Image courtesy: Pfc. David Hauk, U.S. Army. Kandahar, Afghanistan, November 12, 2009

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Young and the Brave

Images courtesy: Tahler Hostetter

U.S. Army Pfc. Jonathon Hostetter was 8 years old on Sept. 11, 2001. He was 20 when he deployed to Afghanistan in March 2013.

"It was very, very hard when he left," the soldier's wife, Tahler Hostetter, said.

Jon met Tahler through a mutual friend in their home state of Missouri. They were married on Jan. 26, 2013, about two months before the soldier went to war.

"For me, it's hard to pick out one thing that I loved most about Jon when I loved absolutely everything about him," Tahler wrote in an email following our phone interview. "He was everything I could of ever dreamed of in a man and so much more."

Immediately after their wedding, the young couple moved to New Mexico's White Sands Missile Range, where Jon and his fellow soldiers were making final preparations for Afghanistan.

"I'm only 20 years old, and it was pretty crazy for me to go from being in school to moving halfway across the country to become a military wife," Tahler said. "It gave me so much more appreciation for military wives and military members."

When Jon deployed, Tahler found herself in the conundrum thousands of military spouses still experience during America's longest war. All of a sudden, she was alone.

"The Internet out there in Afghanistan isn't great, but I was very thankful that I was able to talk to him because that helped me get through it," she said.

Even after dangerous missions in the southeastern province of Ghazni, the soldier would always make sure to call his wife.

"Jon was always in good spirits," Tahler said.

At 4 a.m. New Mexico time on Aug. 23, 2013, Tahler exchanged text messages with Jon, who was leaving for a combat mission.

"I love you so much," the husband wrote.

"I love you more," his wife replied. "Please be so careful."

Jon's missions usually lasted a few hours, but on that hot summer morning, it took longer than usual to hear from him. Before heading home from lunch, the soldier's wife told a friend she was worried.

"I wasn't home 20 minutes and I remember seeing someone pull up outside," Tahler said. "I could hear gravel moving and people walking up to the door and thinking 'oh, my gosh, this isn't happening.'"

According to the Pentagon, Pfc. Jonathon Hostetter and Spc. Kenneth Alvarez, 23, of Santa Maria, Calif., were killed when terrorists attacked their unit with an improvised explosive device. In the moments after receiving the dreadful news, "no" was Tahler's best defense against the unthinkable.

"I said it couldn't have been my husband because I just talked to him this morning," Tahler painfully recalled.

Just months after moving from Missouri to New Mexico, Tahler was in Delaware to meet her husband's flag-draped casket. While in Dover, Tahler also spoke with the wife and parents of Spc. Alvarez, an opportunity for which she remains grateful.

After landing in Kansas City, Jon and his loved ones were escorted to their small town of Milan, Mo., by the Patriot Guard Riders.

"Every town we went through, there were people lining the bridges and highways with huge signs saying 'thank you for your service' and waving flags," Tahler said. "Jon touched a lot of lives and it's amazing to see the impact he had."

After the funeral, Tahler moved back to Missouri to live with Jon's parents, who Tahler called "the best in-laws in the world." While grateful for the support she's received, thinking about what's next is a daily struggle for the 20-year-old Afghanistan war widow.

"It's kind of hard for me to picture my future, because it's hard for me to picture my future without Jon," she said.

In January, Tahler Hostetter enrolled at North Central Missouri College with a goal of honoring her husband, who always wanted her to finish school.

"I still think about Jon every single day and it distracts me," said Tahler, speaking through tears. "I just wish he was here with me."

Even in her most challenging moments, Tahler still hears the voice of Pfc. Jonathon Hostetter.

"I can hear Jon in the back of my head telling me to keep going," she said.


Tom Sileo is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of BROTHERS FOREVER: The Enduring Bond Between a Marine and a Navy SEAL that Transcended Their Ultimate Sacrifice. Written with Col. Tom Manion (Ret.) and published by Da Capo Press, BROTHERS FOREVER will be released in May. To find out more about Tom Sileo, or to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website.

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