(I wrote this back in 2012 when I was a reporter for The Stokes News. It was originally published as “Just in time for Veterans Day. . .Walnut Cove soldier returns from Afghanistan” on Nov. 15. The subject of the story, Jay Kitts, passed away on June 13, 2015, from cancer at the age of 54. The article has been edited accordingly.)
Veterans Day holds a special significance each year for Pam Kitts of Walnut Cove. Not only did she have a husband in the military but a son as well. In 2012, with her husband Jay still deployed with the U.S. Army Reserves to Afghanistan after 14 months and her son Nathan stationed with the Coast Guard in Ohio, the upcoming holiday was destined to be bittersweet.
Or so she thought.
Just a week before the Nov. 11 holiday, Pam received word that Jay would be coming home. He landed back on American soil in Texas on Nov. 5 for medical checks and briefing. It looked to be perhaps a couple of weeks before he would make the flight back to North Carolina.
But then Pam got the call that made her heart rejoice. Jay would be flying home on the eve of Veterans Day–Saturday, Nov. 10.
“The unit in Ft. Hood, TX, worked overtime to try to get the soldiers home for the Veterans Day holiday! We were not expecting them for another week,” Pam explained.
Before she knew it, she was on her way to PTI Airport in Greensboro. “I was anxious and so excited,” she recalled her emotions. “I just couldn’t wait to see and hug him!”
Pam and several family members and friends were on hand with banners and American flags to welcome Jay home late in the day that Saturday. Before long, he was back in the arms of his wife and home just in time for the day that honors him and all of those who serve in this nation’s military.
“I was ecstatic to see my family and friends and grateful to be back home!” Jay said.
It was a long time coming. Master Sergeant Charles Jay Kitts had been deployed three times overseas, serving active duty in Desert Storm and stationed in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan. He was also deployed another time stateside as an RDO (Rear Detachment Officer).
But that most recent deployment with the 378th CSSB (Combat Sustainment Support Battalion) out of Fort Indiantown Gap, PA, may have been the toughest. During the two months of training in NJ and then TX, followed by 12 months in Afghanistan, Jay’s father-in-law passed away, Pam had two surgeries and his 14-year-old daughter Katelyn underwent three surgeries.
“It was hard leaving behind your family and worrying about what’s happening with them and not being there for all the hardships and milestones,” Jay admitted. “I kept my faith in God and trusted that He would keep my family and me safe and bring us back together soon.”
A specialist in logistics, Jay worked 12-16 hour days in Afghanistan, always with the knowledge that enemy forces were out there to bring harm to the military. He faced protestors and occasional Afghans who would try to get into the camp.
“It was tough,” he confessed. “Days were long.”
But during that time, there were things Jay accomplished that he was proud of. He actually helped build a forward operations base in northern Afghanistan and served as acting mayor of the base.
In 2012, Jay had been with the Army Reserves for 30 years with six years of active duty. This Wytheville, VA native remembered first wanting to enlist because his dad served in World War II and because he, too, wanted to serve his country.
And Jay did not serve alone. Pam was right by his side. They met on the job in the summer of 1986 when he moved to Walnut Cove, quickly fell in love and married in Feb. 1988. Pam said that since she and Jay had been able to put down roots in Walnut Cove–not having to move around–deployment was perhaps harder on them.
“The toughest thing about THIS deployment,” Pam noted, “was that I had to deal with my emotions and pain of losing my dad to cancer without Jay by my side.”
Jay was allowed to come home on emergency leave for two weeks for his father-in-law’s funeral, but when he had to go back to Afghanistan, Pam said her emotions hit their peak.
“I think the shock of my dad being gone and Jay gone again was so unbearable,” she recalled. “I needed him. Jay was truly my soulmate and my rock to lean on besides God. . .but God saw me through, and friends and family helped me, too!”
One of her comforts was her daughter, then a freshman at South Stokes High School. “Katelyn helped me so much in keeping my spirits up,” Pam declared. “She showed me what a remarkable young woman she truly is!”
Pam said that although Katelyn–a daddy’s girl–had missed her dad and longed for him to be there for her, she was very proud of him and remained a trooper and big supporter for both parents.
Pam and Katelyn were all smiles when Jay got off the plane in Greensboro that 2012 Veterans Day weekend. By their side was Nathan whose unit had worked with him to allow him to come home to greet his dad.
Pam was relieved to have Nathan there: “It’s one thing having to worry about your husband, and then it makes it tougher to worry about a son, too! I am proud of my husband and son, but I have to say I pray a lot that my son never experiences having to go overseas or any war. I worry a lot about that.”
But Pam put those worries out of her mind that weekend when her family was finally reunited. They spent Veterans Day together in a church service that was dedicated to veterans and included a testimony of thanks from Jay and a special outdoor flag presentation by the South Stokes High School JROTC. They hung and flew the US flag that Jay had flown over Afghanistan in honor of Germanton Baptist Church for their support of him and his troops.
When he got home, Jay said that he planned to transition back with his family, spending quality time with them while getting back into the routine at his job.
Pam remembers being overjoyed to settle back into life with him. “There were so many things about my husband that made me so proud of him,” she declared. “Jay was dedicated and loved God, family and country. He truly stood for what he believed in.”