U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel Hinton
Growing up, I was always was in awe of those who served in the military, even though I wasn’t related to anyone who did. My appreciation grew when I was in high school, when 9/11 happened. I spent much of my free time then volunteering at the local USO, sending letters, and packing care packages for those who volunteered to go to take the fight to enemy, trying in my own way as a high school student to understand the gravity of it all.
On Sept. 9, 2011, my husband, Spc. Christopher Horton, was killed in action in Paktia, Afghanistan. My world shattered. As I struggled to look through the kaleidoscope lens that made up my life, I couldn't focus, I couldn't eat, and I could barely breathe. I didn't understand why God would take away my husband so soon, or why he chose me to live on alone and carry this great burden. I was drowning in grief, heartbroken and almost hopeless.
A little over a month ago, I made the journey of a lifetime that I never really knew if I would actually get to take. I had hope, and I had faith, but I didn't know if it would actually happen. After all, it had never been done before. It was such a dream come true that I am still processing it, I think my mind still feels as if it was just that — a dream.
On Jan. 1, America lost one of her most precious and sacred treasures. Katherine McFarland, 93, the widow of Albert Sullivan, youngest of the five Sullivan brothers and the only one who married, died New Year's Day. Katherine was only 19 years old with a 1-year-old son when two uniformed military personnel came to her home in Waterloo, Iowa, to tell her that not only had her husband, Al, been killed when a Japanese torpedo hit and sunk the USS Juneau (CL-52) that he was on, but his four brothers were killed as well. The Sullivan family lost five out of their six children — all of their boys.
Friday I was boarding a plane from New York City to Dublin when I read on Facebook that Paris was under siege by terrorists. I looked around as I watched New Yorkers huddle around the televisions all over the airport with their eyes glued to the news. Unfortunately, New York is all too familiar with terror. As the room started to spin, my stomach started to turn, and I began to rethink my trip to Europe as more and more threats poured in.
With the media saturated with stories about the 2016 presidential election, it's hard to believe it's still 16 months away until we choose the next leader of this free nation. Candidates are scrambling to assemble their teams, create their messaging, and build their platforms — all out of key issues that are close to the hearts of the American people. So far, there have been myriad issues raised — from women's rights, to Iran, to the economy. Veterans and their families, however; the backbone, strength and protection of this nation, have taken a back burner in the national discussion.