By Brandon Telford
Special to The Northern Light
At a Naval Junior ROTC dance at Chugiak High School her freshman year, Jamie Jennings met a young man who would become one of her closest friends.
As a member of a military family, Jennings was accustomed to changing schools frequently.
“I had never gone to one school for more than two years, until I was in high school,” said Jennings, a UAA sophomore fine arts major.
At the time Jennings and Matthew Bohling met, she was a freshmen and he was a senior. Neither their age difference, nor her friend’s complaints that Bohling was too outspoken, stopped them from becoming close friends and even dating briefly.
The summer after Bohling’s graduation, he enlisted in the Army.
“It was what he always wanted to do,” Jamie wrote in an e-mail.
Bohling was stationed in Georgia, but being several time zones apart, didn’t stop their friendship from growing. Jennings called Bohling for late night advice, often at four in the morning Georgia time.
“It didn’t matter how much I had to talk about- he always listened, always gave his advice,” Jennings said.
Communication between Jennings and Bohling was sparse during his first tour in Iraq, but whenever Bohling came home for leave, Jennings made time for the two of them to get together.
“Although I didn’t spend every waking moment with him when he was home, I gave him the time I could,” Jennings wrote.
After graduating high school, Jennings’ time was largely devoted to college and work. She experienced post-graduation loneliness as friends migrated away in pursuit of education and careers.
So when Matthew came home this August on leave from his second tour in Iraq, Jennings spent as much time as she could with him. She even took off early from class to see him off at the airport.
Jennings received several e-mails from Bohling after his return to Iraq, and then Sept. 6 she got a call from Bohling’s father. Bohling had been killed by an improvised explosive device.
After learning of Bohling’s death, Jennings spent several days searching the Internet for information about him. That’s how she came across the Web log of Some Soldier’s Mom. Soldier’s Mom had attended the memorial honoring Bohling at his home base in Georgia and had described the experience on her blog.
Some Soldier’s Mom, who asked that her real name not be disclosed, is a member of the blog group known as Milblogs. Milblogs are blogs written by soldiers and the families of soldiers.
After coming across Soldier’s Mom’s description of the memorial, Jennings e-mailed her.
“I realized that her son knew Matt and that’s when I needed to get in contact with her,” Jennings said.
Soldier’s Mom’s son Noah enlisted in the Army despite the protests of his parents. Soldier’s Mom and her husband, a 24-year veteran of the Navy, initially refused to sign a consent form to allow him to join before his 18th birthday, but he eventually succeeded in convincing them.
Noah deployed in January. His deployment left his mother reliant on her computer. She impatiently awaited the sporadic e-mails and instant messages from Iraq.
The silence between messages was made more unbearable when it was due to a communication blackout in Iraq.
The military is careful to prevent news of a soldier’s injury or death from reaching family through unofficial channels. When a soldier is injured or killed in Iraq, the military stops allowing instant communication and phone calls until the family has been notified.
“As we get past day three of a ‘blackout’ (comm lines down, busy schedules, banned communications because of casualties _” whatever the reason), – I stay at my PC longer in the evenings and I get up earlier in the mornings, and if I awaken in the middle of the night, I stop in to look to see if anyone’s been on… to the point that I am going to bed about 2 a.m. and getting up by 7 a.m.,” Soldier’s Mom wrote in her blog.
Aug. 23, as Soldier’s Mom sat down to dinner, the phone rang. The caller ID was from Fort Benning, and the Sergeant on the line informed Soldier’s Mom that her son had been injured by an IED.
Noah received injuries to his back and shrapnel lacerations to his head and returned to the U.S. in September for physical therapy.
The communication between Soldier’s Mom and Jennings quickly led to the discovery that Bohling had been with Noah the day he was injured.
“Matt, in fact, helped Noah to the medical aid station,” wrote Soldier’s Mom in an e-mail.
While helping Noah to the aid station, Bohling spoke reassuringly to him, making reference to the day they had met.
“The last thing Matt said to Noah was, “Don’t worry… you’ll be fine _” we still have to go back to Duluth,'” Soldier’s Mom wrote.
Weeks later, while Noah was recovering from his injuries, he learned of Bohling’s death.
“Noah describes Matt as a brother – even though they didn’t spend a lot of time together,” Jennings said.
As Jennings continues her education and prepares for an upcoming wedding with her Marine Corps fiance, she looks back fondly on her friendship with Bohling.
“Matt is the longest I’ve ever known any of my friends, and one of my best friends that I’ve ever had.”