Make-A-Wish

  
“I was born in Chicago. My mother left me when I was very young, and my grandparents took me in. I remember those as very happy times. One day my mother kidnapped me off a playground and she told me we were heading back to Arizona, but we stopped in Michigan for five years. At age 10, we finally hit a tiny town in Arizona, on Route 66. We were broke. We had no gas, no food, no money, but a family took us in. We slept on their kitchen floor. It was the first time we’d ever been permanent somewhere, kitchen floor or not. A man named Juan became like a father-figure to me, and he introduced me to the idea of giving back. This was the 1950s – ‘give back’ was not a real popular term yet. But he taught me that you can always give back. It doesn’t have to be money – it can be your time or your talents.

“In 7th grade my mom informed me she couldn’t afford to keep me anymore; she was moving and I needed to find another place to live. Juan found me a place to stay in town with a widow, and it would cost me $24/week. I was making $30/week as a dishwasher, so all of a sudden I had an extra $6/week. Juan taught me how to turn a negative into a positive and that has been something I’ve carried with me through my entire career.

“I went to the Air Force after high school. It was the Vietnam era, but they decided I needed to protect England. I remember when we were informed we were not to wear our uniforms during traveling – they were afraid we’d offend the public. I’m so proud today to see our service members wearing their uniforms at airports. I love hearing people thanking them and clapping for them. You should never be embarrassed of the uniform. It’s so important that our military always be proud of their service.

“After the Air Force, I went to work for Motorola. I was somewhat of an adrenaline junkie and I was working in a job that was the same thing day-to-day. So when a friend of mine said to join the Arizona Highway Patrol, that was exactly what I did. I got involved in the Special Olympics in my off time. And I began to think about Juan, and how maybe I was starting to give back. I enjoyed that so much. At work, I was asked to join a motorcycle patrol that traveled. We started going to schools to teach bicycle safety and I started getting closer to giving back.

“In 1978 I was in a high speed chase with a drunk driver when another drunk driver broadsided me going 80mph. I was pronounced dead immediately, and they’d already radioed in ‘963, Officer killed in the line of duty.’ An emergency room nurse from California stopped at the scene and did CPR for four minutes, and brought me back to life. I love California! They said the crash was spectacular. I’d gone through the tunnel and I saw the light. And then I came back. I remember when my senses came back. The sense of smell was first. I smelled this very nice perfume. Then the sense of touch; something was tickling my face. Then the sense of hearing – sirens all around and someone saying, ‘we’ve lost him.’ Last was the sense of sight. And I saw that a beautiful blonde had her lips locked on me and I thought it was heaven! Later, I was told I was saved for a purpose, and that God believed I had more to do. I needed to find out what that purpose was. 

“In 1980, on a brilliant cold morning that was great for riding a motorcycle, I received a radio call from our dispatcher saying she needed me to find the nearest telephone. It was 40 miles away. She put me through to a border patrol agent who had an assignment for me: ‘There’s a little boy named Chris. He’s 7 years old. He has leukemia, and he has 2 weeks to live. He likes to watch a show called CHiPs and he wants to be a motorcycle cop just like Ponch and Jon. We’re going to pick him up and have you standing by so he can meet a real motorcycle cop.’ I was in. I got on the bike and flew to the hospital. 

“The helicopter landed, and I expected to see this really sick little kid. Instead, this tiny pair of red sneakers jumped out and came running over. He knew every button and switch on that motorcycle. I am watching him thinking, ‘He’s a typical 7 year old, and yet he’s going to die.’ Then I saw his mom, tears in her eyes, seeing her little boy again instead of just this sick patient. Chris became the first and only honorary officer of the Arizona Highway Patrol, and that was 36 years ago. We felt pretty good about what we’d done but we knew there was more for him.

