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In Honor of the 4th of July, Two of My American Heroes

ellie john In Honor of the 4th of July, Two of My American Heroes

Ellie, age 1, kissing a photo of Daddy.

The first time I met my hubby’s childhood friend John Jacobs, I was at one point hanging upside down from a handrail inside a party bus. 1. Yes – this was BKY (before kids years) and 2. Don’t ask. The next time I met him, he was gushing over his new girlfriend from Oregon State where John was in the USMC’s Marine Enlisted College Education Program (MECEP) and she was on a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship.

John and Veronica (a.k.a. Ronni) Jacobs are truly American Sweethearts. Both have served in the military – John on active duty in the USMC for over 16 years and Ronni served 4 years of active duty and is currently on an Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) contract until 2010 (meaning she is subject to involuntary recall and activation). After marrying on June 12, 2004, John was sent to Iraq for the first time just nine days later and Ronni was then sent that August. They returned to the US a month apart in 2005 and were soon pregnant with their first daughter, Mae.

john ronni In Honor of the 4th of July, Two of My American Heroes

John and Ronni while deployed in 2004.

However, John was sent BACK to Iraq in September of 2005 and did not return until April of 2006, missing the birth of his first child by a month. Fortunately, John was present for the birth of his second daughter, Ellie, born in August of 2007. Having established life back home with his family and working as a school principal, John was then sent back to Iraq for a THIRD time.

Frankly, this was a difficult piece for me to work on because I get emotional not only when I think of my family’s amazing friends John, Ronni, Mae and Ellie (“every few days one of my girls will cry and ask for Daddy”), but of all the men and women still deployed and having to be apart from their families.

Sure, to me, the 4th of July can mean BBQs and beach fun, but in honor of those who protect our freedom, I asked Ronni how John is doing, how she’s doing with two kids (ages 3 and 2) on her own (oh, and she’s currently attending law school!) and the media coverage they received for their non-profit organization, Operation Falcon –started to help John’s Iraqi interpreter and his family get settled in the United States after the couple successfully aided in securing them a Special Immigrant Visa — and the award winning documentary that featured their efforts.

How long has John been back for this third time?

John mobilized in December of 2008, meaning he began pre-deployment training away from our family at that time, and is not due to return until November of 2009. He spent 5 months training in the United States and will spend 6 months in Ramadi, Iraq, making 11 months total that we will be apart for this deployment.

How is he doing?

John believes in service to country and Corps. He has deployed many times and spent over 16 years in the Marine Corps, but having children has made deployments and separations very painful for him. He is working on a master’s degree online, physical training and doing his job as a Company Executive Officer. It is obvious to me that he is trying to stay extremely busy in order to avoid the pain he feels as a result of being away from our daughters.

lucian1 In Honor of the 4th of July, Two of My American Heroes

John in Fallujah as photographed by Lucian Read, www.LucianRead.com

Both [my husband] Eli and I saw the photos John showed us of his first deployment and, I’ll be honest, I had nightmares for a week after seeing them and reading his journal. Can you tell us a little about the clearing of Fallujah in 2004?

John’s Battalion, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Division, had 33 Marines killed and the majority of the rest of the Marines were injured. Coalition Forces evacuated Iraqi civilians from Fallujah and participated in a campaign in which they rid Fallujah of insurgents. As a result of that deployment (again, his first during which time he and I were both deployed), John received the Bronze Star for Combat Valor. A Bronze Star with a Combat “V,” is a rare award in the USMC. John has many other awards as well (I can’t begin to tell you exactly what they are).

Why has John had to go back three times? Have most people been sent back that many times?

Many Marines have deployed 3 times. I am not sure what the most common number of deployments is amongst Marines, but many deployments are now a common occurrence.

How are you doing with the two girls on your own?

mae ball In Honor of the 4th of July, Two of My American Heroes

Mae attends her first USMC Birthday Ball.

