Doug Brantley (left) was deployed to Iraq in December 2004, leaving behind his son Will and wife Kim. While Doug was gone, Kim took over the business with help from Coleman Heating and Air Conditioning, and Equipment Supply Distributor.

Doug Brantley has been a member of the Tennessee Army National Guard for 23 years.

In that time, he married Kim, had a son, and purchased Brantley Heating and Air Conditioning in Jackson, Tenn.

But in December 2004, Doug Brantley was deployed to serve in Iraq. Four months prior, Brantley faced the prospect of leaving his family and his 8-year-old business.

"With respect to my business, my biggest concern was maintaining my customer base while I was away," said Doug Brantley. "There really wasn't much I could do about it apart from putting people in place that I thought Kim could call on for help if she needed it. I also made the decision to scale back our new-construction work and ductwork installations."

Prior to Doug leaving, his wife Kim ran the office, answering phones, handling bills and taking care of payroll issues. She had no technical background in the HVAC industry, but soon found herself running the business and practicing on-the-job training.

"I had managed to pick up some things about the business as I worked in the office before Doug left, but that certainly didn't prepare me to step into Doug's shoes," said Kim Brantley.

She ran into difficulties shortly after Doug's departure, including personnel issues, which left her with few people she could rely on. Fortunately, she was able to contact her husband regularly, thanks to the Internet.

"I don't think I could have survived without the ability to communicate with Doug," said Kim. "I was able to ask him about model numbers and pricing issues, and if he didn't have an answer for me, he could at least direct me to someone who might be able to help."

Johnson Controls' Coleman distributor, Equipment Supply Distributor Inc., also provided Kim with support. Anytime Kim or her employees had a technical problem, representatives from Equipment Supply Distributor were able to talk on the phone or drive to the company from Memphis, Tenn., to figure out the problem.

"They were really, really, really good to me," Kim said about the distributor. "I can't tell you how good it made me feel to know I could go to them whenever we needed advice or technical help. I know they wanted Doug to have a business to return to and did everything they could to see that he did."

Charles Humphreys, president of Equipment Supply Distributor, said it was natural to want to help Kim.

"Kim is a very capable young woman, but I don't think she was prepared to sit in the hot seat, trying to keep the business afloat while taking care of family obligations and participating in support groups for families of service men and women who are serving overseas, " said Humphreys. "I can't imagine what it's like for a small business when the principal is suddenly absent for a year. We just wanted to support Kim with whatever she needed to make her situation less stressful and protect the business."

As a Coleman Liberties dealer, Brantley Heating and Air Conditioning also had access to programs designed to help manage the business.

Doug Brantley returned from Iraq last December, and he has been working to rebuild his business. While in Iraq, Doug used his engineering background on a variety of construction projects across the country, which earned him the Bronze Star.

As for Kim, she is back doing the invoicing and happy to return to a more limited role in the business.

"It was definitely an adventure," she said. "One I hope not to repeat anytime soon."