Service, Strength, and Honor

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Military Family. 

Two words I was unaccustomed to until I met my husband Cory. It wasn’t long after we started dating that I learned about three of the men Cory has always strived to be like…three men who (he says on a regular basis) have the biggest hearts, the best families, the strongest ambitions. Three men I’ve grown to love as family, and brothers too.  Upon meeting Jesse, Bobby and Nathan, I learned why Cory loves and idolizes them the way he does, even though he may not admit it to their faces. 

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Although each very different from one another, the three oldest Johnson brothers have one thing in common: an incomparable love for their country that they live out in the United States Military.

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When Cory is gone long days and sometimes nights or weekends/holidays/trips for work, I find myself sad and missing him. I take for granted the fact that I can talk to him pretty much whenever I want, the fact I can count on him coming home when he says he will… and the sheer fact that he’s on US Soil…

Deployment.

Another word foreign to my realm of personal experience. I will never be able to understand the experience completely, unlike four women I admire beyond measure… All of these women are strong. Brave. Fearless. Each a wife, sister, friend, daughter, mother and hero.

I’m honored to share their strength with my readers for my third post in “A Month of Inspiring Women”

I admire my sister in law Teresa, who moved across the country alone this year and is raising her four beautiful children while Jesse is deployed in Afghanistan for his fifth tour since they’ve been married.  And there’s War Veteran Natalie, who recently gave birth to her third baby while on video call with her husband because he’s deployed in Iraq. My mother in law has watched her grandchildren grow up through phones and computer screens, with visits here and there (here and there including, but not limited to, places like Hawaii, New York, Colorado, Europe, South Dakota, Tennessee, Kentucky, and more). And there’s Anna, married to Nathan who has also experienced deployments and uprooting throughout her marriage and life as a mother to three. The women I’m now fortunate enough to call family include a military mother, an air force wife, an army wife, and an army wife and US Army Reserves Nurse. I had the chance to briefly chat with Cory’s mom about the subject, and to interview two of my in laws Teresa and Natalie for this story.

Flashback 18 years. Jesse, the oldest of the brothers, told his parents he was going to enlist. My mother in law Bernie says she remembers Jesse being picked up for bootcamp. She told me of the fear of the unknown for his future, the tears shed, and the pride the family felt at watching Jesse embark on a new journey where he would honor his country irrevocably. Jesse was first deployed to Bosnia.  This month, he made 17 years in the service. Jesse’s wife Teresa told me,

During his enlisted days, he was granted a scholarship called “Green to Gold”, which meant the Army would pay for him to go to college in the ROTC program.  That’s where he became an officer after achieving his college degree.   And met me!”

Jesse and Teresa were married 15 years ago. She summarized the beginning of their time together…

At the beginning, the Army’s adventures granted to us were so exciting and wonderful.   We were just married and living in Alabama when we found out our next orders were to Hawaii!   Jesse flew in from Alabama on a Friday for our wedding and had to be to work on that Monday, so there wasn’t any time for a honeymoon.  Orders to Hawaii were a gift and such a wonderful time to start life as newlyweds.   The friends we made in our first duty station became our Army family. Us wives had to learn the way of the Army fast.   I made some of my best friends during that time in my life and still to this day, look at them in the same light.”

Over the course of their 15 years of marriage, Jesse and Teresa have lived in nine states, Teresa giving birth to four beautiful children along the way.

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She said,

The middle gets a little foggy.   The reality of war set in fast along with wanting to start a family.    I’ll never forget the first pre-deployment brief I ever attended.   “Spouses, you are here to be informed that the OH-58D has never been tested at the elevation limits of the mountains in Afghanistan.  We are the first of our kind of helicopter to go in.   We do not know how many of us will actually make it home”, said the soldier at the microphone.  I remember walking out to the car with Jesse that night.  He was so handsome in his uniform as we opened the doors to our 2 door car.   As soon as the doors shut;  tears I had never shed before flew out of me…the feeling of my husband having to walk away from me and our 8 week old baby inside my belly; into an unknown thing called war, was beyond any feeling I had ever felt before.   A feeling I still carry in the pit of my stomach with each deployment.   First baby led to second baby after deployment.  Second baby led to third baby for next deployment.   Fourth baby normally during a down time from deployment.   Hence; all the fog.   Many states were moved to, many boxes were unpacked, many times alone with babies while my husbands’ side of the bed went cold.   Many friends became family, many life lessons were learned.  Many tears were shed out of heart-ache and loneliness; not knowing how to get through the next huddle set before me….alone.   I still to this day, am the lucky one, as my solider continues to walk through our door and embrace all of us.  My heart bleeds on the daily for the ones who have lost their love, their partner, their parent, their son or daughter.   As much as I have to endure life without my spouse…their loss will always be a reminder of how lucky we are each time he puts his boots on US soil.”

