DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. — I woke up last week to news that one of my closest friends’ town house in Maryland caught on fire at 4 a.m while they were sleeping, warm and cozy in their beds. Their neighbor woke them up, and she and her family – her husband, twin 1.5 year olds, and an almost 3-year old – got out of the house safely but lost everything. Her son didn’t even have shoes on his feet when they escaped.
When I talked to her, she was super calm – almost cheerful. She answered the phone as though it was an ordinary day. As she described the events and it sunk in to me how very disastrous this fire could have been, my eyes filled with tears. I was so grateful that they were all alive and safe, but my first thought was about what I could do to help, especially since I am 2,000 miles away.
My friend is an NCO in the U.S. Air Force. When I asked her what they needed, she told me an amazing story:
Within four hours of evacuating their house, her chief and first sergeant had rallied the help of her unit. They put her and her family of five up in the temporary lodging facility on base. Her friend with kids her kids’ ages gave her several outfits, including diapers and shoes for her son. USAA – through whom they had their solid renters’ insurance plan – had already fronted some money for incidentals they’d need immediately. And – most amazingly – her first sergeant had collected gift cards for the Base Exchange, telling her not to spend any of her own money on things they’d need until they can find a new place to live.
“We’re just really fortunate we are in the military,” she said. Her neighbors weren’t so fortunate.
This story – though heart wrenching – was an incredible testimony to me of my sweet friend’s faith, and also of how fortunate they were to have such a community ready to help at a moment’s notice. Her tone humbled me as I thought of my likely demeanor and response if I were in her situation. And most of all, it reminded me that the military is an organization that is about so much more than war fighting.
The military is a brotherhood. It’s a family, forged (often) in blood. I met Nichelle when she and I were deployed together in 2010, and we’ve been close ever since. We went through a lot of tough times when we were physically present in one another’s lives overseas, and we’ve walked side by side through other life events, happy and sad, from a distance. I happened to be near her when her twins were born prematurely nearly two years ago because my husband was temporarily stationed where she now teaches at a joint technical school. Once again, the Air Force had brought us together during that emergent time in her life.
These experiences have formed a friendship unlike any other, and I know for a fact that every other person whose life she has touched felt the same way I felt when they heard about what happened. We’d do anything for her. Anything.
I also know that I’d have a host of military family ready to drop anything and help me, too, if my family needed it. There are people halfway around the world from all branches of service who would give of themselves without question if I were in a tough spot. There are patriotic Americans who don’t know her but do know and love ME who are offering to help her because they know she’s my sister-in-arms and that she’s sacrificed for her country, and that’s all they need to know. Send us an address and we’ll send what she needs, they’ve told me.
What an amazing thing it is to be loved this way and to have military family who come through in times of tragedy.