Thu May 26, 2011

Army Couple Deploys To Iraq, But Only One Returns

Max and Kim Voelz served together in Iraq in the same Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit — that's the Army's elite bomb squad.

The couple met on Valentine's Day in 1997 at EOD school. They married on June 12, 1999.

"We deployed in 2003. We were in the same unit. She ripped bombs apart by hand in Iraq just like I did," Max says. "There was no being scared, no doubt, no 'I might die' — we never talked about that."

One night in 2003, Max called in the location of an explosive and sent his wife to disarm it.

"That night she was at a different base and I tried to talk to her on the phone before she went — just to tell her, like, an extra, 'Be careful.' But she was already on her way to take care of it, so I didn't get to," Max says.

Kim, 27, didn't survive that mission. Her injuries were severe. One leg was blown off and she was in a medically induced coma when Max got to the hospital.

"I talked to her the whole time she was in there," he says. "The nurses were telling me to talk to her because they assured me that they had seen people come out of comas before and that they remembered hearing things that people said.

"I mean, what are you gonna tell your wife who's dying? That you love her and you don't want her to die. But I knew she was dead a long time before the doctors stopped working on her. You hold someone's hand, and then it feels different. "

Max called her parents because he didn't want a stranger knocking on their door in an Army uniform to break the news: "I told them that she died in my arms 10 minutes ago," he says.

"You know, she did something that most people weren't willing to do, and I don't want people to think that because she was killed while she was working that she was bad at her job, or that she died because she was a girl," Max says. "She did the same job that guys who think they're tough do. And she did it just as good as I did, and I think I'm the best that there is."

When the Voelzes got married they had plans to retire from the Army. Now, at 36, Max says he doesn't have a plan. After Kim died on Dec. 13, 2003, Max was sent home. He stayed in the Army for a few more years.

"I am an Army widower. I don't think there's very many of us," he says. "And when I receive a condolence letter from a high-ranking government official that says, 'Mrs. Voelz, we're sorry for the loss of your husband,' it just makes it seem like nobody knows we exist."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher.

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