This is not a drill

What would you do if you thought you only had moments to live?

One military family in Hawaii shares what they did yesterday, when an emergency alert was mistakenly sent stating ballistic missiles were en route to the island, and to take cover immediately.

“What a beautiful morning – bright sun, nice crisp air, and big blue skies all around. 80 degress in early January. Certain to be another #blessed day filled with thousands of new “Lucky We Live HI!!” hashtags designed to make our snow-bound friends envious. Such is life stationed in Hawaii.

My wife and I were finishing our breakfast, enjoying the simple bliss of not having woken up to an alarm, and mapping out what we wanted our day to look like while the girls goofed around on the gymnastics pad and balance beam that Santa brought them.

‘There’s supposed to be historic waves on the North Shore starting this afternoon,’ says I.

‘Sounds fun, but we’ve also been promising the girls we’d take them to the book store; we could do that on the way,’ says she.

‘Beep Beeeeep!!!’ say our phones, simultaneously.

‘… whatever we end up doing, the cat litter needs to be cleaned before we leave…’ she drops, as we both casually reach for our phones, thinking it’s probably the beginning of another fun GIF battle with our neighbor family or a hangout proposal from our best friends across the island. Ever the worrier about our domestic responsibilities: my lovely wife. I smile. Of course the day will start with the cat litter. It’ll be a fun day, spent with my family.

‘EMERGENCY ALERT – BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.’

Huh?

Missile threat?

This is not a drill.

Ballistic?

This is not a drill.

Seek Immediate shelter?

THIS. IS. NOT. A. DRILL.

We look up at each other dumbfounded as my brain launches into reaction mode and the logic centers try to make sense of the nonsensical words we just read.

Two thoughts – lessons learned the news put out from a recent island-wide test – immediately jump to the front of my consciousness; First: 20 minutes, max. That’s the maximum amount of time we might have before impact. Second: there are no adequate blast structures anywhere on the island, certainly none reachable within 20 minutes.

‘Where do we go?’ she asks.

I have no idea. One might think that a military base would have adequate shelters in the event of an attack, especially a base with as infamous a history as Pearl Harbor / Hickam. But, the Cold War is over. Such structures are not aesthetically pleasing and certainly don’t have a place here in paradise, where we are all, in fact, #blessed and #luckyweliveHI.

If shelters exist, they’re not advertised.

If they exist, they’re likely not maintained.

IF they exist, we won’t find one inside of 20 minutes.

This is not a drill.

On the long list of inadequate options, we agree on the laundry room. It’s downstairs and shares a wall with our neighbors, so is therefore as insulated as we’re going to get.

It’s not enough, but it’s something.

We round up our two girls and run into the laundry room, the dog following as we go, thinking we’re going on an adventure. We huddle up on the floor and grab a couple of jackets to use as padding and blankets, and we wait.

Will we hear it?

Will we feel the heat?

Will I have time, when it starts, to lie on top of my children and shield them, or will doing so only prolong their suffering?

So this is how it all ends for us; on the floor in the laundry room, with the cat litter.

The cat litter… the cat.

“Daddy!” my daughter hisses as I hurry out of the room we’re sheltered in, so scared and confused she doesn’t know whether raising her voice will bring down the unknown calamity that we are hiding from. Maybe it’s a monster. All she knows is mommy and daddy’s phones made a sound and 30 seconds later we’re all hiding in the laundry room, trying to act as if this is totally normal.

Luckily I know exactly where the little fatty will be. I scoop him up and hustle back into our sanctuary.

We kiss the girls, we hug as a family, and we wait.

“What’s going on?” my oldest asks.

I don’t know how to answer.

How do you explain to a 6 and 10 year old that they might be about to die? You don’t. But then why are we all hiding on the floor in the laundry room? We start to try to explain about rockets and missiles and global politics, but it all gets too big and too surreal. ‘It’s going to be fine sweetheart. We’re just trying to be extra safe.’ Please believe me. Please believe yourself.

Imagine your brain functioning in a time compression, where seconds feel like minutes, and you have 20 minutes to wait, and wonder.

The texts start coming in. One of my favorite things about living on base is the fantastic relationship we have with our neighbors. We all hang out together, celebrate birthdays and holidays together, have impromptu BBQs together; the kids play in the street mostly unsupervised. Life is just like we imagine it was back in the 60’s… during the Cuban Missile Crisis. One of the families is hosting an exchange student – man, it’s going to suck for his parents tonight.

