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janemhorton
Those that have experienced the deepest pain, those that have had that which is most important to them taken- feel on a depth unknown to those who have not experienced such a loss. They experience a level of emotion deep within in their heart that they never knew was deep with their soul. A depth unknown to this world. They can enter their soul and pour it out in the deepest of levels. Those that have borne the battle, those that have fought and bled for our freedom, and watched their closest friends and brothers die- my hearts aches for you.

On this two year anniversary of my beloved Chris being killed in Afghanistan, my heart is with his brothers in arms. I never really knew what it was like to see him come home, experience a homecoming ceremony, run into his arms and kiss his beautiful war-torn face, or feel his invisible wounds of war. My husband never came home as different person- I never had to maneuver my way around his new demeanor, personality, anxiety, and PTSD. I never awoke to him crying or screaming, not knowing who he was anymore, or with haunting images of battle. Chris never had to hold his closest friends during their last breath- he never came home to deal with the pain, hurt, confusion, disappointment, and guilt of being left on the battlefield and coming home with less than he went over with.

But you do.

You have to spend the rest of your life on this earth trying to wade your way through a normalcy that will always be anything but to a soldier that has experienced war. This world will never be normal to you, but rather a maze of doubt, guilt, regret, fear, and pain. As much as my heart hurts and longs for the man I pledged my everything to- my heart goes out to you.

My heart is for you.

All of you.

I'm sorry that you have been chosen to carry this burden, and I want you to know I pray for you, I cry for you, and I care for you. The fallen are in a better place. You are the one that has to experience hell on earth. You are the one that is left to wade through the mess, to try and process the images, the death, and the guilt. It's not your fault. Everyone has regrets on the earth, everyone has something they wish they could've done different. But not everyone knows what it's like to be responsible for others lives - especially when they really have no control over the circumstances at hand. I guess what I'm trying to say is- what has happened is done, you may have lost a battle buddy, a good friend, somebody with a beautiful wife and children at home, but you cannot carry that burden forever, please don't let it destroy you.

My husband did not come home, and you did. We don't always know God's reasons why things happen on this earth, but I hope that you live the best life possible. I hope that you live a prosperous and happy life, that you and your wife have many blessed years together and your children one day can hear your war stories, hold you with the high regard that you deserve, and that can you can walk your daughters down the aisle, and teach your sons how to fish. You've been through hell and back, and you survived.

Thank God.

You can't carry the weight of the world, you only have two hands.

A human being was only meant to carry so much, and I hope that one day you can be at peace with yourself. Always remembering, always honoring the dead, but living lives with honor, and protecting the home front you and they fought to protect overseas. I don't know what it's like to lose one of my best friends or battle buddies. I don't know what it's like to have seen the hell that is called war. I will never pretend to know what you have gone through, but I want you to know that I can feel your pain, in the deepest depths of my soul, and I wish that you didn't have to carry it so deeply within your own. Those that have given their live in Valhalla, a much better place than this earth, and you will see them again. Maybe one day we will find out that they were the lucky ones, and we are the ones that had to grieve, mourn, and carry the pain through this world.

The best way to honor the dead is not to be sad for the rest of your life, but you rejoice that such men lived, that you were able to know them and be with them during their final hours on this earth. Many of you witnessed them in their hours of finest bravery, when you got to see what they are really made of and who they really were. Tell their stories, remember them, but don't feel guilty for being happy for life's pleasures. There's a reason why your live on the earth, and your time is not yet finished. The reason why men serve their country and are willing to give their lives is so that Americans and the world can continue to live the life that they do. Not so that their closest friends would live in a world of oppression or self-deprecation. They did it to bring hope and freedom and liberty to an oppressed people. They didn't give their lives for those to be the very closest to them to oppress themselves.

It's ok to be happy, it's ok to be glad to be alive. I can guarantee Chris is too- and he wants you to be happy.

I love you, wish the best for you, and you are all my heroes.
 
 
janemhorton

This is the story about Chris's second dignified transfer, the "reverse dignified transfer" when Chris finally came home to Oklahoma on September 16, 2011. This took me several days to write- it was not easy, choking through the tears.

"Jane- we have to go home and be back to work, but we will be back for the funeral and the burial. Ricky will stay with you."

    Chris was killed on September 9th, and the funeral was set for September 23rd, so my family had to go back to Ohio, and my brother stayed with me. As much as they wanted to stay, they had to go back, and to be honest, there was nothing for them to do. I had so much to do, and not a second to do anything other than plan for the ceremonies and days ahead, not to mention the flood of paperwork that needed to be done. I had to try and clear my mind enough to understand what was actually happening, and what I was actually signing.

  Ricky was exactly what I needed. We all agreed he would be the one to stay. One of the biggest blessings in this disaster was being able to spend time with my brother. His wife so graciously let him stay for two weeks, and he just didn't stay with me- he took care of  me. He forced me to eat, went shopping, handled phone calls, did my laundry, made my bed.  He did everything- not just taking care of things, but he was there for me. I remember my CAO came over to have me fill out some paper work, and Ricky was trying to get me to eat. I wasn't not eating out of depression, I just wasn't hungry. He was trying to lure me to eat my fruits and veggies, so he put Hershey's syrup on my strawberries. I didn't want anything to do with them- but was forced to take two bites.

     This wasn't easy for Ricky either- Chris was the first brother he ever had, and he wasn't taking his loss lightly. He really loved Chris. In fact, Ricky was the only person I have ever seen pick on him, and Chris not know what to do- so he would take it. It was quite funny, until after Ricky left, and I would get an earful from Chris.

When is he coming back? When will he be here? The days and the hours seems liked years, like a lifetime. "We're not sure, it usually takes at least a week to two weeks... Jane, you can't look at him. There will be lots of head swelling and you won't recognize him. You can't do that to yourself." WHAT?! There is no way- let me repeat- no way, I am not going to see my husband when he comes back. "Jane, we understand, but we highly recommend you don't. The Army has requested that you don't see him."

   It had been four months since I had seen Chris, and I couldn't wait to see him again. I didn't care what he looked like.  He was my husband, and nothing was going to stop me from seeing him.

   I woke up that morning, put on my brave face, and dressed in all black. My hair was freshly dyed deep brown, Chris's favorite color on me. You know that anticipation you feel on your wedding day? It was a similar feeling. Similar, but painful, and agonizing. At Dover, I was not allowed to get close to or touch Chris's casket, when it was all I wanted to do. The day was finally here when I would be able to touch his casket, and then as soon as he went back to the funeral home, I would be able to see him. Chris was finally coming home to his beloved state of Oklahoma- in his words, "the freest state in the nation."

    The limo picked us up and drove us for what seemed an eternity. The police escorted us to the Tulsa Air National Guard base. I just wanted to hide. As we pulled in, we were greeted by grateful citizens who lined the streets with flags and signs, showing their support of us, appreciation of Chris's sacrifice, and welcoming him back home. We finally arrived and met Chris's friends and family there, as well as many military personnel. This was also the first time I had to face Chris's command. The first time I would see some of those who were in charge of him, and it was hard for me. The Adjutant General of Oklahoma flew in for the ceremony. He met with me privately and told me how hard it was on him, and how it was a little different because he had known me previously. He gave me his coin, and then asked to bring Chris's parents in as well.  We talked for a few minutes, and then we got word Chris was arriving. Col Ward's beautiful wife Debbie came to represent him as he couldn't be there because he was still in Afghanistan, and my State Senator, Rick Brinkley came to be my choice of pastor.  I asked him to come walk me onto the tarmac, and pray when we reached the casket.

   As we walked out onto the tarmac- it was not my first time on that flight line. I had several meetings and briefings on what the day would entail, and planned most of the details with the base command. There were  three chairs on the flight line, one for me, and two for Chris's parents. We walked through a receiving line of Generals and Chris's command, and took our seats. My CAO stood next to me, never leaving my side. She was my rock and my security in a time when I had none. She is the one who held me together. We sat, and we waited, then everyone took their stance, as it was time for his arrival. The eagerness almost made my heart explode it was so incredibly intense.  As his small, Kalitta airlines chartered jet flew in, I stood to my feet. How could I sit, when a hero was coming home, and everyone else was standing at attention and saluting him. I wanted to stand and salute him as well. My baby- the love of my life, my hero, the other part of me, was coming back home- where he belonged. I made everyone nervous, and they motioned for me to sit- I think everyone was afraid I would faint, but I couldn't sit. I stood lifelessly and anxiously as Chris's plane flew in. As it glided to a smooth landing, two fire trucks were positioned on both side of the aircraft, and sprayed two arcs of water over his plane. As it rolled closer, everyone remained silent, and the plane came to a stop. It seemed like an eternity until the doors finally opened, and they lowered Chris to the ground.  I had a choice of a metal or wooden casket. I chose wooden. It was the first time I saw it. It was so beautiful, but nothing was more beautiful than the American flag covering him. Seeing that site just takes your breath away, fills you with pride, and punches you in the gut all at the same time. There were so many emotions going through my mind, my body- my heart, and all eyes were glazed on me, Chris's parents, and Chris. Chris's parents were the first to go up and have their time with his casket.  They walked back slowly, grief-stricken, and then Senator Brinkley and I walked up to the casket. I gave it everything I had to try to muster up the courage to welcome Chris home, and the worlds finally made their way out of my limp mouth.

