#1 – Tom and Amy Altersitz

I found love, and married Amy in 1997. As a military BRAT, I always saw my future as a soldier. Enlisting in the Army a little over a year after high school was what I was always meant to do. Now with a new wife, a baby on the way and a bright future as a solider we were ready to start our life together and we were looking forward to where that life would take us.

After a few months at our first duty location, Fort Carson, CO on 14 November 1997 our son Danny was born. There were massive complications during the delivery, causing him to suffer severe brain damage. Amy and I had to make decisions that no 20 year old’s should ever have to make. The delivery left our infant son very sick and with an uncertain future at best. Hospitalized and his life hanging by a thread.

Life in the military is not the easiest. We were half way across the country with just the support of my unit and with family far away. When the absolute worst thing in the world happened, nothing could have prepared us for the situation that we were in. We had to make several difficult choices that would affect the rest of our lives.

It was for the best interest that our Danny and Amy, returned to back to the east coast. To an area where they were able to not only receive some of the best medical care in the country at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children but also they had the emotional support needed to make it through this trying time. Danny was in the NICU at St. Christopher’s until New Year’s Eve, 1997. I followed our family back to the NJ area on a special assignment meant to help stabilize our family. We were assigned to Fort Monmouth, NJ which was close enough for us to take Danny to specialty medical appointments as needed and still allow me to continue my career.

While on this Companionate Assignment, Danny’s condition went through ups and downs. He needed multiple surgeries and the severity of his injuries were starting to come to light. He was never going to be a “normal” child. It took the better part of a year but soon Danny was healthy enough for me come off of the companion assignment and the Army reassigned us to Fort Hood, TX. By this time we had become well equipped to deal with all the complications that come from raising a medically fragile child.

After being at Fort Hood for three years and two years after welcoming our second child, our daughter Haleigh, the wars on terror began after the events of 9/11. I was soon facing long deployments and the training that comes along with these deployments. It was decided that it was best for our family that Amy and the children to return back to Southern New Jersey. This was for support and stability of medical care for Danny. I was a soldier and I was going to be going to combat.

During my first deployment in 2004, Danny fell extremely ill several time. Not wanting to distract me from the battles that I was facing in Iraq, Amy endured heartache after heartache and kept the severity of his condition to herself. Danny’s health started to deteriorate rapidly and he became extremely ill.

Finally, on a snowy east coast morning in January 2005, a Red Cross message was sent to my command in Iraq, to inform me that Danny had passed away. He was 7 years old. Within hours my unit set up a special patrol through dangerous territory just to get me back to Baghdad where I could get a flight home. It took me 36 hours to arrive home to bury our son. Soon after I had to return back to my state side base, to start training up again for my next deployment.

For many people the events of those years would have be too much to bare, we watch marriages fail under less stress. None the less we keep up our long distance marriage to give our family time to grieve as we moved forward but never forgetting our shared loss. Finally after several deployments to Iraq and a worn out body, it was time for me to get an assignment to truly let the family healing begin. That is when I was assigned to work at the Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB). The time at the WTB was good for us as a whole allowing us to come together as a family and not have to worry about us being split apart again.

We look at everything that has happened to us and the challenges that we faced as things that have brought us closer together as a family. There are not many couples that would be able to start out so young and experience such tragedy as the loss of a child and still be together. Always pushing forward and cherishing the past. We will never forget the love we have for our son, we think of him often and know that he lived a life full of love and joy that saw him want for nothing.