We wait, we hug, we kiss the girls, and we text.

Some of them were already out and about, enjoying life in Hawaii. Military life begins early, and there are supposed to be killer waves on the North Shore today, after all.

Man, they’re lucky. One of the worst things about living on base is that this is ground zero. We’re screwed. Air Force One parks 100 yards from my house, there is no way we’re not right in the crosshairs.

But the Navy has defenses for exactly this situation, surely they’ll work. Is it North Korea? Why isn’t there more commotion? Why aren’t the alert jets taking off? Where are the sirens?

Just as we start to convince ourselves that maybe it was a false alarm, the sirens start going off throughout base and the ‘Big Voice’ is garbling something that you need to be outside to hear. But outside is decidedly NOT where we’re supposed to be when it’s not a drill, and we’re at minute 19. I saw Terminator 2; I know what happens next. So we sit, and wait, and hug.

If they can send a text telling us, ‘This is not a drill,’ they should be able to send a text that tells us when the drill is over, right? So I think we’ll wait for either that or… y’know; BOOM WHOOSH HOT Black.

One neighbor sends a note: “Love you guys if this is our last time together.”

You too, all of you. I should probably text my mom and dad. But we’re at 22 minutes now, and doubt is creeping in. I don’t want to freak them out. I hope they know. I think they know.

As we crept into the mid 20s on the clock, more and more snippets of info came in alleging that it was all some kind of monumental screwup. As the late 20s passed, the fact that the world hadn’t turned to ash seemed to further confirm. But it wasn’t until minute 38 that the phone beeped again, finally allaying our fears and allowing us to breathe easily.

Our little neighborhood ohana came out and we all hugged, cried, sighed, and laughed with relief while the kids started playing in the street. Unsupervised… mostly. Husbands who were out on training started sending GIFs and memes.

In the post laundry room hours friends and articles would comment about how North Korea doesn’t possess the ability to hit us from yet. Tsk tsk, silly islanders. You should’ve known that. To that I say; Ok, fine. But there are other threats out there besides North Korea. Perhaps not as likely to launch a preemptive strike but really, the question is this: When your phone beeps at you and tells you ‘this is not a drill’, is that a gamble you want to take with the lives of your wife and children?

A close friend commented to me that as a military pilot, I’m used to dealing with high-pressure situations. That’s probably true, I’ve been in at least a couple. But this is different. The only things my daughters have volunteered for are to help lead stretches are soccer practice and to help clean the cat litter. I think all of us who sign up for life in the military accept at some point that the career we’ve chosen has the potential to put ourselves in someone else’s crosshairs. It’s just the way it is, some like it more than others and all do it for their own reasons. But one thing I had not seriously considered was that it might put my family so squarely in the crosshairs, especially in such a helpless way.

I don’t want to overdramatize this, I know in the end nothing at all actually happened. But for the better part of 30 minutes we all thought we – our children – had minutes left to live, and that’s what I think will linger. I look forward to learning from this experience, as we military families always do. I am hopeful that the media can lead an educated and calm discussion about how to improve and prepare. But in the meantime; it’s a beautiful Sunday, still at the beginning of a long weekend. I am happy to be able to hug my family and let the girls go outside and play while the cat litter gets cleaned (I will be tactfully nonspecific about who actually cleans it). This afternoon we’ll take them to the bookstore and then go check out some historic waves up on the North Shore. A fun day, spent with family. #blessed.”

The breakdown that didn’t break us

There’s a phenomenon in military spouse circles that anyone who has been through a deployment understands…

It’s something we fear and yet something at which we all have to laugh; something others refuse to speak of, as if the quiet deference will leave them unscathed. Whatever the approach, “Murphy’s Law of Deployment” somehow always finds a way to strike.

This time, it was in the way of a flat tire, one hour into a four hour road trip, with two kids in the backseat, and of course, in the rain.

Roadside assistance made their way and replaced the flat with a spare, with instructions not to risk the rest of the drive and to head home instead. I called the Director of the Board whose meeting I’m supposed to be attending tomorrow, and I could feel the tears coming. As I apologized profusely for not being able to make it, I could hear my voice crack. The car breakdown was quickly escalating to a Mommy breakdown.

I hung up the phone, still parked at a gas station when I realized both of my kiddos had started to cry. “We’re not going on our epic adventure,” our 7 year old said quietly. “Is that TRUE?!” sobbed the 5 year old. They’ve been – we’ve all been – looking forward to this for weeks.