 "Welcome Home Chris."

At that moment I remembered my dreams- what I had thought about every single hour since Chris left-  I dreamed and dreamed of the day I could finally see Chris again, and he would finally come home to Oklahoma. I would think about it all the time, as every wife a deployed soldier does. What would I wear? How would he look? What would it be like? I would finally kiss him again. What would it feel like to kiss him after being apart for a year? I dreamed of us running into each others arms, and finally looking into his beautiful eyes. That homecoming never came. This was Chris's welcome home. He was here. I didn't run into his arms, but I slowly walked up to the wooden box beautifully covered with the American flag, and I laid my head on the stars and cried. It was a cry that I never even knew existed- but one that encompassed all of my sorrow, it was a cry that represented my heart being ripped out of my chest.

"Chris.... I love you."

I was told I could have as much time as I wanted and needed there at his casket- that it was all about me in that moment. I didn't stay long. It seemed like forever, but I was only a few short minutes. I somehow managed to have enough strength to walk back to my seat as Chris was then saluted and carried to the hearse.

  We went back to our limos, and were once again escorted by the police back to the funeral home. The Air National Guard Base had everyone leave their posts and offices to line the streets to salute Chris. It was incredible.  They had our limo behind Chris's hearse, so we could always watch him on our way to the funeral home. I called Chris's grandfather on the way there to tell him everything that had just happened. He had so badly wanted to be there with us and to honor Chris- but he was struggling with ALS, and just couldn't make the trip out, so I did everything I could to try and include him in the process. It was so comforting to me to hear his voice.

About twenty minutes later, we had arrived at the funeral home.

"Jane, do you want someone to go with you?"

No, no, this is something I have to do alone. The funeral director went in to look at Chris, and as we had discussed, he would advise me on whether or not I should see him, even though I made it clear, I was going to see him no matter what. "Jane, he looks great, Dover did a beautiful job." I slowly walked in, trying to breathe, fighting for strength, struggling to hold onto the life within me, and trying to process what was happening. I peered through the floor screen, and I saw him....

      As I walked in, and peered through the floor screen, Chris's casket was on the other side of the room, and I caught a glimpse of my beautiful husband and lost control of all of my emotions. I broke down. It looked exactly like him from his profile. I stepped back behind the floor screen, and laid my head on the podium that was in front of it, and burst into tears.

"Jane, are you ok?"

"It looks just like him- he looks like he's sleeping."

 I mustered up all the courage and strength I had in me, and walked over to him. He looked so peaceful. He looked beautiful.  My eyes studied him, I looked for his wounds- they were barely noticeable. As my eyes searched his face, they stopped at his eyelashes. He had the longest eyelashes I have ever seen, and they looked striking as ever. He looked like a hero- he looked so valiant in his green uniform with his white gloves on, folded neatly in his lap. He had finally been awarded the coveted combat infantry badge that he wanted so much- posthumously. I couldn't believe my husband was laying in that casket. How had he come home like this? How did this happen. I was so confused, shocked, trying to take everything in, and hold onto what was left of me at the same time.

    These- these are the moments that define me- the moments where I really learned what I am made of- where my will, my heart, my strength- my everything was challenged to the core. These were the last moments I had with Chris- God's greatest gift to me.

 I learned over the casket and cried. I cried, and I cried. I took a breath, and then stepped outside to let everyone else have their turn with him. It broke my heart to watch everyone see him, many not understanding death, or how Chris could be in that casket either. It was rough. Everyone was in and out, and then I went back in. I shut the door, took my shoes and my cardigan off, and learned over the casket and cried. I thanked Chris for giving his life for me. For not only loving me, and honoring and protecting me, but for believing in something so much, that he gave his life for me, and for you. I was so humbled and so overwhelmed. I just wanted to thank him.

   As I stood there, I honestly got that feeling that he might sit up, it freaked me out a little bit, and I sat down. I prayed. I talked to God out loud. I thanked him that Chris was in heaven, and in that room, as I sat for around an hour, I had to let go of Chris and know he was in God's hands now. God could take better care of Chris than I ever could, and he was now there with him in heaven.  There is something so strange, something so unreal, about seeing your husband's lifeless body. Most of us have seen our grandparents, or an elderly person in this state, but my 26 year old husband? It was so surreal. I can't even explain to you the feeling. This was the man I loved, the man who's hands would comfort me when I was sad, who's smile would give me butterflies, and who's kiss would melt my heart. This was the same man, the same body, and the same hands- except they were cold, and Chris wasn't there anymore.

  My brother came in and sat with me for a while, and we talked. He and I cried together, and talked about Chris. We left, and a few of Chris's close friends took turns alone with him. Each and everyone of them handled it differently, all feeling incredible defeated after seeing him.

I went to say goodbye to Chris for the day, I kissed his hands, and gathered the strength to walked away, but left my heart there with him.





Here are a few news videos and stories from that day- Chris's parents and I agreed to be interviewed because we thought it was important to tell the world who Chris was:

http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=511&articleid=20110921_11_A11_ULNSha363723

http://www.fox23.com/news/local/story/Dignified-transfer-for-Collinsville-soldier/VgLxHqcUZkyxXdpFwyx9mA.cspx

http://www.newson6.com/story/15508975/body-of-collinsville-soldier-returns-to-green

Dignified Transfer 014
Dignified Transfer 016Dignified Transfer 022
Dignified Transfer 036
Dignified Transfer 037
Dignified Transfer 039

Dignified Transfer 046
Dignified Transfer 049Dignified Transfer 011Dignified Transfer 054
Dignified Transfer 057
Dignified Transfer 058

 
 
janemhorton
12 November 2012 @ 10:49 pm

 Do you know what it feels like to get punched in the gut? That feeling where you can't breathe? Where every breath hurts, and you can never fully catch your breath? I am slowing getting there, slowly catching my breath after a gruesome punch in the gut. When someone gets in a horrific car accident and severely injures themselves, they go to physical therapy, and it takes time to heal, right? So why wouldn't it take me time to "move on."

I lost the biggest part of me.


 Just as an injured person learns to walk, I am learning to accept my new life and move forward. Just like the wounded, it hurts, and sometimes I fall while learning to walk. Sometimes I feel like I can run- and then I fall flat on my face and scrape my face on the cement.

"It's time to move on- time to let go."

I'm trying. I really am. Every day is a new challenge. I don't know what the day brings until it comes. Today I realized that this month I will have outlived my husband. No matter how much I age and grow up- he will always be 26. A baby. I'll never get to see him wrinkle, or his hair recede.  I know, I know, I need to let go and move on already. I am told at least once a day now. After all, it has already been fourteen months. Why can't I just get over this? I'm so young, and I'll find love again, and I want to have a family don't I? Yes, I do. Yes, yes... I did.

        It's a slow process, a process of dying to yourself, letting your dreams die with you, realizing that your life will never be the same again- and that person who you loved more than life itself will never be there again to walk this path with you. And it hurts. It hurts so bad. You know, I don't know if I'll ever find love again. I don't know if someone can accept my life, my past, and what I have been through. As President Bush told  me, "You're going to have a hard time finding another husband." Thank you, thank you Mr. President. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be. I have found true love, and I have experienced it, and I have lost it. All by the age of 25.

  When Chris died, I died.  I am not the same person I was on September 8, 2011. I have always been an old soul, and now I don't even know what I am- but I had to do a lot of things that I never thought I would have to do before I was even a quarter of a century old.You can never be prepared for certain events in life, they change you, and their consequences turn your world upside down. Meeting your husband’s casket as he makes his final journey home- then flying with him as he lies in cargo on his way to his final resting place. The prospect of never having children with him. Living the rest of my days without the one person that loved me unconditionally and never me down. Living my life alone.