“We went to the uniform store, and asked if they could make Chris his own uniform. Two women spent all night custom-making a uniform for him. The next morning, we took several motorcycles and cars, lights going, and brought the uniform to him and a smokey hat. He was ecstatic. He asked if he was an official motorcycle police officer, but we told him that he had to earn his wings. We set up traffic cones for him in his driveway and gave him a test, which of course he passed. He told me, ‘I’m so happy my wish is coming true.’ It was the first time I’d really heard that – ‘my wish.’ We went to get his wings custom-made and the jeweler spent all night working to get them done by the next morning. As I picked them up the next day, I got a radio call – Chris had been taken to the hospital and was in a coma. We took the wings to his room anyway, and just as I pinned his wings on the uniform, he came out of the coma. He started giggling. ‘Am I a motorcycle officer now?’ he asked. I told him yes. A few hours later he passed away. I like to believe those wings carried him to heaven.

“In Chris, we lost a fellow officer that day. We did a full police funeral. When we got to Illinois where he was going to be buried, we were pulled over by the Illinois State Police. When we told them what we were doing, they escorted us. We were met at the cemetery by Illinois Police, all in dress uniform. Like I said, we lost a fellow officer that day. 

“Chris was buried in his uniform. His tombstone reads Chris Greicius, Arizona Trooper. It was a truly unbelievable sight. When we got home, we asked, ‘Why can’t we do this for other children?’ And Make-A-Wish was born. It started with $15 in a bank account. There are now 63 chapters in the United States, international chapters on 5 continents, and over 350,000 wishes have been granted. Every 26 to 28 minutes a child gets a wish, because of one little boy. Never underestimate the difference one person can have on the world.”

Frank Shankwitz is one of the founders of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. His incredible story is captured in his book, Wishman, which can be pre-ordered on Amazon: https://amzn.com/1939078113

That was our Jimmy


​“When our youngest son, Jimmy, decided to join the Air Force, I wasn’t really happy about it, but I also wasn’t surprised. My husband is a 20 year veteran of the Air Force, and the boys grew up in the military. That’s all they knew. 

“He was going to college when he decided to enlist in 2008. He came home after basic, and we went to visit him a few times at Eglin Air Force Base where he was stationed. Before he deployed, we took a trip with our two boys and their fiancees to New York City. My husband and I are both from there, but the boys hadn’t been. It was just so much fun. We played tourists. We took them to Little Italy, the World Trade Center Memorial, Chinatown, all these places where we’d been. It was such a special moment in time. 

“Soon after the trip, Jimmy deployed. He didn’t want us to come visit before he left. He said it was no big deal. It wasn’t like he was going out in a big group — he had volunteered to take someone else’s spot on rotation who was sick. That was our Jimmy. He was quiet, but he had a core group of 10 guys that were always together, and a best friend, and his fiancee. They were inseparable. He loved to play golf, and play the drums (loudly) while his brother played the bass guitar. Jimmy got into running in order to lose weight for a physical fitness test, and he loved it. He had a baby face, so when he was doing a gate to gate run at Eglin, they were all just half-way there and Jimmy was already on his way back. The Commander asked, ‘Who is that kid?’ That boy could run! 

“We skyped with Jimmy the Saturday before he was killed. We had just put a new deck on the house and were having a party and wanted him to see everyone. I remember his roommate was on night shifts, so Jimmy couldn’t talk – he didn’t want to wake him up. But we showed him the deck and he got to see everyone. We talked to him every week and we wrote a lot of letters. He had just run the Air Force half marathon and he was all excited about that. He was doing a challenge on the base in order to win a t-shirt. He’d done 491 miles in 4 months. After he died, his squadron in Iraq finished his run, and his best friend there brought me Jimmy’s t-shirt that he would have earned.

“On September 10, 2010, my husband and I were both at work when the military car pulled up to our house. We lived in a small farm town in Michigan. Our neighbors knew Jimmy was deployed; they knew what was going on. They went to my husband’s work first and got him. I was working as a supervisor at a factory at the time, and was out on the floor when a woman from Human Resources came to get me. I didn’t know why, but figured it had something to do with one of the employees. It’s a Japanese company, so we had a special room that we only used if foreign dignitaries were in town. She led me to the room, and then I was really confused as to what was happening. They opened the door and there was my husband and three Air Force colonels. And then, I knew exactly what that meant. But I was in total disbelief. I just couldn’t understand. We didn’t know any of the details but were told we had three hours to notify family and friends before the news would be released by the press. 

