Merriam-Webster defines the word “hero” as follows: a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities. I can’t think of anyone who fits that description more completely than my husband, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Keith Walters. Keith has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, during which he received three Purple Hearts for wounds he sustained in combat. He is well respected by so many soldiers and officers who have served with him. Those are the reasons he is considered a hero to many.
But to me, Keith is a hero because of the way he lives his life each day—because of the type of husband, father, family member, and friend he is. He is a hero every time he pushes through a run despite having been shot in the leg in Afghanistan. He was a hero when he happily looked after our three kids and my friend’s three kids—all age 6 and under—in our basement on a Friday evening so I could have the girls over for wine. He was a hero when he moved a morning work meeting to take care of the kids so I could sleep off a stomach bug. He was a hero when he practically carried my father, who’s over 6 feet tall, up the stairs during an illness earlier this year. He’s a hero every time he shovels a neighbor’s driveway in the bitter cold.
But enough about my hero. I want to hear about your hero—and so does Mrs. Fields! The cookie company has launched the Share Your Hero campaign to help embrace local heroes who serve their communities all across the country. Through October 31, 2016, you can go to www.mrsfieldsmoments.com to nominate a hero. Mrs. Fields will choose one nominee to be America’s Hometown Hero, and will donate $5,000 to a charity of his or her choosing. And as if that weren’t sweet enough, everyone who nominates a hero on the site will receive a coupon for $1 off a box of Mrs. Fields cookies. (Trust me, they’re delicious!)
So, what are you waiting for? Head on over to www.mrsfieldsmoments.com and #ShareYourHero. And while you’re at it, leave a comment below and let me know who you nominated. Can’t wait to hear all about your heroes!
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.