FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2012'Just Follow Me'
Images courtesy: Jarboe family
Soldiers from the Army's 4th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment had spent several hours securing a perilous southern Afghanistan village on Apr. 10, 2011, when Sgt. Jamie Jarboe relayed an order to leave. The day's mission was accomplished, and it was time to head back to base.
"Just follow me," Sgt. Jarboe said.
The soldier recounted what happened next.
"I turned to my right, and before I put my foot on the ground, I hit the ground like a sack of potatoes," Jarboe told The Unknown Soldiers. "The scariest part was when I realized what happened."
An enemy sniper had shot Jamie just as he was leading the Pale Riders, as his unit is known, out of the area.
"The blood was soaking my clothes, and at this point I was like, 'Holy crap, I'm really hurt,'" the 27-year-old warrior said. "I remember looking at my hand, and it wouldn't even move, and that's when I started freaking out."
As he lay in the blood-soaked mud of Afghanistan, unable to take cover as a firefight erupted all around him, Jarboe thought of the woman he had just married on Valentine's Day and the two children at home who needed him. "If I'm going to succumb to these wounds," Jamie thought, "then it'll be on my own terms."
"I'm not dying out here," the Frankfort, Ind., soldier resolved. "I'm going to die someplace like America."
After passing out, Jarboe later woke up at the first of many hospitals he would visit in the United States.
"I made it," he thought. "I'm here."
Despite his iron will, it is often difficult for Jarboe to speak, and it's even harder for him to come to grips with the fact that he's paralyzed from the chest down. But whenever he needed to pause for a quick breather during our phone conversation, Melissa Jarboe, 32, spoke up to convey unconditional, unwavering support for her husband.
"I have an acceptance of a path that we're all chosen for," Melissa said. "We talked about it before he left."
Melissa demonstrates her faith even during the toughest moments, such as the time when one of her daughters asked who shot Jamie.
"I said, 'I don't know, but I want you to pray for him, even if he's the enemy,'" she recalled.
While God is a source of comfort, nothing could have prepared Melissa for seeing her husband in the hospital.
"The first time I got to see Jamie, I literally went into shock," she said. "He was trying to scream, but being hooked up to so many machines, he couldn't talk."
Having already deployed to Iraq, Jamie knew the risks of war. What frustrated him about Afghanistan, however, was rarely being able to see the enemy.
"You're always getting shot at from really close range," he said. "But because of the buildings, trees and farmland, it's hard to tell where it's coming from."
As Jamie lay in a Colorado hospital bed awaiting a transfer back to Maryland, where he would have surgery the next day at Johns Hopkins University, the wounded soldier and his wife repeatedly cited the courage of the children as a constant source of renewable strength.
"Both girls forfeited their Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas and spent (the holidays) in the hospital with us," Melissa said. "Never once have they complained."
Jamie and Melissa never thought their first year of marriage would take place mostly inside hospital rooms. But ever since Sgt. Jarboe bravely told his fellow soldiers to "just follow me," support has poured into their lives via thousands of cards, emails and Facebook messages.
"It's all been very surprising to me," the grateful wounded warrior said in a soft, quiet voice.
Jamie and Melissa both asked several questions about what was going on in my life, as hearing about the day-to-day experiences of others helps them feel connected to the outside world. Someday soon, they hope their lives will regain some sense of normalcy.
"My goal is to be done with the hospitals," Jamie said. "I want to do what a father does and be what a husband's supposed to be."
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My name is Melissa Jarboe, military spouse, wounded warrior wife and war widow. Today and everyday moving forward, I will honor the sacrifice of our men and women who selflessly serve our nation.