MVP Community Member Builds Foundation to Honor American Servicemen and Women
By Nate Herpich
On March 21, 2012, our country lost an American hero, when Staff Sgt. Jamie Jarboe died of the injuries he had sustained during his third tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Since that day, his wife Melissa has devoted herself to fulfilling his dying wishes: to leave the corporate world where she held a successful, but demanding, career and spend more time with their kids, and to seek to improve the morale of active, reserve, and veteran servicemen and women. Melissa has tirelessly committed herself to both of these pursuits, and the military community, as well as those living with spinal cord injury, now count her as a hero and a friend.
We last checked in with Melissa about a year ago, when Director of Information and Resource Services Bernadette Mauro wrote about Melissa's experience working with the Reeve Foundation's Military and Veterans Program(MVP). Melissa became an active, dedicated member of the MVP community when her husband returned from Afghanistan in 2011: While on patrol, Staff Sgt. Jarboe was shot in the neck, shattering his spine and leaving him a quadriplegic.
"Melissa is a powerful force," says Bernadette. "She started her own Foundation just days after Jamie's funeral, investing her death benefits from the Federal government toward helping military families get the kind of care they need and deserve. We continue to watch with awe at all that she is able to accomplish."
This November, Melissa is organizing the first ever Veterans Day parade in her native Topeka, Kansas -- a major event marking a year of remarkable successes.
"I remember when Jamie was in the hospital," says Melissa, "unable to even eat or drink on his own, we had a dream together: that we would get him the newest Camaro convertible, and that Jamie would ride in a Veterans Day parade as a true American hero, with dignity."
After Jamie passed away, Melissa found out that there had never been a Veterans Day parade in Topeka -- "I was crushed!" she says -- despite the fact that there are more than 250,000 veterans living in the state of Kansas alone. So she set out to make sure one happens -- she has organized events to prepare for the parade, and has signed up more than 70 organizations to participate on November 11 in downtown Topeka. Even Miss Kansas, who recently made headlines participating in Miss America as a tattooed active member of the National Guard, has pledged to be there. "We still need sponsors to make this event a success," she says. (Find out how you can help).
The Veterans Day parade is a crucial event for the community, she says, and a way for celebrating the men and women who have served our country, so many of whom returned less whole than how they left. Many are injured, others have spent long periods of time away from loved ones, others yet suffer from the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). And many return home feeling forgotten, unable to know how to return to a normal, productive life. The Jamie Jarboe Foundation, which soon will be renamed the Military Veterans Project, aims to address all of these realities, by helping veterans to access the care they and their families are entitled to, while reminding them that they're heroes to a nation.
Many vets are unaware what kind of care is available to them; the Jarboe Foundation helps to connect them with critical information to put them on the right path. "If it wasn't for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation," says Melissa, "I wouldn't have known about some of the resources available to us, and I don't believe that Jamie would have lived as long as he did. We are relaying this information to the veterans that come to us, and helping them to negotiate government red tape in order to get the care that they are entitled to."
"Melissa is often a last resort for people who may feel lost due to the system," explains Bernadette. "But she fights tooth and nail to guarantee that those in the armed forces get the kind of care they deserve. She is one of the strongest people I know."
The Jarboe Foundation is also deeply committed to making servicemen and women feel welcome upon their return to the States. On November 1st, the Foundation is organizing the Stand to Sacrifice, whereby one member of each branch of service in 32 states will stand for eight hours straight in order to honor those who have fallen in battle. In addition, every Friday is a "Red Friday," an opportunity to remember all who are deployed by wearing red. And the initiative Faces of Freedom honors servicemen and women through photography in public places across the country.
Melissa has also bought a cabin in Northern Minnesota that she calls the "Cabin of Honor." All veterans are invited to stay at the cabin, which lies on 10 acres of pristine, bucolic land, for free, offering a true respite for those who need it. And as if all of these projects weren't enough, Melissa is working on a book and videography detailing the final year of Jamie's life.
"My biggest hope for the Foundation is that we help more and more Americans to realize what a difference our military veterans make, and to remind them that we don't have to wait for a tragedy to honor our heroes," she says.
"My husband was empowered, even as he lay in a hospital, paralyzed from the chest down -- today, we're doing the work to ensure that his voice is heard. Each day, we try to make a difference in the lives of those who have served our country, and we invite you to join us in this pursuit."
About the Jamie Jarboe Foundation
The Jamie Jarboe Foundation mission as a Military Non Profit 501(c)3 is to improve the morale and increase visible support for our active, reserve and veteran military members. Efforts focus on improving the gap between civilian and military communities. Actions moving forward show our Military of past, present and future that we support their efforts even after they come home. Educating and supporting the blue star family community on integration, PTSD, TBI, and suicide prevention. To learn more visit http://www.jamiejarboe.org.
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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.