“Jimmy was on a base. He was in Iraq, but he wasn’t in combat, so I just couldn’t understand how he died. We were told he was killed when a bomb went off but we weren’t told anything more than that, really. We didn’t know what actually happened until February – five months later. Jimmy had been rewarded by his leadership to get to watch the EOD guys detonate captured ordnance. There were 6 guys that were chosen to help the EODs, and one of the EODs had a birthday that day, so they wanted to do something ‘really big’ for him. It was a mess of mistakes. Jimmy was one of the six chosen to help. The EOD guys didn’t follow regulations and Jimmy was killed instantly during the second blast when shrapnel went through his chest. The Air Force brought charges against three of the EOD sergeants, and we had to sit through 2 years of trials. We had had enough. We just wanted to grieve the loss of our son. 

“When we came home from the dignified transfer at Dover, there was a two mile stretch of highway that was lined with people supporting us, and Jimmy. It was truly humbling. Our entire town rallied around us. Businesses had signs up, everyone waved flags, and Jimmy got the welcome home he deserved. We were never alone. 
“Being a Gold Star Mother, people don’t know what to say to you. Even when I went back to work, people would turn a corner to avoid talking to me. It wasn’t mean-spirited, but I know they didn’t know what to say or were afraid they’d hurt me somehow. People will say they just can’t imagine losing a child, and they don’t know how you get through it. The truth is, Jimmy wouldn’t want me sitting around moping. His death doesn’t define me. Please don’t be afraid to ask me about my son. Ask me what he was like — I want him to be remembered. I want to tell his story; I want to tell my story. Jimmy loved being in the Air Force and I will always be so proud of him.” 
In loving memory of James “Jimmy” Hansen, May 24,1985 – September 15, 2010

We have to ride the waves

  “I always joked and said I was going to marry a doctor and sail away into the sunset. When we first met, he was charming and handsome but it was too much, too soon, and we went our separate ways. Years later, we reconnected and got married. I said I would support him no matter what he wanted to do, as long as he was passionate about it. He wanted to be a physical therapist with the Navy. And that is what he did. 

“When I was pregnant with our first son, we were faced with deployment. It really strengthened our marriage. He deployed at the beginning of July and I was due at the end of August. The week after he left, I went into pre-term labor and was put on bedrest. It’s one of the realities of being a military family; you’re not always close to relatives. I was thankful that I had moved back to Orlando with our three and a half year old daughter to be near family. 

“The doctor was very gracious and let us Skype the birth. We always said we were one and done, and so having another baby was so joyous, but I was just so sad for my husband. I knew I could do it, but you can’t get that moment back. It’s one of life’s biggest moments – and he was missing it. Thankfully, my mom and mother-in-law were there to celebrate with me.
“The day before the induction, we were finally offered a house on base. I called the housing office in labor. I didn’t want to lose our house! 

“Five weeks later we were moving back to Virginia. My husband was still deployed. I had a brand new baby and a toddler. I will admit it – it was rough. But as my mom and I were unpacking, my husband walked in with a box and said, ‘Where can I put this?’ He surprised me in our new house, and it was the first time he’d met our son. I was completely caught off guard. He left four days later for another three months. It was a tough goodbye, but it gave us the gusto to get through. 
“I have learned so much as a military wife. I have learned my strength comes from my faith. We have to ride the waves, and God is going to bring us to shore. We have to be confident in our marriage, and in our decisions, and in ourselves. We are strong.”

5 hearts, 10 hands

“My husband and I met while he was in flight school. It’s such an interesting progression, looking back at the last fifteen years. It was a new war; he was a brand new pilot. Now, we are on our 7th deployment and looking at our 8th next year. During my husband’s first tour, I was really in the baby stages of Navy life, when I met four other spouses that were in the same situation. The five of us became fast friends, and soon, we were inseparable. We have traveled many roads within our military journey but our friendship has always remained the one true constant in our voyage. 

