Surviving Spouse Becomes Leader in Army Resilience
"I knew something was very wrong when my Commander had someone come find me as I was leaving work at our base in northern Afghanistan," said Master Sgt. Jennifer Loredo. "I had been in-country for only six weeks, my husband was nearing the end of his tour in southern Afghanistan," she added, "In his office, the Colonel said, 'please sit down, your husband…' "I was on my feet and crying before he finished his sentence," she said as tears started to well in her eyes upon retelling the story almost three years later.
Her husband, who everyone called Sergeant Eddie, sort of a joke since he was two ranks below his wife, was on patrol and had dismounted when a roadside IED detonated right next to him. He was evacuated to the nearest Army hospital having lost his left leg. 1st Sgt. Loredo, was immediately flown there to be with him. When she entered his hospital room he lay there peacefully. She immediately kissed him and realized that he didn't make it.
After the funeral, she took three months of leave to get her affairs in order and figure out what to do next. She had a 12-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son to help adjust to life without their father. She also spent time with a lot of other surviving spouses listening to their stories. "I thought this has to be happening to me for a reason, I just have to figure out what it is," she said looking back on that time.
Back at work, she helped out at the installation Casualty Assistance Center and was then reassigned to the 18th Airborne Corps where she was given wide latitude to improve their Casualty Assistance Program. It was then that the installation Commander asked her to meet with him and offered her the job of standing up Fort Bragg's then-Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program. Thinking that this might be just the reason behind all she had gone through, she leapt at the chance.
It began with an intensive 10-day Master Resilience Trainer (MRT) course at the University of Pennsylvania given by psychologists who are experts in positive thinking and facilitated by MRT-trained NCOs. While most people going through this training have an 'aha!' moment and find it inspiring, as a new widow, Master Sgt. Loredo found that the training kept reminding her of the shock and anguish of losing her husband. She returned to Fort Bragg confused, but willing to give it a try.
Back at Fort Bragg, she started applying MRT skills to her own life. She found that practices such as Hunt the Good Stuff, identifying three things that day that were positive and explaining why, pulled her away from grief and toward optimism. Assertive Communication, a technique for actively listening to other people and participating in their positive emotions, was helping her build better relationships with her family and her colleagues. And, Real-Time Resilience, a technique for self-coaching on the fly while coping with a stressful situation, gave her the confidence to take on what was turning into a big job at Fort Bragg -- standing up the program, providing MRT training to Soldiers, Family members and installation senior leadership.
Asked if she felt something click at that point, she answered, "It's not a click; it's more like a nudge. As I teach the skills to others, I draw on my life for examples, and I feel myself become stronger. Through teaching and living resilience, I also feel myself providing a good example to my children," she continued.
Another area of her life that she developed as part of her personal resilience strategy was CrossFit, a fitness system that uses constantly varied, high-intensity movements to build strength and improve conditioning. Participating in sports and fitness together was a big part of her marriage, and she knew Eddie would be proud of her for taking on such a challenging sport. It helped her not only become physically stronger, but also emotionally and socially. CrossFit has been a positive outlet for her to release stress and improve her strength. She also assisted in creating a Hero workout for Eddie in honor of his sacrifice. CrossFit honors fallen Soldiers by naming grueling exercise sequences after them, so she partnered with the owner of her gym and contacted CrossFit national headquarters. Together they created the "Loredo". He died on June 24, 2010, so the Loredo consists of six rounds of 24 squats, 24 pushups, 24 walking lunges plus six 400 meter runs.
Last August she was reassigned to now-Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness (CSF2) headquarters in Arlington, Va. where she provides high-level MRT training to Soldiers, spouses and Department of the Army Civilians. She is also one of only two Soldiers on the Chief of Staff of the Army's Survivor Advisory Board where she has the ear of Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ordierno and the Sgt. Major of the Army at quarterly meetings.
At these meetings she has been able to affect real change. She has been instrumental in getting the Army to stabilize active duty surviving spouses for 24 months after their loss to enable them to get their affairs in order. She has also taken an active role in speaking at and participating in Casualty Assistance Training and assisting Survivor Outreach Services staff in getting trained as Master Resilience Trainers.
However, now Master Sgt. Loredo regards the true measure of her work to be how she can help others. Before her husband died, he was close friends with another sergeant and through them Master Sgt. Loredo came to know the other sergeant's wife, Lara Smith. The two women were casual friends, but when Lara's husband died in combat two years after Eddie, Master Sgt. Loredo knew she would need her help and reached out immediately. Smith valued her help so much that she asked her to be present while she broke the news to her 5-year-old son.
Smith recalled, "Jennifer had already been there, she knew exactly what to say to help me pull myself together, how strong she was!" She added, "She was a pillar in my life when I needed it most, I am very lucky to have her as a friend." The director of CSF2, Col. Kenneth Riddle, hit many of the same notes in describing Master Sgt. Loredo's contribution to the program. "Master Sgt. Loredo is not only the most resilient person that I know, but also the most professional, dedicated and passionate leader that I know; CSF2 is very fortunate to have Jennifer on the team and I feel privileged to know her and call her a friend," he said.
Summing it up she said, "Looking back on my journey since Eddie's death, my purpose has become very clear. I am here to serve my country, help others and remind them of the sacrifices made by our service members. This isn't about me or my family. It's about something so much bigger. Training resilience and sharing my personal stories and experiences is changing Army culture. To play a small part in something so big is an honor. Helping others see that they can grow and become better, stronger people in the face of adversity is what this is all about. I believe in people and am determined to help them believe in themselves!"