This weekend is more than just a reunion for Tom Palmer; it's a goodbye party.
The 23-year-old private, who grew up in Kincardine, is heading to Afghanistan at the end of August to fight for the Canadian Forces. He is the son of Liz and Tim.
This is his last weekend here before driving back to his Petawawa base and then to Trenton, from where he will depart.
Palmer says Afghanistan has always sat in the back of his mind since the day he stepped into a Canadian Forces recruitment office in Kitchener three years ago to enlist.
Between ordering push-ups or teaching him how to shoot a 50-calibre machine gun, Palmer says his superiors are constantly talking about Afghanistan.
"It's almost like it's about time," he says. "It's like three years of training for the Super Bowl and you finally get to play.
So...I'm really excited to go."
His army coaches have gone over every part of the game plan with his third battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment.
Physically, Palmer ran himself ragged in Texas mountains to get a taste of living 3,000 feet above sea level in Kandahar.
Mentally, he has learned about post-traumatic stress disorder and seen photos of the bloody aftermath of a blast from an Improvised Explosive Device (IED).
Culturally, he knows not to stare at an Afghan woman or shake with his seemingly unclean left hand.
"I'm definitely prepared," says Palmer, who also holds a police foundations diploma from Conestoga College.
This is his first time travelling overseas. He says he expects cold weather, hot weather (soaring past 40 degrees Celsius), and wavering morale. "It's going to be a hard go. We're going to be doing our job the entire time. You can't turn it off when you want to."
In Afghanistan, he joins fellow Kincardinite Cpl. Gillian Peddie, daughter of Leise and Jim. Peddie observes weather as a meteorological technician.
While Peddie is already in Afghanistan, Palmer is savouring the last days of his month off to sleep in and soak up Kincardine.
"I'm not going to miss the sand (because there is so much of it in Afghanistan), but I'm going to miss the beach," he says, sandal-clad and tanned from a trip to a buddy's Grand Bend cottage.
He will also miss his family and friends; but, he says, "That's something you can't dwell on...You've got to be really focused to do your job."
He remembers their reactions when he told them he had volunteered to serve in the war-torn country. His friends, he recalls, first thought it was cool and then realized the danger.
"All of my friends are really supportive. (They say) `Just watch your head' - which I get a million times a day," he says.
Palmer adds that his parents have always stood by him.
Occasionally, someone tells him he shouldn't be fighting in Afghanistan.
"I walk away, because I'll get really mad. It's a kick in the face. It's everything you believe in," he says.
Sharing his belief in the Afghan mission are his fellow infantry soldiers from Mike Company. Palmer says he looks forward to working with them again in Afghanistan.
"It's an awesome experience to go and work with the same guys...you don't want to bail on them. You went through a lot with them," Palmer says.
What exactly they will do there, he can't say. His unit is mechanized, so instead of patrolling by foot they travel in a light-armoured vehicle, called a LAV-3.
Palmer is trained as a gunner in the LAV-3. He also has experience with 16 other weapons.
"We're going to be a presence..." he trails off, running his hand through his short hair. "We're going to be a strong presence within Afghanistan in the province of Kandahar."
"That's just the best way of putting it without letting the cat out of the bag," he adds.
After finishing his six-to-seven-month tour, Palmer has his sights set on returning to Canada to become an army sniper.