I put my head in my hands, ready to give into the last few weeks that’s handed us a snowstorm, frozen pipes, walking pneumonia and now a flat tire – Murphy at his finest. But these are the moments military spouses are made for.

We find adventure in the face of adversity.

We change plans with a minute’s notice and (almost) make it look seamless.

We turn lemons into lemonade and we know how to “embrace the suck.”

When everything around us is falling apart – during deployments, moves, missed birthdays, holidays, big days and little days, we find a way to build something beautiful.

I had a quick pity party – literally a 10 second cry – and then put plans in motion. I took the babysitting money I had planned for tomorrow and found a hotel not too far away, and together, we plotted our new epic trip.

This is what I hope our kids will remember about life on the Homefront while their dad was away. How we managed to find joy in the rain. The “midnight” swim (at 9:00). Falling asleep to the Olympic snowboarding trials. The snuggles in the bed with a million pillows.

The car breakdown that didn’t break us.

The Veteran and Military Spouse Owned Business Holiday Gift Giving Guide Is Here!

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This holiday season, support our troops and their families by shopping at veteran and military spouse owned businesses. Over the last two months, we’ve been putting together this extensive guide to make your shopping as easy as possible. With beautiful layouts, links to each business, and categories for everyone on your list – from the coffee lover, the kiddos, to the entrepreneur and everyone in between – shopping has never been easier, or more fun. A special thanks to our friends at MILLIE for sponsoring this year’s guide.

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The story lives forever


“I had cousins in the Marines, but no real connection to the military before I got the part in The Long Road Home. I came into this series with a massive respect for the military, and with so much respect for the families, and the soldiers, and the stories. I have goosebumps just talking about it.

“It has been such a learning experience for me, and I think for all of us. I think the people who watch this at home will feel the connection. We are putting hearts and faces to images you see on screen a lot. Growing up as a little kid, you have this idea about what a soldier is like. You think they look a certain way and come from this certain kind of family, and then you quickly realize just really how diverse the military is, and people from everywhere sign up for all sorts of reasons. It was beautiful to see how diverse it really is.

“I hope this series starts a conversation. When you get to know someone, and you know their heart, you have that person’s back, and you fight for their rights and you begin to think, ‘I love you, and I got you and I support you.’ And in doing this project, I really do feel this incredible bond with our military, and I hope that civilians who maybe don’t have that connection begin to feel that way as well. 

“One of the things that makes this series special, is that we rarely see the homefront. We rarely see the struggle that goes on with the families, which is just as real as the battlefield. It’s two wars going on, really. I had so many emotions about the premiere. I was excited in a way, to get to watch it alongside the Gold Star families that had flown in, and to be able to celebrate these soldiers’ lives with them. But then I was also deeply sensitive in knowing that these family members were watching. Knowing that this person hadn’t seen this, and it’s about their loved one’s death, and they will be reliving all of these emotions is overwhelming.

“I met many of the families at Fort Hood, and I was crying with them and laughing with them … it’s just very bittersweet. But I think there is a sense of healing underneath it all. I hope there is. The beauty of film is that the story lives forever – it’s a stamp in time. I’m blessed for the opportunity to be a part of something that lets these heroes live on.”

Jorge Diaz plays Spc Israel Garza in National Geographic’s new mini-series, The Long Road Home, based on the true story by Martha Raddatz. The Long Road Home details an ambush in Sadr City, Iraq that took the lives of eight American soldiers, including Spc Garza, on only the 4th day of deployment. The Long Road Home airs Tuesdays at 10/9 central on National Geographic. This post was sponsored by National Geographic.

We have to have hope


“I grew up in Fallbrook, a small town north of San Diego. My dad was in the Marine Corps and was stationed at Camp Pendleton. My dad wanted to serve his country, and my mom volunteered for different organizations. They instilled this idea that you can always do something for somebody else. I think that’s what drew me to nursing. Once I did my pediatric rotation, I thought, ‘This is something I could wake up every day and do for the rest of my life.’ I came back to California after college graduation to work as a nurse. My dad was on terminal leave from the military and was supposed to retire from the Marine Corps on August 1, 2004, but in June of that year he started having focal seizures. They diagnosed him with a brain tumor two months later. He had about two years of treatment and then passed away, in 2006.

