As many of you know, Keith was honored at last night’s Los Angeles Dodgers NLDS Championship game as the Veteran of the Game. It seems fitting that the honor took place on the eve of October 8. Today is the two-year anniversary of the green on blue attack in which Keith was wounded in Afghanistan, and in which we lost two American heroes, Captain Joshua Lawrence and Captain Drew Russell.
As he stood on the field of Dodger Stadium last night, Keith was thinking about these two brave men, killed in action on October 8, 2011:
It was a day that changed everything for our family, and everything we do now is in Drew and Josh’s memory. They have no doubt inspired Keith to be a better Army officer. We love you, Drew and Josh!
Eight years ago on a beautiful July day, I boarded a plane to Los Angeles with a one-way ticket and a heart full of hope. Everyone I knew had called me crazy. My parents questioned whether I’d return home alive. But I just knew what I was doing was right.
I guess I should backtrack and explain how Keith and I met, for those of you who don’t already know. I was an editorial assistant at TIME For Kids magazine in New York City. It was an entry-level job; the first rung in the ladder I was planning to climb to the top of a magazine’s masthead. I absolutely loved the job, but since it was such a wonderful place to work and people rarely left, there wasn’t much opportunity for me to advance. I was starting to feel restless.
Then one afternoon, my editor rushed into my cubicle and asked if I could take a story off her hands. It was about anysoldier.com, an amazing website through which you can send care packages to “Any Soldier” stationed overseas. She was set to interview the founder of the site, Marty Horn, the next day, but things had come up and she was swamped. I told her of course I would write the story. I recall even making a joke along the lines of, “Maybe I’ll meet a hot soldier. Hardy-har.”
Anyway, I did the interview and wrote the story, then decided to send a care package myself. I went onto the site and ran my finger up and down the list of names in true eenie-meenie-minie-mo fashion. It landed on John Molamphy, First Sergeant of B Troop, 2-14 CAV of the 1st Stryker Brigade, 25th Infantry Division. He was the point of contact who would pass out packages to soldiers in his troop. I sent him a package and then quickly forgot about it—until February 4, 2005, when I received an email with the subject line, “Thanks from Iraq.”
The email was from John Molamphy himself. He thanked me for sending the package and wrote a few paragraphs about his unit. I replied and told him about the story I had written. A week later, he responded with some more small talk and the following:
“I was going to tell you good things about my commander, Keith Walters, but he just told me I couldn’t go on a mission tomorrow, so I’m mad at him. He thinks I need to stay safe or something. I’m going to give you his email so you can tell him off for me.” And he left the email address.
Now, I must be incredibly dense, but—I kid you not—I had no idea that this was an attempt to hook me and Keith up. Growing up in New York City and knowing nothing about the military, I thought a troop commander must be some really old guy. I thought John was just trying to have fun with his commander. So I decided to play along by doing exactly what John requested—I sent Keith an email and told him off.
A few days later, Keith wrote back. He made a few jokes, then wrote:
“John says you live in New York? I went to college upstate and love NY, even though I’m a Los Angeleno to the core! Want to start a friendly coastal rivalry?”
And THAT is how this crazy adventure began. Keith and I started a written battle about the merits of Los Angeles vs. New York. No topic was off limits: Dodgers vs. Mets, Tupac vs. Biggie, Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” vs. Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” We even took turns writing lyrics from songs about California or New York. (His lyrics were very Beach Boys heavy, as you can imagine.) Before long, the conversations moved to our lives, our interests, our thoughts and feelings. Only a month later, I declared to my uncle over dinner that I was going to marry this man. Something about the way I said it made him believe me.
So there I was in July 2005, after five months of practically being chained to my computer, flying to LA to finally meet Keith. Of course, it was everything I’d expected it to be. Everyone always asks if there was a movie moment the first time we saw each other; if time stopped and we threw everything down and ran to each other with some cheesy love song playing in our minds. But there was no movie moment. It was better than a movie moment. Keith pulled up to the baggage claim at Long Beach Airport (which is outdoors), got out of the car, and handed me a rose. We gave each other a hug and a quick kiss that felt more familiar than they should have, considering we’d never even seen each other in person. Then I got in the passenger seat of his Acura TL (which we still own), said, “What is this crap you’re listening to?” and changed the radio station.
