FORT BRAGG, N.C. — There was a knock on the door. Only a few
friends knew she was home for the weekend. Just a few months earlier
someone had come by selling magazine subscriptions for a high school
project, but today the knock was different.
With the amount
of stress she was accumulating from law school and news about her
sick mother, she needed to get away. She had made the four-hour
drive from her school to the apartment she shared with her husband,
Capt. Jonathan Grassbaugh. After all, it was the only place she felt
safe and comfortable; the only place she felt closer to her husband,
who was deployed to Iraq.
She wondered who it could have
been as she looked through the peephole. She noticed two Army
officers in dress uniform.
Capt. Jenna Carolyn Grassbaugh, chief of legal assistance for the 82nd Airborne Division, and a Gold Star family member, touches the name of her husband, Capt. Jonathan Grassbaugh, at the Global War on Terrorism Memorial during the 82nd Airborne Division All American Week Memorial Ceremony on Fort Bragg, N.C., May 20, 2015. Capt. Jonathan Grassbaugh was killed in action in Iraq while assigned to the 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division in 2007. All American Week is an opportunity for 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers, past and present, and their families to come together and enjoy the camaraderie and celebrate being members of the All American Division. (U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division photo by Sgt. Eliverto V. Larios)
“What could they possibly be doing here?” she asked
It surely couldn't be anything bad; after
all, she was in her safe haven.
The image of those
officers standing at her door still haunts Capt. Jenna
Carolyn Grassbaugh, the chief of legal assistance for the
82nd Airborne Division. She will forever remember that day
in April 2007, when she received the tragic news of her
“That image of them standing at the
door and looking through the peephole and seeing them and
then opening it to know that this was not good, it's still
something that I see sometimes and haunts me a little,” she
said. “I think it always will.”
freshman in college, Grassbaugh attended cadet orientation
at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland where she met
Jonathan, a senior at the time. He was the battalion
commander for the Reserved Officer Training Course
“I knew nothing about the Army at that
point,” she recalls. “I was obviously impressed by his
knowledge and expertise.”
Grassbaugh's interest in
military history and the events of Sept. 11 convinced her to
join the ROTC.
“I thought it would be a challenge,”
said Grassbaugh. “It sort of fit with the curiosity of the
real thing and also...September 11 happened when I was a
senior in high school which obviously changed a lot of
people to include myself.”
After graduating from
Johns Hopkins, Jonathan received his first assignment to
Fort Bragg. Meanwhile, Grassbaugh continued her education
and contemplated her future.
“I really had a
difficult time deciding if I should go to the educational
delay route, meaning should I put off time in the Army until
I complete law school and do my whole time as a Judge
Advocate General officer,” she said. “Or should I go and
serve as an active duty branch for a few years and then
apply to the [Funded Legal Education Program].”
the end, they decided it would be better for them if she
continued on to law school, making it easier for them to
plan out their career together.
After she finished
school at Johns Hopkins, Jonathan administered the Oath of
Office and they married.
In her first year of law
school at William and Mary in Vriginia, Jonathan deployed to
Iraq with the 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd
Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Abn. Div. It was his first
deployment since the marriage.
“I was 21 when he
deployed,” said Grassbaugh. “I certainly felt not at all
prepared for the emotional toll that these things would
THE DAY THAT CHANGED
Then, while on the unplanned visit to
their apartment, she received the unexpected news.
“I knew from movies and TV shows
what a notification would be like,” she said. “It didn't
occur to me initially that's what they were there for.”
During the next three weeks, Grassbaugh said she felt
lost and unclear of what her life would be like in the
“I just couldn't imagine going back to law
school and going back to the routine that had all been based
on this life that I thought I had and would continue to
have,” she said. “It seemed more painful to go back to
something that was familiar with a gaping hole in it, than
it would have been to just do something different.”
After much thinking she decided to make a change in her
life. She left law school and went on active duty.
2008, she was assigned to a military police unit at Fort
Bragg that had just returned from Iraq. Shortly after, she
received notice that she would be replacing a platoon leader
in Iraq; an assignment she had wanted for a while.
She said she felt a deployment to Iraq would help in her
“I was excited about the
opportunity, my parents weren't, but they understood why it
was important to me in the end,” she said. “I felt it was
important to contribute...I just wanted to understand what was
it like for him there day-to-day and what did it look like
and how did it feel.”
The deployment was a bit of a
wake-up call, she said, making her realize she still had
more issues to face.
“It certainly helped me a
little bit in that regard,” she said. “It helped me to
understand what life was like in those last few month
before, what none of us could imagine, was the end.”
Upon returning from Iraq, Grassbaugh said she felt like she
was ready to go back to law school, but didn't know if she
should continue to serve in the Army.
FINDING HER WAY
After talking to one of her supervisors, she decide to stay
in the Army and applied for the FLEP. Finding it difficult
to go back to the school she had left after Jonathan's
death, she decided to attend The Ohio State University.
In 2014, after graduating
from law school, Jenna was assigned to the 82nd Abn. Div.,
the same unit her husband was serving with when he was
killed in action.
Serving in the same unit as her
husband is almost like being part of his life again.
Each year, during All American Week, the 82nd Abn. Div.
holds a memorial service to honor Division Paratroopers,
including Jonathan, who made the ultimate sacrifice in
service to our Nation.
“I've been a Gold Star Family
Member at the memorial in the past,” she said. “I've had an
escort sponsorship from a member of the unit that John was a
part of, and I very much appreciated that opportunity.”
This year's ceremony hosted 84 Gold Star Family Members
of 38 fallen Division Paratroopers and this year, instead of
attending the memorial service, Grassbaugh served as an
escort for a Gold Star Family Member.
something that I'm taking very seriously and am happy that I
can be there in that capacity, both as a Family member
myself, and as somebody that can guide her through that
“Helping others is amazing,” she said. “I
feel so passionate about helping others that find themselves
in this position and that may be feeling the exact same way
that I did for so long.”
A Gold Star Story - Captain Jenna Grassbaugh
By U.S. Army Sgt. Eliverto V. Larios
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