Monday, April 02, 2007

Jason Swiger remembered

When the chaplain and the casualty officer arrived Sunday to tell Alanna Swiger that her husband was killed in Iraq, she thought it was recruiters coming to a family cookout.

Alanna Swiger’s family was celebrating because her brother’s girlfriend just joined the Army and was headed to basic training the next day. She saw the two soldiers in green dress uniforms waiting in the kitchen but figured they were getting a hamburger. That changed when they followed her from the kitchen into the living room.

Days later, she is not sure exactly what they told her. Everything was a blur.

“I felt really stupid. My mind wasn’t willing to see what it was,” she said Thursday, her eyes puffy from crying and a lack of sleep.

The reality of what happened to her husband, Sgt. Jason W. Swiger, was impossible to ignore Friday evening when Swiger was remembered at a memorial at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Fayetteville.

Jason Swiger and three other paratroopers were killed by an explosion in Baqouba — a town of 280,000 people — in Diyala province.

Swiger was 24.

More than 100 people attended the memorial. Swiger’s blue Stetson with a yellow hat cord sat on an M-4 rifle.

Swiger was remembered as a charismatic joker with a dry sense of humor, a signature smirk and a deep laugh. He loved the spotlight and lived every day with reckless abandon.

“If you told him he couldn’t do it, Jason would prove you wrong, and not by a little bit,” Becka Swiger, his sister said.

But despite his fun-loving personality, he was a great warrior who was unflappable under fire, said 1st Sgt. Tim Metheny.

But the one story all his friends and family told was about his love for his wife, Alanna Swiger.

The Swigers met at the Coffee Scene in Fayetteville in 2001. They met through a mutual friend, but she didn’t like him at first. Every time Swiger put his phone number in her mobile phone, she erased it.

But Swiger never quit pursuing her.

“One day, I saw something,” Alanna Swiger said. “There was something sweet in his eyes.”

On her birthday — July 24 in 2005 — the couple got engaged. Jason Swiger proposed on his sister’s porch in Maine.

“He shined in so many ways; as a son, friend and as a man. But, nothing compared to the way he shined as a husband,” Alanna Swiger said at the memorial service.

At a small ceremony at Alanna’s parents house in Fayetteville, the couple was married May 27, 2006, beneath a trellis in front of a garden that they planted.

A few months later, Swiger was the last paratrooper to get on the bus to Pope Air Force Base and on a plane to Iraq. This was Swiger’s third deployment.

“We’ve done this before. He felt confident we’d be fine and that he’d come home and we’d pick up our life where we left off,” Alanna Swiger said. “We both understood it was going to happen a lot.”

Swiger e-mailed and called almost daily. He also frequently sent letters and cards. Swiger signed his e-mails with a little smiley face that said “I hope you know CPR because you take my breath away.”

At the memorial service, Katie Anderson — Alanna Swiger’s friend — read a card from Swiger. The red card with heart-shaped dog tags was a poetic love letter, but one line stood out more than others.

“Our wedding vows shall always stand true because not even death will be able to sever our love for one another,” Swiger wrote.

Alanna Swiger wasn’t handling being apart as well as in the past. She was spending too much time in bed and not getting out of the house enough.

“I was a little lonelier this time,” she said.

But in the past few weeks, things improved. Alanna Swiger started looking for an apartment to move into when her husband returned. It got her out of bed. Last Friday, she put down a deposit and went to take pictures so he could see his new home.

“He made me a better person. The way he loved me kept me in awe,” Alanna Swiger said.

His last e-mail to his wife arrived Saturday. Part love note and part pep talk, Swiger knew his wife was having a hard time with the separation and the stress of the move, but he tried to assure her that these were small hurdles in a long life of obstacles.

“Just remember, we have a lifetime,” he wrote.

From the Observer

Related Link:
Jason W. Swiger dies of injuries from I.E.D.