I had met Gen Rand and his wife Kim at our wedding in July but this weekend was the first time I had met the Chief. Ginger had told me what a great man he was and how Troy respected him. Having known the caliber of people who achieve the rank of Chief in the Air Force I had an idea of the type of man he would be. But even so I underestimated him.
Gen Rand and Chief came to visit us to deliver Troy’s belongings that were recovered from the crash site. Chief hand carried the items from Iraq, and they hand carried them to our house never wanting to trust these items to the US Postal Service. Their visit started off with dinner at our house and afterwards we looked at pictures of Gen Rand, Chief and Troy from Iraq. Bella sat in my lap and in her way tried understand what she was seeing. Pictures of “Daddy in Heaven.” She probably did not comprehend it fully or maybe she did, but we were looking at pictures of three men, two of which stood in our living room, the third was her dad and he was not there. Why? Why was I holding her as she realized the other men in the photos were standing behind her? Those questions will never be answered in this life.
The next evening we went out to dinner and then came back to our house were Gen Rand and Chief present a beautiful hand carved box containing Troy’s belongings. I sat by Ginger as for the first time she held items that were with Troy that day. All the items were in plastic bags, tagged and numbered as they were found by the first team of crash investigators. It was solemn as Ginger opened each of the bags and ran her hands across the items, feeling the dirt from the field where he had crashed. In the box was Troy’s visor cover, his knee boards with part of his checklist, his Leatherman, a pocket from his survivor vest, his watch which Ginger had given him, and finally his camera. The camera his mom and dad gave him when he deployed. I will tell you if you have never lost a loved one there is something special about holding something that you know your loved one held. There is a closeness to touch what you know they touched. Like Andrea’s journals, I would trace the words with my fingers and feel the pen in her hand and hear her thoughts as she penned the words. To hold something of theirs is as close as you can be to someone who is no longer here. I know for Ginger she was experiencing the same as she ran her hands across the kneeboard and held Troy’s watch.
I learned a lot about being a human, a Christian and an Officer that weekend because I witnessed the greatest example of servant leadership I had ever seen. I witnessed two men who serve in very busy jobs whose families have endured countless late nights at the office, missed anniversaries, birthday and holidays voluntarily take time to spend the weekend with Ginger and the kids. I watched the Chief play catch with Bella. Not just for a minute but for as long as Bella wanted. I watched them both talk to the boys not just “How are you?” but talk to them to find out what they like, what they do. I watched Boston display his soccer uniforms to Gen Rand who took the time and made Boston feel he was the most important person in the room. I watched the Chief do the same with Greyson and his basketball shoes. I never felt they were rushed, never trying to get this over with; they were here for us, totally. I watched this knowing for them to do this their families were somewhere sitting alone. A son missing his dad or a Grandson missing his grandfather.
I witnessed Sacrifice.
I witnessed two men tell stories of Troy. I realized both men saw in Troy that special quality of a future leader. I understood they both wanted to pass on their experiences to a younger officer, not to advance their career but to rise up the next generation of leaders. I know Troy was going to be a better leader having served with these two men.
I witnessed Mentorship.
I witnessed two men who had been profoundly changed by Troy. Both men are very successful in their careers, yet both men were willing to allow a young Major to impact them. Gen Rand told a story of when the three took a trip together to visit Al Asad. On the way back Troy leaned over to Gen Rand and said “I haven’t seen you in church lately. I’m Just checking to make sure you are okay and you have your priorities straight.” I learned a lot about what made Troy such a great man, and how he was able to impact so many people in such a short life. Troy loved his job, he loved being a fighter pilot, he loved being a dad, he loved being a husband. But most of all he loved being a believer and he loved the Lord. And this love was evident in how he lived his life. He loved Gen Rand enough to ask that question. Most people would have never asked such a question for fear of what our boss might think, or how it may impact our career. Fewer things I have heard of Troy speak to his character more than this story and this question he asked Gen Rand. Troy loved Gen Rand enough to ask that question. He worked with him closely enough to know the duties of a Wing Commander; especially a Wing Commander in War can easily distract someone from what really matters. I think Chief and Gen Rand knew they had met someone special in Troy and it forever changed them. But many of us have had a similar experience, whether it is Troy, Andrea or someone else and sadly sometimes we allow that person’s memory to fade only temporarily impacting our life. We talked a lot about how Troy impacted Gen Rand and Chief this weekend. But there are those of us who never had the blessing of meeting Troy, or those who never meet Andrea and it is up to those who did know them to tell their story. For it is a story many need to hear for their stories bring purpose to this life. I left feeling convicted to live a changed life. I left knowing nothing honors Troy and Andrea’s sacrifice more than that.
I witnessed Humility.
Finally I witnessed Gen Rand giving Ginger the box, wrapped in a handmade cloth his wife Kim sewed to protect the beautiful hand carved cross. The box itself donated to Ginger. I saw what must be a commander’s most difficult task, returning belongings to a wife. I witnessed firsthand the cost of war. I learned what it means when people say freedom is not free. I have written before about my experiences watching Andrea endure chemo and the suffering of cancer. And about the first day I realized I could only go so far in that experience with Andrea. She faced the fear during a CT scan as they took her away. She faced the fear of surgery as they wheeled her from me and only she sat in the chemo chair. (See my blog View From the Lazy Boy). As I watched Ginger open that box I realized only she fully understood the pain of holding her husband’s belongings. I know we all feel Troy’s loss in some way, at different levels but as I witnessed her hold his watch, a gift she had given him, I realized she was alone in her grief. I mean alone in the sense that she was experiencing a deeper grief than any of us. I understand and I can empathize in her grief but in that moment her grief was hers alone. I may be wrong but other than the spouse, I would say no one goes to that depth of grief except a Mother. As I saw the camera Ron and Kaye gave Troy I felt for Kaye who lost her only son. It breaks my heart to know she has suffered and still does every day. It breaks my heart to hear the kids call me dad in front of her and Ron. I know how bad it hurts to lose someone and I’m sorry they have had to pay such a high price. I understand that the depth of pain felt is only born from the height of love lived. I witnessed four people all hurting all feeling the vacuum created by the loss of Troy for the world lost a great man on Nov 27 2006. But in the midst of that moment I saw the greatest quality of all, whether you are a leader a follower.
I witnessed Love.
In the end I hope I am a better husband, father, and leader for what I witnessed this weekend.
These pictures were downloaded from Troy’s camera which was found at the crash site. The camera was barely recognizable yet the memory card looked as if it was brand new.
The last picture on Troy's camera
Note the date
Ginger had never seen this picture until now
Gen Rand and Troy
Troy had insisted they get the perfect picture that day.
Chief Dearduff and Troy
Gen Rand and Chief served in Iraq with Troy. he pictures below were taken on the day of Troy’s first flight. It was the Chief who set up the photographer that day forever giving Ginger and the kids this priceless gift.
Troy getting his vest fitted before his first flight
Gen Rand and Troy getting ready to fly.
Troy fitting his helmet and Night Vision Goggles