Hi and thank you for sponsoring this contest! My name is Sara Barnard and my husband, Jerry, is now a Staff Sergeant in the Army. We have four amazing children: Michaela, 7; Logan, 5; Dawson, almost 3; and Jerry Jr. (or Lil’ Bit), 1.
When Jerry and I met, what transpired between us can only be described as a whirlwind romance. I was a single mother of two and in nursing school, working on earning my second Bachelor’s degree (my first is in History), when I began working for the same home health agency that took care of my grandmother during her last weeks as she battled lung cancer. The Chaplain of the agency, who actually performed my grandmother’s funeral, made mention one morning of his son, Jerry, who was serving in Afghanistan. It were as if a sizzling lightning bolt shot up through the seat I was sitting in, rattling me to the core. In an uncharacteristic act, I later approached the Chaplain and asked him to send my prayers on to his son overseas. Having been divorced two short years and just regaining my footing in the world, I wasn’t looking for romance, but for some reason I felt that this soldier, Jerry, needed my prayers. And I was right. Jerry was shot two days later (again) but luckily his digital camera deflected the bullet. We still have the camera. Anyway, time went on and Emmett kept me well informed as to what was going on with his son and, unbeknownst to me, he was telling Jerry about me, too. Finally, Jerry came out of Afghistan and was due home for mid-tour leave. Emmett asked if I would like to meet his son, and I said I would. This was August. On Jerry’s first day of leave, we met outside one of my two jobs and were inseparable the remainder of his two weeks in Texas. Two days before he was to fly back to his base in Italy, he asked me to marry him and I accepted. His next question came when he was still on bended knee. “May I adopt those babies, too?”
Unfortunately his mother was not as accepting of our engagement as his father. She was fine while we were dating, even inviting my children and I to go out of town with them to visit relatives for a day trip. That all changed as quickly as it took me to say the words “I do”. My parents were on the fence about our engagement, feeling as though we hadn’t known each other long enough etc, but were ultimately supportive of me and ever-welcoming where Jerry was concerned. We decided to marry in December, when he was home for Christmas leave. By that time, he would have gotten us a house outside his base in Italy and would take me, the kids, and our husky, Cocoa, overseas to the first chapter of our lives together. His mother though, began an epic smear campaign against me in hopes to “run me off”. Jerry warned me that she may even try to pay me to disappear from her son’s life, as she had (successfully) to another girl. In fact, her actions did just the opposite, driving Jerry and I closer together despite the barrage of hateful emails he received from his mother’s friends and family. She said my family and I weren’t good enough to associate with them because we weren’t church-going baptists. I was a practicing Catholic and she wasted no time in calling me “heathen”. I neglected to tell her of my ties to the Native American Church after that. Of course, she said I was after Jerry’s money and health insurance for the kids. Since my ex-husband was also military, it cast me in an ill light. I, being in nursing school, had wonderful health insurance for the kids and myself and, since I was living with my parents, had been able to save quite a lofty sum of money. In fact, the amount of money I brought to the marriage far outweighed all Jerry had saved during his deployment. But there was no telling her that, and she continued to slander me, even to the photographer of my cousins wedding. Luckily, I knew the photographer from school and she was able to laugh off the derogatory comments that were so far off base for my character.
Never mind the fact Jerry was an E-4, a Specialist, when we married. It is not uncommon for families of these lower-ranking soldiers to have to juggle bills and decide which ones get paid on time. In short, money was, and is, still very tight. The final straw came when Jerry and I decided to marry earlier than December. In fact, the middle of September was the day we tied our marital knot. I spoke to his father that same day, as Jerry asked that he perform the ceremony. I was informed that neither of them wanted anything to with me or our wedding. To make the matter more clear, his mother had penned a horribly-written letter to Jerry, where she said if he married me, he would be cut out of her will. She attested that my family was still unworthy of association with them. Why did she feel this way? Because Emmett had officiated at my grandmother’s funeral and he “only officiates at those lower class people who do not have a church home, you know, the slum”. The fact she chose to ignore was that my grandmother’s brother is a very well respected Oklahoma preacher who was hoping to do the officiating, but my parents chose Emmett because when he sang her a gospel song, she awoke from her three-day sleep and tried to sing along before passing from this life. The actions of his mother, and ultimately his father, led to a a non-speaking year between them and Jerry. She continued to send the contact information of “worthy, Christian girls” to my husband, long after we were married. Because of their actions, his parents missed out on the joy of our “we’re going to have a baby” news, Dawson being born, and a multitude of other wonderful things.
The kids and I joined Jerry in Italy October 30, 2008 and we moved into our villa on Halloween. We had so much fun together in Italy and planned to pick up Cocoa, my husky, from my parents when we went back to Texas for Christmas. Brokenhearted doesn’t begin to describe the feeling when my mom told me that Cocoa got into a fight with her dog, Bonnie, only a couple of weeks after we left. Cocoa died as a result of her injuries. I couldn’t bring myself to go back to Texas for Christmas, so my parents came to Italy instead. It was amazing to have them over, as they were and are two of my best friends. My dad though, said if he never sees another traffic circle, it will be too soon. Almost four years have passed since then and I still miss my dog, who I adopted from the pound when my daughter was not yet one year of age. Cocoa is still sorely missed and a constant in our prayers.
