Jane Horton has been on your TV screen a few times, but you probably haven’t noticed her.
More often than not she’s standing in the background of our country’s top Military, Defense, and Executive Branch officials—including the President of the United States—as a symbol of support.
Jane is a Gold Star Wife and one of our country’s most visible names in veteran affairs and fallen soldiers’ activism. She spends a lot of her time in the public eye, but truly comes alive in closed-door meetings with her colorful dresses and pink lipstick. She is a voice to persistently remind our country’s lawmakers that they must never take for granted the sacrifice her late husband, U.S. Army Spc. Christopher Horton, and others made in giving their lives to support our nation.
Patrick: I’ve spent time reading about you, both the tragic situations and what you’ve done to take a step to make positives out of such a horrible experience. You’ve done and are doing some incredible things. I want to speak about your husband and give him a voice, but I also want to hear and learn about you. Tell us about Chris.
Jane: We met when we were 18 and 19. He was one of the best political consultants for his age in the country.
I fell in love with him right away because he was a man of honor. He always did the right thing, no matter what. He was a man of integrity and definitely bled red, white, and blue. He wanted nothing more than to serve his country during wartime. After being attacked on 9/11, when the country needed expert shooters, he wanted to join the military and be a sniper. He graduated at the top of his class but was killed three months into his first deployment. He was a good man. He wanted to have lots of kids. He lived the American dream.
Patrick: Chris paid the ultimate sacrifice. His story is incredible in itself.
But what about you? How did you find your find path to continue living? You’ve turned attention to the lack of resources available to widows or people like yourself trying to make arrangements. What called you to realize that was your journey?
Jane: It was almost in the immediate aftermath that I realized that this man had loved me enough to give his life for me. I felt like it was my responsibility and honor to tell people who he was. He could’ve done anything but chose to serve his country instead.
Knowing that someone gave their today for my tomorrow is something that weighed heavily on my heart, and it was the least I could do for him and all of the fallen.
There were a lot of families, including myself, getting lost in the bureaucracies. I moved straight to DC to find answers and make things better to the best that I could. In DC, you think it would be in a lot of people’s minds because this is where policies of war are decided and the Pentagon is here, but it’s not. I meet so many people who have never met a widow of a killed-in-action soldier.
Patrick: So, there were no resources or immediate outlets available. What did you discover? What was most surprising? What were the biggest obstacles that you were forced to face through our government bureaucracy or advocacy?
Jane: What surprised me most was that we all know and hear the sentiment of “America honors and respects the fallen and their families,” yet there are little to no resources for us in place.
There’s no go-to organization that Congress relies on for witness testimonials for hearings or investigations on our behalf. Many people on Capitol Hill don’t know about what process takes place after the a family has been notified that their son or daughter has been KIA.
I was also surprised to see the lack of support from veterans’ organizations in those dire beginning stages when a family or spouse learns about the loss of their loved one. You would think veteran groups would support, which they do, but it becomes obvious along the way that they’re also competing for their own resources and benefits.
Patrick: You’re doing so many things and are being acknowledged by so many people. But you only have so much time: what is your focus day-to-day?
Jane: Learning to live my new way of life. I take steps to remain top of mind that the best way to honor the fallen is living my best life possible, for them. The only thing that matters in this life is relationships. I try to make sure I’m taking care of myself, which I sometimes forget about.
Patrick: What you’re doing demands so much passion and is incredibly draining. Finding balance and the ability to lean on relationships.
Where were you in your life when you found out the news? Talk to me about the difference between this woman today and who you were then.
Jane: A few times a year, maybe three or four, I randomly get emotional for no reason.
I’m 32 now; I was 25 when my husband was killed. Looking back, I was young when I got married. I was supportive of him serving his country. I thought it was what he was called to do.
The day I was notified, I had another sniper wife over making cakes in mason jars. I got a knock at the door around 8pm. Made a joke about it.
“We’re sorry to inform you, your husband has been killed from a gunshot wound to the head on Sept. 9, 2011.”
It was that day when everything changed.
There were nights I would lie awake thinking he gave his today for my tomorrow. The honor comes at a great cost that a lot of people don’t understand. I’ve had a lot of people say stupid stuff to me: “Wow, you got to meet President Trump! Your life has been great since your husband died.”
I would give all of that up in a heartbeat. Those things don’t matter in life. It’s neat that it shows I’m making a difference and my husband is remembered. But it weighs heavily on me because I don’t deserve it, my husband does. America is literally propped up by the blood of patriots. Americans live as if freedom is free.
Patrick: I don’t see how anyone could think you’re doing this for yourself and not for husbands and wives. How do you do it?
Jane: Knocking on doors. I got a lot of no’s in the beginning. When something is greater than yourself, it pushes you to keep going. I kept asking for meetings, and I made sure I knew my stuff. I would tell my story wherever I went. I was aggressive, but my heart is pure.
When I meet with people, they are not going to meet with other families of the fallen. I’m the only one. If I don’t know my stuff and have a clear plan, it affects all other families. I was married to a warrior, and I’m a warrior as well.
At one point, I worked for the Afghan government as a Congressional and Military Liaison to help get them their own air support. I did it because I feel like my heart is in their country. My husband’s blood is in their soil. Did you know they have more women in their Parliament than we have in the U.S. Congress? My will has even taken me into meetings with the President of Afghanistan, where he thanked me and my husband for our sacrifices. It was one of the most emotional meetings I’ve had.
Patrick: What surprised you most over the past 6 years?
Jane: Once the worst thing that could possibly happen happens to you, you see what’s inside of you and what you’re made of. I remember a point right after Chris died, I was fearless because the worst thing had happened. There was nothing to be scared of anymore.
He deserves people to remember him.
A huge thank you to Jane Horton for sharing her incredible story with us. For more on the Begin Anyway series and how to get involved, visit beginanyway.net.