I'm sure you can figure out imaging, especially if you decide to shell out $50 on a retail product like Acronis True Image
It's pretty straight-forward, you run the program, with an external drive or another internal drive attached. I'm sure they have an easy, one button push and forget setting. It will go just the way Massimo was saying, with all your programs and saved files as they were when you created the image. When you restore, you will likely run some version of Acronis that can be booted (usually a CD) and with the external drive attached again, you can use the one button trick again to have your laptop back the way it was before you left.
There are even free programs out there, but I can't vouch for their ease of use. http://www.thefreecountry.com/utilities/backupandimage.shtml
Thanks for serving our country, BTW. Take care of yourself!