God is slowing breathing life back into me, and I have emerged as a new person. You know, something changes in you, something is so different in your heart, in your soul and in your spirit when you lose what was once most important to you. When I lost Chris, I was cut in half, losing the biggest and best part of me. Now I am learning to be a whole person on my own. It's scary, it's hard, it's torturous. There comes a time when you realize your life is never going to be the same again, and as much as I love my little life in Tulsa, I have to move forward, I have to start my own life, and create my future. As painful as it is, Chris is never coming home and will never be part of my life again. I'm really not looking for compassion here, that's not why I am saying this, but I want you to know- you have NO idea how hard this is. How hard it is to let go of your love, your future, your hopes, your dreams, and your normal. Your security. But I have to. I have no choice. Life is going on whether I like it or not. As it moves on I have to make the choice to move with it or live back in time. Clinging on to the love and life that I had while slowing watching it fade and slip away in the distance.

         Each and every time I let go of something of his- I let go of a part of me. I can physically feel it. I dread cleaning out his side of the closet, getting rid of his treasures that I can't hold onto anymore. Our house is haunting me. I see him everywhere. It is time to "move on." I just don't know how. I feel like I'm in purgatory waiting for the next step of my life- waiting for God to show me what he wants for me.  A new life, a new love, a new future. I can't tell you how hard this is. But I have to do it. I'm trying, and I am moving forward. It's not easy, but I'm giving it all I've got. Each and every day I have to make a conscious decision to do so. It never comes easy- because it's not.

    I often tell people that I feel like I'm fifty. It is rare I can relate to people my age. A lot of them are still "finding out who they are"- when I have had to do that twice. I feel like I have lived two lifetimes. I have faced my worst fear- and I have made it through. I can honestly say I am not afraid of anything. What do I have to be afraid of? Having nothing to lose is a powerful thing. I am thankful I know what life is worth- the cost of sacrifice, the greatness of love, and the brevity of life. It's all I think about. Life is so short and so fleeting- too short to live in a world that is not here anymore, and will never be. Too short to not do the right thing and stand up for what you believe in. That is why I vow to make the most of my life and make sure I move ahead as my "new" life I have worked so hard for falls into place. Just like a wounded person- if I run before I am healed- it could cause worse damage and have negative effects on the rest of my life- because I wasn't willing to wait until I'm healed. Just like physical therapy, my healing is never fun, it's long, it's torturous, it's forcing myself to do what I don't want to do. Every single day. After much training, I think it's about time to run my marathon. Just waiting for the right race.


Woke up late today and I still feel the sting of the pain
But I brushed my teeth anyway
I got dressed through the mess and put a smile on my face
I got a little bit stronger

Riding in the car to work and I'm trying to ignore the hurt
So I turned on the radio,
song made me think of you

I know my heart will never be the same

But I'm telling myself I'll be okay
Even on my weakest days
I get a little bit stronger

 
 
janemhorton

This was started on September 11th, 2012.



    One year ago today, at approximately 4 am, my sister, Chris’s parents, Chris’s best friend and I traveled to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware to watch Chris’s body come back to America from Afghanistan. How ironic that it also happened to be the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and here we were welcoming Chris back home in a metal box covered with the American flag. What many don’t want to remember- I don’t want to forget. I never do. As painful as it is, it is reality, it's who I am, it is my story, my husband’s story, our story, and some of the moments where I really learned what I am made of- the moments that have defined me.

    I haven’t had this feeling in a long time- it’s a feeling I don’t want to have, a feeling I don’t want to remember…
See, as the one year anniversary of Chris’s death creeped up on me, I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t know that I would be transported in a time machine back to the very days when his death was fresh, back to the very day I was notified, and that I would experience the same feelings I had that I had forgotten about....they all came rushing back.

   As I drove in the car with mom tonight in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, I felt a feeling I haven’t felt in a long time. I couldn’t place my finger on what that feeling was or why it was so familiar- until it hit me. It was the same feeling I had on October 13th, the day it all ended- the day after Chris was finally buried, and I was alone to face the world. As my sister and my mom said goodbye to me in that D.C. hotel room, I felt a fear and vulnerability like none other I have ever experienced before. I cried and I cried, and there I was to face the world- alone. Chris was gone, I had finished the job set before me, he was honored well, and now I had to return home, to the unknown, to the scary, cold and lonely world. I can’t explain to you how I felt in that moment, but I felt like an orphan, saying goodbye to my only sense of security, watching my family fade away into the distance, knowing that I would be alone and naked in the streets trying to find my way home. I knew in that moment that reality was setting in, and it was time for me to start my new, unwanted life as a widow.  As much as they wanted to stay for me, and I wanted them to stay as well, I knew I had to do what I had to do, and I had to be weaned off of the support and see if I was strong enough to stand on my own.

   The average time between death and burial in America is about 6 days.  It took 33 days to bury my husband. 33 days of the hardest work- the most emotional and stressful days of my life.  33 days I had to learn to keep it together, to work through the pain, to struggle and  fight to keep my head together- because my husband deserved all I had left to give him.

     “Do you want a video of your husband arriving in Dover at his first dignified transfer?” WHAT????? I was asked this within twenty minutes or so of being notified my husband had just been killed in action. Was I really just  asked if I wanted a video of his dead body coming back to America? I had no idea what they were asking me, but it seemed pretty messed up to me. At that point I didn’t even know what a dignified transfer was, or how familiar I would become with the process. The day after I was notified that Chris was killed in action, I was told I needed to get some sleep and be ready for the media to be at my door. I had less than 24 hours before the world found out my husband had fallen. The military demands that you have someone with you at all times, especially the night you are notified. I couldn’t do it- I had to be alone. I had to try and process all that was happening- the fact that my husband was in heaven, and I would have to live the rest of my life without him. With all of these thoughts running through my head, I didn’t have much time to fret what was ahead, I had to tell everyone I could, everyone that needed to know that Chris had been killed. It's not really appropriate for certain people to find out on facebook or on social media that their best friend, cousin, and etc was gone. I knew I had a long day (days) ahead of me, but there was absolutely no sleeping that Friday night on September 9th- there was no way. I wasn’t even tired. I remember that week feeling like my heart was literally going to explode. I had never actually had a pain in my heart before, a real, physical pain- but it was there. I remember asking my brother a few days later if my heart could actually literally explode. I really thought it was going to.

     I remember watching the sun rise on the morning of the 10th, and thinking to myself I just wanted to put sweats on and not shower for days, but I realized I didn’t know who would be coming over, what would be happening, and whether I felt like it or not, I needed to be presentable. I had no choice. I had to the face the day, and it was coming whether I liked it or not.

    My family arrived from Cleveland later in the afternoon on September 10th, one by one piling into the house, hugging me with in somber faces full of disbelief and pain. Not soon after they arrived my sister and I were told we needed to get packing to head to Dover AFB, Delaware to receive Chris’s body, or as the military calls it “remains”. I hate that word. I was happy to hear he would be back so soon, because I wanted him out of Afghanistan, that treacherous country, so badly. I wanted him home- in the country that he lived so passionately for. After waiting all night for our flight, we were informed we would be leaving at 4 am on September 11th to go see Chris’s body come back to America. We spent some of the day on the 10th trying to find a dress for me or something nice to welcome Chris home. This may not make sense to you- but I wanted to look my best, I wanted to look beautiful for my husband when he came back. I had been waiting for this moment for months-  to finally have him back- but just not this way. Not this way. This was not the homecoming I had dreamed of and played over and over in my head, but I still was going to give him the best of me.

     This was the hardest night for me- my mom and my sister slept in the same room as me, and I kept crying and trying to sleep, but vivid pictures kept popping in my mind of my baby shot in the head. I literally couldn’t control my emotions. “Chris, no, not Chris”. “How could he have been shot in the head?” I remember feeling like a kid waking up from a hellish nightmare crying out these things, and my family trying to comfort me, but the images, the confusion, and the pain wouldn’t wane. This was a torturous night.

