By LYNN JENKINS | 10/15/13 5:04 AM EDT The following essay is part of a series in which dozens of women will reveal what women they most admire. The series is part of “Women Rule,” a unique effort this fall by POLITICO, Google and The Tory Burch Foundation exploring how women are leading change in politics, policy and their communities. See more essays here.
People often hear me quote former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s famous line, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”
Women Rule: A look at women taking chargeWomen Rule panel: ‘Women matter’ on economy <img src="http://content-dimestore.dmi.sensic.net/prod/vixml/image/300x250.jpg"/><a href="http://ad.doubleclick.net/jump/politico/congress-story;pos=4;tile=3;sz=300x250,1x1;ord=123456789?" target="_blank" ><img src="http://ad.doubleclick.net/ad/politico/congress-story;pos=4;tile=3;sz=300x250,1x1;ord=123456789?" border="0" alt="" /></a> Latest on POLITICO My male counterparts on Capitol Hill may disagree, but when I meet women like Melissa Jarboe, I am convinced this is not merely an opinion. It is an absolute fact.
I have known Melissa only for a little more than a year, but her compelling story reminds us how we can inspire each other every day through acts of selflessness. A young mother and tireless advocate for active-duty soldiers, military veterans and their families, we met almost inadvertently in June 2012 at an annual ceremony honoring fallen soldiers in Fort Riley, Kan. She visited me a couple months later and shared her journey — one of the most powerful accounts of personal resolve I have ever heard.
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Melissa is originally from my hometown of Holton, Kan., and I was immediately touched by the pain and struggle she and her family endured. Her husband, Sgt. Jamie Jarboe, was shot by a sniper two months after deploying to Afghanistan — and two months after Melissa and Jamie were married. The bullet penetrated his spine and left him paralyzed from the chest down. He died 11 months later at 27 years old, after more than 100 surgeries.
Today, Melissa’s pain is not visible. Her bubbly personality and passion for her work serving veterans and military families are pervasive. However, when you talk to her about her motivation, you can hear a slight wistfulness in her voice when she says faith in God keeps her going but “my husband is my strength.”
Melissa turned her grief into a powerful force of good that is making a direct, positive impact on the lives of others.
“Melissa Jarboe undoubtedly helps veterans by giving them a venue to come together and support each other,” said Ryan Stauffer, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran. “She spends her time trying to improve the medical treatment of military members and veterans alike … educating [families] on things like post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.”
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Using the money from her husband’s life insurance policy, Melissa started a nonprofit to fulfill the promise she made to him, “to take care of his fellow soldiers even though he is gone.”
The Jamie Jarboe Foundation is a 100 percent, volunteer-led organization focused on raising awareness and providing a support network for active-duty soldiers, veterans and their families. One particular void Melissa has identified for the foundation to address is offering support for “single” veterans, our unmarried soldiers who joined the military at a young age.
Only one year since its inception, the foundation has provided assistance for more than 500 active, reserve, wounded and retired military members and their families on everything from access to financial advisers and mental health resources to social activities to help veterans transition back into civilian life. Last year, the foundation provided nearly $120,000 in reimbursements for veterans’ and active duty members’ medical care alone. There was even a refurbished cabin in the Knife Lake area of Minnesota donated to the foundation and now it functions as a free getaway where military families can relax and vacation.
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Melissa has no intention to stop there. Her team has some exciting goals as they move into a second year, such as providing homeless veterans transitional housing, giving veterans therapy dogs through Patriotic Paws and organizing Warrior Retreats to connect veterans of all ages.
At a time when many Americans forget we are a nation at war, when cynicism about U.S. military operations overseas abounds, Melissa reminds us of the respect and gratitude we owe these men and women in uniform.
Whether you agree with where they are fighting or why, we need them and respect them. Having men and women like Jamie Jarboe, who are willing to give up everything to serve and protect their country makes this nation great.
Fortunately, you don’t have to lose someone to make a difference and that is why Melissa’s work is so important. She is challenging others to be better Americans, to give back and to say thank you in small ways. I am grateful for her remarkable work, and I wish her outstanding success.
Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) is vice chairwoman of the House Republican Conference. Melissa Jarboe will release a book detailing her husband’s life and journey later this year, and proceeds will go to the Jamie Jarboe Foundation.
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