SARASOTA - Joe and Tammy Sapp’s son Joey has been in the Army for three years. The Riverview grad was in the JROTC as a teen, but his decision to enlist still came as a surprise to his parents.

“We always thought he was gonna play baseball forever,” Joe Sapp said.

Now at 21, Joey’s an Army medic stationed in Germany. Joe says they not only had to adjust to being empty nesters, but also to Joey being overseas.

“We’ve been together since we were 16 years old, and you live your life through your kids for a lot of years, and then all of a sudden when they’re gone, you look at each other and go, 'Now what do we do?'" Joe said. "We always had something to do every single day, and of course we still do because we both work a lot.”

They help run the American Legion Post 30. There they get advice from veterans and other active duty, who keep them strong. It’s also where Joey surprised Tammy back in July. 

“Oh man, I cried like a baby,” Tammy said.

They only get to see him about once a year, and although he’s thousands of miles away, his dad says he’s still the same Joey. But when Joey's away, it reminds Tammy and Joe of the sacrifice they make.

“Going to bed at night, it’s a struggle sometimes," Joe said.

“He was up in the mountains doing peace work giving medical attention to family and children that have not had it and really needed it in a long time, and we got a letter from him, and he told me about these grown men coming up and hugging him, crying and thanking him for taking care of his children," Joe said. "In his letter he said, 'I know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.' That gave me a sense of relief.”

Joey just enlisted for two more years and is studying to get his bachelor's degree in nursing online while he’s overseas.