She asked me to choose a piece of music to accompany my speech, and again, I knew exactly what the song would be: "Hundred More Years," by Francesca Battistelli. (The same artist who sings our wedding song, "Forever Love.") I offered to create a video to accompany the song after my speech. The song is about a young couple who marries, wanting to spend a hundred more years together. Then, they have a little girl and the husband wishes to spend another more years dancing with his daughter. Using iMovie, I put together footage of our engagement, wedding, the births of our children, and snippets of Tim and the kiddos. (Video below).
I read my speech over and over in preparation for the concert, and practiced twice at a rehearsal for sound check. Initially, I was slightly emotional reliving the event that took place five years ago, but after several times through, I felt certain I could relay the message without crying...wrong! Before I spoke on the 4th of July, two singers performed the song "Come What May," while images of soldiers reuniting with their families after deployment played on the screen behind them. Que waterworks. I eventually had to turn away so I could regain compose before I took the stage. Our deployment reunions are still fresh in my mind, as well as the memories of daily wonderings if I would ever get to have those reunions with my husband. Unfortunately, I know that all to often families are forced to meet their loved one at Dover Airfield, the heroic body of their soldier draped in the American Flag. So, once I reached the part about Tim's helicopter being attacked, the tears quickly came and it took me several moments to continue.
Below is a copy of the words I presented on Independence Day. In honor of all those who serve our great nation, and their FAMILIES, who endure every bit as much stress and turmoil, I dedicate this speech and video to you! May God bless, protect, comfort, and lead you through this crazy thing we call the military.
On the day I walked down the aisle of West Point's Cadet Chapel, each step leading me to the alter, my groom, and a foreign life in the military, I yearned to spend a hundred more years with my soon to be husband. Like every bride I envisioned the life I was about to begin, brimming with romance, children, and promises of forever. But unlike most women, I was marrying a soldier: a man who honorably committed his life to serving God and Country first.
One year after we said our vows, we spent our anniversary 7, 238 miles apart, my husband deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Two months into his first deployment, on August 28, 2010, I answered his phone call from across the world, one that immediately altered my whimsical dreams of forever. On the other end of the line my husband uttered the words I prayed I’d never hear…his Apache helicopter was shot down over Afghanistan.
Insurgents fired fifteen rounds through his helicopter and a rocket-propelled grenade missed the nose of his aircraft by one foot. Two bullets sliced through his cockpit and one missed his co pilot's neck by millimeters. As my soldier prepared to meet our Maker that dawn, the prayers of hundreds back home literally saved his life. Ten months later, only by God’s grace, I hugged my husband with a passion few understand, while renewed dreams of spending a hundred years together flooded to the surface.
And just as life returned to normal, my husband was called to deploy to Afghanistan once more. A year and half later, now with our two month old child asleep in his arms, we embraced for what we knew could be the last time. For nine months I raised our daughter without her father, studied the effects of war on a soldier, and prayed for the phone to ring each night. Despite daily rocket attacks to his base (so intense that the entire footprint of the post was relocated to protect our soldiers), God returned my husband safely home, just in time to celebrate our daughter's first birthday. She would get to know the man who loves her more than any other after all.
Regardless of the unknowns, the constant moves, and the separations, I value my place in the military. I've been given the opportunity to make life-long friends, to serve in different communities, to travel the country, to support our armed forces, and most importantly, I have the rare blessing of fully appreciating the life of my spouse. His job does not guarantee a tomorrow, an ever-present reminder as our friends continue to deploy, fight, and make the ultimate sacrifice in our nation’s defense.
While we celebrate America's birth on safe grounds this afternoon, we must remember those who are spending this holiday on life-threatening land. Pay tribute to these men and women by leaving this room with a newfound appreciation for life. In the military, we are faced with its end all too often and we aren't afforded the opportunity to take it for granted. Our country’s Gold Star Families are living memorials of this testimony, truly understanding the gravity of loving a soldier who faces danger both in training and combat.
Today, in honor and memory of our troops, I challenge you to love like a military spouse must--make each day memorable, be spontaneous, embody compassion, apologize, offer forgiveness, cherish one another, appreciate each other, and exude thankfulness.
I strive to love my husband this way because the day I walked down the aisle I married a soldier--a man who might one day lay down his life in order to protect me... and you. Although I can't predict how many more wars he might fight and how many more wars my children and I might endure, I'll simply keep wishing for a hundred more years.