     As my Casualty Assistance Officer (CAO), my sister Rachel, Chris’s parents and I arrived at the airport, it seemed like an eternity before we would finally board the plane, and even a greater eternity until we met Chris’s best friend Tyler at the airport in Philadelphia. During this time was right about when the world would be finding out Chris was killed in Afghanistan, and two other brave soldiers were as well. See, up until this point, I wasn’t even told who was killed with him. I didn’t know any details, and it was just starting to come out. My phone didn’t stop ringing from this day up until at least a month and a half later. It literally never stopped. As we exited the plane, I remember dreading the “death” picture that the news would publish of Chris. See, what most people don’t know is the picture that they publish of the soldiers posing in front of the American flag is taken to release to the media if they are killed in action. So, when they go to take this picture, they know it is their “death” picture.  I had watched many other soldier’s “death” pictures released, and many of them had fear in their eyes, and the last thing I wanted to do is see this in my own husband.  I didn’t want to see some kind of premonition on his face that maybe he knew he wouldn’t be coming home. My sister finally loaded it on her phone, and there is was. I breathed a small sigh of relief. He looked fine. He just looked tired and like he thought this process was dumb and he was ready to get it over with. 

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    “Hello, Tyler.” There he was, Chris’s best friend, and the best man from our wedding. Tyler is one of the people who knew Chris the best. He spent 6 years in military school with him, they were roommates, and inseparable during those years. Well, Chris, Tyler, and their friend Zach. Zach was killed right out of high school, and now Chris. Tyler was now the only one left.

      We all were greeted by an Army team ready to take us in a van to Dover AFB. It was a dreadful day, but yet there was a closeness about it-all of us together, experiencing this. Chris was supposed to come in at 5 pm, but after receiving a call from a friend we found out it would be at 11 pm.  We arrived at the hotel and were greeted by a very professional Army staff of Chaplains and other personnel who brought us into a private room to explain what would be happening later that evening. They had us sign some paperwork, gave us $50 VISA gift cards to cover expenses and some hand knit "prayer shawls.'' I was asked if I wanted to allow the media at the transfer or not. I didn’t really understand what I was being asked in that moment in time, but I was given three choices. Either full media, no media, or a private taping of the transfer to be given to me and Chris’s parents that the media could end up requesting due to the Freedom of Information Act. I chose the third option. God knew what was best, and I am thankful I chose that option, because I was the only one of the five families that day to choose it- which meant Chris would come in alone, and no one else would be unloaded with him. I asked the Chaplains what happened after Chris died, who handled his body, where he was, and what the procedure was. I normally get pretty queasy with such details, but I wanted to know EVERYTHING. It was my husband, and I trusted the Army to take excellent care of his body, but I still hated not knowing, and I absolutely HATED that I wasn’t able to be there with him every step of the way. This is something I could never have understood before my experience losing Chris, but I wish I could have held him while he took his last breath. I wish I could have cleaned his wounds, cleaned the blood out of his fingernails, and been by his side as he made his journey back to America. But, I couldn’t.

      Later that evening as we were eating dinner and anxiously awaiting Chris’s arrival, I received the most important phone call of my life. See, up until this point, I had only heard rumors, and bits and pieces of what happened to Chris. I was trying to keep my head on straight, but I could not fathom or understand how my skilled husband, a sniper, was shot in the head. I didn’t know where he was shot, other than the fatal shot- I didn’t know what happened- other than about 20 different rumors floating around, and I just wanted and needed answers.

“Hello”- his voice was shaky. “Hi, please tell me what happened. I need to know.” This was when I was told  Chris was shot in the head twice, and once in the knee. (This was the original thought although not accurate)

”Did he have any last words?”

“No.”

    Many of you may be thinking I wanted to know this in case he might have said, “I love Jane.” Or, “tell her I love her.” Well, that is not why I was asking. I was asking because I know my husband, and I know that would not be the first thing out of his mouth. If my husband had any idea that the Taliban got him, he would be furious- he would be sooooo angry. I can’t even handle the thought of him knowing the enemy had killed him. Well, he didn’t, thank God. Chris was sleeping when he was killed- it was not his turn to be on guard. Chris feel asleep and woke up in heaven. I finally got a few answers, and felt a mild sense of relief in that area.

    After dinner as we were awaiting Chris's return, I went back to my hotel room and talked to Tyler a little bit, making sure he was ok. We were all in so much shock, the atmosphere was indescribable. I went back to my room to get ready, I settled on a black blouse and black pants. I looked and looked, but couldn’t find a dress Chris would like. He was so picky, and nothing quite worked.  I slowly got dressed and put my mascara on as my fingers shook. “He is almost here- he’s almost home.”

  Eleven pm rolled around, and we were told to load on the bus. As we rode though the gates to get to the Air Force Base, I felt a sense of excitement, a perverse sense of anticipation that I was going to see Chris- he was there! Chris was there, on that base. He was there waiting for me. I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to see him so badly, and shortly I would be with him. He just wasn’t alive.

    As the bus pulled up to Dover’s waiting rooms, several men in uniform were waiting for us- all lined up horizontally, and as the bus doors opened, they slowly saluted us. I couldn’t handle this, and I just lost it. This is something I could never get used to during the process of burying Chris, and still can't get used to. I appreciate it, and understand the meaning behind it, but Chris was an enlisted soldier, and never was saluted in his life, and now in his death, I get this honor? I couldn’t handle it. It made my stomach queasy. I would give anything for him to experience this honor. We walked in the facility where we were seated in one of several “hospitality rooms." They were nicely decorated, warm feeling, hotel lobby looking rooms where we waited for our turn to go on the flight line and see our soldier arrive. It was nice, rather comfortable, and the staff was incredible. We were given coffee, tea, fuzzy blankets, and fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. My former boss from when I interned for Senator Inhofe, Lazer, also came to be there for us- one of the biggest blessing we could ever receive. He cared enough about us to drive all the way from Washington D.C. after work to be with us for Chris’s arrival.


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The entrance to the Dover waiting room.

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Flags at the entrance to the Dover Air Force Base waiting room.

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The Dover AFB waiting room- where we sat for over 5 hours.


        Lightening started to strike and we were told that we had to wait for it to wane before the transfers could continue. Well, we waited from 11 pm until 4 am in that place until they finally resumed flights, and it was finally our turn to line up  and get back on the bus. I breathed slowly as we pulled up to the flight line, trying to control my tears and emotions with every ounce of my being. Never in my life have I felt so many emotions running through my veins. Never in my life have I been so tested to see what I am really made of- if I can make it through, if I can survive this horror. As I stepped foot off of the bus, there he was. It was a dark, rainy night, and the plane was massive! A huge Evergreen Airlines Cargo 747 with the lights shining on it, and one flag draped casket raised high on a lift. There was one lone soldier standing next to him saluting him. I’m surprised I didn’t faint. Every emotion I never knew I had went through my body as I slowly walked the flight line and took my seat. How could Chris be in that box? How could that be? That can’t be him. I just talked to him three days ago. I kept replaying the scenario in my head over and over again- Chris getting shot in the head and being in that cold, metal box. As they slowly lowered the lift Chris was on, I clung onto the very life inside my being- trying hard not to let it be snatched from me. I felt like someone punched me in the stomach with a steel fist. I couldn't breathe. As the lift reached the ground, the only thing I wanted to do is run up and hug the casket. I wanted to get close to Chris, to make him ok, to fix everything for him. I needed to touch that casket. But I couldn’t. As the six soldiers picked him up in unison and walked him to that plain, white truck to load his body, I felt my life, my dreams, my heart shatter like a glass vase on a concrete floor. I felt such sympathy for Chris. I felt limp; I felt helpless. I wanted to make it better, to tell Chris I loved him, to fix it, but he was gone.

   They loaded Chris into a white truck, they shut the door and drove off to the mortuary. I cried the whole way back to the hotel as we all sat on the bus surrounded by the most somber silence you could ever experience in your life. We arrived back at the hotel and said goodbye to Lazer. He ended up going to work the next day in the same suit he had come in from the day before because he stayed with us the whole night through. He was our  guardian angel that day. I slept for maybe two hours that night, woke up from a soggy sleep, and packed up to go back home and face the chaos back there. I felt like I had just come out of surgery. I had no energy, could barely grasp my surroundings, but once again, I had to snap out of it. I had the biggest mission of my life ahead of me- I had to make sure Chris received all the honor he deserved. He trusted me to take care of him in his life, and in his death. What a great honor, and what a great responsibility.

