It is commonly known across the military branches that the most difficult job belongs to the spouses and families of the service members. They keep the home fires burning and handling the day-to-day business of life while simultaneously dealing with the weight of constant worry during deployments. Sometimes, the worst happens, and many fears are realized. For Melissa Jarboe, that day was April 10, 2011, when her husband, Jamie Jarboe, was struck by a sniper’s bullet in the neck while on patrol in the Zhari district of Afghanistan. The next eleven months were enough to give anyone nightmares, with complications from surgeries and the daunting bureaucratic process of relocating back to Topeka for care, culminating in the untimely passing of a true American soldier on March 21, 2012.
“After the doctor told Jamie he was terminal, I cried for like, four hours,” Jarboe remembers, “and Jamie just let me cry; let me get it out of my system. Afterwards, we started planning for the rest of my life. One thing he asked me was to ‘take care of my soldiers’ after he was gone.”
The loss of Staff Sergeant Jarboe gave rise to the Jamie Jarboe Foundation, started in August 2012, with the goal of improving the morale and visible support for military service members and veterans while campaigning for official recognition and support for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI).
“We are a 100% volunteer organization, with maybe 94 or 95 members nationwide,” says Jarboe. “When we encounter a problem, we get in touch with our volunteer in the area and they start working with the service member or Veteran and with any partnering organizations which might be able to help.”
In just over a year, great strides have been made in all areas originally envisioned for the Foundation.
“Now that PTSD and TBI have been acknowledged [by the military] as real conditions requiring treatment, this kind of thing can be pushed out to [medical commands for the military branches],” says Jarboe. “The assistance and care should now be better.”
Yet, the mission did not stop there.
“Jamie was worried about how people would treat him when he was home,” remembers Jarboe. “He believed that being a quadriplegic going out in public, people would try to pick a fight with him. I told him, ‘We’ll be in the Veteran’s Day parade when we get back home, and you will see how many people honor you! People will line up for miles for Veteran’s Day; it’s always so big!’ Well, after he passed away, I’d been to Washington D.C., California, and probably every Veteran’s Administration hospital in America. So, I said, ‘I’m going to start doing something local; I’m going to take care of Topeka.”
With the intention of sponsoring parade floats, Melissa began asking after the Topeka Veteran’s Day parade. “I was told, ‘You have to go to Emporia,’” says Jarboe. “I went to the city and spoke with Jennifer Goodrich [with the City Clerk’s office], and she told me there was no parade, and all I could ask is, “Why?”
After speaking with Downtown Topeka, Inc. CEO Vince Frye, and Topeka Mayor Larry Wolgast, it was only a matter of time before Melissa rallied enough support to make the parade a reality. “This is going to be the first Topeka Veteran’s Day parade, and that makes me feel so bad for veterans!” says Jarboe. “I mean, where are we so wound up on everything else that we treat them like they don’t matter?”
Beginning November 1, there will be numerous events designed to not only honor veterans, but to give Topekans a better view of the cost and sacrifice of military service paid by the individuals and their families. Events include a Stand of Sacrifice, where military veterans of all services will be standing vigil in remembrance of fallen; the Faces of Freedom Project, where donated combat boots will line the street, each supporting a picture and biography of a veteran; and there will be several galas and interactive events, such as a Patriotic Scavenger Hunt and Patriotic Bike Show. The festivities will culminate with the Veteran’s Day Parade on November 11 starting at 11a in Downtown Topeka, and a Closing Ceremony at 2p at Great Overland Station in NOTO. Veteran floats will be provided by the Jamie Jarboe Foundation, and will be made for each war. Veterans who wish to participate in the parade or design and build floats can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Topeka and Kansas are home to huge numbers of veterans and their families,” says Jarboe, “and most people don’t really understand what they have done for us, and still do. I would say that we have accomplished everything we set out to do when the Jamie Jarboe Foundation was created, but that doesn’t mean we are done. Evolution happens, and there are big things coming in the next year for us.”
Every day young men and women put themselves forward to serve and protect our country, willing to sacrifice their very lives if necessary. The veterans of current and past wars, living or dead, are owed an unpayable debt by those of us who reap the bounty of their service. Topeka, despite all the best of intentions, has overlooked a basic measure to honor our treasured veterans, and we at seveneightfive magazine would like to thank Melissa Jarboe for reminding us our entire obligation.