Have you watched the news today?
Jackie Johanning heard the voice on the phone, and knew the question could lead to only one answer.
Months earlier, her friend Dave had asked her if she would be the person to watch over his wife, August, and their two boys if the worst happened. He might have thought he understood what that meant when he asked it, but she doubts it. Nobody could have known what it would mean.
When Cabrera left for Iraq five years earlier, August had refused to talk to him about “what ifs.” When he brought the paper home to discuss his will, she ripped it to shreds.
Before giving her blessing for his deployment to Afghanistan, she made one stipulation: If the worst happened, she didn’t want to see the soldiers in dress uniforms alone on her driveway. She wanted to see a friend first.
Johanning, 38, is a mother of two who calls hugs from her children “sugars,” and changes the subject by saying “anyhoo.” She is also a 20-year veteran and Air Force master sergeant who barks orders when she needs to. She runs the family clinic at USU, where she met Cabrera, and had the same commitment to care, the same biting sense of humor.
A medic, she was deployed to Iraq in 2004 and worked in the emergency room that received the wounded after the suicide bombing of a mess hall on an Army base in Mosul that killed 22 people. Remember that? she asks, because not everyone does.
Then, seven years later, on Oct. 29, another explosion, in another country.
When she received the call at 7:30 p.m., the Army officials were sure they had Cabrera’s body but had yet to make final identification. That might not happen for hours.
That’s when Jackie received a text from August.
August, 39, had awakened the night before from a bad dream. Her 6-year-old also awoke; he had a nightmare about a fire. It gave her a bad feeling that something had happened to Dave. Later that day, she stumbled on a story online about a NATO convoy hit near Kabul.
She texted Jackie.
Jackie called her superiors. August is not stupid, she told them. She’s going to find out.
The casualty assistance officer told her they would have to wait until morning, since notifications are restricted from midnight to 6 a.m. He advised Jackie to remember her military role and placate August without telling her the news.
“But the wife in me and the mother in me couldn’t comprehend that,” she said later. “How was I going to the door the next day and be her friend and still be Master Sergeant Johanning? How can I be all these people?”
She knew she couldn’t keep her composure if she talked to August, so she texted back not to worry.