   We had to say bye to Tyler, but knew we would see him soon for the funeral. We boarded our plane, and Rachel sat down in the seat next to me. “Rachel, they didn’t seat us together- what about the person who is supposed to be sitting here.”  “I’ll handle it Jane.” As the guy wandered back to his seat, he looked at us with confusion. Rachel asked him nicely if she could please switch seats. He said a harsh no. She explained to him that we really needed to sit together. He said no again. She said, “My sister’s husband just died and we really need to sit together.” He finally said ok, and made his way to the back of the plane. That ride was horrible. I just cried and cried and cried. When we got to our first layover, I got a call from the local news. See, seven soldiers from the Oklahoma National Guard were killed before Chris, and I had the opportunity to watch the families throughout their grief process, and how the news handles it and etc. They normally find a school teacher to interview because the family is too distraught to do interviews. And that is totally fine. But, with Chris, I wanted to make sure people knew exactly who he was, and the only way to do that was for me to do the interviews myself. I was his wife- the closest thing to him, and it was just something I had to do. Well, the news told me they were airing the story that night, and if I didn’t want them to run a generic story on Chris, they needed to meet me at the airport to do the interview. Oh boy. I was a mess. My makeup was in my carry-on, and I had been crying and hadn’t slept at all. I have never had to reach more into my soul, pull myself together, and see what I am made of more than this moment. I did NOT want to do that interview. But I had to. As I exited the plane and walked through the door into the baggage area, there were cameras filming me. I freaked out! This was not what I agreed to. I would do a nice sit down interview with them, but I wasn’t going to play the, “Watch the widow get off the plane crying” game. Nope. The media apologized and took me outside to do a nice interview. I sucked up my grief and it went well. Chris’s brother Nick also did some wonderful interviews that day, letting the world know what an awesome brother he had. We did our very best to represent Chris well.

Here are the interviews from that day :

http://www.fox23.com/news/local/story/Wife-of-fallen-soldier-remembers-her-husband/40wSVdUZZE2ZkARXx59Bxw.cspx

http://www.news9.com/story/15445845/collinsville-military-wife-determined-to-honor-husbands-sacrifice

Next up is the Tulsa dignified transfer- when Chris's body came back home. When the community lined the streets with American flags, and the police escorted us to the funeral home where I got to lay eyes on Chris for the first time.

  
Here are some of the actual pictures of Chris's first dignified transfer at Dover AFB.
































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janemhorton
06 August 2012 @ 01:35 am

 On August 18th, 2011 Chris wrote from Afghanistan to a boy from his parent's church who had aspirations of becoming a sniper:

Hi Reagan,
I was about your age when I decided I wanted to be a sniper.  I'd be happy
to talk to you some time about it if you remain serious about it.  The path
to becoming a sniper is by no means easy and if you complete your training,
it is a very hard and lonely job.  It isn't what you see in the movies or in
video games.  As a sniper you will work harder than everyone else.  You'll
find yourself often deep behind enemy lines cut off from reinforcements and
supplies.  You work alone with your teammate.  Everyone wants to be you, but
no one understands your job, not even your command, which makes your job
very difficult.  It is a very difficult but rewarding career, but don't make
this decision lightly.  There is no other job in the military like it.
You'll soon find, as I did, that if you stick with this decision you'll face
a lot of opposition within your close circle of family and friends.

Snipers have basically two reputations.  One is the selfless elite hero that
moves around the battlefield alone and undetected, a true bane of the
enemy.  The other is a dirty sneaky assassin, honor-less and evil.  The
latter, of course, is far from the truth, yet if you stick with this path,
you'll be accused of this by people you know.  If you're serious about this,
there is nothing I or anyone else can do or say to convince you one way or
another, because if I or anyone else could convince you to abandon your
path, then you were never going to make it anyway.

In the mean time, focus on your work in school.  There are certain test
scores required to enter sniper school.  They only take the best and the
brightest the military has to offer.  Less than one percent of the military
are snipers and everyone wants to be one, but 99% don't have what it takes.


Good luck in school.

Regards,

Christopher Horton




     The U.S. Army Sniper School is one of the hardest and most coveted schools in the Army. Many soldiers claim to be snipers, and many others say that they know a sniper, but in reality, a "real" sniper is extremely rare. Chris joined the Army to be a sniper. He knew that he had a gift to shoot, and wanted to use that gift to be an asset in the military to serve his country. Chris worked hard to secure a spot in sniper school, and in October 2010, he passed with flying colors. I was so proud of him, and he was even prouder of himself. A little known fact is that Chris was writing a book on being a sniper, and I have it. He wrote about sniper school, about being at war, and the true job that a sniper does while deployed. I fought tooth and nail to make sure the military didn't delete his book from his computer. See, when there is casualty, they swipe the hard drive on their computers before their family receives their belongings from Afghanistan, and I knew his book was on there, and fought every day to make sure this didn't happen. I plan to publish it just as he did. Chris's sniper partner was writing the other half, and has the half about the incident Chris didn't survive. This book means so much to me because it meant so much to Chris, and it is the stories he will never be able to tell us.



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Those that made it through sniper school. I love the smirk on Chris's face- he was so proud and had every right to be.


     Being a sniper was not just something Chris thought would be cool, it was his passion and calling. Over the past year I have been slowly piecing together stories and snippets of what happened to my brave husband. I heard a theory several months ago, but pretty much had it solidified a few days ago. Chris's small kill team (SKT) was not randomly stumbled upon, Chris was targeted. This is not easy for me to swallow. During sniper school Chris called me and told me more guys dropped out after they were shown graphic videos of what usually happens to snipers in a war zone. He laughed and said that those that really don't want to do it and don't want to take the risk shouldn't be there anyway. It's true. Being a sniper is one of the most dangerous jobs in Afghanistan right now, and in the region where Chris was, they hated snipers. Chris knew this, and he didn't care. He still proudly toted his prized possession- his Remington XM2010. Some do not agree with this theory, but those that know the story best and the area have told me this, and swear it to be true. They allege that he was watched all day long, and that when they came to attack, they targeted him. In fact, all that were killed were next to Chris, and Chris and his rifle took the most rounds. Deep in his heart, Chris really wanted to protect you and I, serve his country, and do his duty. He felt the best way to do this and use his God given talents was to be a sniper- as dangerous as it may be- and he died for it. He not only died for it- he was targeted for it.
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Another little known fact is that Chris wore a nametape that said "Christopher" instead of Horton. He told me that once the enemy and locals saw his sniper rifle, they would be trying to gather information about him.

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   When Chris died and I heard how many rounds his sniper rifle took, I immediately wanted to see it. The last thing Chris gave me before he left was a bullet out of his sniper rifle, and a round. The bullet is called a hogstooth.

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He was a little nervous to give it to me, he didn't know if I would like it or not. Of course I did. I loved it. I knew what it meant to him, and how hard he had worked to be able to carry that rifle. It was his pride and joy, and it was the reason he joined the Army in the first place. I was told that it was pretty much destroyed, and that it would stay in Afghanistan. My heart sunk, but I moved on and forgot about it. Well, that was until a couple days ago when I found out it made its way back to Tulsa with the unit's gear almost a year later. My heart stopped. I almost panicked. How could this be true? His rifle is back? Was it in it's original form? Did it still bear the rounds from the incident? Had it been cleaned? Could I actually see his sniper rifle? I couldn't handle it anymore- I had to see it. Just knowing it was so close, I had to see my husband's prized possession.

   This morning I woke up from a soggy sleep- I was too excited and anxious to actually get a good rest. I got up, got dressed and headed off to Chris's old armory, where he did all of his training and monthly drills. I found myself barely able to control my emotions. This was the same armory I dropped him off at to go to basic training a week or so after we got engaged. It was also where I came to attend numerous holiday parties and small events. Not only that, but it was where I said goodbye to Chris and dropped him off his last day in Tulsa. All of these memories came flooding back. As I walked in the doors, my heart was racing, Chris's sniper rifle was soon to be in my arms.

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   I sat in an empty office with a few soldiers and a fellow widow, and in walked my husband's best friend with his rifle. It caught me off guard, and I had to get up and leave. Not just for me, but for Chris's best friend. It was the first time he had seen it as well. He was shaking. We went in another private room, and I looked over his rifle like a mother examining her newborn. I just couldn't believe here I was, at his training facility, without him, and with his rifle eleven months later. It was a surreal moment. Chris's rifle was not in good shape. This $10,000 weapon was tainted with bullet holes and speckled wounds throughout. Not only this, but the bi-pod and suppressor were missing because they had been completely destroyed. I cried. There it was. It hadn't even been cleaned. My husband's dirt still covered his war companion- but he was no where to be found. This weapon is similar to wearing a huge target in Afghanistan, that rifle is massive, and is very, very hated because of the skills and power of the man who earned the right to carry it. This man just didn't make it home.