“I went out with some girlfriends one night to this little Irish bar, and I met Nick, a Navy helicopter pilot. His friend had tapped me on the shoulder and Nick said hi. I was not in a place where I wanted to meet someone, and I shut him down so quickly, with one word answers. ‘How are you doing?’ ‘Fine.’ But he was just so nice. I gave him my number, and as we were leaving the bar, I told my girlfriends that if I turned around and he was looking at us, if he called me, I would actually call him back. And I turned around, and there he was, waving to me. And we’ve been together ever since.
“We got married at an old Navy training boot camp, in a consecrated chapel that we had to get special permission to actually have our wedding in. Our reception was at the restaurant where we had our first date. I wish he could have met my dad, but in so many ways, Nick reminds me of him. My dad loved his family, and his wife and kids first. He always made his decisions based on what was best for us, and Nick is the same way. Just a family man. And a good man. He has this ability to love people the way they need to be loved.

“Becoming a mom was amazing. When Madilyn was born, I remember them handing me this baby, and I could see her little eyes, and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is my baby on my chest. This is our baby.’ And it almost took my breath away. With our second baby, Jaxson, we knew what to expect, so we weren’t as nervous. But there was something about having a boy that was really emotional for Nick. Having a son was a completely different experience for him, so I looked over and he’s just bawling. He is the best dad. He really is.

“After taking some time off to be a mom, I started working as an oncology nurse at an infusion clinic because it worked better with having a family. It’s difficult, in that a lot of these adults have terminal disease, and you know that, but when you’re treating them that’s not what you see. You see … I’ll just throw a name out … you see Diane, and you talk to Diane, and that’s what you see in the chair. A person. You don’t see stage 4 lung cancer. Ironically, I enjoyed it.

“A month ago, I had planned to take the kids to Disneyland, and Nick was going to meet us there. I had gone to bed and had pretty bad abdominal pain, but I thought it was just heartburn. It got worse overnight, and I ended up in the ER. Being a nurse, I had self-diagnosed myself with gallstones. In the ER, they started doing tests and I could tell something wasn’t right. They would do a test and I’d wait forever for a result and they’d say, ‘We need to run another test.’ Three tests later the doctor came in and said, ‘We think you have something on your pancreas, but we aren’t sure. You need to follow up with your physician,’ and then he gave me a copy of the report. I poured over the results for three days.

“We followed up with my doctors here, and they thought I was fine but set me up with a gastroenterologist, and that’s when I started to have some fears, because I felt like he was worried. He ran another test, and the next day called me, and he said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you this, but your imaging is a classical presentation for carcinoma of the pancreas, and we think you have something called adenocarcinoma. And being an oncology nurse, I had treated patients with adenocarcinoma, and I knew what that outcome meant. I don’t remember everything I said, but I do specifically remember saying ‘I know what this means,’ and repeating that. And crisis thinking took over and I just remember knowing I had to get off the phone and call Nick.

“I called Nick sobbing and said, ‘You have to get home right now, they think I have cancer.’ And so he rushed home. And I called my mom, and I still feel so bad about this, I was on the floor and was sobbing and told her on the phone ‘I’m going to die, and I don’t want to die, but I’m going to die…’ and you know this is a woman who has already buried her husband and now her child is calling her and telling her she’s going to die… but in that moment those were the only words I could find.

“Initially we thought it was adenocarcinoma, which with some patients only gives them weeks or a few months to live, and I was literally walking around thinking it was the last of everything. Going to the kids’ school, thinking, ‘I don’t know if I’ll see this person again, or experience this again.’ And looking at my kids – they’re 4 and 2 – and thinking, ‘I can’t leave you here. Who is going to hug you when you need your mom? You need your mom. Kids need their moms, and their dads, too, and I need them. I would put them to bed and frantically write these letters, ‘Open on your first day of kindergarten; open when your friend is being mean to you,’ frantically trying to do all these things and also take them to school and not totally lose it.

“We walked around for about three weeks thinking that I was going to die really soon. But we believe in the power of prayer, and in the absence of having any medical treatment options available we asked people to pray for us. We have so many prayer warriors. We finally got a biopsy scheduled and I had surgery, and last week I got a call saying we finally had some good news. It’s not adenocarcinoma; it’s a neuroendocrine tumor, which means we hopefully have some options back on the table. When Nick and I got the call, we sat and cried. Because we finally have some hope. The reality is, this tumor will take me from Nick and the kids. It has spread to my liver and it is terminal cancer, but I still have so much hope, and I still want so much more time.

