A Fallen Hero Comes Home

A photo from a prior Fallen Heroes escort along Bayshore Boulevard. Photo courtesy of Barbara Wright Brown Guzzon.

This morning shortly before 10, women wearing their bright red, MacDill AFB Enlisted Spouses Club shirts will assemble along Florida Keys Avenue, near the base theater.

Some will carry flags, some will bring their children not yet school age. They will be joined by active duty personnel, veterans and civilian staff who work on base. Hundreds will come together to pay tribute to a fallen airman who is coming home for a final time through MacDill Air Force Base.

It’s a sobering moment, a mixture of pride, tears and reflection on those currently deployed. Off the Base contributor Jackie Dorr, president of the MacDill ESC, describes what it’s like for her to attend such tributes in her recent blog: A Reality Check: Fallen Heroes.

An honor escort from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office will accompany Airman First Class Christoffer Johnson, 20, from MacDill to Bushnell National Cemetery.

Airman Johnson lived in Clarksville, Tenn. He was supporting Operation New Dawn and died Feb. 17 due to a non-combat related incident in Southwest Asia.  Johnson was assigned to the 423rd Security Forces Squadron, Royal Air Force Alconbury, England. His parents live in Florida.

Outside the MacDill gates, dozens of citizens will join the tribute, taking a moment to pay respect. The Lutz Patriots and the Troop Support Alliance plan to meet at The Colonnade Restaurant for the Honor Escort according to Shelly Vail. They’ll come with flags and banners to watch as the escort drives north on Bayshore to Platt St., Florida Ave., Scott St. to I-275 northbound.

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A Reality Check – Fallen Heroes

Members of the MacDill Enlisted Spouses Club join service members and civilian staff to line the route of a Fallen Hero.

There is one thing that few military spouses will discuss with you. It looms over every conversation. I think we are afraid if we speak it, that it will be true.  We all fear that the black car will pull into our driveway, and two men in uniform will knock on our door.  

Since we have been stationed at MacDill Air Force Base, we have welcomed home upwards of nine fallen heroes. This is something that can shake even the toughest soldier to his core.  It has been our biggest reality check.

We (the Enlisted Spouses Club) get word a few days prior to the arrival of the fallen hero.  A good number of our ESC members usually attend, all wearing their red ESC shirts in support.  We gather near the base theater, flags in hand, tissues in our pockets.    We all stand and chat, catching up on what we have missed in each others lives over the past few days.  While we chat, the roadside fills up with military members in their uniforms, civilian DoD (Department of Defense) employees. Brian (my husband)even stood with us at a few times.  This happens until there isn’t an empty space along the entire stretch of the roadside.

Where we are standing, if we look to our left, we can see Hangar 4. The first sheriff’s car rounds the corner, lights on.  In an instant, it becomes silent, even our toddlers know to be quiet.   Paisley, my 2-year-old daughter, stands next to me holding her flag.  The silence is so heavy and thick, like a fog. 

The motorcade is long, and traveling slowly.  All the Service members there stand and salute, holding their salute until the final car has gone by.  It starts with sheriff’s cars, then followed by the family members and friends, the fallen hero and ending with the sheriff again.

I always cry because, other than the obvious, it forces me to deal with a harsh reality.  I remember in particular one family rolled down their windows, and audibly thanked the mourners for paying their respect.  My tears were flowing heavily, I didn’t know the soldier personally, but I did.  He was a soldier. He gave his life for the very thing my husband defends.

Many of the fallen heroes are so young, with young widows, and very young children.  Their parents undoubtedly were unprepared to be burying their children.

As military spouses, we rarely allow ourselves to think about this, and we most definitely do not openly discuss our fear. There is no need to. It seems an obvious fear.  Discussing it won’t change anything, and most definitely will not prepare us any better. After all, what preparation could there possibly be?

As the cars drive by, filled with sorrow, I find myself wondering what if it were me.  There is never an answer to that question, because honestly I don’t know.

More than a dozen members of the MacDill ESC turned out to welcome home Kevin Kammerdiener.

I have also had the privilege of welcoming a wounded warrior home, and this experience solidified even more how amazing our volunteer military is.   The ESC gathered at Tampa International to welcome home SPC Kevin Kammerdiener home after a long stent in San Antonio at BAMC burn unit.  My heart swelled, and I got goosebumps as SPC Kammerdiener exited the tram with his mom pushing his wheel chair. He didn’t expect a large crowd and when he saw how many people were there to celebrate him he was overtaken by excitement and joy. 

Kevin Kammerdiener is all smiles at his welcome home greeting of close to 100 people at TIA.

He had his mom stop so he could stand up and walk.  An amazing sight, it was difficult not to be over taken by emotions.

I have been around the military my entire life, and Brian has been in for a very long time. I have to say, for me in particular. MacDill has been my biggest reality check, I have been forced to acknowledge feelings and fears I would not have recognized otherwise. Life is never promised, war is deadly and the good ones don’t always survive.

The video of Marine Cpl. Jonathan Porto homecoming is courtesy of Barbara Wright Brown Guzzon and includes photos of the JCSE, Jackie Dorr’s husband’s unit.

Jackie Dorr is an Army spouse, mother of two, president of the MacDill Enlisted Spouses Club and contributor to Off the Base.  Her other entries include:

Five Years, Two Kids and Four Deployments Later

“I Love You the Mostest!” an Army Spouse Goodbye

The Day I Saw My Future Husband Cry

Computer Kisses Keep Daddy Close

An Army Wife Thing: Giving Birth Over the Phone

 

 

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