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When Teresa was two months along in her first pregnancy, Jesse left for deployment. He returned for R&R when new mom and baby Taylor came home from the hospital, and was back for a longer stay when Taylor was five months old. Teresa says it was their families that got her through that time without her husband. Their second child Aiden was born with both parents present, but Teresa remembers the nurses couldn’t understand why dad was acting like such a newbie to the delivery room. Then there was a third pregnancy…

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Gavin was normal until it wasn’t.   While I was pregnant, Jesse came home during the strangest time of the day to tell me he was going to be deployed.  Not just for a year, but 15 months to be exact.   I recall sitting at the table in our kitchen,  tears just running down my face as our one-year-old and infant were playing about.  Jesse drove me home to MN two weeks before Gavin was born.  Just to make sure I wasn’t alone in Colorado if he had to leave.   Jesse was able to fly in the day before Gavin was born.   We spent a week together in my parents’ home, before Jesse found out he had 30 more days before he was to leave.   We all jumped in the car as my Mom stood at the door crying.  Three babies lined up in the back seat, my husband at the wheel, and a pillow under my bottom, as we drove the 18 hours back to our home in Colorado.   What a trip that was, but we finally arrived back in our home.   We awoke the next day as a family of five.   After breakfast, his Blackberry rang loud as he jumped to answer the call.  He was to deploy in 24 hours instead of 30 days.   I didn’t finish my breakfast that morning as I bawled my eyes out with fear.  I had three kids under the age of three.  All exactly 17 months apart to the date, a little over a week out from labor, and a husband whom I had to say goodbye to for the next 15 months.  That. Was. Awful.”

Teresa says amongst the blur, she remembers double diapers, two cribs in one room, and potty training the babies fast. Jesse was given a few years where there was no chance he would be deployed. It was time for baby number four.

Blake was the baby I needed. Two girls. Two boys. Perfection for us.”

I can’t express my admiration for Teresa’s good spirit and outlook enough. She finished our interview with a very special and real message…

This lifestyle in the Army has taught me to live in the present, to enjoy the little things, and to TRY to not sweat the small stuff.  Each moment is so precious.   With every ounce of change, drama, different job, great people, strange people….yearly moves…change of schools; we are doing this life for a reason and someday I will find out why! (ha)  I love my husband extremely and would follow him where ever he may lead.   Our kids can walk in to any room and make a best friend within seconds.   I can find every Target in every state even before we arrive to our new home.  I love our journey and everything that has come with it.   Minus the years a part, of course.  I am thankful fora loving and supportive family whom have gotten me through some of the roughest times in my life.   Life is amazing.”

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The family was able to spend 14 days together this May when Jesse came home on a surprise leave.

Jesse is currently a Major, serving in Afghanistan, but made the list for promotion to LT. Colonel.   His branch is Aviation; he has spent his whole career flying the OH-58D. Plans are set for Jesse to return home to his family, who now reside in Cannon Falls, MN this August.

Natalie and Bobby (second brother) also met in Mankato, MN. Bobby recently made 12 years in the US Army Engineer Corps, all on Active Duty. Natalie has been in the service for almost 19 years, in the National Guard, on Active Duty, and now for the Army Reserves as a Nurse Anesthetist.

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They were both in the ROTC program when they met, where (Natalie jokes) Bobby fell head over heels in love with her.

Just one week after marriage, the two were separated due to different duty locations for seven months. Over the course of two and a half years, the couple experienced many separations due to military schools and deployment on both ends. Natalie told me,

Initially it was difficult but we managed.  After almost 2½ years apart with a few months in the middle due to each of us completing a year long deployment to Iraq it started taking a toll on our relationship so I decided to leave active duty and become a Reserve soldier.  This greatly helped us with only competing with one active duty branch!  I believe if you truly love eachother and want to make it work, you will do anything…”

Although there have been hardships for the two with separations, she says the tough times have made them stronger and more in love. Bobby and Natalie welcomed their third child this spring–a second “Skype” delivery for the couple. 