“I have a grateful heart. If they call me tomorrow and tell me I don’t have options, I will still be grateful for my life. I want people to know how much I love my family. I am grateful for all the blessings the Lord has given me. I love my husband and my children fiercely. I would and always will fight for them. I believe in Heaven, and Jesus, and redemption, and I do believe I’ll go to Heaven, and I do believe I’ll see my dad there, but I just don’t want to go yet. I’m 37. We still don’t have all the answers for treatment, or what comes next, but I will never stop fighting for my husband and my kids. We still have to have hope.”

Our beloved fans and readers: All of the stories that we share on Humans on the Homefront have a special place in our hearts. This one in particular hits especially close to home as this woman, Esther, is one of our founder’s (T. T.) dearest friends. Please help us support this amazing military family in their hour of need by sharing this story, donating to the Go Fund Me established for them, and keeping them in your prayers. Every little bit helps. Thank you and God bless.

https://www.gofundme.com/hope-for-esther

He did this for the country, but especially for his children.

“Israel was my hero. He was my life. And it’s not just because we loved each other … of course that was the biggest thing.

 
“I was assaulted and molested my whole life, until I was 18. When I met Israel, I was in a very abusive relationship. Israel was literally my savior. He saved me. He taught me what love is. After we had Israel Junior, he taught me what a father is. He was my hero way before this story happened.
 
“Israel’s sister Corina and I were best friends, since the 4th grade. We came from similar households. We were bullied because we were poor. We didn’t talk about our families. I remember her mentioning that she had a brother, but it wasn’t a big deal.
 
“My brother was graduating from boot camp and my parents left me home alone, so Corina came to spend the night with me. She had to pick up her paycheck from Sonic, and I went with her. And I saw this gorgeous behind in the window and I asked her, ‘Hey, who is that?’ and she told me it was her brother. I asked her why she never told me her brother was so cute! She gave him my number and he called me. I was in such an abusive relationship at the time and was trying so hard to get out of it. Israel was just what I needed. As soon as Israel called me, we went on a date. I remember it clearly. We went to Johnny Carino’s Italian restaurant here in town and went to see the movie Bedazzled. It was perfect after that. It was so perfect. He had such a goofy, great sense of humor. He’d stick his finger up my nose while I was trying to drive and would do anything to make me laugh. He would annoy me on purpose, but he also had this morbid sense and would say, ‘You will miss this if I’m gone.’
 
“We fell so in love, very quickly. We moved in together only 2 months later and got married so fast after that. There were rumors that it must be because I was pregnant. But actually I didn’t get pregnant until a month or two after we got married. We would talk about it all the time — Israel couldn’t believe that people just didn’t believe in love anymore! It didn’t have to be something scandalous. We just knew. We were young and so in love.
 
“Israel had talked about joining the military, and when my older brother Manny came back from Marine boot camp, Israel was like, ‘Oh man, this is what I want to do.’ I found out I was pregnant in March 2001 and that’s what really made him decide he had to do it. I remember asking Israel, ‘Why? Why now?’ because he had a really good job at Sonic as a manager, getting paid very well. I asked him why he wanted to join when he had it good there. And he told me, ‘I want to do something that my kids are going to be proud of. I don’t want to be known as a burger boy. I want them to be proud of me.’ He joined the Army, and we had this little party for him. It was the end of August 2001, and I remember him joking around, and even saying, ‘With my luck a war is going to break out.’ Two weeks later, 9/11 happened. I was so young and naïve and didn’t understand how it mattered to us in Texas. But when he came home that night, it hit me. We were just starting our family. But even then, you just think, ‘Not our family. Not us.’
 
“I had Israel Jr. when Israel was in boot camp. He came back for his R & R for 2 weeks and he took care of the baby like a champ! I was just out of the hospital. I was so tired and still had stitches, and Israel was so happy to get up in the middle of the night with Junior. It was crazy to me, but he just loved every minute of it. He wanted to hold him and feed him and he just loved that about his kids. He would truly cherish the time that he had with them.
 
“I had our second baby, Michael, in December 2003. Israel left for deployment in March 2004. I had a 3 month old and a 2 year old. It was Israel’s very first deployment. Even the night before he left we had no privacy. My brother had deployed to Iraq two weeks before Israel left, so I moved in with my brother’s wife, Melody. We wanted to be there for each other and start a Sunday ritual of going out for the kids. The night before he left, Israel and I talked, and it was somber. I can’t even explain it … just sadness.
 
