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Month of Military Family tribute: One family’s journey to overcome extreme odds

Baby Armstrong recovering in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Udine, Italy, after he was born 13 weeks premature Dec. 2, 2013, where he spent 61 days in the hospital before being released. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jason Armstrong)

Baby Armstrong recovering in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Udine, Italy, after he was born 13 weeks premature Dec. 2, 2013, where he spent 61 days in the hospital before being released. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jason Armstrong)

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. --

There are moments in a person’s life that leave an impact so great their lives are changed forever. For me, there are certain moments that will live with me forever because they have defined me and helped me become the person I want to be. I remember shooting hoops with my dad while growing up, or the day my wife and I were married as if it was yesterday. I have learned that life is precious and we have so much to be thankful for, even during the tougher moments. The day I got the phone call that my dad unexpectedly passed away was one of the hardest. But, the hardest day of my life was three years ago, when my wife’s water broke during her second pregnancy — three months early.

To this day, I am still wrought with emotions over my son’s premature birth. The raw emotions I experienced were jarring. My wife and I were living overseas, without additional support from our extended families which contributed to my feeling scared, confused and hopeful. We were stationed at Aviano Air Base, Italy, and because the base didn’t have the medical facilities we needed for such a premature birth, we had to rush my wife to an off-base hospital nearly two hours away. Thankfully, we had outstanding medical care and the doctors were able to sustain my wife’s pregnancy an additional two weeks. On Dec. 2, 2013, our second son was born 13 weeks prior to his original due date, weighing just over a pound. Over the next several months, our son remained hospitalized in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU, as he fought for his life.

We were finally able to hold our newborn son two weeks after he was born. To us, the simple act of holding our son became an anchor point in our lives and how we viewed the challenges we were facing. To have this tiny, delicate life, fighting for his every heart beat in my hands flooded me with an overwhelming sense of responsibility, reaffirming how precious life really was. I literally felt my heart shift as I began to look at things differently. Much like silver being refined by the fire, I felt my heart being refined throughout this difficult trial.

When look back at that period, it was by far the hardest experience we went through as a family; but it also proved to be the best thing that could have happened to us. My wife and I grew closer in our faith and in our relationship as a couple. We learned to appreciate one another and gained a better understanding of what was important to us. It was also a time for us to have a greater appreciation for our older son, realizing the preciousness of life and that every second we had with him was a blessing. Family took on a new meaning to each of us. To be a father and husband was more than just a common title with overlooked responsibilities. I had a renewed purpose – a calling to love and support one another and those around us.

Thankfully, 61 days after he was born our son was ready to come home. I was still scared, still confused, but I was more hopeful than ever. I was confident that we were all leaving the hospital that day stronger, more appreciative and unified as a family than we had ever been before. Three years later, I can honestly say I wouldn’t be the husband or father I am today if it were not for what we experienced with our son. I see such beauty in my wife and boys. That overwhelming emotions I experienced in the NICU still impact me today as I appreciate the moments I have each day with my family.

We are close to celebrating our son’s third birthday. I find it fitting that this whole experience took place during the Month of the Military Family. Through my family’s hardship and overcoming so many odds, I am more appreciative of the sacrifices countless families are making. My only encouragement would be to remember that life is truly precious, tomorrow is not promised and to make the most of every moment you have with your loved ones every day.