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Viral Photo Sparks Honor, Not Pity -- Finally

A photo of a woman toting her amputee husband on her back has gone wildly viral this week as commenter after commenter marvels at the couples’ apparent devotion.

Former Marine Staff Sgt. Jesse Cottle lost his legs in Afghanistan in 2009 when he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED).  The picture, taken this month at a family photo shoot near Boise, Id., shows Cottle and his wife Kelly just after their one year wedding anniversary as she carries him back to his legs which he had removed for a different part of the shoot.

cottleSarah Ledford/ShutterHappy Photography

The photographer, Sarah Ledford, was shocked by the reaction the photo received on her business Facebook page. It has now been shared more than 3,000 times and has almost 15,000 “likes.”

We're a little surprised by America, too.

Because instead of the pity reaction which the military community so often entertains from our nation, it is one of damp-eyed jubilance over the beauty of sacrifice.

And that’s the reaction we’ve been looking for all along.

You see, America has a nasty habit of feeling sorry for what we consider points of pride.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re happy for any attention military sacrifice can get. But we think the story is being told the wrong way.

Yes, loss of life and limb is sad. But while the reporting often stops there, the story does not.

Instead the story of military life – both post and current – is one of pride in sacrifice. It’s a story of Cottle loosing his legs but still marrying and still smiling. It’s the story of spouses like Kelly moving their families along in the face of emotional and physical struggles and, sometimes literally, carrying the weight of that on their backs.

Kelly and Cottle are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the jaw-dropping stories of America’s wounded warriors and their families, something they told this news station during a recent interview.

“It’s just kind of normal for us but it’s cool because I think we represent  a lot of people,” Kelly said. “A lot of couples that are going through the same thing. It’s an honor to be able to represent that.”

Give me a second to talk about just two families I know who are a lot like the Cottles.

Out at Joint Base Lewis-McChord Wash. right now, the Ford family is pulling through the medical board process. Capt. Cody Ford was shot in the leg in Afghanistan last year in a green on blue attack during his own promotion ceremony.  A track star, doctors told him he would never run again, a fact he is slowly but surely defying by pushing himself on the treadmill. His wife, Kristen, and their two children live their day-to-day lives backing him up emotionally and physically as they wait for the lengthy and nerve-wracking medical board process to run its course.

There are no photos of Kristen visibly carrying Cody on her back. But every day she wakes-up and carries her family just like Kelly does in that viral photo.

And then there are the Gansners in Memphis, Tenn. Cheryl's husband, Bryan, was severely injured by an IED in Iraq in 2006. She stood by his side for 20 months as he rehabilitated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in D.C., advocating for him daily and pushing him through the medical retirement process. In addition to continuing to be his care taker and advocate when needed, she spearheads Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor program which reaches out to other wounded warrior wives with information and support.

There are no photos of these two families' emotional burdens. And hearing only of their injuries may evoke pity. But we know that there is so much more to the story. There is strength and there is honor.

So we’re thrilled that this beautiful to photo is being spread across the internet. But we can only hope that those who see it remember the lesson it brings:  that there is beauty in sacrifice. There is beauty in commitment.  And people really are capable of so much more than they ever thought possible.

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