So I’ve been staring at this blog for a week now, trying to put into words what courses through my heart every year when this day rolls around. I don’t usually have a problem voicing my emotions, but this one was hard. I thought about skipping it, just moving on to the other things that have been going on in our lives, but it seems more important that I get this one right.
I feel like after 10 years, this should all be pretty rote to me. It’s not like people don’t ask me what happened to Jason. But I figured if I was going to talk about his 10 Year Alive-Day, I needed a little back up. So I’m bringing in the hubs to tell you his side too. Watch out, he has a soldier’s potty-mouth. 😉
I’m trying something a little different here, to give you my perspective as the notification came down, and Jason’s for what really happened. Oh, and try to remember this was a decade ago just a few months after the initial invasion of Iraq, and well, the system still had a few kinks in it when it came to handling wounded soldiers.
This is our story. It’s not special or unique, just one of thousands like it.
|Jason saying goodbye to Aaron before deployment|
10 years ago, my call-waiting beeps.
“I need to tell you that your husband, Jason R. Yarros, has been seriously injured in Iraq.”
My world doesn’t just stop; the bottom falls out. Everything in my chest ceases to function, and I sit back down on the edge of my bed because I’m too weak to stay on my feet. Seriously injured.
He says Jason had been unloading a truck when a grenade went off.
It would be hours for the true story to come in, and a week to hear it from Jason.
I won’t make you wait that long.
|Just a few Apache Troop Scouts, you know… leading the way, and all…|
Jason: (35 Hours earlier)
I’m conducting border security on the Syrian/Iraq
border. When I say this is quite
possibly the worst place you can want to be in the world, I say that with
having spent two years in Iraq, and two years in Afghanistan. While patrolling the border area my Bradley
Fighting Vehicle strikes two anti-tank land mines. Nothing like a 30 ton armored vehicle being
tossed in the air to bring your invincibility feeling back down to earth. In the end, all is well. No one is injured. Hell, even our brand new tv that we just
bought for our platoon survives the blast, not a scratch, just like the rest of
us. And I may or may not check the status of that TV within seconds of the blast. I like to think I check the status of the
guys in the back first. That may or may
not be the case, but all is
well, people and electronics alike. The
Bradley, not so much. The blast blows the
track off the right side, and throws one of the wheel hubs about 250 meters or
so. Ok, no biggie. Our awesome maintenance guys are on the
scene to get us back in the fight.
Unfortunately the Al Qaeda has something else in mind.
While trying to fix the Bradley, we get
ambushed. Rocket Propelled Grenades+
machine gun fire = holy shit. Ok, so after, um, taking care of that little
situation, we decide “lets just drag this broke ass Bradley back to the house
(the Forward Operating Base).” OK, too
easy, lets roll. Well, if you think that Iraq is a dry desert, you’d be sadly mistaken. It rains there, quite a bit. Therefore, when you try to drag a 30 ton
vehicle with a 50 ton vehicle, through the mud, you get STUCK!
Ok, now I’m tired; we’ve been out since about
6 am, and it’s now like midnight. This is getting old. Ok, so what do we geniuses do to try to get
these two out of the mud? Bring in a 60
ton vehicle to try. Yup, same
result. So now we have a Bradley, and
M88 ( a tracked tow truck for tanks) and
an M1 Abrams tank stuck. FML! All right, time to call in the big ass
bulldozers. Big ass bulldozers have big
ass winches on them. This means they can
stay on dry ground and pull all three of our giant armored vehicles out of the
mud. And………it works.
We’re all lined up, ready to roll, time
to go back to the house, get some sleep, try again tomorrow. Fuck no, now we have to recover the parts of
the Bradley that got blown off. Ok, at
this point I’m just a little bitter. If
you know me, I’m a very level headed, calm, cool, and collected kind of
Not so much. So anyway, after
level heads not prevailing, we start picking up Bradley track. It’s about 2 or 3 am, and hot as f***. So remember that road we hit a landmine on,
oh, about 10 hours earlier? Yeah, so
lets drive up and down this road while we do this. Ok, so I bend down, pick up a 100+ pound slab
of track, turn to load it up…
and the lights go out.
