As his wife fled with their two young children through knee-deep water as Sandy ravaged their Queens home, Grant Guirl was nowhere near to help.
Nor was the Navy man around to comfort his sobbing 5-year-old son Aiden after the wind and water had receded, as the child's waterlogged toys and bed were tossed into a trash truck and hauled away.
While his family fled to a relative's house, also in Broad Channel, the Petty Officer 2nd Class was out to sea aboard the USS William McLean, a supply ship based in Earle, N.J.
"It was pretty stressful," said Guirl, 28. "You keep hearing what's going on back home and you can't get there."
Throughout history, Americans who have served in the military have had to cope with the anxiety of not being around to protect and comfort their own families when tragedy or disaster struck.
Joe Ingino, past president of the Nassau chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America, said when his father needed a high-risk surgical procedure while Ingino was serving in Vietnam in 1969, his mother decided not to tell him about it to spare him the worry.
But with today's social media, satellite phones and computer-aided communications, military personnel are often acutely aware when their families face troubles back home.
"It was anxious for us, but it must be worse for the guys now who are doing two and three tours," Ingino said. "Especially with these new guys; they're constantly worried about their families."
America's veterans have missed the birth of children, the death of parents, the destruction of homes by fire, flood or other calamities. In 2005, members of the Louisiana National Guard were serving in Iraq as Hurricane Katrina was upending the lives of family members back home.
Guirl learned his wife Kelly and the children survived Sandy by checking his Facebook page.
"I felt helpless," he said. "She said she was fine but that everything we had was lost."
Like many of the more than 160,000 Long Island residents who have served in the armed forces, Guirl has moved from one military installation to another, without developing any real sense of home.
Since the couple married six years ago, they have lived at four different locations in California, one in the Rockaways and two in Broad Channel.
Guirl's military service had already forced him to miss significant moments in his family's life. Only weeks after his daughter Brianna, 2, was born, he left for a 13-month deployment to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Brianna learned to walk and spoke her first words while he was away. His son started T-ball.
On Friday, he returned to New York to see his storm-ravaged home for the first time.
A shoulder-high brown stain marked the peak of the flood surge in the one-story bungalow he and his wife rented about 100 yards from the water's edge. One of the only things Kelly Guirl could salvage were Christmas decorations stowed in an attic crawl space.
They planned to spend Saturday night at a cousin's house in Blue Point.
"They want to go home," Kelly Guirl said of her children, as her son reached for a miniature soccer ball that sat amid a molding mound of debris stacked on her sidewalk -- debris that had been the innards of their home.
"But we don't have a home."