Oak Harbor salutes fallen sailor

There are days when Kristal Martin admits she wonders what it would be like to have a husband with a nine-to-five job. Monday was likely one of them.

For the second time this year, Whidbey Island and its military community are in mourning.

Monday, more than two dozen adults and children gathered along Highway 20 to wave American flags and show support for Keri Wade, wife of fallen sailor Chief Petty Officer Patrick Wade who, along with Petty Officer 1st Class Jeffrey Chaney, died in Iraq the morning of July 17. Both served with Naval Air Station Whidbey Island’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 11.

Wade’s remains arrived at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island via jet at 10:40 a.m. Monday. Wade’s family, including his wife, along with a color guard were on hand as the flag-draped coffin was unloaded from the Dassault Falcon.

Bugler, Lt. Cmdr. Nelson Craig, bellowed Taps as pallbearers carried the coffin from the jet to a hearse. Sailors working in nearby hangars stood at attention along the naval air station streets as the motorcade made its way off base.

Traffic was cleared all along Charles Porter Avenue to make way for a Navy base worth of personnel lining up to pay their respects.

The loss of the two sailors came as a blow to a community still feeling the pain of losing three EODMU-11 sailors this April — Chief Petty Officer Gregory Billiter, Petty Officer 2nd Class Curtis R. Hall and Petty Officer 1st Class Joseph “Adam” McSween.

“Even in war, nobody expected what happened in April,” said Kristal Martin, wife of EODMU-11 member Lt. Ken Martin.

No one was ready for death to come calling twice.

“We’re all reliving everything we felt then,” Martin said. “We’re exhausted and just want our guys home.”

All the same, everyone on the home front understands the mission and duty their spouses have.

“We’re supportive of everything they’re doing over there,” Martin said.

Martin and the other military wives who gathered spoke proudly of their husbands’ efforts that are meant to give freedom to Iraqis. Minesweeping of fields has allowed farmers to utilize them for the first time since Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship.

“They’re helping support the local commerce and giving them back their ability to support themselves,” Martin said.

The sailors realize there’s more to their jobs than just detecting and defusing explosives, Martin said — sometimes defusing a wartime situation is as simple as passing out Teddy bears.

“Them simply being there is making a big difference in the lives of locals,” she said.

The spouses of the men and women who serve EOD11 are a proud bunch.

“We all know what they signed up for,” Martin said.

To be a member of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit means living every day with your bags packed, ready to leave home at any minute.

“It’s scary. They’re not allowed to talk about what they do, and most of the time we wouldn’t want to know,” Martin said.

These losses are only cementing the support they have for each other.

“We’re working hard to get to know each other better so we can take care of each other,” Martin said.

When news of tragedy breaks, spouses like Martin arrive at the homes of the families affected without delay.

“You just go,” Martin said. “Even if people come to the door or not, you’re there, waiting to see if there’s any way you can help, crying in your car until they get there.”

Monday’s outpouring of grief and respect along the highway proved the impact of the deaths of these men cross squadron lines. There’s no difference in reaction between civilian and military. They are losses felt by the community as a whole — not just EODMU-11 or military.

Tabitha Garner and her kids came bearing flags to show respect for the fallen sailors and appreciation for the dangers they and their brothers and sisters in arms face every day.

“My husband helps take care of these guys,” Garner said through tears.

Her husband, Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Shaun Garner, is a dive medical technician with EODMU-11.

“It definitely hits closer to home when the loss is in your detachment,” Garner said.

As a former active duty member herself and now a military spouse, Garner said she understands both sides of military duty — the front lines and the home front.

“You feel crushed at the loss,” she said. “Each individual is so important. Each has a family and is a part of the military family. It’s a hard loss.”

Every night, Garner and her family pray for the men and women serving in the military. Every night they hope everyone comes home safe once more.

Parents gathered Monday said children old enough to realize the significance of last week’s news are showing concern for those whose daddies passed by in the motorcade to the funeral home.

“They know they’re sad,” Martin said. “But they’re also used to it. They’re immersed in the Navy life and they’re proud of what their parents do.”

A celebration of life for Chief Petty Officer Patrick Wade will be held at 2 p.m. today, July 25, at First Reformed Church in Oak Harbor.

A memorial for both Wade and Cheney is expected to be held Aug. 1 at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island with time to be determined.

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