Rebecca: (15 Hours Later)
The Rear D commander tells me that Jason had been unloading a truck when a grenade exploded, causing massive damage to his face, and he’s currently blind in his right eye. They’re not sure if that will be permanent.
I absorb the information the best I can while one thought jack-hammers it’s way through my head on repeat: They’re not at the door. They’re not at the door. They’re not at the door.
Jason is alive. That’s the only thing that matters. They’re not at my door to notify me, so he’s alive. Alive, and hurt, and I can’t get to him. I can’t take care of him. How do I even know he’s really still alive?
I fire out every question at the Rear D Commander I can think of: “Where is he now?” “What’s his condition?” “What can I do for him from here?” I keep my head as level as possible, knowing I need every drop of information he has before he hangs up that phone.
He tells me that Jason has been sent to Germany, and when I ask if I can meet him there, he says there’s no point, he’d be home by then; we’d pass each other in flight. Not only has Jason been hurt, but they’re telling me within a few days he’ll be home. Talk about conflicting emotions ripping you apart. I hate that I can’t fly to him, can’t get my hands on him. I need to see him with my own eyes, to breathe him in, to really know he’s going to be okay. I could care less about his face, or even his vision. I just need him to live.
When we hang up, the house is silent. Aaron is a week shy of being 6 months-old, and I selfishly crave scooping him out of his crib to hold him. He is the most perfect thing we’ve ever done, and he’s my own little piece of Jason. God. Aaron just came within a hair’s breath of growing up without a father. He needs Jason. I don’t know anything about boys. I know nothing about playing football, or baseball, or how to tie a tie. I don’t know what to tell him about dating, or how to teach him to drive in the snow, because I suck at it. What if he’d grown up without Jason?
Sobs rack through my body, and I’m gasping for breath, for some semblance of calm. What do I do now? I have to tell people, right? No one in my family answers their phones, but I’m not alone for long. A great friend of mine from our Troop comes immediately, and sits with me. I call my best friend from college, who’s married to Jason’s best army friend (also deployed, but in Baghdad), and she says she’ll be there as soon as work lets her out.
Tissani sits with me all day, watching me jump at the phone, praying it’s Jason. God, I just need to hear his voice. She lets me talk myself blue in the face, and she lets me sit in silence to absorb it all when my mind won’t let me form a coherent thought. She tells me to stop cleaning, and when she sees that’s futile, that I have too much nervous energy, she joins in. She makes sure I eat, her kids play with Aaron, and she’s just… there. Everything I needed exactly when I needed it.
The phone rings, and this time, it’s a crazy Iraq number, and my heart jumps. But it’s not Jason. It’s his 1SG, still in Al Qaim, asking how I’m doing, and what I know. I tell him everything the Rear D Commander told me, and he lets out an incredulous, “WHAT?”
Apparently that’s not exactly what happened.
Jason: (20 hours earlier)
I try hard enough, I can still smell that gunpowder a decade later. It never really leaves you.
As I turn to load that slab
of track, my ears ring and the right side of my face feels like it’s on
fire. I’m on the ground. I get to my feet and look around. There’s black smoke
everywhere, and God that smell. I look down for some reason.
No clue why, and I’m holding my hand, palm up in front of me. There’s a steady stream of blood
coming from my face, pouring into my hand.
Well shit. I realize that I’m
hurt, and pretty badly, but I don’t think it’s life threatening. Rebecca?
Oh God, how close did I just come to not coming home to her? To not being there for her? To leaving her alone to raise this beautiful
boy that we brought into the world? I’m wounded badly enough that
I’ll end up getting sent home to Rebecca and all will be right. It’s going to be okay. Rebecca is my home. It’s not a house, or a city. Not a geographical location at all. It’s Rebecca, my everything. But to get home, I have to get through this. Now.