We drove directly to Jamba Juice in Santa Monica, got Orange Dream Machines, and drank them on a bench on the palisades, overlooking Santa Monica State Beach and the Santa Monica Pier. That night we went to dinner and a movie in Pasadena. The next day, we hit the road for an 18-hour drive to Washington State so that Keith could process out of Fort Lewis.
We spent the next eight days in Seattle, having a blast. We went to a Mariners game, ate at great restaurants, walked around, and just enjoyed each other’s company until I had to get back to New York for work. On the evening before I left, Keith asked me if I’d move to the San Francisco Bay Area with him, where he’d be attending grad school at Stanford University for the next two years before heading to West Point (his almer mater) to teach history. I said yes. I quit my job and moved in with Keith in Mountain View, California in January 2006. Nearly eight years later, here we are.
Needless to say, my life as an Army wife started out in a rather adventurous way, and the adventures have not stopped. I knew life would be a roller coaster, but I had no idea just how down the downs would be and how up the ups would be. Less than three weeks after our wedding and only a few days after we got back from our honeymoon, Keith moved to Norfolk, Virginia for nine months for an Army assignment. We had expected him to be at West Point for a third year, and I had recently started a job as a senior editor at Scholastic News, so I stayed in New York. We took turns visiting each other every other weekend.
Then we moved to Colorado Springs in the summer of 2010, and I feel like we hardly saw each other for a while. Keith spent a lot of time training. He’d be in the field anywhere from a week to a month, over and over again. Even when he wasn’t in the field, he’d work incredibly long hours, sometimes not getting home until 8 or 9 pm. Two weeks after our twins were born in June 2011, Keith deployed to Afghanistan. Three months later, he was shot in a green on blue attack in which we lost two very good friends, and was sent to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to recover.
Yes, it’s been a very, very long road. But here we are back in LA, where it all started for us. And I have to say—I feel 100 percent content and complete in all aspects of my life. I love Keith more than I did the day we met, and we have two incredible little boys. I am doing work I love that allows me to spend a lot of time with Matt and Nate. Keith is enjoying his fellowship at the RAND Corporation. And—here’s the shocker—I love living in L.A. I mean, I really love it.
Yes, there are all of the obvious reasons I’m having a blast here—the amazing weather, the gorgeous beaches, the great food, etc. But what I love most are the possibilities. (That’s my favorite thing about New York, too.) I love waking up every day not knowing what might happen. When we go to our local beach, will we see a movie being filmed? Will we see dolphins and sea lions swimming only a few yards from shore? Will we see a real-live rescue taking place? We’ve seen all of these things.
On Tuesday evening, Keith and I found ourselves on the Sony Pictures Studios Lot, watching an advance screening of Captain Phillips for RAND employees and donors and their guests. This weekend, we are headed to SeaWorld San Diego with the boys. On Monday evening, before the Dodgers playoff game, Keith is being honored in a ceremony on the field of Dodger Stadium as the Veteran of the Game. They will show pictures of him on the big screen and the announcer will talk about his Army career.
I can’t believe all of the good things happening for us, and sometimes I wonder what we did to deserve it. But then I remember, we did earn it. Keith has three Purple Hearts. We’ve been through a lot of heartache and challenges. We were apart for the start of our dating life, apart for the start of our marriage, apart for the start of our journey as parents. Now we are together and having a blast.
I ask that you take two messages from this story. One is, take chances. Send the package. Write the email. Board the airplane. Don’t be afraid to take the bumpy, uncertain road in life. You never know where that road might lead you and where you might end up. Whoever knew this New York City girl would be relishing life in Los Angeles as the wife of an Army officer and the mother of twins? I sure didn’t—but I’m so glad it’s the life I’m living!
And the second message is: Don’t forget about all of the men and women in uniform who are still deployed overseas, and their families. Many of our friends have just deployed yet again, or are getting ready to deploy in the coming weeks. There are still so many people out there fighting overseas, and so many military families making sacrifices.
