|Every year we toast to Bryant with a glass of grape kool-aid. (We don't drink alcohol so we go for one of his favorite non-alcoholic beverages)|
I decided after lots of pondering that I would talk about how it changed me and why it is so important to me to remember. Why does it still hit me to the core of my soul and make me want to cry?
I never would have imagined 7 years ago that I would be in a situation where I would be so close to someone who was living my worst nightmare. Yes, this is every Military wife's worst nightmare. We spend so much of our time preparing for the what if's but we never believe it will happen to us or anyone that we know. We read the names and some of us take a little more time to find out a little more so that you feel like you are truly honoring the fallen. At least, that's what I did and still continue to do. I truly believe that every Fallen Military Member deserves to be more than a name in a news article. Kevin used to ask me why I did that to myself. He would often find me crying over the loss of people I didn't even know.
Before the 28th, this crazy war and the ugly parts of it were coming forth in reality for me. Our Squadron was taking hits. Until the 28th though, it was all injuries and while many were severe and life changing, I was grateful that they were alive and I still continued to live in what I called "the bubble."
A week before SFC Bryant Herlem and SGT Jose Gomez were killed, some Soldiers in our Squadron were severely burned in an RPG attack on their Bradley Vehicle. One of the Soldiers belonged to our unit and the others were in one of the other companies in our Squadron. That rocked my boat a bit and shook me up. One of the Soldiers involved in that incident eventually passed away from his injuries (God Bless You, Brandon Teeters). The families in our unit were beginning to get a bit nervous as there had been another incident in the beginning of April that had resulted in a Soldier (someone I admire greatly and truly consider a hero) losing both his legs. We still believed though that while we might have injuries, as devastating as they were, we could get through this deployment without any deaths. We wanted to believe that.
April 28th started out like a normal day for me. I got the kids up and off to school, I went and visited with some of the women in my church and I was having lunch with one of my really great friends when I received a call on my cell phone. I recognized the number but couldn't really place it. When I answered, the person asked for me and then identified themselves as SFC "B", Mrs. H's, casualty notification officer. I swear that at that moment the world fell out from underneath me. I recall my friend asking me what was wrong. The Sergeant told me that my presence had been requested and could I come. I replied with a yes and said I'd be there as soon as I could. I left the baby I was babysitting with my friend, called my boy's school to let them know someone would be picking them up and then I started driving. Here's the crazy part, I had no idea where I was going. I had never been to LH's house...ever. Until that day we were acquaintances. She was one of my points of contact in my FRG and we had had lunch and chatted on the phone but hadn't really hung out. Kevin and her husband knew each other as they worked with each other everyday and were friends, but her and I weren't (though I don't doubt that we would have become friends anyway!).
I called my Rear Detachment Commander to ask for directions on how to get to her house while I was driving. He played it cool (something I will always respect him for) when I initially called because the notification for the other family had yet to be made. In fact, he had not even received word that LH had been notified as it had happened only 10 minutes before. When I relayed to him the call that I had received, he helped to direct me to her house and I arrived just under 15 minutes after she had been notified.
I walked into her house, walked straight past the notification officer and chaplain, grabbed her head and kissed her forehead. I am not usually a touchy-feely person but upon reflection of that day I realized I wanted her to know that I was committed.
Here's what I realize about the events of that day. I KNOW that I was supposed to be there for my dear friend. There are no coincidences in life. I never hesitated, I just went...no questions asked. I have often analyzed that...analyzed...never questioned. I know I was meant to be her support.
I also know that I was meant to learn and grow from this experience. And I have. I learned that I had to appreciate every moment. I learned I had to create memories. I learned I had to love with my whole heart and take chances. I learned that I had to put my marriage and family first. I learned that life is too short to put up with crap. I was told that I was intense before, but this pushed me to a whole new level of intensity because now it was mixed with a deep passion to live my life in a way that would honor those who had sacrificed their lives for me. Maybe not personally, but I would never again take advantage of their sacrifice.
I always thought that I was patriotic but this pushed me to a whole new level. I feel my love for my country and those who defend her so deeply. I try to live my life in a way that honors all who serve and especially those who have fallen.
I also learned that I have a role in never forgetting those who sacrificed and paid the price for my freedom. They cannot be forgotten if we remember and share who they are. I carry that responsibility in my heart and I try to fulfill it with my actions.
I wear a bracelet everyday with Bryant and Jose's names on it. There are times when I think it might be time to put it in the jewelry box but it never feels right. I don't know if and when I will ever take it off but I know the time is not right now. It is one of the most important pieces of jewelry I own and I wear it proudly because each time someone asks me what it's for, it helps me to keep my promise of carrying out the legacy of these two Soldiers who were taken away from us too soon.
Seven years ago my world shifted...not in the same manner as it did for the Herlem or Gomez families and I will never say that my journey is even similar. I am honored that the Lord saw fit to send me to someone who would end up being one of my best friends. I feel blessed that He trusted me with one of his children who would need love, support and commitment and I can honestly say, seven years later, that it has been worth every step of the journey.
I can't change the events of April 28th, 2006 but as a result of them, I am a changed person.