Where are my guys? I run over to my buddies to check on them. Everyone is alive! Thank God, but one guy is hurt pretty
bad. His whole calf is pretty much
blown off his leg. I need to get
medics. Well of course everyone who is providing security for us knows something happened. Two landmines make a little noise when they
go off. Either way, I’m not thinking
that clearly. I try to get on the
radio in a nearby HMMWV (Hummer). (I
found out months later that they had to replace all of the interior b/c I bled
all over it.) I’m calling into the radio, but since my hearing is non-existent at this point, I
can’t tell if anyone is answering my calls, so I run to a nearby tank to
get help. They are already in route.
Rebecca: (20 hours later)
Jason’s 1SG tells me it wasn’t a grenade, but two landmines. “You should be so proud of him,” he says, “he saved everyone’s asses during that ambush. He didn’t hesitate to get up there on the gun.”
Ambush? What freaking ambush?
He puts most of the pieces together for me, and I know without a doubt Jason wasn’t alone. He was with the guys on his track, a few of our closest friends. I ask how they’re doing, and before he can think better of it, the 1SG tells me that they’re both okay, but one is hurt more than the other. Then he has the “crap, I shouldn’t have told you that moment,” but at least I know there’s another wife going through the same thing I am right now. I need to call her and make sure she’s holding up okay. I ask about Jason’s injuries, and learn that out of everyone hurt in the incident, Jason’s the one worst-off right now. Deep breath. He’s alive. Deep Breath. He asks if there’s anything other questions I have.
“How bad do you think it is?” I ask him.
He’s quiet for a moment, the only sound the intermittent beeps that come with satellite phones. Finally, after a breath, he says, “SGT Yarros won’t be returning to us.”
This is when it hits me, the possibility that our lives are about to become drastically different.
I thank the 1SG profusely for calling, and we hang up. Part of me wants to call Rear D, and ask them where exactly they heard that he’d been hurt by a grenade, and if they got anything else wrong. God, what else could they have gotten wrong? I keep checking the clock, mentally tallying up the time it would take to fly from Al Asad to Lahnstuhl. I call the other wife, Jenny, and see how she’s holding up and if there’s anything I can do for her. We pool our information, but there’s not much we know between us.
The phone rings again a couple hours later, and it’s another friend from our Troop, who tells me that her husband just called. He was the first to get to Jason after it happened. He said Jason was running around trying to treat everyone, not realizing he more severely injured than they were. She says he ripped off Jason’s uniform sleeves, and I soak in everything she can say, but the words, “blood everywhere,” and “tell her to prepare herself, his face looks half gone,” are what stick with me.
Please, please, just let him still be alive. I could care less about ANYTHING else. He’s got to be in Germany soon, right? I just need to hear his voice.
Jason: (18 hours earlier)
At this point I’m sat down by a buddy and told to wait here while
they treat the other guys. Yeah, I’m a
bit out of it, so I start running around like an idiot trying to help, when
clearly I needed help myself. Yeah,
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) will do that to you.
We get loaded up in another
Bradley and get taken to the Landing Zone for the MEDEVAC helicopter to take us
to the hospital. When the helicopters
land and we get out of the Bradley, there is gunfire everywhere. These pilots risk everything to get us out
of there and to higher care. (On a side
note, this entire aircrew would make the ultimate sacrifice a few short months
later when they were shot down over Fallujah saving another life.) These guys are my heroes. When I get on that helicopter and it took
off, the first thing that crossed my mind was my family. All I wanted was to hold my wife, and hold my son. I left Aaron when he was six weeks old. I knew already at that point that I’d see
him soon. After passing through one
hospital, where I almost killed the medic because he couldn’t find a vein, I mean c’mon man, this is your fucking job,
don’t fuck it up, we go to the Combat Support Hospital (CSH) in Baghdad.
me, “We want to do exploratory surgery on your carotid artery. Now this is an elective surgery. But if you elect not to have it, and your
carotid was hit, you’ll bleed out internally within a few hours.” Yeah, so after pondering my options for, oh,
.001 seconds, I “elect” to have the surgery.
and I have to let her know that I’m ok.
