SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- An Airman here disarms explosive devices for a living, rides a Harley Davidson for fun and has tattoos all over to illustrate stories of love, pain and triumph.
She is Staff Sgt. Kimberly Pate, the 4th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal, or EOD, NCO in charge of operations.
In 2011, Pate's husband, Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. EJ Pate, also an EOD technician, was killed by an improvised explosive device while serving in Afghanistan. This tragic event was a turning point in Pate's career that led her to continue striving for greatness.
"About a month from coming home on my second deployment was when I was notified of my husband's death," she explained with pain in her eyes and a quivery voice.
The Pates were both deployed at the same time; she to Southwest Asia and he to Afghanistan. Her husband recently returned from a week-long mission and emailed her just to say he was back, safe and would call in the morning. A couple hours later, he woke up to tell her he couldn't sleep and wanted to let her know he was thinking about her and loved her. The entire next day, Pate said she just had a feeling she was going to get a phone call, whether it'd be from her husband, or his unit.
She had the day off and decided to see a movie with some of her teammates, and emailed her husband before heading off. During the movie, she received the call that changed her life. Thoughts raced through Pate's mind as she tried to figure out a purpose for the call, she said. Her mind drew a blank until she saw her new commander, his eyes blood-shot and swollen. At that point she said she knew. "I dropped everything in my hands, stumbled back into the desk (and asked) 'what happened to my husband?'" Pate said. They didn't answer.
"I knew at that point something horrible was wrong," Pate said. "They wouldn't talk; they just shook their heads, looked down and said 'I'm sorry.' I remember screaming, yelling, asking them what happened; 'just tell me he's breathing, he got hurt. Do I need to go to Germany? Do I need to meet him somewhere? Is he okay?'" Although Pate said she doesn't remember much of the conversation, she does remember they finally calmed her down and she fell to the floor, curled up sobbing and cried so hard she felt sick.
Her husband's unit notified her of the incident as early as possible, at the time they weren't sure if he was alive or not. According to Pate, his unit did everything they could to save her husband. "I drove straight out to the flightline, ran up on the back of a C-130 with a backpack and headed to Germany because his body was not going to move without me," Pate said. "I was on the (flight that brought him home) and escorted him throughout the whole funeral." In the time since her husband's death, Pate has tried to keep his memory alive, honor him and continue his work.
In order to commemorate her late husband, Pate submitted photos of her and her husband's matching tattoos, and the story behind each piece of art for an EOD servicemember tattoo book. "The bomb on the wrist was a matching tattoo EJ and I got because we didn't want the standard (EOD occupational badge) tattoo, but we wanted something to represent our job," she wrote in the book. "The bleeding heart, (with the script) 'Tantum Quondam,' is because everything in life is only once. You only live once, truly love once and die once ... EJ was my one true love and now he is gone." Pate said although life has brought her trials and tribulations, she finds solace in knowing what she does helps protect and defend her nation and its people. After this tragic event, Pate was given the opportunity to step away from the EOD career field and move on with her life, but instead chose to stay and "finish the job." "I tell my kids all the time their dad died doing something with a purpose," Pate said. I am extremely proud of what he did. We do our job, we do everything we can. Anyone in our position would do the same thing." While her husband's death has altered her life and career, it doesn't define her as a person, she said. She is an EOD technician, a woman in the military who said she is proud to be a wife, mother and servicewoman. Recently, she was named North Carolina Servicewoman of the Year by the American Legion Auxiliary Past Presidents Parley in Raleigh, N.C. To be considered for the award, Pate submitted a 750-word narrative about why she supports the role of women in today's military. She was chosen to represent North Carolina servicewomen at the auxiliary's state convention and is invited to attend the national convention in August in San Antonio, Texas, where she will compete against 49 other nominees for the National Servicewoman title.
"Women have made many strides over the years and proven themselves capable to achieve things that others have seen as 'not fit for them,'" Pate wrote in her essay. "I fully support people following their dreams and shooting as high as they can. If a woman wants to fly a jet, provide medical attention in the field, fight on the front lines or disarm improvised explosive devices, I say go for it."