If you have a moment, check out this Associated Press article about the insider attack in which Keith was wounded in Afghanistan. FINALLY, the truth about what happened that night. The only inaccuracy in this article? That Keith declined to be interviewed. On the contrary, Keith actually wanted to speak with the reporter about what went down.
October 8 marked the one-year anniversary of that horrible day when Keith got shot in Afghanistan. One year since we lost two great Americans, U.S. Army captains Josh Lawrence and Drew Russell. One year since our lives changed profoundly.
We didn’t do anything special on Monday. The twins, who were only 3 ½ months old when it happened and are now rambunctious nearly-16-month-olds, were getting over a stomach bug, which Keith had caught from them. So, we just hung out at home together. We spoke to Josh’s wife and Drew’s parents, who have now become like family to us, on the phone. We talked a lot about Drew and Josh, trying for the millionth time not to ask, “Why?” And we took a moment to thank God for letting us have this otherwise ordinary day together.
On July 4, 2011, Keith held each of our sleeping two-week-old boys for what we thought would be the last time for seven months, when he could get home for R&R. Neither of us voiced our underlying fears. It was such a bittersweet time: the overwhelming love and joy that came with being new parents, coupled with the deep sadness and anxiety about having to be separated. I have no idea how Keith held it together when he got on that plane. I have no idea how any service member holds it together when they leave their families. Their strength astounds me.
The next three months were a blur for both of us. We were both sleep-deprived; he from the rigors of deployment and me from taking care of two newborns. It sucked, and it was hard, but it seemed to be going by fairly quickly.
And then October 8 happened, and everything changed. On this very day last year, Keith was lying in a hospital bed in Landstuhl, Germany. I was at my parents’ house in New York with the babies, wanting desperately to see my husband. Then Keith was transferred to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
On October 15, the babies and I traveled to Walter Reed and saw Keith for the first time in over three months. The tiny newborns Keith had left were now smiling, bouncing infants with unique personalities. It was an overwhelming moment: We were full of relief and happiness, but also sadness and anger at what had brought us back together so soon.
Keith spent the next three weeks at Walter Reed. It was a humbling experience for both of us. Keith’s injuries were in no way minor: he’d had several surgeries, was in a great deal of pain, and had a long recovery ahead of him. But he was by far one of the healthiest patients in the hospital. His neighbors were double and triple amputees. I’d help Keith slowly hobble down the hallway with his walker, and they’d zoom by us on their prosthetic limbs, strong and smiling and determined. I met some of their wives, whose incredible optimism and sunny dispositions inspired me. I still feel amazed at having been in the presence of such heroes. They are some of America’s greatest.
We headed back home to Colorado on November 9. We spent the next several months bonding as a family; Keith getting to know his boys again. He had endless doctor appointments and physical therapy sessions. Sometimes he’d talk about what happened, and sometimes he didn’t want to. I’d listen and try to help him work through his feelings. Sometimes he’d do the same for me. When he showed me his blood-spattered wallet, and the sandwich bag containing the babies’ little socks and bib that he was carrying in his left pocket for good luck when the bullet tore through his leg, it really hit me how close we’d come to losing him.
One year later, Keith has come a long way in his healing and acceptance of what happened. Physically, he still does not have all of the nerve function back in his leg, and we don’t yet know if he ever will. It frustrates him that he can’t run as fast as he used to, and that he still can’t do certain exercises. But I think the fact that he holds himself to the same standards of physical fitness as his peers is commendable.
His emotional healing has been a lot harder. He misses Drew and Josh. He still wonders why they were lost and he was not. He still sometimes struggles with survivor’s guilt. But as the saying goes, “Don’t put a question mark where God has put a period.” That’s easier said than done.
What Keith doesn’t realize, but I can say for sure, is this: Every day, Keith honors Drew and Josh’s sacrifice by being the best father, husband, and soldier I know. We’ll never know for sure why he’s been given more time on this Earth, but we sure are not going to waste a single moment of it. We will dedicate ourselves to helping others, and to helping make this world a better place. It is amazing how tragedies like these can give you a much-needed dose of perspective, and a much deeper appreciation for your friends and loved ones.
