15 years ago today I left my hometown of South Bend IN, for what would be the last time as one of its’ proud hard working citizens. It was terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time. I had just finished my short break home after graduating from Airborne School and was headed out to my first duty at Fort Richardson, Alaska. I had no idea that morning when I said goodbye to my parents that my life would forever change that day. My journey that day started at the South Bend Regional Airport where my parents and I ate breakfast at the cafe. I gave them both hugs, before I walked the down the short poorly lit tunnel to the TSA check point. I remember looking back with a big smile, trying to hide the fact that I was terrified, waving at them one last time. I got through security and started my long journey. My first stop was in Indianapolis, IN so it was a very quick flight, but I had to switch airlines, so I had to physically go get my bags and check into my Delta portion of the trip. It was a very quick turnaround so I was bit stressed, but made it just in time; literally last one on the plane. It was a short hop to Atlanta, GA, where I had time to get a bite to eat and stretch my legs before I boarded the plane for an eight hour flight to Anchorage, Alaska. When it was time to board I got to board early, so I was one of the first people on the plane. I can remember crossing the threshold from the jetway to the plane looking up and giving a big smile and hello to the stewardess greeting the passengers. I turned right, and headed down the aisle looking for my seat, 14D. I found it on my left and quickly got settled in. Being the first one in my row and the middle seat, I looked at the other passengers boarding wondering who might be the ones to sit next to me. When out of no where the most beautiful woman I had ever seen crossed that same threshold I had crossed just minutes before. She had long dark curly hair bouncing as she walked, wearing a fitted dark pin stripe business suit, while her smile lit up the entire plane. She was carrying a brown bath and body works bag in her hand. I just kept looking at her thinking please sit next to me. Please sit next to me. When all of a sudden I realized that I was staring and might have just entered the creepy guy realm, so I looked down at the floor. A few seconds, what felt like minutes, went by when all of sudden I saw that brown bath and body works bag being set down on the floor right next to me. I looked up and saw that same beautiful woman about to sit down. I kept telling myself in my head to play this cool, but really I was super nervous. I had never sat next to a beautiful woman on a plane. I always get the people who you don’t want to sit next too. You know the type, the ones with bad hygiene and who don’t have a concept of personal space. People you don’t want to be crammed up against for eight hours, but her, well this changes everything. I might actually enjoy this flight. I played it cool as long as could which was about three seconds after she sat down in her seat. I looked over and said, “Hi my name is Eric. What’s yours?” She looked at me with her big beautiful hazel eyes and said, “ Hi Eric! My name is Jennifer, but you can call me Jenn.” It wasn’t long and we were laughing and talking like we had known each other for years. I can remember looking at her as she talked feeling mesmerized, as if it we were the only two people on that flight. We had a chicken dinner, for which they forgot my chicken, and then we watched the romantic comedy Hitch on the main cabin screen. I kept finding reasons to look her way as she watched the movie because I kept wanting to see her smile and laugh. I literally felt like a little school boy with a secret crush. When our arms or legs would accidentally touch I would feel a rush of adrenaline jolt through my body like when you accidentally get shocked plugging something into an outlet. I had never experienced that before with anyone. Nine months later that beautiful woman and I married each other in the little mountain town of Girdwood, Alaska. We were young and madly in love, but keeping a marriage healthy and strong is hard under the best of conditions, so when you throw adversity into the mix, it makes things even more difficult. Little did we know that seven and half months into our marriage we would be tested in ways we could have never imagined. We endured the loss of our first son David hours after I left for war. We fought the challenges that came with serving in a war zone and all of that fear that it produces. We suffered the loss of six more children during pregnancy. We fought a rare form of breast cancer and the roller coaster of fear that brings. We fought the challenges that have come from Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress. We have fought through Veteran Suicide. We have fought the diagnosis of fibromyalgia and the challenges and changes that have come with that. We have fought through the dark times when it certainly would have been easier to call it quits and nobody could have or would have blamed either one of us, but we didn’t! We fought for each other and the family we’re building.
Everyday I thank God for seating me next to that beautiful woman who would become my best friend, my wife, the mother of my two amazing children, but most importantly I am thankful for the fact that God sent me a fellow fighter! It is because of her that I can honestly say that despite all the adversities we have faced the last 15 years of my life have been the best because of her!!!
"This experience has taught me so many lessons about life and work, but the biggest is how resilient the human spirit is and what can be accomplished when working in unison for the betterment of others."
"...I remembered I needed to pick up the clothes I left at the tailor in March. After picking them up, I headed home and I was excited to try them on, but when I put on the first pair of dress pants and buttoned them; they fell straight to my ankles highlighting how much weight and inches I have lost since March."
"Sitting in 22c, flying at 35,000ft, I wrestled with my bag desperately trying to find both my Advil and Imodium A-D. It was time for the next dose of both medicines crucial to fighting off the 103 degree fever, diarrhea, and nausea I’d had for the past three days."