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.
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.
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