Help us honor Captain Josh Lawrence and Captain Drew Russell, who made the ultimate sacrifice to help protect us and our great nation, by being the best person you can be.
Ack! It’s been yet another month (OK, more than a month) since I last posted, and so much has happened! Allow me to fill you in:
We took yet another trip—already the twins’ third round-trip flight—to New York for the boys’ Baptism. It was something we planned pretty last-minute (as is the case with most things we plan) but it turned out to be a wonderful day! The babies looked adorable, they hardly fussed throughout the church ceremony, and we had a really fun celebratory dinner afterward with family and a few close friends. (The plane rides were another story. Let’s just say they’re only getting to be more difficult as the boys get bigger and more mobile!)
My parents came to town for a week to celebrate Matt and Nate’s first Easter with us. We did some fun touristy things—visiting Seven Falls, hiking in Red Rocks Open Space—but it was all of the holiday things we did with the boys that were really special. We took them to meet the Easter Bunny at the mall, and not a tear was shed. We dyed Easter eggs. We had a little egg hunt on Easter morning, which was really just a bunch of plastic eggs strewn around the living room. And, we opened baskets from the Easter Bunny himself. A pretty successful first Easter for the boys, if you ask me.
Keith was finally cleared from the Warrior Transition Battalion and returned to his brigade. Now that his work hours have increased, it’s been quite an adjustment for me and the babies. It doesn’t help that Nate has developed a severe case of separation anxiety. Every time I leave the room now to go put Matt down for a nap, or to make the boys’ bottles, or—for Christ’s sake—to use the bathroom, he screams bloody murder. Also, there are many things I just can’t do with the boys myself, such as Gymboree classes (each child must be accompanied by an adult) or grocery shopping. And forget about trying to get any work done.
So, we’ve hired a babysitter to help me out a bit during the week. Her name is Tracy, and she’s a Godsend. Right now she only comes two days a week for five hours a day, but we’ll probably increase her hours once the summer comes. Tracy stays with the boys while I go grocery shopping, get my hair cut, and run any other errands the babies can’t accompany me on. She comes with us to Gymboree, and she entertains the boys while I finish work assignments or send emails. They—and I—love her!
The twins sailed through their 9-month birthday and turn 10 months old tomorrow (April 19)! I can’t believe how much they are learning and thriving. Nate finally started crawling, and now he zips around the house and is starting to get into nearly as much trouble as his mischievous brother. Matt climbs everything. He’ll pull himself up onto his alligator clacker toy and push it all around the living room. Both boys are talking up a storm, laughing at everything, and interacting more and more with each other. Matt even learned his first baby sign: He puts his fingertips together when he wants “more.” Matt has four teeth. Nate only has two, but the doctor said he has six more working their way through. And at their last checkup, Nate weighed 19 lbs. 11 oz. and Matt weighed 16 lbs. 11 oz.
We found out Keith would not be returning to Afghanistan with his unit. In a way it’s good, because he gets to stay here with us, and it means his unit will be coming home soon. But at the same time, it was a huge disappointment for Keith. He has worked his butt off for the past six months to return to his guys and come home with the team. His physical recovery has been tough, but his emotional recovery has been even tougher. Keith lost two good friends in the attack: Captain Drew Russell and Captain Joshua Lawrence. They were amazing soldiers, and they are heroes. We have thought and talked about Drew and Josh often, and Keith really felt like he needed to return to Afghanistan to honor their memory and their sacrifice. He also wanted to be with all of the guys he had trained and fought with for so many months. Unfortunately, by the time his doctors deemed him healed enough to return to combat, it was too late.
I think it will take a while for Keith to get over the fact that he wasn’t able to return. He feels, in a way, like he failed Drew and Josh and like he let down his team. But I know that is not the case at all. I’ve seen firsthand how hard he has worked—and how hard he continues to work each day—to get back into “fighting form,” both physically and mentally. The fact that he even got cleared to return to combat only six months after receiving such an extensive injury is so impressive to me. I think Drew and Josh would be proud of him. I know I am—and our sons will be, too.
