As soon as Master Sgt. Jennifer Loredo went into labor, she wondered if her husband, Staff Sgt. Eddie Loredo, would make it to the hospital on time.
"He was on his way home from Iraq for two weeks of leave," Master Sgt. Loredo told me. "So I basically wound up having to go to the hospital and start labor knowing he was on the airplane from Iraq."
Moments later, Staff Sgt. Loredo ran into the hospital room to witness his wife giving birth to their son.
"He literally made it just in time," Jennifer said. "That was a pretty special time."
Jennifer was introduced to Eddie by a mutual friend in 2004, while both U.S. Army soldiers were stationed in Vicenza, Italy. They quickly fell in love.
"He deployed (to Afghanistan) a month later, but we kept in touch that entire time he was gone," she said. "We wrote love letters."
Immediately after returning, Eddie told Jennifer he wanted to marry her. They tied the knot just before returning to the United States and reporting for duty at North Carolina's Fort Bragg.
Two weeks after the birth of his son, Eddie returned to Iraq for another nine months. Then, in December 2009, the soldier left for Afghanistan. This combat deployment would be much different than his previous three, however, because his wife was headed to the war zone, too.
"It was my first deployment," she said. "At times it was overwhelming, but I had a great support system of family and friends who helped me out with my kids and were always there for me."
Jennifer left their son and her 12-year-old daughter from a previous relationship with relatives when she deployed in May 2010. While Eddie fought in the volatile south with an infantry unit, Jennifer was setting up dental facilities for U.S. troops to the north.
"It was very hard to communicate when I got to Afghanistan," she said.
During a rare phone conversation on Father's Day 2010, Jennifer was surprised when Eddie didn't sound like his normally energetic, enthusiastic self.
"The unit had lost several teammates," she said. "My husband was concerned about his soldiers' well-being."
On June 24, 2010, Jennifer's commanding officer brought her to his office and asked her to sit down. After he said two words -- "Sergeant Eddie," which is how soldiers referred to her husband -- the anguish quickly set in.
"Tears started rolling down his face," Jennifer said.
Eddie, 34, was severely wounded in a roadside bomb attack that had already taken his left leg. A numb, dazed Jennifer immediately boarded a plane to Kandahar, where she would stay by her husband's side.
After a frantic flight, Jennifer rushed into the hospital, much like Eddie on the day their son was born. Upon entering the room, she saw her husband lying quietly and peacefully.
"I ran to him and kissed him right away," she said. "As soon as my lips touched him, I knew he didn't make it."
Hours after collapsing into an Army Chaplain's arms, Jennifer was staring at her husband's flag-draped casket during a long, excruciating journey home from Afghanistan. While their two-year-old son probably wouldn't understand that daddy was gone, Jennifer knew her 12-year-old daughter would be devastated by her stepfather's sudden death.
"I did have a huge fear of telling my children," Jennifer said. "But I got through it."
The military and civilian communities rallied around Jennifer and the kids.
"To this day, I have so much support it is so overwhelming and so appreciated," she said. "The bad thing is there are many people in my situation who don't experience such a supportive environment."
Now 37, helping military families is Master Sgt. Jennifer Loredo's new mission. Stationed at the Pentagon, she supervises Master Resilience Training to assist Army families, including those who've lost loved ones, in coping with the enormous challenge of serving in a post-9/11 world.
"I wanted to make (Eddie) proud and my kids proud, too," she said.
When Jennifer puts her young son to bed, they talk about why daddy is a hero.
"Mommy is a soldier, daddy was a soldier, and we loved being soldiers," she said. "He gave his life for the well-being and protection of our country."
Tom Sileo, Creators Syndicate, 5777 W. Century Blvd., Suite 700, Los Angeles, CA, 90045.