   We put the rifle away for a few hours so we could tend to other business, and then we got it back out again. The mood between the soldiers was somber, it was one of those moments where reality hits you like a ton of bricks. Horton's sniper rifle was back, but he was not.  It made his death real, seeing his rifle so beat up was devastating for many to see. A few of the snipers and I again went into another room and looked over his rifle. It was the first time they had seen it as well. It is a moment I will never forget. Many of you won't get this at all, and some will completely get it. There was so much emotion in that room.  I finally had to head out and the soldiers put Chris's prized possession away. I left more shaken up than I had been in months. I tried to buy that rifle, I just wanted to keep it, but I was denied.

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    See, there are times when the cost of war really hits me hard. There are times when I live my life and things seem to be ok, but there are times when it all makes sense. When reality hits home, and the war hits home. To see Chris's rifle in such a devastated condition made me feel like I was drowning, it made me feel like I was in a room filled with heavy, warm air, I could barely breathe. My husband was shot to death for carrying a huge target in his hands- his rifle. I just hope this blog helps reality hit home for you as well. Not because I want you to feel sorry for me, but I want you to understand my husband's heart. His bravery, his sense of honor and duty, his talent, and his sacrifice. It was not small. I'm starting to realize mine is no small dosage either. This is pure torture.

   With all of this in mind, I couldn't be more proud of Chris for working so hard to fulfill his dream of being a sniper. He truly gave this goal his all. Little did he know he would truly give it all for his dream. But- he chose that job, and he knew damn well the danger that went a long with it.


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When I had to decide what two lines with 13 characters each that I would use to describe Chris on his gravestone, I knew I had to include sniper.

    

 

 
 
 
janemhorton
    I don't really know how to explain grief or loss, but there are just some days when it slaps you in the face. That's a little bit of a light way of putting it, so lets just say a boulder falls on your face. Sometimes I feel like I can't breathe.

    Many days when I walk around, my heart is vulnerable,defenseless, and it is raw, but I go on with my day and my life anyway. I have to. It has a small protective layer over it, so usually I am ok. But, there are some days like today, where I feel as if there is absolutely no protection surrounding my heart at all. My heart is completely open, as exposed and raw as possible. Anything can pierce it, anything can cause it pain. It is just wide open with no protective layer. I feel like I am naked, alone in the center of New York City. Today is by far one of the hardest days for me since Chris died.

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    Three years ago my dreams came true. Three years ago I married the love of my life. I will never forget the look on his face when I walked down that aisle and made eye contact with him. Talk about butterflies. When I walked down the aisle in awe of my true love, little did I know that I would only have a little over two short years with him. God only knew, yet he still wanted Chris and I to have each other for the short period of time we did. When I was younger and I watched A Walk to Remember, or similar movies where the couple chose to get married even though they knew time was short- I always wondered why they would do that. Well now I know. I wouldn't trade those two short years of marriage for anything.


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        Chris and I wasted no time in our relationship. We knew right away we were in, and this was it. The "I love yous" came very fast, and the proposal even faster. Chris and I were engaged after a little over two months of dating.
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  Chris and I were engaged so fast, no one even really knew who we were dating. Most of you who didn't really know Chris or I- this was not normal or to be expected of our personalities. See, I never really dated until Chris. There was never really anybody that had a stronger personality than me and could stand up and be the "man" in the relationship. And, for Chris, as his uncle said at his funeral, no one thought he would be married until at least 35. But, we just knew.  We both had the same goals in life, the same dreams, and the same aspirations.
We were perfect for each other. We loved to talked about politics, we loved to go fishing and shoot guns, and we both loved each other.

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A letter Chris wrote me in basic training.

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      On August 1, 2009, I gave my life to Chris. I have him my everything, and I didn't look back. He did the same. I couldn't believe I never had to be alone again, I would always have someone there- someone to love me, to build a life with me, and to fall in love with each and every day. God had no doubt hand picked Chris just for me, and I for him. Kind of like this song:

When God Made You


It's always been a mystery to me
How two hearts can come together
And love can last forever
But now that I have found you, I believe
That a miracle has come
When God sends the perfect one
Now gone are all my questions about why
And I've never been so sure of anything in my life

I wonder what God was thinking
When He created you
I wonder if He knew everything I would need
Because He made all my dreams come true
When God made you
He must have been thinking about me

I promise that wherever you may go
Wherever life may lead you
With all my heart I'll be there too
From this moment on I want you to know
I'll let nothing come between us
And I will love the ones you love
Now gone are all my questions about why
And I have never been so sure of anything in my life

He made the sun
He made the moon
To harmonize in perfect tune
One can't move without the other
They just have to be together
And that is why I know it's true
You're for me and I'm for you
Cause my world just can't be right
Without you in my life



     Chris and I were anything but ordinary. We wanted our wedding to be very special, and we wanted to do everything ourselves, and this included writing our vows together. We wanted them to be extremely significant, we wanted them to be as heartfelt as could be. Anyone who knew Chris will understand what a big deal it was to get him to sit down and write vows with me. It meant a lot to him too. I decided to look them over today and revisit them. Little did I know what I would see. These are the verses and vows we chose. Little did I know how significant they would be in our future.


Ruth 1:16-17

But Ruth replied "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go, I will go and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.
Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me."



Song of Songs 8:6-7 "Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; For love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, It would be utterly scorned"


From this day on, I choose you, my beloved Jane, to be my wife.
With our future as bright as the promises of God, I will care for you, honor and protect you and I will love you at all times and in all circumstances.  I lay down my life for you, Jane, my friend and my love. Today I give to you me.


On September 23, 2011, I walked down another aisle where Chris waited for me on the other end. Everyone stared at me as I walked slowly, but my eyes were fixed on one thing- Chris. Instead of wearing white, I wore black. My love for him never changed, but this time it was stronger than ever. I can't explain to you what I felt that day, but the entire funeral I felt like it was only Chris and I in that room. Many ask me how I had the courage to get up and speak at my husband's funeral in front of hundreds of people. Well, I felt as if it were only him and I there. No one else existed- only me and my love. Everything I did was for him.  A little over two years prior Chris pledged his life to protect me, even unto death, and he did. He gave his life for me, and for you.


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Our love story isn't over- it's just different. It's the time for me when I can truly show Chris my love- when he can do nothing in return for me. It's the time when my vows me the most, and when I'm more loyal than ever. I promised Chris I would love and protect him, even when he is most vulnerable, even in death. Happy 3rd Anniversary Chris. I will always love you.

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janemhorton
30 July 2012 @ 04:09 pm
        "Hi, Captain, it's very nice to meet you." "It's nice to meet you as well, may I ask your husband's name?" This is when I was interrupted by the Captain's wife who proceeded to scold him under her breath, "Don't you know she's a widow?" I'm sorry, ma'am. I forgot to brand it across my forehead.

        Later that night, I was enjoying the evening with two friends who also lost their husbands in Afghanistan. A lady who  knew them but not me felt the need to tell everyone who was part of our conversation that I was at "that" table with them. She said it over and over, as if I wouldn't know what she was referring to, and as if her friends would somehow pick up on the fact that I was a widow as well. I was careful to make sure I didn't touch anyone that night, to make sure they didn't get infected with my disease. "That" table felt almost like a scientific observation- where everyone just observed what the "widows" were doing, how they were acting, and their every move. But, no one dared to approach the specimens. Only the bravest of the brave.

        This brings me to the reason why I decided to name this blog "leprosy".  I have often compared my status of being a war widow to this incongruous disease. As soon as people find out that I have this derangement, they run away as fast as they can and do not want to get near me. As sad as this may sound to many of you, it is the truth. It is a common trend that I've heard all around the world with people who have lost someone close to them. The general public does not know how to deal with death or loss. I do not mean this blog to be mean to those of you that do not know how to deal with death or address someone who has been so closely affected by it. I am just trying to be real, to be honest, and let you see what my life is like, what our lives our like- as an American war widow.

      Whether it be my neighbors who stare at me when I walk outside, and when I turn my head to look back and smile, they quickly turn the other way and pretend they never noticed me, or whether it be my own best friends who don't know what to say to me, so they say nothing at all- the world seems to love avoiding me. Many of you who will be reading this don't know me. I don't walk around sulking in my own misery. I am the same person I always was, but I have lost a huge part of me. I don't start crying at the drop of the hat, and don't make situations awkward. I am about as normal as open as someone in my situation can be. I just have one problem...I love to talk about Chris. I love to talk about his life, his accomplishments, and our love. The problem is, other people do not want to talk about it with me. They don't know how to address the issue, or even to let me talk about it with them. I recently took off my wedding ring because I needed a break from the questions. Not for my sake, but for everyone elses. See, I don't mind telling people my husband gave his life for their freedom- they are the ones that cannot handle it. They are the ones that change the subject or all the sudden have to go to the bathroom. Or, they tell me that they know exactly what I am going through because they just lost their dog. Or, they say, "Oh, I just sprained my ankle, I know exactly what you're feeling." I know people mean well, but people just have no idea how to deal with death. Please don't compare my husband's horrific war death to your goldfish dying.