“The five of us have shared such a remarkable bond through Navy life. We have had trials, tragedies, tribulations, and we have conquered it all, together, as only the best girlfriends can do. Through 28 moves between us, 24 deployments (for a total of over 144 months away from our spouses), and countless detachments for other military operations, we have come through it all. Between the five of us we have 13 children (10 boys and 3 girls), and we have dealt with critical illness, children with special needs, and much heartache as we have endured many struggles without the help of our spouses, due to the country needing their service more than we could need them at the time. Although much of this has been done on our own, we have not been alone. We have had one another. We are strong, we are brave, and we are one. Five hearts, ten hands, and one incredibly strong bond: friendship. These women are true, middle of the night emergency, call you in tears kind of friends. It is a friendship that has allowed us the privilege of true vulnerability, understanding, and sisterly love. Friendship that has encouraged us to live life to the fullest potential, making every moment count and every moment cherished. 

“As chance would have it, we all ended up in Jacksonville, together again, over a decade after we first met. Those months together were so special. We cherished our time together, and even entered a contest for a ‘Girls’ Night Out’ with Kelly Ripa, and won! We flew to Hollywood and had an unbelievable night out with Kelly. We got to go to the Oscars and make a special guest appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel show. It was an absolutely incredible experience, and another irreplaceable memory with these women before once again, the Navy took us in different directions – this time to San Diego, Monterey, Hawaii, Tennessee and DC. 

“Military life provides us with so many opportunities yet at the same time causes us to experience many of life’s precious moments on our own. Babies are born, milestones are met, heartaches, and joys are shared. These precious moments are woven into the rich tapestries of our lives and it has entwined us all forever. Without one another, we truly would not be able to survive this kind of lifestyle and without one another, we would not want to. We do this because we love our husbands, we are proud of them and proud of our country. We teach our children the same beliefs – to be strong, to be brave, to help others in need – and we do it all together. The military life is a special bond; it’s an unspoken understanding that can only be felt with the heart. It is truly the hardest thing about military life, having to say our farewells. It’s never goodbye; always, ‘see you later.’ The only comfort is knowing that wherever we go, wherever we are, we will all keep a little piece of one another with us always in our hearts.”

She was the most positive, confident person I’ve ever met

“I grew up in a small town south of Pittsburgh. I enlisted in the Marine Corps two days after I graduated high school. I wanted to be infantry. I love being outdoors, and I wanted to shoot guns and blow stuff up. I did it for four years. Infantry is rough on your body, on your family, on your life. I left the Marines and joined the police department. I got the itch to go back to the military and my best friend talked me into going the Air Force route this time. I re-enlisted in 2011. 

“Being in any sort of law enforcement right now is tough. We feel it. I lean into my Lord, and I do my job with righteous intentions in my heart. I stand behind the Constitution and I know the majority of people out there support us and our American values of integrity, honor, courage, commitment and love for our fellow countrymen. I think it’s as simple as if you see a guy or girl in uniform, give them a head nod or a handshake. Support means so much right now. We aren’t asking for anything else. I have three girls at home – ages 8, 6, and 3. We all want to go home to our families at the end of the day. 

“My wife was a police officer, too. She was the other half of me. She was the most confident, positive person I’ve ever met. She loved being a military wife. She grew up an Army brat. She was so proud of my service, of her service. She was so strong – mentally and physically tough. And she was such a great mom. She was pregnant with our fourth baby when she miscarried. Two weeks later, on June 12, 2015, it was like a fluke. She lost a silent battle with Postpartum Depression (PPD) and she took her life. I wish I would have known the signs. People think after you have a baby it’s supposed to be all puppies and unicorns and rainbows. But it isn’t always, and especially after a miscarriage. It is okay to be sad, but talk to someone, talk to anyone. I wish I would have seen it. I would have stayed home from work that day. I think our military spouses are especially at risk for PPD. They are so often in a new town, and on their own during deployments. Reach out to them. Make sure they’re okay. And if it’s you, admit you need help. There is absolutely no shame in that.  

