By MAGGIE GEBHARDT

mgebhardt@dailynews.net

ELLIS -- A well-known 1954 Christmas classic insists, "There's no place like home for the holidays," and a close-knit family in Ellis agrees.

Recently, Taft and Barb Yates, Ellis, were excited to welcome home their son, John, after going a year without seeing him.

John has been in the military for eight years and is stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. He serves in the U.S. Army as an artilleryman with the 82nd Airborne Division.

Ellis police chief Taft Yates picked his son up from the Kansas City airport on Dec. 19. John's wife, Heather, and their son, Tye, accompanied him. The family-of-three plans to remain in northwest Kansas until Jan. 2.

"I'm so happy to finally be home," John Yates said. "My wife and son are excited to be here and to see family for two weeks."

The artilleryman was raised in Hays, graduating from Hays High in 2006. Soon after, he made the decision to join the military, first in the reserves and then transferring to active duty.

John's wife of eight years is also from northwest Kansas and their 6-year-old son, Tye, was born here.

As an artilleryman in the Army, John has many action-filled duties and responsibilities.

"I drop the gun out of the back of the plane, parachute, jump onto the gun and get it into operation," he said. "I make sure it's ready to shoot."

As an Army family, John, Heather and Tye continually face adjustments of stability in their lives.

"I've been able to adjust to the military lifestyle," John said. "It's been a little harder for my wife and son -- they're not used to it."

The alterations have been especially tough for Tye, who has to adjust to the always changing schedule of living on a military base.

"It's different for him with friends moving from station to station," John said of his son. "It still hits him hard when friends leave."

Next year, John is being relocated to Alaska. He and his family will remain there for three years, so having spent Christmas at home means even more this holiday season.

"It's not going to be a cheap ticket to Alaska, so visits will be more limited," John said.

"I'm excited. I like the snow," Heather said of the move.

"I'm not," Tye said. "I'm into the warmth."

Though he's not excited for colder temperatures, the 6-year-old said he was looking forward to seeing the northern lights. Tye is also comforted by that fact that one of his classmates is moving to Alaska, as well.

The military gene runs strong in the Yates family. John's father, Taft, and his grandfather, Taft Sr. both served in the army.

"It helped me make my decision to join," John said.

Taft was an Army Ranger for 20 years, with deployments in Panama and Grenada.

His father, Taft Sr. served as an infantry platoon sergeant in the Korean War. He did two tours in Vietnam and on his second tour was wounded, losing part of his leg.

While away at Fort Bragg, John, Heather and Tye keep in touch with their families in northwest Kansas as much as possible.

"We Facetime a lot," Heather said.

"We're always posting things to Facebook, too," John said. "We like to try to keep the family updated and informed." The bond of a family is important to all the Yateses. Appreciation for each other only continues to grow as the distance seems to grows, too.

"This holiday visit is special because soon it's going to be even longer in between," said John's mother Barb in reference to her son's Alaska move. "I'm so proud of him, though. He's done excellent things."

"Family is the most important thing," Heather said. "It's been so nice to come back and see everyone during the holidays. It's the best."

"Seeing everyone and having them stay in one place for a while has been really good," said John's niece Savannah. "Spending time with them and knowing they are here for you means a lot."

Future living circumstances for John, Heather and Tye are uncertain, but for the Yates family, a few things are guaranteed - pride, support and love will always remain.

"Family is love. Without family, you don't have anything," John said. "We have two weeks full of recharging before we go spend another year or more draining it all out," he said of his visit.

The pride is evident, as the Yates' home in Ellis is adorned with military photos and patriotic memorabilia on display. On the wall in the hallway, two simple sentences wrap up the storyline of this honorable group of individuals : "Life takes you to unexpected places. Love brings you home."