ARLINGTON, Va. --
It can be difficult to comprehend the sacrifice a spouse makes when their loved one falls in battle, but for the military widows behind the American Widow Project it is an experience they live each day.
Taryn Davis, founder and president of the AWP, and vice president Nicole Hart have dedicated the last two years to supporting hundreds of their fellow military widows through personal connections and outreach, including a recent 14-day trip of the east coast.
The two traveled from their homes in Texas to the nation’s capital and met with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, participated in the National Memorial Day Parade and visited with widows in Fort Bragg, N.C., Fort Drum, N.Y., and Louisiana.
During their stop in New York, they met with Mimi Martin, the 31-year-old widow of Sgt. Shawn P. Martin, an explosives ordnance disposal technician who was killed June 20, 2007. The couple had been married for nearly five years when his convoy was struck by a roadside bomb.
“I think of myself as a fairly strong person, and I knew that a large part of being a military wife was dealing with deployments,” Martin explained.
Martin said she never lost her strength and resolve, but she knew she had to find her own unique way to heal after her husband was killed.
“I initially saw a counselor for a few months. Having another person to talk to was helpful, but it was hard for me because I knew that my counselor would never truly understand because she has never been through it,” Martin said. “I gradually started finding other military widows and discovered that they are by far the best support group out there.”
The American Widow Project stresses that the first year is extremely difficult and it is a time when widows find themselves dealing with the shock of their loss.
Martin said she first heard about the AWP within the first year after her Husband’s death, but did not want to be a part of it right away because “like all things, I found I had to reach out to them in my own time.”
However, the comfort of her fellow widows slowly eased Martin's numbness.
"They understand what I say and how I feel, and they always help me to feel like I haven't totally lost my mind," Martin said. "They are my widsters and I really don't know what I would do without them.”
Hart and Davis said this was their goal when creating the program – a link for women in search of commonality not found in everyday life.
Davis started the AWP after losing her husband, Army Cpl. Michael W. Davis, who was killed May 21, 2007. Searching for her own way to stomach life without her husband, she began to contact other widows and asked to hear their stories. Davis captured the interviews on video and began the American Widow Project to unify the new generation of military widows.
“It’s a chapter in my life I never thought I’d be writing, especially starting at the age of 21,” said Davis, now 23. “For (AWP) to do this we’re continuing our husbands’ legacies and I’m able to honor the women who have helped me through my darkest hours.”
Hart became active in the AWP last year after her husband, Army Sgt. David J. Hart, died from wounds received during a firefight Jan. 8, 2008.
Hart and Davis traveled along the east coast in their mobile memorial, an RV carrying a precious cargo - the names of thousands of service members killed in Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.
The names adorn both sides of the RV as a “testament to their service and sacrifice,” Hart said.
“I’m glad (military widows) know this is here,” said Davis, in reference to the RV. “There isn't a memorial with our husbands’ names [on it] and for us to bring them a memorial even though it’s [uncommon], we see that they cherish it just as much as any carved stone.”
Unfortunately, Martin was unable to cherish the experience of running her fingers across her husband’s name due to engine problems with the RV, but she said “I imagine I would have felt the way I always feel when I see his name...I feel proud, I feel happy for him to have led such a great life in his short 30 years, and I feel sad that I miss him more than words can describe.”
She added that the AWP has helped her find common sorrow among other widows and helped her heal along the way.
“The best support, in my opinion, is other widows. And, unfortunately, there are far too many of us out there,” Martin said. “I'm active in helping other widows simply by being one. We all help and support each other, without question.”
As the two-year mark of her husband’s death approaches, Martin carries on her husband’s legacy daily with her work as the spokeswoman for the New York State Fallen Stars Memorial Project.
“I try my best to live a good life, to be a good person and to do good work,” Martin explained. “Shawn is a large part of who I am and who I always will be. I owe it to him to do the best I can. I want to make him proud, so that when it's my turn to go and I finally get to see him again, he will smile and tell me I did a good job.”
For more information on the AWP, visit www.americanwidowproject.org.