Remembering and looking forward
Published: November 7, 2011
Less than two months after her husband was killed in action, Nickayla Myers-Garner faced a theater full of uniformed soldiers in Hohenfels, Germany. They were there for mandatory training for casualty notification.
“This is the face of the family member you might have to go and notify,” she told them.
“How would you want the person who might be your family’s notification officer to take their training? You want them to take it seriously.”
Nickayla recalled the reaction. “It was amazing how the demeanor of the entire group changed. They sat up straight, stopped texting … and started listening.
“In that moment, I realized I needed to keep doing this,” she said.
“Instead of a PowerPoint by someone who is paid to tell you about survivor notification, it’s much better to have someone who has lived it who can speak about it in a professional manner but who can also put some emotion into it.”
Nickayla’s soldier husband, Capt. Mark Garner, died in Afghanistan in 2009. He was 30. Nickayla said before his deployment she and her husband had talked about the possibility that he might not return.
“Mark and I had discussed a lot,” she said. “Mark planned his funeral. I only implemented it.”
The young couple had also made financial plans and even decided Nickayla should remain at their assignment in Germany if Mark did not return.
Not long after Mark’s death, a friend approached Nickayla and said: “My husband is about to deploy. We know you and Mark talked about things, but we don’t know what it is we’re supposed to talk about. Can you sit with us and tell us what we're supposed to talk about?”
Nickayla said she recognized a void in preparing military families for deployment, one that she could fill.
A few months later, she was invited to speak at a women’s conference in Garmisch, Germany. Twenty or so attended her first seminar, "Preparing your Relationship for the Unthinkable." The second session had to be moved to a larger room to accommodate the crowd.
Standard predeployment briefings cover the importance of wills and planning for the unthinkable, but like casualty notification, the information has more impact coming from someone who’s been there.
Nickayla began to realize she could be a voice for bereaved military families.
Another subject she is passionate about is allowing families living overseas at the time of a servicemember’s death to remain up to a year. Nickayla has remained in Germany after losing her husband, but it was not easy, she said.
Military families overseas lose their status of forces agreement protection soon after the death of their active duty sponsor. They retain housing benefits, but lose overseas commissary and exchange privileges, vehicle registration and drivers licenses, making it difficult for them to remain overseas.
Grief counselors advise against making major decisions within a year of a tragedy, but Nickayla said she was given 90 days.
“I was told, ‘We’re really sorry, but you have to figure out what you’re going to do in three short months,’ ” she said.
“It’s unethical to ask the families of the fallen to make such huge decisions after their life has been completely flipped upside down. Family members stateside have a year to make that transition. Families overseas don’t have that year.”
Nickayla was able to stay put only after obtaining a government contract job. She remains in the area — attached to the military community that is her home.
On her own time, she travels to nearby installations, speaking to spouses, active duty members and leaders as an advocate for planning ahead and taking care of those who are left behind.
She said speaking to groups about her loss is difficult, yet healing.
“The days leading up to a briefing are difficult emotionally. But when I see the looks on people’s faces and I hear the feedback, I see that what I’m doing is helping.”
“Mark sacrificed his life for our nation,” Nickayla said. If speaking about his death difficult for her, that is her offering.
“That is a is a sacrifice I’m willing to make to help military families,” she said.
For more information, contact Nickayla at firstname.lastname@example.org and see rememberingmarkgarner.com.
This Veterans Day, take time to remember those who are living their lives and those who have given their lives in military service.