      See, when someone loses someone special in their life, I've noticed that they still want to talk about them, but other people do not want to talk about it with them. In my situation, where my husband was killed in war, I want to talk about him all the time. I want people to know about the sacrifice he made. Chris cannot walk around and show people his battle wounds, or his Purple Heart, because he is dead. The only scar of his that remains is me. I am the only remnant of his sacrifice. There is no one to remember him unless I do- and you do. We must preserve his memory, and let people know that there's still true patriots that are willing to give it all for the American dream, and the concept unknown to the world other than America- freedom. Please don't let him be forgotten.


        After Chris was killed, many thought and assumed that the military community rallied around me. A few people did, but those that were closest to us fled far away. I want you to know that this is not a blog to make anyone feel bad, to point fingers, or to say anything negative publicly. I am simply stating what happened in my life. All of the military wives that I had some kind of contact with previously ran far away.  Nobody knew what to say to me, and nobody wanted to look at me. I needed help, and no one was there. I was a fresh open wound, I represented their worst fear- and I still do. To this day many people will not look at my face, they will not get close to me. I go to functions, I smile, I say hi. Some people come and just want to hug me, but most, run far away. It's almost as if I'm a leper. People do not want to face their fears, they do not want to face reality that a soldier has been killed, and people do die in war. Although the general public cares, and they want to be there, there's only a small group of people that really get my husband's sacrifice. America likes to be an America at peace, and a military at war. They don't want to know what goes on over there, they like to live in their little peaceful houses, with their little wicker outdoor sets, and barbecues, and they don't want to face the reality that people like you and I, their next-door neighbors, are dying in Afghanistan and Iraq. America's war weariness is very high, they're sick of this war. Many just want to forget about it. I have even been asked if we are still in Afghanistan. Many people thought the war ended years ago. People do not pay attention to the news- they do not pay attention to our country.

    They say that if you don't know what to say, don't say anything at all. I do not agree with this. We want you to say something, we want to know you care. We are not going to infect you with a disease. Do not be afraid to ask me questions about my husband, do not be afraid to talk to me about him. Believe it or not, we are not flooded with help. None of us are. Don't be afraid to offer help- or to just do something without asking. After my husband died, so many people thought I was overwhelmed with help, but this was not the case at all. It was the same with almost every other war death I am familiar with- very few people actually were there for us. We are living the cost of war- it is our life. Do not be afraid to approach us- do not be afraid to acknowledge our loss, or our life. It's always more awkward and more offending when someone doesn't mention the elephant in the room. When my husband first died, and I would see people that I haven't seen since he was killed, it was always more awkward when I knew they wanted to tell me that they were sorry for my loss, but they didn't know how to say it and didn't want to offend me. It was always much better once they got it out of the way, and then we could move on with our conversation.


      Please remember that nothing you will ever do or or say will change the fact that I still think about Chris every minute of every day. So if you bring him up, it's not like, "Oh my gosh I forgot this happened, and you just reminded me." It's not something that I'm ever going to forget about, and it's not something that will ever bother me to be brought up. It is the greatest honor of my life to be Mrs. Christopher David Horton, and it always will be my honor to keep his memory alive. After all, not many men lived with such a sense of honor, duty, and patriotism as him. It is a story that needs to be told, and a hero that needs to be remembered.

 
 
Current Location: Owasso, Oklahoma
 
 
janemhorton
13 July 2012 @ 01:20 am

   On June 15, 2011 I kissed my husband goodbye, told him I loved him, to be safe, and that I would be waiting for him to come home to me. Chris was like a little boy anticipating Christmas morning with big bulging eyes, he couldn't wait to finally get to Afghanistan and do what he had worked so hard and trained to do. Many civilians don't understand the way soldiers think, but they want to deploy, and Chris wanted to do nothing more than to defend his country as a sniper. It's like a fireman who is finally on his first call to fight a fire, or a surgeon performing his first surgery. He had trained so long to do this, and I was the last goodbye between him and finally going to do what he had trained to do for years prior. The last week we were together there were several times I would just look at him and cry. He would ask me why I was crying, and then told me not to worry, it's only a year, and he'd be back soon. I really never thought anything would happen to him, but I also wasn't naïve of the fact that he was going to be in great danger.  Chris was the most confident man I have ever met. I can honestly say that he never questioned whether he would come home. He always knew that he would be back. That night in Hattiesburg Mississippi, when I gave my husband the last kiss that I would ever give him, I said goodbye and walked away tearfully. Not because I thought I wouldn't see him again, but because I knew it was a long road ahead. There would be many sleepless nights, many weeks without talking to him or knowing what he was doing, and I would have to trust in God like never before. I didn't know what it would be like to be away from my husband for a whole year. Little did I know it would be a lifetime.



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Our last picture together on our last night together.


    A few days went by after I returned home to Tulsa, and I didn't hear from Chris. I finally received a call from Manas Air Force Base,  Kyrgyzstan, and Chris's voice was on the other line. " Hi Jane, It's Chris. I'm in Kyrgyzstan." I just burst into tears. I tried to hide it from him, but I couldn't. My baby was really on his way to war. Chris was so excited to be there, and he told me about a lead Stalin figure that he had bought at a local market as well as some ancient coins. He told me about the beautiful mountains there and how it was like no place he had ever been. I would always get mad at Chris and wonder why I never heard from him and everyone else heard from their husbands, but he always assured me that he would contact me as soon as he could and not a minute sooner. He always told me that he loved me and not to worry. As Chris got closer and closer to Afghanistan, he still never showed fear, each step along the way as he got closer, he was more and more excited to finally be there. I had a really rough start to the deployment, I was so scared when he first left. It was finally hitting me that my husband was at war. One misplaced bullet, and he could be gone. Not only that, but I was scared to death of him getting over there, I was so worried that someone might shoot the plane down or something might happen. These feelings only lasted for a couple days, and then I finally got used to the reality of being a wife with a husband deployed. Every night before I went to bed I prayed Psalm 91 over him, I wrote letters almost every day, and every time I would go to the store I would think of something new and unique to put in a care package for him. I always wanted him to feel my love- I wanted to do anything I could do to make his deployment easier, so that he could have a better time over there. If there's anything I could do for him I was trying to do it. It was all I could do while he was at war.

    I heard from Chris about once a week, sometimes the gap was even longer, and sometimes I'd hear from him for a few minutes every day for a few days. I would sleep with my laptop open with the sound as high as it could go in case he wrote me on Facebook throughout the night. There were many times when I missed his messages, and I would wake up in the morning with the sickest feeling in my gut that I have ever felt before. If I would miss him, it could be days or weeks before I got to speak to him again. I also always slept with my phone on my chest, in case I didn't hear the noise at least I could hopefully feel it vibrate. There's never a moment when my eyes were not on my phone, in case I might just happen to get a call from him. Not only this, but one thing that was hard for me to fathom was that while I was in my bed peacefully sleeping, my husband was at war. He would be in the middle of firefights, have RPG's shot at him, and IEDs blown up under him, while I was in my bed sleeping, and America blissfully slept along with me. This took me a long time to swallow. It was hard for me to sleep at first, not out of worry, but because I couldnt fathom sleeping when my husband was in so much danger. Not only my husband, but all of our soldiers.

     Weeks went by, and I sent Chris care package after care package, letter after letter, I did all I could from the faraway distance. On July 29, 2011 things got real. Two Oklahoma National Guard soldiers were killed. First Lieutenant Ewy and specialist Augustus Vicari were killed in an IED attack. Ewy had a gorgeous wife and a precious two month old little girl. Vicari had a beautiful wife as well. My heart broke for them. I couldn't imagine what it would feel like getting that knock at the door. Over the next month, five more soldiers were killed. One of them was one of Chris's best friends, Staff Sgt. Kirk Owen. I have never seen my husband so shaken before then when Owen was killed. I didn't know what to do, I didn't know what to say to his wife. So many weird things were happening to the widows of the fallen soldiers and their families. I didn't want to be one of those people that just added them on Facebook after-the-fact to tell them how my husband was best friends with theirs. So, I did nothing. I was pretty shaken up because I had never seen my husband so upset. Little did we know that a little over a month later, Chris would also lose his life in the Afghan war. Never could I have imagined, and neither could he.