“I have always been the one who knows exactly what to say. And when my wife passed, I didn’t have any words. But my squadron, my unit, circled the wagons around me and the girls. That is the brotherhood and sisterhood of the military. It’s like that with law enforcement, too. They don’t just say, ‘let us know if you need anything.’ They show up. From my commanding officer down through the enlisted structure, they rallied around us. It’s a true measure of their character. When my chips were down, during this horrible time, they never ceased to support me and my girls.
“I was at a funeral recently, and during the eulogy the commander said, ‘When you get thrown against the grindstone, it can either tear you apart, or it can polish you.’ Her death has made me stronger. The pain of suicide is thrown on the survivors. It’s broken me in half, but it’s made me stronger. I’m telling her story – our story – because we have to talk about PPD. We have to raise awareness. These demons will always attack you. You have to continue continue working through it. You have to keep fighting.”

Help this family raise awareness of PPD by donating to their campaign here: https://www.gofundme.com/shelanesrun5K

Never forget 

  
“I was born and raised in Brooklyn. I remember sitting on my dad’s shoulders, looking up at the Twin Towers before the antenna was added to the north one. There they were, way up in the sky.
“My dad always talked to us about the importance of service and integrity. I enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1989. I served six years, transitioned to the reserves, and joined the Virginia State Police. 

“When 9/11 happened, I was one of the first troopers on scene at the Pentagon. It was surreal. So much of it was a blur, but there are so many moments I will never, ever forget. Another first responder and I had just pulled someone out of the rubble. Each of us grabbed an arm and literally pulled the person out. I remember stepping aside and needing to catch my breath. We had so much gear on and we were working non-stop. I hunched over a little, and I looked down at my shoes. They were covered in grass blades, and mud, and dust, and just muck. We take so much pride in the uniform, and I looked down and thought, ‘My shoes look like crap.’ And there in the middle of the chaos, I started cleaning my shoes. And then I heard something. I looked over, and there was a woman face down in the debris, but she was looking at me. I could only tell by a little color on her face that it was a black woman. But her body had been so badly burnt, I knew there was no way she was going to make it. And there I was, a moment before doing something so frivolous as cleaning my shoes, and I realized just how truly helpless I was to affect her life. There was absolutely nothing I could do to save her. 

“Beyond what I’d seen at the Pentagon that day, being a kid from Brooklyn, the attack hit me hard for a multitude of reasons. It just… it crushed me. It was ’01, so it was really before smart phones and I didn’t know the extent of damage until I got home, 37 hours later. I didn’t know the status of my older brother who was NYPD. I wasn’t surprised to hear he was one of the first responders at Ground Zero. We didn’t talk for nearly two weeks after 9/11. We knew the other was okay, and we were all-consumed with the pace of emergency operations. When I finally got to talk to him, we didn’t say much. Just ‘Man I’m glad you’re alive.’ I told him to stay frosty, be safe, and that I was going off to war.   

“I was still a reservist at the time. I knew the clock was ticking before I was going to be called up. And I’ll be honest, I was chomping at the bit. I wanted to go in defense of this great nation. Six days later, I got the call. I was going to be active duty for two years. Everybody got the call. And so we deployed, almost right away. For lack of a better term, it was the perfect storm of negativity in my life. The towers had just fallen. The Pentagon was almost completely destroyed. We’d lost so many people. I had five month old twin baby girls I was leaving at home. My dad had cancer. But like I said, everyone was called.   
“Not too long into my first deployment, I got the Red Cross Message. When I talked to my older brother he told me that if I had anything I needed to say to the old man before he passed, I needed to come home. The Air Force treated me incredibly well. They flew me home to say goodbye to my dad. And when I saw him, true to form, he said, ‘What are you doing here? You got a job to do. We are at war. I will be here when you get back. I want you to go fight for our country.’ 9/11 was personal for him; I think for all Americans. So I respected his wishes. I went back. And one week later he passed away. And once again, the Air Force flew me home, this time to put my dad in a box.
“The pain of war was so much. I’d lost my dad. My baby girls, who each weighed less than a 5 pound bag of sugar when they were born, didn’t know me when I got home. Six weeks after I returned from the first deployment, I went right back. It was 2002 then, and I took my team downrange as a squad leader. It was a particularly dangerous time to be there and doing what we were doing. I am so proud of my guys; we all came home.

