Everyone has a story to tell and ours is not much different from many other military couples dealing with a decade of war as well as infertility issues. Our journey began shortly after Julie and I married in 1998 as we began our new life together. We resided in the small community of New Market, Alabama, and like most newlywed couples we wanted to settle into our new house and get our finances in order before thinking about starting a family. As Julie reminds me from time to time I am a spender while she is a saver in this newly formed union.
At the time of our marriage, I was 34 years old and Julie was 29. Most people our age already had several children but at that time in our lives we did not seem to be concerned about the fact that we were approaching “middle age” which would make having children harder as well as place us in a higher risk category for birth defects and the possibility of threatening Julie’s health while carrying a child. In 2000 I accepted a full-time position with the National Guard and we left north Alabama to move to central Mississippi. Our future seemed very bright as we anticipated our move and new life there.
Our day-to-day life at this point seemed to be great and uneventful; we both worked and spent our off hours in church activities and enjoyed hobbies such as scouting, civil war reenacting, and horseback riding. We had also decided to totally renovate our newly purchased forty-year-old farmhouse which turned into a major undertaking and months of living in dust and construction debris but was well worth the decision.
In 2003 the War on Terror was in full swing as a result of the attacks on September 11, 2001. I was a 20-year veteran and was currently serving as the Administrative Officer at the local National Guard armory in our hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi. As a matter of fact, Julie and I were having a conversation one night a few months after the attacks and she mentioned that she had thought about joining the military but had not pursued it because of her advanced studies in veterinarian medicine at Auburn.
I told her that she was still young enough to look into joining if she was interested and so she agreed to take a direct commission if the Army would take her. After tons of prayers, paperwork, and physicals Julie was sworn in at the rank of Captain in the Veterinarian Corps in July 2003. Our life seemed to be moving in a peaceful and joyful direction during this period. Julie was working as a Veterinarian at a local animal hospital and besides working for the Guard I served as a volunteer with the Boy Scouts of America as a Scout Master with Troop 87 at my church.
It was at this point in our lives that things began to unravel and our world began to change in a negative way. First, my unit was mobilized in December 2003 for service in southwestern Iraq (in what was known as part of the “Sunni Triangle” which was probably one of the most volatile areas of that country). We would serve there during the height of the war (2004-05) in and around Al-Fallujah, Ramadi, and Baghdad and would become famous for the bloodshed during the early months of 2004.
Julie remained at home and continued to work until she too was mobilized in June of 2004. Although this meant that our home in Philadelphia would be mothballed and our animals (horses, dog, cat, chickens, and goats) would have to care for she was sent to Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center (CSJFTC) to serve as the post-Veterinarian. It was about the time she was mobilized that she found out she was pregnant with our first child. I remember how she broke the news to me over the telephone and how excited I was. I was on cloud nine for several days as I tried to mentally prepare myself for fatherhood. This excitement would turn to deep depression as I received news from her that she had miscarried the child. My heart was broken but I continued to focus on my job in Iraq.
Besides the fact that I was halfway around the world fighting a war and Julie was three hours from our home her beloved mare birthed a foal that ended up being euthanized due to our Story of a freak accident (which resulted in a broken leg while being left alone). When I returned in February 2005 I tried to recoup my life as it had been prior to 2003. Julie was still mobilized at Camp Shelby and would remain there for another three years; the scout troop I had left with twenty-eight scouts was down to four; and within a few months, I was command directed to move three hours south to another position within my command forcing us to make a decision to sell our small farm in Philadelphia.
In May 2006 we moved to south Mississippi and continued to stay involved in our church but abandoned our hobbies (horses) because we did not have the time required or barns to handle this pastime. It was during this time that we continued to pursue having a baby and made multiple trips to Jackson, Mississippi for in-vitro fertilization treatments. In December 2006 Julie found out she was pregnant. We held our breath for the first few months hoping that she would not miscarry and finally accepted that she would carry the baby full term. When we found out that the baby was a girl we decided to name her Ella (after my Great Grandmother) and Marie (after Julie). On August 24, 2007, Ella Marie Formby was born at Wesley Hospital in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. She weighed 5 lbs and was 21 inches long and was perfect in every way.
Julie was a wonderful mother and she and Ella were able to spend six weeks getting to know one another before Julie had to return to work at Camp Shelby. Julie’s parents came and stayed with us for a month which allowed them to get to know Ella as well as being a blessing to us. Ella was a beautiful child both physically and spiritually and brought our family pure joy and happiness for the time she was on earth. She was smart and loving to all that knew her - she never met a stranger.
In the fall of 2010, I was deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan as part of the president’s surge strategy to wipe out insurgent activity in that country. Julie and Ella moved to Alabama to be close to her parents. This turned out to be a blessing because only a few months after arriving home her father died of a massive heart attack hours after Ella’s 4th Birthday party. The deployment seemed to last a lifetime as I was separated from Julie and Ella but we made it and in late summer 2011 I made it home safely.
At this point, we began searching for a home closer to my job because we had been living on family property and my commute was approximately 89 miles one-way. In July 2012 we found a small farm near Sumrall, Mississippi, and decided to move there mainly because the school system in that area was wonderful, as well as the fact that I was a lot closer to my work. Our Story
We enrolled Ella in Sumrall Elementary School kindergarten in the fall and she seemed to love every day she attended. We also found a church and became very active in the church there. I had also decided to re-enroll at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana, and continue to work on my Masters's Degree in Divinity (which I had started in 1991).
Our lives seemed to be getting back on track after 10 years of stress, when on January 25, 2013, our lives would be changed in a tragic way by the selfish free will choice of one individual. That 10-second collision changed our lives forever.
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