Mae, Ellie and I are doing fine. I have observed the impact of deployments on many families and I think that deployments are hardest on teenage children. Mae, who is 3, at first told John, “I don’t love you anymore.” But Mae is no longer angry with John and tells people that her Daddy is helping people in Iraq. My parents constantly remind me that Mae and Ellie won’t remember this time because they are so young. I hope that is true.

Do you have help with the girls?

I had a full-time nanny during the times that John’s training and deployment coincided with my law school classes; afternoons, evenings and weekends I was on my own with our girls. Unfortunately, John and I live in California and my entire family is in New York. My father, mother and sister each came to stay with me for a week during critical times in my first year of law school. Their visits, while brief, were an immense help to me.

How is law school going?

Law school is going very well. My grades were much better than I anticipated or hoped they would be. I feel as though I am at a severe disadvantage in a competitive environment because I can only devote so many hours to study and the rest are reserved for my children. I routinely put my books down before I feel prepared or confident about what I have studied, but Mae and Ellie come first. I can live with a “B” but not with the guilt of missing time with my children.

ronni girls laptop In Honor of the 4th of July, Two of My American Heroes

Ronni with her girls in a photo that says it all!

How do you find the time?

When I started law school my mother, who got her masters degree with 3 small children of her own, told me that being a student would make me a better mother and being a mother would make me a better student. I think my mother was right. I don’t have a large quantity of time to study, but I make sure that what time I do have is quality time. I commute from the San Jose area to San Francisco for law school and in an average week I spent 13.5 hours on the train. I make every minute of my commute count towards my studies and then, after my children are in bed, I study until midnight. I keep the same schedule virtually everyday in which I am enrolled in classes. My time with my children is my “play time” and I genuinely enjoy every minute with them, which was not how I felt as a stay home mother. The year that I spent at home with my children consisted of less quality time together than I now spend with them. My schedule gives me perspective on what is important.

Do you also work?

I do not work. At UC Hastings students are not permitted to work. I am also lucky enough to have a working spouse, which makes law school possible for me.

falcon poster In Honor of the 4th of July, Two of My American Heroes

John and Haitham in the poster for the Operation Falcon documentary.

You and John always impress me. Can you tell our readers how Operation Falcon came about?

“Falcon” is the call sign that was used by John’s interpreter, Haitham Jasim, during John’s second deployment to Iraq. John developed a special connection with Haitham and tried to contact Haitham after completing his deployment and returning to the United States. Once John was able to reach Haitham, John found out that Haitham’s father had been abducted for assisting coalition forces in Iraq and that Haitham and his family were also in danger. John and I immediately started working on a Special Immigrant Visa for Haitham, his wife and their children. We also started a non-profit organization, called Operation Falcon, to assist Haitham when he arrived in the United States. Generous and compassionate Americans from all over the United States helped us by sending money and household goods. We were able to raise over $20,000 and secure and furnish a two-bedroom apartment. One particularly generous donor gave Haitham a practically new Volkswagen Passat. John and I have been humbled by the generosity of complete strangers.

breezy deal1 In Honor of the 4th of July, Two of My American HeroesBreezy Mama Note: To see the extraordinary efforts of John and Ronni — all the while parenting — watch this award winning documentary. Click here!

haithem embrace In Honor of the 4th of July, Two of My American Heroes

Haithem embraces John upon arriving to the United States.

How is Haitham’s family doing now?

Haitham, Jamila and their children are doing well. Haitham has found full-time employment working at a non-profit organization that helps people who have been victims of torture. Jamila has taken English classes and is learning to drive. Fedak, their daughter, is in second grade and is fluent in English after less than a year in the United States. Ahmed, their son, starts preschool this year. Over the last year I have had the privilege of becoming intimately acquainted with the Jasim family and they are among the most deserving, grateful, honorable people John and I have ever met.

breezy deal1 In Honor of the 4th of July, Two of My American HeroesBreezy Mama Note: To watch a very touching 2 minute video of Haitham and his family arriving to the United States and to hear his gratitude toward John and Ronni, click here.

What did you think of the media coverage you two received?

