When Becki Wellman’s husband was deployed to Iraq with the 133rd Engineer Battalion she counted out 365 M&Ms and put them in a glass jar labeled, “days till he comes home.” Next to it she placed a second, empty jar.

“I wanted some concrete way to measure the amount of time that passed,” she said. Every day since March 5, 2004, the day Sgt. Dean Wellman left for Fort Drum, N.Y., Becki has transferred one M&M from the first jar to the second, which is labeled, “days gone by.”

And there is another sign – “Do Not Eat!” – warning the chocoholics in the family to stay away from her countdown. Both Becki and Dean have adopted the M&M calendar as a way to measure the days.

“That’s actually the way we close most of our e-mails or letters,” said Becki, “One M&M closer.”

The Wellmans live in Scarborough and are both teachers in the Westbrook school system. Dean Wellman is 32, and loves his job as a fourth grade teacher at the Congin School in Westbrook. But, at the moment he is Sgt. Wellman, Bravo Company, 133rd Engineer Battalion, Maine Army National Guard.

Before his year-long deployment to Iraq this weekend warrior would don his uniform and show up at the Westbrook Armory for one weekend a month and two weeks a year. He joined the Guard for the same reason many people do: money for school. He never imagined he would be deployed to a war zone.

Becki also works in the Westbrook school system, as a literary specialist at the Canal School. They met when a friend of Becki’s, who worked with Dean at the Congin School, played matchmaker. They were introduced, dated for four years and were married in July of 2002.

Dean didn’t leave Maine for Fort Drum with the rest of his unit in late January 2004. Instead he boarded an early-morning flight five weeks later on his own. Becki was pregnant and due in late February, about the same time Dean would have been touching down in Kuwait. It was a high-risk pregnancy and he was given permission to remain at home until the baby was born.

On March 5, when Dean boarded that flight out of the Portland Jetport, he waved to his wife and family and prepared for a year away from them and Hayden, his infant son who was born six weeks premature.

The night before he left Dean didn’t sleep. He spent the night holding Hayden and apologizing. That night he also wanted to leave something for his wife.

When Becki returned home from the airport that morning she began to uncover Dean’s late-night activity. All over the house she found notes and pictures from him; she opened a cupboard and found a note telling her how much he loved her. In a drawer was a note telling her how great a mom she is, and how much he misses her and Hayden.

“I know he feels like he let me down,” Becki said. “This isn’t the way we planned to have a baby; we were going to be together.”

While Dean has been in Iraq they have been able to keep in touch with the Internet, webcams and phone calls; all are luxuries that were never before available to families separated during times of war. With webcams Dean has been able to watch his son grow up. He watched Hayden eat his first solid food, he watched him crawl and now he can watch him walking.

When Dean was home for his two-week leave during the summer Becki had to slow him down.

“He was trying to be super-dad. He was trying to do everything to make up for it,” Becki said. “So, I have to keep an eye on that.”

She will tell him when he returns home, “that he doesn’t need to make up the time, that I’m proud of what he’s done and he didn’t let me down.”

Dean and 81 other members of Bravo Company arrived in Westbrook on Wednesday, after a long bus ride from Fort Drum. Becki is overjoyed, but can’t help feeling a little apprehensive.

“I’m most apprehensive about how he’s going to have changed because of this experience,” she said.

Mitch Kosoff, Becki’s father, is a Vietnam veteran who lives with post-traumatic stress disorder. Becki has been living with that her whole life, and now a part of her is afraid of what her husband will be like when he gets home.

“I don’t know what he has experienced or if that is going to be a part of him,” said Becki.

“For the most part he is a really laid-back, even-keeled guy, and I want that same guy to come back.”

He’s home now, and there are no more M&Ms in the jar labeled “days till he comes home,” and the family can feast on chocolate – together.

Dean, Becki and Hayden Wellman