CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti (1/19/2013) — “I heard about the crash on the news, and the doorbell rang. I saw the men in uniform coming in and shouted ‘no, no, no!'”
“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.” –Anonymous
U.S. Navy Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Aaron Vaughn and his wife, Kimberly, sit with their two children, Reagan and Chamberlyn, in their last family photo before Aaron was killed in action Aug. 6, 2011. (Courtesy photo)
Kimberly Vaughn, widow of U.S. Navy Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Aaron Vaughn, hugs their son Reagan in front of her late husband's grave site at Arlington National Cemetery in September of 2012. (Courtesy photo)
“I heard about the crash on the news, and the doorbell rang . . . I saw the men in uniform coming in and shouted ‘no, no, no!'”
Aug. 6, 2011, is a date many Americans might not recognize, but it is a day that Kimberly Vaughn and many others will never forget. The death of 30 Americans in a helicopter crash in East Afghanistan during a fire fight became one of the deadliest losses for American Forces in the decade-old war against the Taliban.
“They told me there was a helicopter crash and that [my husband] Aaron was on board, and there were no survivors.”
Vaughn, mother of two young children, Reagan and Chamberlyn, said this day – the day her husband was killed – was a day she will never forget.
“Everything is engrained in my memory,” she said. “It was like a movie playing out in real life. You've seen it before. You've seen it in the movies. You know it happens to other families, but this time it was happening to me.”
Vaughn met U.S. Navy Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Aaron Vaughn in Guam in 2005 while on an Armed Forces Entertainment tour as a Washington Redskins cheerleader. During her time as a cheerleader, she went on 12 tours and saw more than 40 countries. She always loved the military and grew up in a Navy family. She said she really admired that quality in individuals.
“It takes a special type of person to join the military and serve their country,” she said. “To me, it was a wonderful quality and something I admired in him.”
It's that love for the military that brought Vaughn to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, for her first time back on tour since the incident. Donald Wells, Camp Lemonnier Morale, Welfare and Recreation community activities director, and previous Redskins cheerleader coach, suggested she come back on tour and visit the troops stationed in Djibouti, Africa.
“She loved the military and those who serve,” Wells said. “She had volunteered her time more than any other NFL Cheerleader to go on tour. She went on a dozen tours to say thank you to the troops. I would say she is a hero and is an amazing example of a military spouse who stands behind her loved one and will continue to give back to her country in any way she can. Even after this tragedy, she is still willing to come out and support.”
Wells has known Vaughn since 1998 when she auditioned and became a Washington Redskins Cheerleader. He had been her coach and was there to witness her relationship with Aaron blossom. He also was there to see her through her tragedy.
“I was driving and I heard on the radio that a chopper went down with Navy SEALs on it in Afghanistan,” said Wells. “I instantly thought of two of my cheerleader's husbands who were there because one of them was a Special Forces helicopter pilot and the other was Aaron.”
Wells said he called Vaughn, and she picked up the phone crying. He said he knew from that moment that her husband had been on that flight. He rushed straight over to meet her.
“As I arrived to Kimberly's house, I walked in and she – of course – was crying, but she still had strength in her to hold her newborn baby and raise their one-year-old child.”
Wells said Vaughn has always been passionate about the military. Coming back on tour after all that has happened took a lot of strength but has also assisted in the healing process.
“Coming out here helped remind her why she did all those tours,” said Wells. “She was able to go back on her grieving and thank all of these troops for their service to our country. Watching her talk to them and smile and laugh helped a little of the pain go away for a few days.”
During Vaughn's time here, she visited various units on base with current NFL cheerleaders, meeting with many service members and bringing a bit of home to them for the holidays.
“It's been very cathartic for me,” she said. “Seeing and meeting tons of military men and women who serve their country reminds me that Aaron was doing what he loved to do. It's great just being able to bring a bit of home to people over here who have been away from their friends and families, reminding them that all of us back home support what they do and that we appreciate them. Being able to tell them that in person is really rewarding.”
Vaughn's visit allowed her to share her story with many troops, showing them the appreciation she felt they deserved. She said surrounding herself with service members was a special way she could remember Aaron and be proud of who he was and what he stood for.
“The troops that met her and heard about her story all thank her for her sacrifice,” Wells said. “They were impressed by her strength and ability to still come out and thank them for doing what they do.”
Although her life will never be the same, Vaughn has embraced her husband's legacy and found the strength to push forward, but will forever remember him as a loving husband, father, patriot and a hero.
“I'm trying really hard to focus on the love he had for his country and his job over how he died,” she said. “I'm trying to focus on how he lived, and being around these men and women has just been wonderful for me. I'm just going to focus on finding a happy life for my children and myself. I know he would want that for us, and I want that for us too. I'm going to focus on getting on and living life to the fullest and earning his sacrifice and the sacrifice of so many.
By Army Staff Sgt. Veronica Mcmahon
Provided through DVIDS
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