Reassure her that I’m fine, even though at this point I wasn’t really
sure I was, but I had to get word to her that I was fine. I eventually get that phone call and all is
right with the world for a minute.
Hearing her voice just told me that everything was going to be ok.
find my buddies. Oh, and I’m told that I
had a missed phone call. Ok, I’m in
Baghdad. How the hell do I have a phone
message? Rebecca was able to talk to a
friend who was married to my friend who
was stationed at Baghdad. Small
world. OK, so I get to my buddies that I
came in with, and everyone seems to be ok.
As ok as you can be with the injuries, but no life threatening injuries. Thank God for small victories. We get together, and find out we’re all going
to Germany. We’re all most likely going
some fresh air. On a side note, while
trying to get all my paperwork straight to go home, I may or may not have
basically told Gary Sinise, yes, LT. Dan himself, that I didn’t have time for
him. We get on our flight to Andrew Air Force Base
in Maryland, and the true journey home has begun. Up to this point I figured someone would stop
me somewhere along the way, and I wouldn’t be able to see my beautiful bride
Yeah, I’m not having that. Nope. As soon as Jason hops on his flight back to the states, I call Rear D and kind of raise a bit of Hell to get him released to fly commercially. The rumors are true, and those guys are sitting back at Andrews waiting a week or two for flights, not in the hospital. My logic? As the Rear D, do you want him here at Carson, get treated faster, on my dime? Or slower, festering on yours? 3 phone calls and a grumpy commander later, they agree.
Jason calls when he lands, I give him his flight information, and he’s on his way home to me.
Jason: (7 days after incident)
landing at Andrews I immediately call Rebecca.
So what has this wonderful woman done?
Made all the arrangements with my unit’s Rear Detachment to have me
released from the MEDEVAC system so I can fly home commercially that morning. YES! I
will be home in a few short hours. I go
from Baltimore to Houston to Colorado Springs.
Home. I get off the plane, walk
through the airport, and ………..no Rebecca!
Ha, she’ll love this part of the story.
She let someone convince her that she didn’t need to leave for the
airport so early. Regardless, she shows
up, and my world is put back together. I
can finally take the first steps to recovering from my injuries. At this point, I already feel whole again.
Rebecca: (7 days after incident)
A couple hours before Jason is due in, my parents lecture me about driving slowly to the airport, hoping my excitement doesn’t get me carelessly killed on the highway, I guess. Yeah, so after I force my way out, a quick pit stop for flowers and balloons, I’ve got 20 minutes to spare at the airport. SCORE! I slip Aaron into his stroller, and head into the airport…. as Jason’s walking out. His flight was early.
Getting my arms around him is the closest to heaven I’ve ever gotten. Knowing how close I’ve come to losing him makes every second that he’s home sweeter. We spend the next few months healing him up, draining the incision that starts near his chin and ends near his collarbone, surgery to remove as much shrapnel from his face as they can without doing too much nerve damage (and he’s still hot, people), and waiting to see if his eyesight will return.
It does, and in December, he’s cleared for Duty.
He does the one thing I’m terrified of, that’s giving me nightmares: He volunteers to go back.
|Purple heart Ceremony, 2 months after he was wounded|
Jason: (4 months after incident)
It takes 4 months to recover to
the point where I can rejoin my unit in Iraq.
Four months with my family that my Soldiers didn’t get with their
families. I am recovered, I had my
wonderful time with my family. It is time to go back. To say Rebecca is a
bit upset when I tell her I am volunteering to go back would be an
understatement. She understands, and
supports me, but I know she’s bitter.
