Being a member of the military means sacrificing time, comfort, and stability in order to serve your country.
For veteran Heidi Radkiewicz, it also meant being deployed with her husband to Baghdad.
Radkiewicz and her husband Jake were both served in the Army National Guard. Shortly after 9/11, they were called to serve in a six-month deployment in the Middle East. Due their status as recently married, they were allowed to stay in the same unit and be deployed together.
She tells their incredible story in her book “Honeymoon in Baghdad,” which focuses on the importance of having someone to lean on during difficult times.
“We have this inseparable bond,” Radkiewicz told IJR. “I know that if we’re having issues we can lean on each other and go to each other. When we were overseas and whatever horrible thing that happened that day I knew that I had my husband by my side.”
Radkiewicz’s journey started in college when she realized that school wasn’t the right path for her. Her father and stepfather had both served in the Army National Guard, so she said that helped her make her decision.
“I picked the Army National Guard because I knew I could keep my civilian life while I was also a soldier. I wanted to have the best of both worlds,” said Radkiewicz. “For anybody that wants to join the military, do your research on each branch. Always know in the back of your head when you’re signing up, there’s a possibility that you will be called overseas.”
During their deployment the couple saw the horrors of war and the reality of a broken country. Although they were able to find humor in many circumstances, there were also times that they were reminded of the reality of their situation.
After the first attack on their unit, Radkiewicz said they were brought back to reality.
“It was a wakeup call for all of us. Until now, we had all been acting as if this was an extended annual training event. All National Guard soldiers spend two weeks per year training with their unit, doing whatever job it is that their unit does … Now everything had changed. We were at war, and now, everyone felt it.”
However, toward the end of her orders, Radkiewicz became pregnant. While news of a baby would usually bring happiness, her husband’s orders were extended indefinitely.
After returning home, she experienced PTSD symptoms and is now very outspoken about veterans getting the support that they need.
“Probably one of the hardest things about going to war is coming back home,” said Radkiewicz. “When you come home, one day you’re in a combat zone and another you’re back in the civilian world. You kind of question what your purpose is now that you’re back home. Now what?”
Radkiewicz hopes that her story will encourage those returning from combat to seek help from Veterans Affairs. She also encouraged friends and family of veterans to be a good support system.
“Be there. Let them talk to you. Don’t try to fix everything,” Radkiewicz said. “Sit down with them and ask to talk. Look into anything and everything you can that may help. They need somebody to lean on.”
While her story is very unique, Radkiewicz hopes to use it to encourage others. She has released her book on Amazon as a paperback, ebook, and audiobook.