I began having symptoms of a miscarriage about the time Jerry began having symptoms of PTSD. The bleeding started on a four-day holiday weekend and the nurse on call at the Army hospital told me to stay home and “let God’s will happen naturally”. Unable to accept this, Jerry packed me into the car, dropped the kids off at playschool, and off we went to the Italian emergency room, where doctors there were able to stop the placenta from detatching with shots, prednisone, and an order of strict bed rest. Thanks to them, my little Dawson is alive today. Given the circumstances, when orders to Fort Carson, CO came up in conversation, we jumped on them.
Dawson was born four weeks early at the Army Hospital on Fort Carson. We had brought two little Italian puppies back with us, Romeo and Rosie Giulietta, and we all settled into a cookie-cutter rent house in Fountain, CO. Dawson was three-weeks old and my two older kids were still speaking with an Italian accent when Jerry’s orders back to Afghanistan came home with him from work one day. The picture I attached was taken moments before Jerry deployed to Afghanistan (again) from Fort Carson, Colorado. Dawson was just six-weeks-old at the time. The kids and I moved back to our hometown in Texas for the duration of his deployment. We rented a house around the corner from my parents and I got my old job back as a Courthouse Researcher. PTSD was a constant threat whenever Jerry called home, and in keeping with Murphy’s law, my thyroid quit working. In February 2010, I underwent surgery for a complete thyroidectomy. I began writing at this time to cope with everything and started my first novel, A HEART ON HOLD, a historical romance. The laundry list of why Jerry wasn’t able to come home for my surgery was long, ridiculous, and non-negotiable. He made it home after a dreadful tour and back to Colorado we went. This time with three kids, the two Italian puppies, and the German Shepherd, Rambo, I had adopted while he was deployed.
We bought our first house in Colorado. The night we moved in, Jerry had a breakdown. He thought he was back in Afghanistan and that I was the enemy. Luckily, this all transpired upstairs and through Divine Intervention, our children slept through the whole mess downstairs. The police came, his Commanding Officer came, and Jerry spent our first night as homeowners in the county hospital’s mental ward. These breakdowns would get worse before they got better and not a week went by that Jerry, now a Sergeant, wasn’t taking one of his “guys” to a nearby, military-friendly mental institution. Like I said, that deployment was dreadful for so many reasons. I wrote a short story about Jerry’s adopted Afghani dog, Cheyenne, and it was published in THE HARSH AND THE HEART: CELEBRATING THE MILITARY (Silver Boomer Books, 2011). All the while, I kept working on A HEART ON HOLD, too. Not long after his homecoming, we found out we were expecting our fourth and final baby. Then, Jerry got Drill Sergeant orders to Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
We made it to Oklahoma just days before Jerry Jr. was born. Still with three kids, three dogs, and now one rescue cat named Belle, we were a big happy family. Stress and lack of medication for PTSD sent Jerry off the deep end again once we got settled in our dream house in Oklahoma. During a particularly bad night, while strep throat ran its course through the three older kids and I battled bronchitis, he snapped. After self-medicating with alcohol for the better part of a day, he called our marriage quits. Again, the kids slept through it all, no doubt with the help of a guardian angel. Instead of leaving though, he threw us out. Thankfully, the police removed him from the house, giving us our much needed space. The next morning, my parents came and helped us clear out; kids, cats, dogs and all. The apology calls started coming before I was even over the Red River — but we didn’t return. That was last year.
Today, we are all back home together in Oklahoma and Jerry is medicated and undergoing treatment for PTSD. We have a first grader who reads at a third-grade level, a happy-go-lucky preschooler who has the prettiest handwriting in his class, and two sweet young boys. We acquired another cat, Tom, who adopted us (literally), eleven easter-egger chickens, and a horse. Two tiny kittens also joined our family a few days ago when the truck travelling the highway in front of us threw them out the window. Karma and Francis, named for St. Francis, are hanging out in our bathtub and doing great. A HEART ON HOLD, Book One in AN EVERLASTING HEART SERIES, is due out September 2013 from 5 Prince Publishing. Things are on the upswing, but as I have learned all to well, all can change in an instant. We recieved a call that they found a tumor in Jerry’s leg, by his knee, so that appears to be our next battle. And battle we will, whatever the adversity, in true military family fashion: together.
How about you?
Do you have a family member serving in the U.S. Military and you want to share your story with the world? Send me your story and picture–entries are welcome all summer long–and maybe you’ll be one of our weekly semi-finalists.
Remember, I post a semi-finalist every week this summer! Keep those entries coming.
Send your entry to firstname.lastname@example.org and please put 4th Annual Military Family Contest in the subject line.