My family rarely passes up an opportunity to tell Tom’s story. Sometimes we laugh. Sometimes we cry. But when someone asks questions — we are typically quick to offer the answers. We are extremely proud of the man and soldier he was and of the ideals and conviction for which he lived and died.
But there are parts of “the story” that no one really talks about. Parts that mean more crying than laughing, and not a lot of pleasant memories. So we don’t spend a lot of time there. We’d rather focus on goofy, smiling Tom – so we don’t rehash the details of the dark, upsetting days.
But the heartbreak is no less a part of The Story than the smiles. And it’s easy to forget that.
It’s easy to forget that many of Tom’s closest friends and loved ones live in danger and uncertainty every day. They are active duty. Some are deployed. The reality is that we’re at war, and my family knows way too many people who live and breathe that reality every day.
Erika, Tom’s fiance, is currently deployed in Afghanistan as a medevac pilot. Her unit evacuates wounded — everyone from American soldiers to Afghan civilians and even the enemy. And this past winter a reporter embedded with them to give a voice to Army Air Medics – or what he calls “The Most Dangerous Job in the World.” The story is featured in this month’s edition of Maxim and is a candid look at their day-to-day. It’s not a warm and fuzzy story. It’s brutal and heart-wrenching and hard to stomach. The things these pilots and medics see — are things no one should see.
Within the article, the reporter tells the story of October 14, 2007 — as relayed to him by Erika. Like I said, it’s not the part of the story that any of us really like talking about, but I think the story of that night gives some heart to an article that is otherwise a little intense. And it’s never a bad idea to bring a personal, human element to the situation.
The chance to help injured soldiers is a key motivation for many in the medevac crews. It’s a deep calling, and for some it’s profoundly personal. Capt. Erika Noyes, 26, with bright blue eyes and her hair tied up in a bun, is on her second deployment as a Dustoff pilot, having spent 14 months in Iraq. She graduated from West Point in 2005, in the same class as her boyfriend, Tom Martin. She joined air medevac straight out of college, while Martin became a sniper-scout platoon leader. They were soon engaged, with plans for a big wedding when they finished their deployments. In fall 2007 both were in Iraq, with Noyes’ unit operating in support of Martin’s.
On October 14, 2007, a nine-line call came in for an urgent injury. Noyes was on duty that night, and as soon as she heard that a sniper-scout platoon leader had been hit, “I knew it was Tom right away.” She ran to pack her gear so she could meet him at the hospital, but a few minutes later there was a “commo blackout,” the Army’s policy of shutting down communications when a soldier has died to prevent unofficial word from reaching their families at home. Tom had been shot. Medics worked heroically to treat him, both on the ground and in the air, and the Baghdad combat support hospital where he was flown followed suit, but he was declared dead shortly after arriving. He had turned 27 just a few days before. Noyes went to see his body in the hospital morgue. In the bag of personal effects she was handed, she found his class ring from West Point, and slipped it over her thumb. Her eyes mist up when she shares the story, but she keeps her composure. Telling and retelling Tom’s story is therapeutic in some way. “It keeps his memory alive,” she says.
After the funeral Noyes was offered a chance to be transferred out of the war zone, but she refused. “I was going to be miserable no matter where I was,” she says. “At least if I was in Iraq, I stood a chance of helping someone else. And potentially that next person we picked up would be somebody else’s Tom.”
- MAXIM, June 2010
I’ve read it over and over. That last part. The chance to help “somebody else’s Tom”. And I have trouble keeping it together. I have trouble putting into words how proud I am of Erika. Both her focus and dedication – and her strength to tell the story. I am endlessly impressed by the certainty she felt that she should stay and do what needed to be done. Tom would be so proud of his girl for doing the right thing and sticking with it.
I’m proud to say that Erika is part of our family, and I’m proud of her for telling Tom’s story. Their story. It’s hard. It’s really, really hard. But it’s worth telling.
(If you’d like to read the full article and, for whatever reason, you don’t feel like standing in line at the bookstore to buy this month’s Maxim — in all its Special Collector’s Edition, Hot 100 List, shrink-wrapped glory — let me know. I’m probably not supposed to, but I can email you the article or let you borrow my copy of the magazine. Though you should rest assured knowing that Maxim is Tom-approved. I used to buy him a subscription for Christmas every year.)