Keith is now looking forward to his unit returning home. I know it will be so good for him to see all of the guys! And I will be thrilled for all of their families, especially their wives. These women held down the fort and took care of the kids for almost an entire year while their husbands were off fighting. They are some of the strongest women I know, and an inspiration to me.
When I was pregnant, many people warned me that I’d have no time to blog once the twins arrived. “Ha!” I’d think to myself. “I’ll show them! I’ll be that multitasking Supermom who will take care of my babies, freelance regularly, make home-cooked meals every night, keep up with the laundry, AND blog four times a week!”
Um … yeah. It turns out, all those people were right. Here I am, nearly seven months since my last post, and I have finally found a moment to update Double Duty Twins.
In my defense, it has been a crazy seven months. On July 4—two weeks after Matt and Nate were born—Keith deployed to Afghanistan. I spent the next month and a half in a new-mommy craze, trying to figure out how to care for these two tiny, demanding beings with the help of a steady stream of visiting relatives. (Thanks, Mom and Dad, Aunt Terry, Kim, and Pato!) I finally established a routine … and then I left Colorado.
On August 23, the babies and I boarded a plane to New York with Aunt Terry, a double stroller, two car seats, about 27 diapers, and mounds of luggage in tow. We planned to live with my parents in Brooklyn until Keith returned home about nine months later. I set to work unpacking, getting us settled in, and establishing a new routine for the boys. And things were finally getting easier. Matt and Nate started sleeping through the night shortly after we got to New York. Keith finally got Skype in his room in Afghanistan, so the boys and I began to “see” him regularly. And the babies settled into a pretty decent schedule.
Then, on October 8, my cell phone rang. It was Keith. “Don’t freak out,” he said. (Cue freak-out.) “I got shot.”
Keith got shot in his left calf. The bullet tore up his calf and hamstring and traveled all the way up to his butt, where it remains lodged. (Ouch.) Keith spent a week in the hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, then nearly a month at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. He was sent back home to Colorado on November 9 to rehab. The babies and I returned home to be with him, and here we are still. Keith is continuing to recover, but he still has quite a bit of nerve damage and a lot of pain, and there’s a part of his wound that still hasn’t closed. He will find out soon whether he’ll be cleared to return to Afghanistan with his unit for the remainder of the deployment.
What a scare we had. I am so incredibly thankful that Keith is still here with us. I know how lucky we are, and I will never, ever take that for granted.
The babies are amazing. At seven months old, they have such unique personalities and make us laugh harder than we ever have. They seem to learn something new each day.
Matthew is our little spitfire. He may be tiny (still wearing 3-6-month clothing), but watch out—he is quite the strong little fella. Matthew will roll over and over and do an Army-style low crawl to get to a toy he wants (which is usually whichever toy Nate is playing with). He likes to bang whatever he is holding on the ground or the table so as to make the loudest noise possible. He loves to explore, touching and grabbing anything in sight. He can already stand while holding something without any assistance. And when he’s angry, he’ll let you know. Trust me, he will.
Nathaniel is our big, lovable baby who will cuddle with you all day if you let him. Already wearing 12-month clothing, he is round and dimply in all the right places. Nate is not as physical as Matt, but he is way more verbal. He loves to
“talk” — “Dadadadadada,” and “Boobooboobooboo,” and “Oooohhhhhhhh!” He laughs and squeals a lot, even at things that are decidedly not funny. He loves to splash Daddy while taking a bath and to stare at ceiling fans.
Some other things about the boys:
We take them to Gymboree class once a week, where they love to hear songs, work on movement, and interact with other babies.
They love to go on walks, which we try to do almost daily.
They are in full-on teething mode, drooling like crazy and chomping on anything they can get their hands on. Matt already has his two bottom center teeth. Nate should cut his first tooth very soon!
The boys are great eaters and enjoy all sorts of baby food—chicken, turkey, lots of fruits and vegetables, and oatmeal.
They are still great sleepers—10 to 11 hours a night!
