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11/11/11 1:42 PM EST

Military appreciation hits home in Richard family

Father-in-law, in service for 30-plus years, presently overseas

SAN DIEGO -- Padres pitcher Clayton Richard and his wife, Ashley, flew Friday from San Diego to their home in Indiana, where they'll enjoy the rest of the offseason and holidays with family before ramping up for yet another baseball season.

But the holidays might be a little quieter this year, as Ashley Richard's father, US Army Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Buckingham, is serving a somewhat unexpected tour overseas.

"I think it's near Qatar," Ashley Richard said. "He can never tell me exactly where he's at."

Richard would just as soon have her father home for the holidays and away from danger.

"It's like a six-month tour, but he could show up tomorrow and he could be extended," she said. "When he first started to leave, it was terrible. He missed a Christmas. It was hard.

"But he loves being in that role in a leadership position. I know during the holidays that it will be hard. My mom [Kathy] is so incredibly strong. My dad and Clayton are a lot alike ... they're big kids."

Buckingham, now 56, enlisted in the Marines as a 17-year-old and spent two years there before enrolling at Ball State University. He later got married and became a teacher, all while working in the National Guard in Indiana.

"It was pretty good, we didn't have to move around," Ashley Richard said.

It was the fall of 2001 when Ashley played her last season of volleyball for Center Grove High in Greenwood, Ind. A talented 6-foot-1 middle blocker, Richard led her team to the state title the prior season and had already signed a letter of intent to play for Michigan. In fact, Ashley met Clayton at Michigan, where he was a quarterback on the football team and a pitcher on the baseball team.

That same fall, the terrorist attacks took place on Sept. 11. Once Richard graduated high school, her father decided to go full-time military.

"I want to say that he's done five or six tours," Ashley Richard said. "Initially, he would be gone for six months and then back six months. At first it was hard, because of the lack of communication [because] he was overseas."

Ashley Richard estimates that her father has been gone from home about "40 percent of the time" over the last decade.

But Buckingham had an eye on getting out of the military, and he had a job set up teaching seventh grade health and physical education this fall at a school in Indianapolis, located about 15 minutes from Ashley Richard's childhood home in Greenwood.

"My dad told my mom and me he was done and was going to retire from the military," Ashley Richard said. "He hadn't signed the papers yet. I was even helping him get his classroom ready."

But Buckingham's direction changed when he received a phone call essentially urging him not to retire from the Army. Resuming his teaching career -- Buckingham has 33 years of credited public school teaching -- would have to wait.

"They called and said that he would make a difference," Ashley Richard said.

Richard said her father was recently told he's in line for a promotion from Lieutenant Colonel to Colonel. Not that Buckingham has spent 30-plus years serving his country for any particular honors.

"He's supporting a greater cause," said Clayton Richard. "That's why there's such pride for what they do for our country. He has sacrificed time with his family for his country. I think that's something special."

Technological advances have made it easier for Ashley Richard to stay in touch with her father, much more so than when she had to carry her phone with her everywhere around the Michigan campus as an undergraduate.

"He bought an iPad, so we use FaceTime. That's awesome," Ashley Richard said. "When I first left for college, I had to carry my phone out with me at all times in case he called. Because if I missed it, then I might not get to talk to him for a few weeks. I would be devastated.

"But now, we talk a couple of times a week. We might even talk more when he's gone than when he's here."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.