    It was a scary time for all the families of the Oklahoma National Guard. We didn't know when the next blackout would be, or when the next casualty would be. We never knew what was happening or who would die next. To put this in perspective, the Oklahoma National Guard replaced the Iowa National Guard in Afghanistan. During the Iowa National Guard's deployment, they lost two soldiers in a year. We were up to seven in under a month. Chris still did not show fear. He showed anger and frustration -he didn't agree with everything that was happening. He also didn't like the way things were being done. But he still was not afraid. I tried not to live in fear, I was constantly praying for Chris and calling everyone I knew to make sure they were praying as well. Even though I was afraid, I never thought it could happen to me. I never thought I could get that knock at the door.

    Chris told me I probably wouldn't hear from him in the next couple of weeks because they were planning for a really big mission. When I talked to him on September 7, 2011, and I said I love you and he said he had to go, I didn't think anything when I didn't hear from him for a couple days. On September 9th, I woke up, went to class, and went to the store to get some groceries and ingredients to make little birthday cakes in a jar to send to him for his birthday. I had been planning to get together with one of the fellow sniper's wifes who was going to teach me how to make these cakes that supposedly make it all the way to Afghanistan. She came over for the first time, and we were busy mixing cake batter when I received a knock at the door. It was not a normal knock, it was a strong double rap. When we heard the knock we looked at each other and I laughed, and I said to her how we military wives love knocks at the door. I went to get the door and looked through the peephole, and there they were. Two Army officers in dress blues. Nobody had to say anything to me, I didn't even have to open the door, I knew what they were going to tell me. As a military wife, many will say that when they saw the officers at their door, they thought they were coming to tell them that their husband had been injured. I knew better than that, military officers do not come to your door in dress blues unless they have one thing to tell you, and that is that your husband has been killed. It was just like the movies, I looked through the peephole, and said, "Oh my God". I opened the door and the Major looked at me and asked if I was Mrs. Horton. I said yes. She began to say..." We are sorry to inform you that Specialist Christopher Horton was killed on September 9, 2011 at 4:13 PM from a gunshot wound to the head." She began tearing up and could barely get the words out. Wait, September 9th? I thought. That was today! How could this be? I didn't do anything dramatic, I didn't fall to the floor, I didn't scream I didn't even cry. I just stood there in shock. What honestly ran through my mind was, is everyone in Afghanistan dead? Did they get in a massive firefight with the whole country? How was such a skilled sniper shot in the head? Something had to have gone terribly wrong for Chis to have been killed.  I had no idea what happened, and I just wanted answers. Who was killed with him? What happened? Could this really be happening. The second thing that went through my mind was oh my gosh, my husband is standing before the Lord, and has entered eternity. I couldn't wrap my mind around that, and it was the most sobering thing I have ever had to process in my mind. When someone you're so intimate with and you are so close with is no longer on this earth, it is a it is a very hard thing to comtemplate and even try to understand. Little did I know in that minute or so of being notified of my husband's death, what the next several months of my life would be like, let alone the next 24 hours. My next post will be merely on the hour after I was notified, and the chaos that ensued thereafter.

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPhone.

 
 
 
 
janemhorton
12 July 2012 @ 03:15 pm
    Yesterday I went to write something on Chris's Facebook wall, and I accidentally hit send message. His messages opened up and there they were- what I have been avoiding for months. Am I hiding from the fact that my husband is gone? No, not at all. These messages are the last time that I ever spoke to my husband, and the last words that he ever said to me. When I opened up his messages and I read our last conversations, it felt as if he was still here. As I scrolled through the pages, there lied the same sarcastic and creative analogies that he would always say. He told me how much he missed me, and mostly, how much he can't wait to be back in his beloved America. When I read these messages, I just felt as if someone was ripping open wounds that are trying to heal. They say that grief is like a deep cut and over time that cut will continue to heal and heal and it won't hurt and sting so much. I really do not think that's true. The cut is always there, it just sometimes needs different medicine, it needs a new type of bandage. Sometimes, someone accidentally bumps into your wound, you run hot water over it, or it catches an infection. Once in a while you have to take off that bandage, and you have to put new medicine on it. You have to cover it back up and continue on with your life, even though you know there is a deep wound that hurts very much. It's the only thing you can do to survive. You can't live your life continually staring at that wound, or writhing in pain. You can't continue reliving how you got it and wish that you never had it -It will always be there, and it will always hurt. It just becomes a part of your life.

     As I read Chris's messages, I felt a sense of relief, because I felt like he was here with me. Things became so real, it felt like my life had never changed, and soon Chris would be coming home to me. Many may think that this is not a bad place to let my mind wander, but I cannot live in a dream world pretending that my Christopher is still alive. He is not. He is not here anymore, and he will never be. Last night after I spent an hour or so reading some of our messages through Facebook, I had one of the best dreams I've had in a while- I dreamed that Chris had come home, and that I bought a new house, and was showing him around it. He was just the way he always was- he wasn't sure if he really liked the house or not, but he was very happy to be back. It was a wonderful place to be, and a place where Chris was exactly who he always was, with the same personality, and the same relationship that we enjoyed and shared together. But there's nothing more painful than waking up to the reality that I'll never have that relationship, or spend another moment again with him on this earth. Today I cannot stop thinking about that dream, I just want to go back to sleep and be in that place where he still lives, and he's still the Christopher that I married and that I pledged my life to.

      Lately, I've been asked if I'm ready to move on, or even if I have moved on. Many people say Chris would want me to move on and I need to move on with my life. I have. Moving on does not mean that I have to be in a relationship with another man. It means that I have come to terms with reality that my husband is gone and he's not coming back again. It's learning how to deal with the grief and the emotions while functioning in this world full of people that do not understand my pain. It means that I'm continuing on with my life, down the path that would make Chris proud, down the path that I was meant for, doing what I was meant to do and what God made me for. I have moved on, but that doesn't mean that time does not stand still on September 9, 2011, when my Christopher was killed. It doesn't mean, that when I see his picture, I hear the song that was played when I walked down the aisle, or when I see a family welcoming home a soldier at the airport, that my heart doesn't drop, and my eyes don't start to water. Moving on does not mean that I'm just going to forget what love is, what it feels like to be held by him, or to have companionship that I'll never lose.

      As I was reading Chris's and my Facebook messages, I read our last conversation together on September 7, 2011. It was the last time that I ever talked to him- I just wish we would have known. I wish we would've had some kind of idea that we would never be able to say anything to each other again. I always told him that I loved him and I always told him I couldn't wait for him to be back in my arms. I know that he knew that, and I know that he felt my love. I just wish I would've had some kind of inclination he would be gone, but I can honestly say I had none. While I was home in Cleveland before I came to Lebanon, I was talking to my sister and I told her that for over 12 hours Chris had been dead and I had no idea. I never actually took the time to calculate the time difference to when he was killed my time, because I didn't really want to know. Well, I finally calculated it, and on September 9th, I woke up, went to school that morning, continued on with my normal routine, and even had a friend over- I did all of this that day without having any idea that my husband was killed earlier that morning. There were times when I knew he was in danger, and I stayed up all night praying for him. There were many, many nights like this, and when I would talk to him he would confirm that he was in danger that very same moment I felt it in my heart. How could this be, that when he was actually killed, I had no idea. On the night he died, I slept like a baby. This is one thing I will never understand.

    So, for those of you that have asked me if I have moved on, what am I supposed to say? The answer is no. I will never move on. I will always carry my husband in my heart, where he will always stay, and I will always protect him with the warmth of my love and our memories together. It is the least I can do for him, to be loyal to him, even unto death. Does this mean that I'll never find love again? No, it does not mean that. I have no idea what is in store for me. Let me ask you something- when you lose your grandmother do you ever stop loving her? No. So how can you expect me to ever stop loving my husband. Maybe one day someone will understand this, and they can accept it. It is always something I'll carry in my heart. It's not something I am ashamed of, it's not something I can't let go of, it's my honor.

       Throughout these past 10 months, my feelings, and my thoughts, and my journey have changed. But my love and my dedication, my respect, and my passion to preserve my husband's memory and legacy will never change. This is what I owe to him, and this is the least I can do for him. He gave his life for me, and trusted me enough to be his wife, and to take care of him not only in this world, but after, when there is nothing in return for me. That is what true love is.