“With my time spent active duty and in the reserves, I’ve served 27 years now. The Air Force’s core values are Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do – all things my dad taught us, and all things the Virginia State Police hold dear as well. That second one is really powerful to me. Those of us who wear ‘the uniform’ – and I mean the military, fire department, police, any sort of first responder – we believe in service. That is so personal for me. And I’m not just talking about service to the great men and women of the Commonwealth of Virginia. I’m a God-fearing Christian; I’m talking about serving my brothers and sisters in Christ; my fellow human beings. I want people to remember that the folks that wear the uniforms are the ones who are literally running into the bullets, the fires, and even the Twin Towers, when everyone else is running away. And every day, there are those who wear the uniform that are willing to lay down their life for complete strangers. We are willing to fight for you. We are willing to die for you – to protect you. And I hope we as a nation never, ever lose sight of that.”

Pentagon photo credit: LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images

People do hard things on purpose


“We met at the world’s smallest Christian college. We were friends but we definitely did not date. Several years passed and we kept in touch, but not on purpose. We kept seeing each other and decided, ‘let’s just date.’ Truthfully, I’m a sucker for a man in uniform. 

“I was working as a reporter. I was assigned to a National Guard unit as an embed and deployed with them in the efforts following Hurricane Katrina. I fell in love with covering the military. I started taking hostile environment courses and Arabic (which I still can’t speak, by the way), and I ended up working for the Army Times publisher. I found it exciting, like I was part of something important. I loved covering the local news, but as an embed you don’t feel like you’re just covering a story, you feel like you’re actually a part of it. 

“I moved to be near him, to date in person, up to Washington State. I left my job with a freelance contract in hand to cover military issues near Fort Lewis. I did that for a bit, and then left journalism for a period until I could figure out what I wanted to do. 

“He deployed when our baby was five weeks old. I got a fellowship and wrote my project on military marriage and divorce. I sat next to a guy who ended up at Military.com and he let me publish my fellowship findings on SpouseBuzz. I did and started writing for them regularly, until I became the Editor in Chief a year and a half ago. I also recently started a site, Humans Outside, detailing our adventures in Alaska and encouraging other families to spend time together outdoors. 

“When I’m not writing, I’m running. I started running in 2010. We had a lot of deaths in my husband’s unit. None of us knew what to say to the spouses. One woman in particular, Lisa, lost her husband and she wanted us to run with her. So we did. She went on to cofound Wear Blue: Run to Remember. When you run the Marine Corps Marathon, there is an entire mile dedicated to those who have lost their lives. I wanted to run MCM just for that. It’s unspeakably emotional; it was the culmination of many years of watching these families grieve and grow, and there they are, holding flags while you run by. I remember running through and just wiping away tears. It is so moving. I saw a woman I know cheering along the runners on the sidelines. There she was, under a blanket, battling cancer and holding her son’s flag. What an incredible moment to know she was out there and that we could honor him. I stopped to hug her and I started sobbing. 

“When we moved to Alaska, we immediately got involved again with Team Red, White and Blue (RWB). Every year, they do a coast to coast ‘Old Glory Relay’ run starting on 9/11. 62 teams carry one flag across the entire United States. This year, our Alaska chapter was chosen to do an OCONUS addition to the relay. 

“My husband handed me the flag in our relay. The emotions are almost impossible to describe. You have this moment where you are carrying this symbol of sacrifice; it holds everything we have laid on the line for this country. It represents what our friends have lost. What we’ve lost. It’s honor and courage and character. You don’t get to dictate what it means to anyone else, but as people were running toward me and passing me on the out and back, I could tell it meant something to them. It was mile 20 of their race and they were cheering. You are the bearer of something so much bigger than yourself. It’s important to us that our boys see that. We want them to know that people go out and do hard things on purpose, and that a life well lived is about community.”
http://www.wearblueruntoremember.org

http://www.humansoutside.com

http://www.teamrwb.org