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January 10th, 2012:
“Alright ladies, let’s head out.”
Our troop marched out, a sea of various shades of green camouflaged men rightfully carrying our weapons with pride, honor, and unseeing fear. Us soldiers, we fight— for freedom, for life, for our families. We are tough because of our love for our families, for our brothers, is what keeps us going.
My name is Bradley James Michael, but you can call me Brad.
As we march into the horridly hot air of Afghanistan that we have all come to know and hate, we watch for any signs of possible danger from the Taliban or any of their people. Women in turbans crowd the streets holding they’re screaming children, eyeing us curiously. Their husbands usually are somewhere studying us, watching us, scouring the area for us. I have never seen such frightened, suspicious men since the day of 9-11.
In this different world, all you can do is breathe and pray to God for the best.
So far, there is no sign of anything but dirt—dirt and sand, sand and dirt. Nothing threatening, nothing worth letting your heart race over—to some. To us, we know it could just be a trap—a set up to get us to think we are safe.
From what came next, we knew we were right. Suddenly, a single shot rang out. We all looked around to make sure our brothers were safe. No one seemed injured. We ran to try to find the shooter. Our hearts raced in our chests as we sprinted through the desert. A grenade exploded nearby and I was left in a sea of dust, running to anywhere and nowhere. I felt a sudden weight on my back, a bag was quickly pulled over my sweating head.
A burst like none other ran through my body. From the middle of my back to the front of my torso, widespread pain never seemed to fade. I faintly heard footsteps walk away and a gun being cocked. I’d been shot.
January 16, 1995:
South Dakota is a cold, cruel place in the winter. I’ve lived here all my life and you pretty much have to start wearing a hat and gloves by October. It’s cold, but it’s home.
I never knew, driving down I-90 that day, that that was when I would meet her. I thought people met the love of their life in fancy restaurants or at carnivals or stuff like that from movies. I never thought I would meet her the way I did, but I’m happy I did.
The wind was blowing the wild, white snow all over the road. I could feel it through the steering wheel as if I were pushing against the breeze myself. My dad’s old F250 had the stamina to withstand the wind, not to mention the 4-wheel drive. As I was getting further down the road on my way back to the farm with the feed, I saw a small red object off in the distance, lying in a ditch. As I got up closer I realized it wasn’t any object, it was a car. The car appeared to have just rolled gently into the ditch, there wasn’t much damage, but it appeared to have a flat tire. Being the Midwestern gentleman that my mom raised me to be, I pulled over my truck, got out, and proceeded over to the driver window of the red Pontiac Gran Am.
My heart stopped. The most beautiful woman I had ever seen sat in the front seat, fretting over her predicament. Her long, luxurious brown hair flowed thickly down her back in gentle waves. Her eyes were as blue as the sea and her skin as pale as a ghost. Love at first sight? Absolutely.
“Uh…excuse me ma’am?” I said awkwardly as I watched her jump at the sound of my voice. “Do you uh…need some help there?” She stared at me with those big blue eyes and I thought I was lost. She looked almost confused, as if she never expected anyone to come and help her, as if she were unsure of the offer I had just made.
“Yes,” she answered. I received this answer more than once—when I asked her to go on our first date, when I asked her to marry me. She took my breath away with it every time.
July 28, 1998:
I rushed through the hospital doors still in my full turnout gear and sprinted to the maternity ward. Is she okay? Is the baby alright? Am I okay? So many questions ran through my head that it nearly caused me to hyperventilate. Finally, finally, I got to her room. There she sat my gorgeous wife. Her usual make up gone and her hair stuck to her flawless forehead in odd strands that made her look twice as stunning. The glow on her face was a sight for sore eyes. I hadn’t seen her that happy since the day I rescued her, since the day I proposed, since the day I said “I do” and suddenly realized that she was mine forever.
In her arms, snuggled in a soft pink security blanket, was our new daughter.
Tears sprang into the corners of my eyes as I took in the beauty that we had made. She had her eyes, those deep blue eyes. She had a full head of hair, just as I suspected. She had my tan skin but the shining pigment of her mother’s. She was us. She was ours. And she was perfect.
Alaina reached up and wiped a lone tear from my cheek. Her smile and wet eyes mirrored mine. Her warm, soft hand rested on my cheek, and I couldn’t help but lean into it. She was my rock.
I moved onto the bed beside her as we took in the beauty of our new gorgeous daughter. “What should we name her?” Alaina said.
I thought about it for a minute, not quite sure how we would go about names. “Carter,” I said with sure satisfaction. “She’ll have the strength of her father and the beauty of her mother.”
January 10th, 2012:
I could feel my life slowly pass by before my eyes. It was getting darker. I knew my crew was looking for me, and I knew they probably wouldn’t find me under the rubble of the recently collapsed building, not in time. The hole in the middle of me throbbed. The pain started to lessen as I became more and more numb. I try to remember if I told Alaina I loved her the last time we were on Skype, if I kissed Carter’s forehead when I hugged her before I left, if I could still smell my wife’s perfume on my old clothes. I can’t. I can’t remember.
I was tired—exhausted, really. I had fought for so long to keep my eyes open, for Alaina, for Carter. I can’t. I felt a power go over me, like God was talking to me—telling me it was okay to let go, that everything would be alright. I listened. My head floated and my heart slowed. I moved toward my future, and left this world behind.
I held my daughter’s hand as we watched our true love be lowered into the ground. Being only 13, I expected Carter to scream—to kick and scream and make me tell her that Daddy’s coming home, that he’s going to hug us and kiss us and laugh with us again. I would. But there she stood; chin high and eyes pointed to the box that held the man that gave her life, love, and happiness. I squeezed her hand lightly and looked down at her through tear filled eyes. I gave a little smile—a little hope for her; so that she knows he’s where he’s supposed to be.
And so are we.