Written by: Judy Gentz
Mother of Capt Joel Gentz, KIA 6/9/10
Major Mike Erwin attended my son’s calling hours. He had never met Joel, nor had he ever met our family. Mike was a graduate student at U of M, and came in his dress uniform to pay his respects to a local fallen American soldier. Mike had read about Joel in the paper, and knew that he was an avid runner. During his visit that day, Mike asked if he and an Army buddy could dedicate an ultra marathon they were planning in Joel’s memory. That October, our younger son, Jared, ran 54 miles side-by-side with Mike Erwin, his Army friend Mike Adkyns, and several other people in the M-1 Joel C Gentz Ultra Marathon. This was Team RWB’s first official event…and it was amazing. A bit of money was raised, but more importantly awareness was raised about the thousands of American troops with visible and invisible injuries whose need for civilian partners in their reintegration was huge.
My needs at that time were also huge. I needed information, support, reassurance…and most of the time I really didn’t even know what I needed. My emotional pain at times seemed unbearable. The grief from the loss of one’s child is beyond description. The following February I made a visit to Nellis AFB, and Aggie agreed to meet me. I anxiously drove to his home wondering what it would be like to meet one of the men who survived the crash that took my son. Aggie was able to answer simple questions and offer reassurance that the USAF could not, because he was there. He was gentle, kind and understanding. I told him about the Ultra-marathon, and he told me how much he hoped he’d run again. I shared with Aggie about Team RWB and their aim to partner civilians with injured vets.
On March 1st I drove to the Detroit Airport to pick up MSgt Christopher “Aggie” Aguilera. Aggie came for a weekend visit, to meet my husband and son, and to help promote Team Red, White and Blue in our community. I want to share very briefly how important Aggie is to me and my family, and how Team Red, White and Blue gave me the courage to seek Aggie out.
Aggie has allowed us to share our grief with him and he has shared his with us. I hope that our relationship helps to ease some of the guilt Aggie is left with. His surviving the crash has been a ray of light in our darkest times. My younger son spent a lot of time with Aggie. This really helped him acknowledge painful feelings of longing for Joel…his older brother. Aggie offered brotherhood to Jared, and to my husband and myself, Aggie has allowed us to “adopt” him. I look forward to him meeting our daughter someday soon, and he and his wife being a part of our extended family.
I know Aggie is not Joel, so there’s no pretending of a replacement here. But, I feel very strongly that Joel would want us to have a relationship with Aggie, who suffered multiple injuries and is alive by a miracle of sorts. I also think Joel would dive into Team Red, White and Blue head first. As a Combat Rescue Officer his job was to meet the needs of combat wounded, and I am certain he would view caring for the wounded veterans at home in the same way.
The pain in my heart is indescribable at times…the yearning to hear Joel’s voice, to get that awesome AF hug. Nothing really makes that go away. But, during those other moments, I think about veterans in need here in the U.S. These men and women who have pain that may be emotional, physical or both. I know that having a connection with Aggie, and supporting the efforts of Team RWB in this way is exactly what Joel would want. It brings me a sense of love and compassion. These are the feelings of a mother…and that’s who I am, now with a Gold Star pin to wear.