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Excerpt: 'Military Widow: A Survival Guide'

The cover of the book.
The cover of the book.

The Ultimate Sacrifice

Two military men get out of an official government vehicle, checking to make sure they have the correct address. They nervously glance at each other as they gear up to carry out their mission. Each of them dreads the duty he is about to perform. Heads bent, they walk swiftly toward the house. Inside, a wife watches them walk toward her front door. Noticing the blank expressions on their faces, she thinks, "They look like angels of death." Ice runs through her veins. "They must be lost," she tells herself.

In her heart, she knows that something is very, very wrong. She jumps when the doorbell rings and hesitates before answering it, giving herself one final moment of normalcy. She knows when she opens the door, life will never be the same again. With a sense of dread, she lets them in. Once inside her home, the senior officer starts to say, "We regret to inform you..."

And, for this wife, time stops.

Wife Made Widow

Hearing these terrifying words is every military wife's worst nightmare. But, as every wife made widow knows, that life-changing phrase is just the tip of the iceberg, the beginning of the ordeal called military widowhood. More scary moments occur later, long after the funeral and memorial services are over, when it's just you and the remnants of a love and a life you cherished.

This book is about survival, coping, and growth. It is written with the wisdom of countless military widows. It passes on their personal lessons of victory over grief, and it gives hope as you evolve from wife to widow to woman. You can learn much from those who were widowed before you. Like those brave women, you can also find meaning and joy in the new world into which you were catapulted when your husband died.

An Honorable but Dangerous Job

The Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard are made up of hundreds of thousands of men and women of character and integrity. Each has volunteered to protect and defend America and, if need be, make the ultimate sacrifice in its defense. Realistically, every military service member expects to live to a ripe old age. Sometimes, though, life doesn't turn out the way it's planned.

The U.S. military is essential to American safety and security. Since the days of colonial America, bad guys have threatened our freedoms, our values, and our homeland. It is no different today. America's armed forces, and its citizens, have been attacked at home and abroad. We are all affected by this war on terror, but when your husband wears a military uniform, it becomes personal.

Sometimes They Die

An average of fifteen hundred military servicemen and women die in an active duty status each year (U.S. Department of Defense). Some were killed by hostile fire in faraway places like Somalia, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Others died in terrorist attacks in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the United States. A number of our military were killed on training missions.Accidents, both on and off base, claimed some lives, as did disease and illness. A few died by suicide or murder. No matter how these military men and women died, one thing is certain: they were the best of the best -- all strong, intelligent, committed, and patriotic. And they died young.

Freedom's Price

Our country pays tribute to its fallen service members with time honored traditions and public displays of remembrance. We bury them with military honors and build memorials to their sacrifice. We recall their professionalism and their commitment to duty, honor, and country. Every one of these men and women, however, had a name, a face, a personality, and a family who loved them. The widow left behind has lost much more than a heroic service member; her loss is life changing. From this point forward, time will be measured by the years spent with her husband and the years spent without him.

Widows Like You

Throughout this book, you'll read dozens of realistic stories about widows and the men they loved, men who died while serving our country. A few of the widows are not old enough to legally buy a drink. Others were making plans for their life when their husbands retired from active duty. A number of women were pregnant or already had children when their husbands died; some were cheated out of motherhood. They came from all over the United States, and even its territories.

The widows you'll read about are of many races, religions, and nationalities. Their husbands served in every service branch, as officers or enlisted personnel of every rank and rate. As usually happens in the military, most of these men died suddenly and violently. All too often, their remains were unviewable, and occasionally no remains were recovered to bury.

In this chapter and the next one, we will personally introduce you to five widows, one from each branch of our armed forces. You will see that these women are a lot like you: typical military wives, until their worst fear became reality.

In our first story, a Marine widow is left with an infant son when her husband is killed in Iraq.

KC and Courtney

KC, Courtney, and their infant son, Josh, were the all-American family. Originally from South Bend, Indiana, they came from simple, hardworking families who were surprised, but supportive, when KC joined the Marine Corps after his college graduation.

KC was profoundly affected by the September 11 attacks and felt that joining the Marines was a way for him to do something for his country.

Courtney didn't know much about military life, but if that's what KC wanted, then that's what she wanted. They made many adjustments in the first two years of their marriage, including adapting to military life and the surprise arrival of their son. Life on the base in Southern California was good, and Courtney liked being a wife and mother.

When KC's battalion got orders to Iraq, Courtney was worried. KC explained that he and his Marines were well trained and well equipped. He was confident they could handle anything that might be thrown at them. On the day he left, KC asked Courtney to be strong, take good care of Josh, and start planning for his homecoming. He'd be back before she knew it.

KC had been in Iraq about six months. Initially, his battalion took daily casualties, but the last few weeks had been good ones, and the casualty rate was light. As a first lieutenant and an infantry platoon commander, KC saw some fierce fighting, and some of his men had been killed or seriously wounded.

One fateful day, KC's platoon was tasked to clear a warehouse complex of insurgent fighters in Ramadi.

While shouting instructions to his first squad leader, KC was shot in the head by a sniper. He died instantly. Halfway around the world, Courtney became a widow at twenty-four.

Excerpted with permission from Military Widow: A Survival Guide by by Joanne M. Steen and M. Regina Asaro. Naval Institute Press.

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