She has every right to be. She’s almost lost her husband. But she lets me
go back because she knows that I have the obligation to go back to bring my
Rebecca: (4 months post incident)
Standing in front of those buses, waiting for them to take Jason away again is torture. I know why he has to go. I know the sense of honor he has, and more than that, I know he won’t ever really heal until he brings his guys back. I also know he’s not ready. I see the moments he hides from everyone else, the dreams, the panics, the temper flares. I watch him reach for weapons that aren’t there, see him startle to noises. I know he’s got PTSD, but no one thinks to ask, and he certainly doesn’t volunteer that information to anyone who could harm his career. God, I wish he would.
I’m so proud of him for stepping up and volunteering, for doing the most impossible thing in my mind and heading back to Iraq. I’m humbled by him, the man he is. I’m so damn angry with him for walking away from us. I’m utterly terrified he won’t be as lucky this time, that I’ll have to explain to Aaron that he will grow up without a father because his dad chose to go back. I’m sad for me, because I have missed him so very much, and well, deployments suck. But in the face of all those emotions, I know he’s left pieces of himself there, and he has to go back and finish this tour to be whole.
So I kiss him goodbye and I let him go. I just don’t know at the time that I’ll do it again, and again, and again, and again… until I lose count. I sincerely believe this will be his only deployment. Yeah. Uh huh.
|Saying goodbye so he can return to his unit|
Jason: (Present Day)
I am thankful that I
lived. Thankful for my amazing wife, my
beautiful children, and the time I’ve had with them. I don’t know where’d I’d be without her. People say that, but it’s true for me. I’d be lost without her love, her
understanding, and her support.
So remember that “elective surgery” I
had? One millimeter! That’s the measurement between life and
death. That’s the difference between
having Rebecca and this amazing family we’ve built, and it being just Rebecca
and Aaron. Thank God for the small
things, they make a huge difference.
Rebecca: (Present Day)
We call this “Alive Day,” just like many other wounded veterans. We don’t mention it during the day, or “celebrate,” but rather I spend my day doing as many nice things for him as I can think of out of simple gratitude for his existence. It’s not just his life that I’m grateful for, but my own as well. These last ten years have been exquisite. Without the last ten years, I wouldn’t be deliriously happy. I wouldn’t have our three youngest sons, or adopting a baby girl (still waiting folks, nothing new on that front). I wouldn’t have Jason! That man is my constant, my North Star, my safe haven in the storm. He’s my best friend, and my first and last thoughts in the day. I know he dreads alive day, and thinks back to those who haven’t made it home as he did.
I stopped in at West Point in July to pay respects to one of those, Jason’s LT who didn’t make it home, and it struck me: It’s been 10 years, and nothing has changed. I was visiting him solo because Jason was in Afghanistan, and still is. Ten years of deployments, shrapnel, PTSD, TBI, surgeries to help heal him, and yet he’s still at war a half a world away. Jason has had a few close calls since then, but nothing like what August 30 means to us.
Alive day to me, is celebrating everything about our life, because we were so close to not having it. Ten years later, he’s still pulling pieces of Iraq out of his skin, the hundred or so fragments they couldn’t take out. They wiggle their way to the surface every now and again, reminding me that though he’s superficially healed, there’s still parts of him that aren’t. I barely notice the 1/2 inch-wide scar that spans from his jaw line to the base of his neck, really, unless someone says something, it’s just a part of him now, as much as those beautiful eyes of his, or his wicked sense of humor. In a twisted way, I’m not only lucky to have my husband, but lucky to have a visual reminder of how blessed I am to have him alive. That scar gets him out of more than a few arguments, he just doesn’t know it. 😉
Happy Alive Day, babe. For everything we have, and everything we almost didn’t.
We are blessed every day, but especially the ones where you come home to me.
|Homecoming Deployment #3 (OEF 10-11)|