“We went to go drop him off. That morning, his dad was with us. Israel was so happy his dad was there. His dad was his best friend and had a love for him like no other. I remember Israel having to do some stuff with his platoon that day and it was all just kind of a blur. I regret so bad having to come home from that early. Michael was crying and Israel told me it was okay to go home. We gave our hugs and our kisses, and he told me he loved me and he let the boys know how much he loved them. Even then I thought everything was fine … that he would come back home. Going home from that drop off was the hardest thing. Not knowing if I would ever see him smile again, or hold our kids. And even though I was going home to my sister-in-law, I just felt so, so alone.
 
“He called a week after that. They had stopped before going to Iraq, and he told me he would call me when he got there. It was a quick call, but then he called from Iraq on March 31, which was our 3 year anniversary. He said, ‘Hey babe! Happy Anniversary.’ He said he had literally just gotten off the plane. And I said I couldn’t believe he remembered, and he said he wouldn’t forget that. I remember him telling me he was tired. He said, ‘I had this dream last night. I was hugging Israel Jr. so tight and telling him I loved him. And I woke up hugging my rucksack and I was so pissed that I threw it. I wish I was there with ya’ll right now.’ And you know, before he deployed when we had the FRG meeting they told us to make sure we were always encouraging. So I tried to do that. And he wanted to talk to Junior, so he did, and then he wanted to talk to Michael. I laughed; Michael was only 3 months old. But I put the phone up to the baby’s ear and Israel was telling him how much he loved him and Michael was just making all these baby noises. We said our I love yous and he said he would call me on Sunday. I never got the call.
 
“The moment I woke up on Sunday (April 4, 2004), I thought something was wrong. We were supposed to have our ritual with my sister-in-law and the kids and I told her I really didn’t want to go. I told her I just didn’t feel good. That whole day I had this strong urge to make chicken curry, which Israel always made fun of me for making. It was in the afternoon, and I got a phone call from my mom, that the police department was looking for me. At the time I didn’t have my driver’s license and I thought it was about that, but it was still so weird to me. Then 15 minutes later my mom called back and said the FRG was looking for me. And I started to freak out. And my mom didn’t know what it was about, except that it was something about Israel coming home early. And I told her, ‘He can’t come home unless he is hurt or dead.’ And she said, ‘No mija. Don’t think like that.’ I let her go and you know I had just moved in with my sister-in-law so I was frantically looking for all the papers they had given us for emergency contacts. And while I was looking, we got a knock at the door.
 
“My sister-in-law answered it and when she turned the corner and said, ‘It’s for you,’ that’s when I knew. They asked me, ‘Are you Guadalupe Garza,’ and I said yes. And they asked if my husband was Israel Garza, and I said yes. And they said, ‘I’m sorry. Your husband has been killed.’ I couldn’t even feel my knees. I just dropped. And all I kept thinking was, ‘Why God? Why would you do this to my kids? Why?’ And I felt like someone had literally just dropped me in the middle of the desert and said ‘Find your way out. Find your way back home.’ I had based my whole life around Israel, and our future, and it was gone. It was gone just like that. And I remember holding Michael and Junior and just thinking ‘How am I going to do this?’
 
“The whole week after that was a blur. I remember signing paper after paper – ‘Miss Garza just sign here, sign here’ … I had no idea what I was signing. I do remember Israel’s sisters Corina and Cassandra and his dad coming there the next morning. I remember Leann Volesky (the Lieutenant Colonel’s wife) coming by. So many wives, a lot of the neighbors, so many people came by just to hold me. The military wives in that community were just the biggest support. The biggest. Because they knew exactly what it’s like to have a husband go over there and not know if he’s going to come back. I remember having one of the wives say to me, ‘You are my worst nightmare. To be a widow is the scariest thing to me.’ And I was. I was a widow at 21 years old. With two kids.
 
“I secluded myself after that to stay away from the military. I went to counseling – I’ve been going to counseling for 13 years. Several years ago I found T.A.P.S. (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) and that’s where I started to connect with the military again. I met one of my really good friends at a grief camp, and she – and all of them – feel like sisters to me. We have this huge bond. I am so thankful and blessed for T.A.P.S.
 
