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2/13/13 at 01:30 PM 0 Comments

Hope Unseen (BOOK EXCERPT, PT 4)

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Captain Scotty Smiley made American history while serving in the military. The book Hope Unseen: The Story of the U.S. Army's First Blind Active-Duty Officer tells his story. This book excerpt comes from chapter 9.

In the early morning of April 6, 2005, Tiffany slept alone at her parents’ house. Her room—the same room she’d had in high school— was on the second floor, just to the left of the top of the stairs. The stairs run down to the entry door of a traditional-looking farmhouse, with a small deck that spans the length of the home’s front side. The Elliott residence sits alone on several acres in rural north Pasco. It has a stadium-sized swath of land out front, separating a two-lane country road from the house itself. Splitting off from the road is a long driveway that borders the right side of the yard and ends at a basketball hoop just to the side of the garage. Mr. Elliott, the only other person home on the morning of April 6, slept downstairs from Tiffany, in the master bedroom.

The phone rang at three forty-five. Middle-of-the-night calls were no longer a surprise really, just a gentle announcement that I was checking in. What did throw Tiffany off guard was the sound of a voice that was not mine. Originally hunching her right arm upward and snuggling the earpiece between her shoulder and her head, Tiffany perked up to an L-shape when she recognized the sound of Jeff ’s voice. She awoke quickly, but had no time to cycle through the possibilities in her head. “Hi, Jeff, what is it?” she asked cautiously.

“Scotty’s been hurt pretty bad.”

Jeff described in as much detail as possible what had happened to me, where I had been injured, and where I was headed (to a hospital in Germany after some surgery in Iraq). “There’s metal in his eyes, and they don’t know if he is going to make it.” Jeff’s voice trembled. Tiffany sensed he was holding back tears. My wife had always seen my commander as a portrait of strength. His apparent pain was her clearest indication that something was life-changingly wrong. “I’ll call you when I get more information,” Jeff continued, and then his voice broke. “I’m sorry, Tiff. I’m so sorry,” Jeff poured out. His tears echo in her mind to this day.

Not yet able to cry herself, Tiffany stood up and walked to the stairs. She sat down on the top step, teetering between devastation and shock. Through a window she rarely looked out, one above the entryway door, the headlights of a lone car cut right to left across Tiffany’s front. No one needed to turn down the driveway, she told me later.

Tiffany already knew something really bad had happened. But hours would go by before she knew any more.

Tiff rose from the top step and woke up her dad. She called her mom. She called Therese Van Antwerp. She called her sisters. She called my mom and dad. One by one she told them, “Scotty’s been hurt.” Once she had called everyone, once quiet reemerged, Tiffany did break down and sob. Tiffany’s dad could not see the future, but he had seen his daughter skin those knees and go after those sheep. It was nowhere near time to utter the empty assurance that she would “be okay,” but Tiffany’s dad knew his daughter would endure. She had an inner strength and a foundation of faith that would help her surmount whatever was to come.

In Mosul, Jeff began what he has described as a marathonlike struggle to come to grips with my injury. For the next two weeks he did not laugh, he did not smile, and he did not cry. He showed no emotion.

“Would it have been easier for me if you had been killed?” Jeff has asked. “I don’t know. I don’t even know,” he explained rhetorically. “There’s something about the finality of death; there’s sort of a closure there. With Bill Jacobsen—he was gone. We mourned him. But because I didn’t know what was going on and what the outcome was going to be, I couldn’t stop thinking about you and Tiffany and what your future held.”

He continued, “I don’t know why it was so much different with you. There were guys who were shot dead standing two feet away from me. And I loved that guy. Loved that guy. And he was dead. But with you, I knew you were never going to see your wife again. I just didn’t know how to deal with it. All the guys in the battalion kept asking how you were doing. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through.”

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