John and I were very grateful for the media coverage Haitham’s story received. The Operation Falcon documentary, radio shows, newspaper and photojournalism stories done by various reporters and videographers were instrumental in raising both awareness and funds to help Haitham and other Iraqi refugees.

john truck In Honor of the 4th of July, Two of My American HeroesWhat’s the hardest part about John currently being gone?

The hardest part of John’s deployment is the pain that our children experience. Once every few days one of my girls will cry and ask for Daddy. While I do believe deployments are more painful for teenage children than for toddlers, deployments are not easy for a child of any age. I support John in his service and subsequent deployments, but I feel guilty that the decisions John and I make are forced on Mae and Ellie.

Are they able to communicate with him or how do you remind them of Daddy?

Both my older daughter, Mae, and my younger daughter, Ellie, talk about my husband every day. Both children hug and kiss pictures of John. Mae has asked why Daddy doesn’t want to play with her anymore and Ellie says, “Daddy no snuggle me.” But, children are resilient and comments like “Daddy no snuggle me” are often followed directly by things such as “Me want cheese.”

What do you look forward to most upon his return in November?

The best part of having John home will be our bedtime routine. When John is home he always gives Mae and Ellie their bath before bed. I almost never participate in their bath-time routine, but I listen to them laugh and play (and occasionally hear the girls get in trouble) from the next room. It will be great to hear those sounds again.

What sorts of items do the women and men need care packaged over and where do our readers send them?

I can’t really answer that question. Many of the bases in Iraq now have exchanges (stores) that carry everything Marines and Soldiers need. Most of the bases now have chow halls that have large amounts of perfectly adequate food. John is, for the first time in his 3 deployments to Iraq, stationed on a large base. I continually struggle to come up with ideas of things to send to him. I think the most helpful thing to send a deployed service member is a simple letter expressing gratitude for the sacrifices made by those who are deployed.

breezy deal1 In Honor of the 4th of July, Two of My American HeroesBreezy Mama Note: Thank you John, Ronni, Mae and Ellie for the sacrifices you have made. And thank you to all the men and women who are deployed and to their families that miss them.

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Comments

  1. jimking says:

    very good, heartwarming article. great writing!

  2. I agree! Thanks for the news about these amazing young people….they are so courageous!

  3. Thank you for sharing this touching article.

  4. maya Drake says:

    This is such an inspirational and touching story. I am thankful to our military families who give so much. This family is an example to us all of how to be resiliant, selfless and honorable. Thank you for this incredible article. I will be sharing it with all my friends and family.

  5. I have tears in my eyes.

  6. Rebecca Tierney says:

    What a wonderful story and a great tribute to this family and the US Military fighting for our freedom. There are so many soldiers like John out there and so many families enduring life without a spouse or parent. It makes me angry that soldiers are forced to do so many tours of duty. I think 3 is absolutely ridiculous. I pray for John’s safety and a quick return to his family. And that this will be his last and final tour. Great article Chelsea. I will pass this along.:-)

  7. Alice Gold says:

    First, as an American…thank you thank you to ALL of our soldiers.

    Second, as a parent, this was truly touching and it makes me even more grateful for the sacrifices of the mothers fathers and children!

    Third, having been a spouse of a law student with children,I am truly amazed at this story. It was hard enough when there were two of us. You go girl!!!

  8. I have a suggestion for something to send deployed parents. Get a build a bear gift certificate so that the families can exchange them. Specifically make sure that they can record a personalized message. Before my husband left on his most recent deployment he recorded a message for each of our three kids (then 1 year, 3 years and 6 years). We have another baby due any day now and he will be making a stuffed bear for her as well. And then recently I took the kids in to record and make a stuffed puppy to send to their daddy. In Afghanistan the wait to use the phones can literally be hours. So to have a recording of Daddy’s voice is wonderful since most interaction is via IM and the younger two kids can’t participate in that very well. And the system in place in Afghanistan does not support VOIP or video chat. So build a bear gift certificates for at least $25 or a bag of stuffing, a small sewing kit, an unfinished bear and a recording box are the most ideal gifts for deployed parents in our experience.

  9. Thank you for all of the wonderful comments! And, Shalome, I love the bear idea!

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