“I vaguely remember Martha Raddatz (author of The Long Road Home) calling me, and at the time I thought it was maybe another wife wanting to talk and hear our story, and wanting to write about it, but I didn’t really think much of it. And then my brother called me a year or two later and said, ‘I’m reading this book. It’s Israel’s story, and you are in it.’ And then I remembered talking to Martha. And I went out and bought the book. I only knew about Israel’s injuries and how he died, physically, but I didn’t really know the story or what had happened to him. I read it chapter by chapter. It is so intense, so I had to put it down after each chapter. It did bring some closure. At least I knew why he went in. I can’t say it brought full closure, but it definitely helped.
 
“National Geographic had called Israel’s sister and she told me that they wanted to interview us as a family. I thought it was going to be for another article. When they told us they were going to make Martha’s book into a series, our jaws were open. And of course it immediately popped into my head about Israel and his guitar. He used to tell everybody that someday he would be famous. And I thought, ‘Oh my God. Israel, you are right. People are going to know your name.’ How sad it is that this is how, but he always knew something big was going to happen with him.
 
“I’ve seen the first two episodes of The Long Road Home. And what I’ve seen, with Jorge Diaz playing Israel and Karina Ortiz playing me, and all of the actors and actresses — they just did such an amazing — I mean a huge, huge, brilliant, perfect job playing all of us. And you can tell how much the producer, Mikko Alanne, cares about us, and getting it right. He wanted to make sure we were okay with the story and that he was telling it as truthfully as possible. I’m a little apprehensive about how my boys will take it because I only want them to remember the good about their dad. But I am so blessed. I want these kids to know that their dad did not die in vain. He did this for the country, but especially for his children. He truly is a hero.
 
“It’s been 13 years. I am definitely not the same person I was 13 years ago. Sadly, after Israel passed away I went into a big depression. But I am proud to say that 13 years later I’ve learned how to grieve properly, and how to accept things. The biggest thing I can do is keep Israel’s spirit alive for my boys. I tell stories about him, I take them to his grave whenever they want. We celebrate his birthdays and holidays. The biggest gift I got was his boys. I feel like Israel passed and his soul went into our children. They have his mannerisms and sense of humor and even look like him.
 
“Whoever said ‘Time heals all wounds,’ has never lost a loved one. It hurts just as much today, 13 years later, as it did that day. But I make sure his spirit is always with us. He was the love of my life. He was my hero. And we will never forget him.”
 
The Long Road Home, based on the book by Martha Raddatz, premieres on November 7 on NatGeo TV, and tells the true story of “Black Sunday,” the April 4, 2004 ambush that took the lives of Spc Israel Garza and 7 other American soldiers.
 
 

As crazy as it sounds, I enjoy the thrill of it

​“My cousin posted a picture of me on Twitter and Alonzo asked her who I was. He was in the military and in a fraternity. I wanted to marry him the day I met him. He was so honest and funny and disciplined. He had it together – had his head on straight, and I loved that. 

“The only person I knew in the military growing up was my uncle. He served 20 years in the Navy. We saw him every other year and I knew what he did was important. But beyond that, I didn’t know much about it. Alonzo was in the Army and it was scary to me to be someone who wouldn’t be around and was going to be in danger. I knew I loved him though. My love for him was bigger than my fears. He always gave me just enough info; never too much to be scared. I trusted him, I loved him, and we are doing it. We’ve known each other since 2010 and since then he’s deployed three times. 

“As crazy as it sounds, I enjoy the thrill of it. We don’t know where we’re going next year, but I’m excited for the adventure. I think the hardest part for military spouses is keeping their identity, and especially during deployment. You’re so concerned and consumed with being your spouse’s backbone — their rock — that it’s easy to forget to be your own person as well.

“So many things are decided for you by the Army. Where you live, when your spouse is home, when you can go on vacation. A friend of mine went to the courthouse to get married because they were up against a deployment. I couldn’t stop thinking about how many couples do that — even your wedding can be determined by the military. 

“I turned 29 this year and had an epiphany. We were in Gatlinburg and I decided to start a blog and website, and event planning business. I started it because I saw a need for military couples to have easy and accessible event contracts so that even with a deployment or PCS, you can create a wedding of your dreams with an affordable budget and a quick turnaround. 

“I had my own business when I was 11. I had business cards and I sold painted pottery and beaded keychains, andI loved planning events. I still do. I’ve come a long way since I was 11. Starting a business has been the hardest and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. There have been so many hurdles and obstacles, but at the end of the day I can say, ‘I have a company,’ and that is priceless.”

www.marzonthemove.com