holidays. She and fellow troops have sometimes brought holiday traditions from back home to their deployments to celebrate them together.

“We’ve had anything from what’s the best movie to watch, an ugly Christmas sweater that made the rounds between troops, we’ve done Christmas songs, we’ve had churches send stockings,” Kiernan said. “We basically try to replicate what they’re not getting at home.”

Both soldiers said technology has made things so much easier.

“We can FaceTime and capture those memories,” Kiernan said. “They’re via screen, but it’s better than missing them altogether.”

As for the best gifts, Kiernan said holiday decorations are hard to come by overseas, so they can be great gifts for troops who are deployed.

Middlebrook said she likes to work with her hands, so she appreciates any handmade gifts–even if it’s just a handwritten letter.

“One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever gotten that I’ve kept is a hand-knit scarf from some older ladies at a nursing home,” Middlebrook said. “We wore those, took a picture and sent it back, and we’ve stayed in touch with that organization

But when she’s the only parent home for the holidays, Middlebrook says perhaps the best gift comes from friends who just jump in to help.

“I have to do things I normally don’t do, like hanging Christmas lights. I have a few friends that just show up at my house to help, and I don’t have to ask them,” Middlebrook said.