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I have had two of the three kiddos without Bobby at my side, physically.  Our firstborn, Ethan, was three months old before he physically met Daddy (Bobby).  My mother came to NC to be with me during the last week of pregnancy and birth.  Luckily Bobby was able to be there through Skype, although six minutes after Ethan was born a communication blackout occurred due to a fatality and we were unable to talk for 3 days after…someone was watching over us!

Bobby’s father Rod posted to Facebook in 2012, “Our son, Captain Bobby Johnson returned to Ft. Bragg tonight after 9 months in Afghanistan. He will be reunited with his wonderful wife Natalie and meet his new son Ethan for the first time. Thanks be to God and welcome home soldier!”

Both Bobby and Natalie were present for the birth of their second, Victoria. Bobby won’t physically meet Elizabeth until she is eight months old.

Natalie had a C-Section with Elizabeth and says recovery was very difficult with three children under four years old. She says she’s very thankful for both her and Bobby’s parents, who have flown out and would do anything to help.

The hardest thing is knowing Bobby is missing many “firsts” and moments with the kiddos.  He will never miss my first steps or first words, so we will endure!  At least our kids are so young that they will not remember and he can jump back into their life without missing too many big moments.

Natalie is very thankful for today’s technology, which allows her to communicate with Bobby fairly regularly. Some weeks not so much, but many weeks they can communicate at least once per day.

We enjoy the moves mostly as it allows us to see different parts of the US/world and meet new people.  It is hard being away from all our family and friends, but we know one day we will move back to MN so now we enjoy the moves and all our visitors!  Deployments are hard on everyone, as Bobby misses everything at home here and we miss having him home.  It breaks my heart when the kids ask for Daddy and occasionally cry for him.  I sure missing having my other half at home, mostly for the companionship but also for the help your significant other provides with the kids, home, and life.  Homecomings are amazing, it may take a few days for everyone to adjust but then we are all back to our happy family ways!  November needs to hurry up and get here already, we sure miss him!

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Natalie has seen a lot in her nineteen years in the service, taking care of wounded soldiers, both in Iraq and back home here in the states.  

It is hard to stay strong when you hear soldiers talk about their failure to their team, while healing from amputations or large surgeries from injuries of war.  I have seen numerous grown men cry for their lost or injured teammate.  Some days these soldiers are 18-year-old men, a child in my book, too young to go through such horrific events.  They are all heroes in my eyes!”

I’m not sure how she does it, but I sure admire Natalie’s positivity.

Cory’s brother Captain Nathan Johnson is pictured below on his deployment to Afghanistan in 2014 where he served as an Operations Flight Commander. He said,

I had a pretty great mission, I got to fly almost everyday over the mountains collecting intelligence, the beauty of the mountains is something I’ll always remember.”

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Nathan has served as an Intelligence Officer for six years. To this day, he is constantly haunted by one thing: his loss on Family Feud.

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I want to take a moment to highlight the special person who gave birth to brave sons who have gone on to do great things. Bernie always tells Cory to put his wife and family first, and I know she tells the other boys the same. Through the years, deployments, and missing her sons, she has remained strong and always given whatever of herself she can to help out. Her kind, giving, honest heart is rare and special, and we are forever grateful for her. She and Rod raised four amazing boys and are now grandparents to eleven. Thank you both, we love you!

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In this photo from our wedding, all of the boys were home for the first time in a long time. It was a great day, however we were missing Anna and the kids and Aiden. Photo by Lauren Wagner.

“212 West: The Spoken Life” is a jewelry company that matters. For the purpose of this post, they sent me beautiful necklaces from their Patriotic collection for myself and my family. Each necklace is made in the US. Read their story here. I wear my “SUPPORT OUR TROOPS” necklace proudly.

 

212 west would like to thank our Veterans for their service. Each time a 212 west necklace that includes the words America, Troops or Veterans is purchased, $5 will be donated to Operation Freedom, a program of Freedom Service Dogs of America – a non-profit organization that rescues dogs and custom trains them to enhance the lives of those with disabilities. Operation Freedom specializes in helping returning war veterans and military personnel transition from active duty and combat back into civilian life.

 

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Kelly Jo Johnson | Forever Golden Living

wife & mama. blog author. photographer. style obsessed. for booking & collaborations 📧: kellyjophoto@gmail.com

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