"I served with her in Iraq and was one of the last people to speak with her before she led her convoy off our base camp and was killed by the IED. Her USMA graduation picture says it all - she had that same beautiful smile on her all the time, even after 9 months into our deployment.
Despite being a Medical Service officer, she was leading a logistics patrol as we were closing down Forward Operating Base Duke outside the city of Najaf before turning it over to the Iraqi Army. She briefed me and our Battalion Intel officer on her route and security plan, said she’d bring more trucks tomorrow for another run, and left our operations center.
About an hour later, near the town of Kifl she was killed. Our Brigade lost 42 Soldiers and officers in 10 months in 2006, some I knew much better than Emily, but her death continues to hurt the most. It may be because I just spoke with her, but I think it was because she was just such a special kid. She was all the things her picture says - smart, beautiful, confident, and overflowing with potential ... really destined to do great things. But more than that, she was always nice - doesn’t matter how shitty life was in Iraq in 2006, she treated people well and she brought happiness wherever she went."
- Mike Donahue
Each Memorial Day, we honor the millions of women and men who have made the ultimate sacrifice. As a daughter of the military, it is a sacred day in our household. After 2006, Memorial Day also became a day that I reflect on and mark the unique sacrifices of women in combat - highlighted with a special prayer for Emily.
In September 2006, I was walking to classes in Washington, DC. Despite all the buzz and bustle of the city, my eyes fixated on a single image at a local newsstand. The unforgettable face of 2nd Lt. Emily Jazmin Tatum (L.T.) Perez. I quickly grabbed the paper, praying the headline was somehow incorrect. Emily was a recent West Point graduate. She was described as a steward in her community, in high school starting an HIV-AIDS ministry and before deploying serving as a bone marrow donor. Selflessness and courage personified. At West Point, Emily excelled in track, became the first woman of color Cadet Command Sergeant Major, and graduated in the top 10% of her class. All I could think, "you go girl!" Her story was such an inspiration, you couldn't help but get lost in thoughts of all the trailblazing achievements she would have accomplished both in the military and within our communities. Friends described her as, "not your average Joe, unforgettable, and truly one-of-a-kind."
Tears streamed down my face, in disbelief that this article was an obituary. Emily was the first 2005 West Point graduate to be killed in Iraq - her class known as the "9/11 class". They began at the Academy during the worst terrorist attack in modern history. Their graduation meant deployment to the front lines. That is the essence of courage.
Emily was my age, and during law school, I thought about a career in the JAG Corps. My father is also a Black Army Officer - so her death hit us all so hard. Since 2006, every Memorial Day I remember Emily. I am forever thankful for her and every woman and man's sacrifice. This year, Jake Tapper helped me highlight Emily on Twitter. On Memorial Day, I found a note in my inbox from her war comrade. He shared with me the intro story about Emily's final hours.
When I think of her and the women and men on the front lines, I'm reminded:
My position isn't the toughest: Over the last few years, I found myself complaining more and more about my positions - career, dating, social, my life in general. Each time, my father reminding me of soldiers like Emily. Their positions being the toughest - just starting life and sent to a battlefield. We all go through things that have profound effects on us. This isn't to minimize, it's to provide perspective.
Live: Millions of young people have sacrificed so that each of us can enjoy the freedoms and the experiences that life has to offer. Because of them, we must live.
Uphold our values & our traditions: We are the home of the free and a refuge for those in need. That means in all endeavors, stand-up for equality and lend a helping hand. The bloodshed and lives lost to protect these values are too high a cost to allow them to be politicized and forgotten.
The definition of bold & fearless: Our servicewomen and men personify bold and fearless. Emily graduated from college and took her first job in a war zone. We owe it her and all our sisters in uniform to knock-down all barriers to women's success - no matter our position.
Honoring Women Who Have Fallen
“I don’t think the typical American realizes that the face of this war (Iraq &Afghanistan) has changed. This one has a woman’s face.” - Re McClung, Maj. McClung's mother
"Despite the military prohibition against women serving in combat units, military women aren’t confined to jobs as nurses or administrative or intelligence duties behind the lines as they were in past wars. They sling rifles and drive armored trucks in convoys, guard checkpoints, fly helicopters and serve as combat medics and MPs." - Mike Baker, Military Times.
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