And as for me, I am finally starting to get back to all of those things I wrote about in the first paragraph. I’ve started freelancing again, and even had a story based on this blog published in the December/January 2012 issue of Fit Pregnancy. I do cook most nights (although they aren’t usually gourmet meals), and I’d like to think I take pretty good care of my boys (all three of them). I can’t say I’m totally on top of the laundry—but hey, we all wear clean clothes! And, as for this blog—I’m back, baby! I plan to update it at least twice a week from here on out. Please hold me to that!
Well, I am now three days shy of 34 weeks pregnant! Seeing as how my OB said, “I’d be very happy if you make it to 36 weeks,” time is quickly winding down! I, on the other hand, am not.
I never realized how much of a workaholic I am until I began to freelance full-time. Now, assignments are like crack to me. I can’t bear to turn down a project—and the money that comes with it. I suppose it’s good to work as much as I can until the twins arrive, after which I’ll definitely take a couple of months “off.” On the other hand, it’s been quite difficult to work so much, AND prepare for twins, AND prepare for a deployment, AND get ready for a mini move back to New York while Keith is away. People can have nervous breakdowns doing just one of those things at a given time. Doing all four at once will turn you into the frenzied mom-to-be that I’ve become.
Not that I am looking for sympathy. Plenty of women have done it before me and come out the other side with smiles on their faces. I am so proud of them—and of myself! At my May 31 appointment, my doctor told me, “There’s no doubt in my mind that your great attitude is the reason you and your babies are doing so well.” Granted, she hasn’t seen me frantically sterilizing baby bottles at 11 PM while crying about looming deadlines and reminding my poor husband that he’s got to sign us up for recycling pick-up before he deploys. But she is right—despite all of the stress, I do feel deliriously happy and excited about what’s to come. After all, I have two baby boys on the way and the best husband ever. What more could a girl ask for?
Well, I suppose I could ask for more dates with said husband before I don’t see him for about 10 months—dates that don’t involve trips to Babies ‘R Us or filling out paperwork to add the babies to our wills. I suppose I could ask for more time to soak up the sun at the community pool and to lunch with pals before my days are consumed with feeding and burping and diaper changing.
But you know what? I’m not too concerned about what I’ve been missing. I’m just focused on what these challenges have unexpectedly added to my life. Last night, for instance, we were going to plop down on the couch and watch the Rockies/Dodgers game. Instead, we had a blast spending way too much time at the store picking out a musical stuffed panda for Keith to take with him to Afghanistan. That way, he can play it for the boys on Skype all the time, and they will begin to associate the toy—and pandas—with Daddy. (I apologize to any of Keith’s comrades who have to listen to this thing.)
And on Sunday, we left the park on a gorgeous, sunny, 85-degree day to go buy a towel rack (yes, a towel rack) to match the boys’ bathroom. But then, while at the store, Keith found a Nerf basketball game for the boys that will thrill him for years to come.
And finally, let’s not forget all of the comedy that being eight months pregnant with twins brings about. I have gained 25 pounds during the pregnancy. Yes, that’s very little weight—but every single one of these pounds is in my stomach. My belly enters a room about five minutes before I do. When I waddle down the sidewalk, I’m like a zoo exhibit—drivers break their necks to get a closer look. I’m pretty sure I’m going to cause an accident soon.
And then there was Sunday evening, following the towel rack-buying excursion. Keith pulled the truck into the left side of the garage, like always. Our Acura was parked in its usual spot on the right side. I opened the passenger-side door to get out of the car, like I always have. Except this time, I got wedged between the open truck door and the Acura. I tried to move away so I could close the door, but quickly realized I was not going anywhere. I was officially stuck—too huge to fit between the cars. Keith burst out laughing, which prompted me to start laughing, and pretty soon we were in tears. I had to get back into the truck to free myself. Now, every time Keith pulls the cars in, he goes as close to the walls of the garage as he can, so his whale of a wife will be able to get out. If you can’t laugh about these things, what can you laugh at?
And finally, another sign that everything’s going to be OK: Yesterday evening while having dinner on our deck, we noticed two identical robins (or were they sparrows?) sitting in our tree, watching us. They stayed there throughout the whole meal.
We imagined they were there to remind us of what all of our hard work and preparation is for—Matthew and Nathaniel, our two precious twin boys. They beat fancy dinners, cocktails, and swimming pools any day!