BARRAGADA, GUAM -- Far, far from home, Bradenton's King family is thankful to be together.
The Army family lives in a tropical paradise where Sgt. First Class John King leads a small group of soldiers in an assignment that supports military communications around the Pacific Ocean.
"Plus, we're in Guam," said John King, 32, a 2002 graduate of Manatee High School. "How many people can say that?"
King, who played football in Hawkins Stadium with now-head coach John Booth, says he loves basketball, the U.S. Army, and his family -- just not in that order.
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The move to Guam was King's eighth in his 13-year Army career. He's spent almost half of that time on overseas assignments, including stints in Afghanistan and extended postings in South Korea.
"I'm very, very proud of him," said his mother, Beth Jackson King. "But when he came back from Afghanistan, it was one of the happiest days of my life."
Before his Guam posting, King and his wife, Lakhina, bought a house in Columbia, S.C., and moved there with their son, Ethan, to be close to Lakhina's two sons from a previous marriage. It was a long commute for King, but worth it for Lakhina and the boys.
When the assignment to Guam came up, John had no question in his mind about bringing Lakhina and Ethan with him across the world.
Surprisingly, the family found that the posting in Guam gave them more time together than his last assignment as a platoon sergeant in Fort Gordon, Ga. Back then, King would leave home at 4 a.m. and return around 7 p.m. He might as well have been deployed.
"This is the first time as a family that we get to experience military life together," Lakhina said.
The couple met about seven years ago when King worked as an Army recruiter in Leesburg, Fla. Today, they're a tight-knit, religious family who regularly attend a Baptist church here in Guam.
"We definitely try to maximize our time together," she said. "We have quality time."
In 2007, Lakhina wrote a Christian-themed autobiography about her experience fleeing the Khmer Rouge genocide in her home country of Cambodia. That slaughter under dictator Pol Pot claimed the lives of almost a quarter of Cambodia's population, including Lakhina's father.
She credits her faith with bringing her out of the war and saving her time and again since then. She revised the book, "From the Killing Fields to Fields of Grace," in 2012 to reflect on her experiences with King in her life.
As 5-year-old Ethan cavorts on the carpeted floor with his favorite stuffed elephant, "Fluffy Biscuit," John, Lakhina and John's mother, Beth, smile at his antics.
Just a few weeks earlier in Bradenton, Beth Jackson King had been working up to 50 hours a week at the Publix deli on Anna Maria Island when John surprised her with an offer to come live with them in Guam for three years.
"My mom's worked hard over the years. My dad died when I was 13," he said. "When I found out I was going to Guam, I told her to hang it up at Publix and come hang out in Guam."
She did exactly that: gave notice at work, packed up her life in Bradenton and flew to Guam.
"I selfishly wanted her to come, especially for Ethan. She's his only grandparent," said Lakhina.
The family lives on a hilltop where they have a small garden. They make time to hang out on their roof, and they try to keep up with Ethan's boundless energy.
Guam is a major military hub in the South Pacific, home to thousands of sailors and airmen. King is one of about 200 soldiers. He is the senior enlisted soldier in a group of 25 soldiers who work to make sure the troops can communicate over thousands of miles of ocean in any environment.
This Thanksgiving celebration in the middle of the Pacific will feature a turkey with all the fixings.
"The military always does a great job of providing all the traditional food for the holidays. We eat very well when we're overseas," John noted.
The family has adopted a stray dog and taken on adventures across the island. They don't know what's next for them, but they're making the most of their time in paradise.
"Guam didn't fit into our plan," said Lakhina, "but you learn you don't make plans in the military."
Tiffany Tompkins-Condie, Herald photographer, can be reached at 941-745-7008. Follow her on Twitter