Taking Jared's flight
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on November 11, 2010 1:46 PM
News-Argus/MICHAEL K. DAKOTA
Gold Star Mother Janet Monti gives the thumbs-up before taking flight in an F-15E Strike Eagle. Her son, Jared, always wanted to be a pilot, but joined the Army instead. So Wednesday, more than four years after his heroic death in Afghanistan, his mother was given a chance to live her son's dream.
Janet Monti holds up a picture of Jared inside the 333rd Fighter Squadron lounge Tuesday evening. The following day the mother took flight in honor of her son.
News-Argus/MICHAEL K. DAKOTA
News-Argus/MICHAEL K. DAKOTA Army Staff Sgt. Jared Monti's likeness is displayed on a coin that was presented to 4th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Patrick Doherty by Monti's mother, Janet Monti. Monti was killed in Afghanistan while attempting to save a wounded soldier.
As one of his young soldiers lay defenseless on a mountain path, Army Staff Sgt. Jared Monti dropped his radio and stepped in front of the enemy forces pinning down his unit -- exposing himself to a barrage of small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades as he attempted to pull his wounded comrade out of harm's way.
"He was always the type of kid who stood up to bullies," his mother, Janet, said.
But on June 21, 2006, Jared was no longer the young boy who helped a child from the neighborhood recover his bike after it was thrown into a pond.
He was the leader of a patrol in Afghanistan.
And they were under attack.
From the moment he saw his uncle, Mike, donning a Navy uniform, Jared wanted to serve his country.
"That made quite an impression on him," Janet said.
But the boy's dream stretched far beyond simply joining the armed forces.
He wanted to fly.
So when he was just a junior in high school, he asked his parents to sign him into the National Guard -- hoping to earn enough money to attend the Naval Academy and pursue his dream.
"I was really hesitant about signing that paper," Janet said. "But it was what he really wanted."
And despite the fact that he was later told his history of migraine headaches would keep him from fulfilling his dream of high-speed flight, he remained committed to a life of service.
Jared eventually joined the Army and decided to make it a career -- turning down a chance to be discharged before his second combat tour.
"He had the opportunity to get out ... but he said, 'No. I trained those kids. Nobody else is taking over,'" Janet said. "He said, 'I'm responsible for them. I want to bring them home.'"
After repeated attempts to reach his wounded gunner, Jared, timing his movement to the sound of exploding rounds, ran one final time toward that incoming fire -- nearly reaching that soldier before succumbing to the enemy.
"They told me Jared's death is what gave them the strength to go on and overtake the enemy even though they were outnumbered," Janet said. "So I believe it was his destiny. That's how I deal with it. That's how I live with it. If he had gotten out and those boys got killed that day, he never would've been able to forgive himself for not being there."
Janet relives the day Jared's father called her with the news of their son's death and chokes up.
"Even though we were prepared the next day when they came to the door, it was still the worst night of my life," she said. "I was very angry with God."
But in the months that followed, she found some peace in knowing just how deeply Jared had touched the lives of those who served alongside him.
"Some of his soldiers, they write to me; they send messages to me on Facebook. There are more and more of them every day," Janet said. "One of them ... was on the mountain that day and because of Jared, he managed to crawl to safety. They just had a baby, and they decided to name him Monti.
"He said, 'I'm going to tell him about Jared and want him to be the kind of man Jared was.' That was really, really something."
Jared was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during that ambush in Afghanistan.
But for Janet, no military decoration will ever be enough.
"It's him walking through the back door unexpectedly -- having leave without telling us and just surprising us," she said. "It's him coming up behind me and putting his arms around my shoulders. Those are the things that are gone. Those are the things I'll never get back."
Her eyes focused on the Air Force colonel matching her step for step, Janet tugged on her flight suit as she made her way out of the 336th Fighter Squadron Headquarters on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.
She knew that moments later, she would climb into the cockpit of an F-15E Strike Eagle and take flight -- the 4th Fighter Wing's way of thanking a Gold Star Mother for her sacrifice by giving her the chance to fulfill Jared's dream
"I can't believe I'm doing this," Janet said the night before. "Jared is looking down on me now saying, 'What the hell are you doing? Are you nuts?' But he'll be with me."
And as she and 4th Commander Col. Patrick Doherty ascended ever higher into the sky, she felt her son right there beside her.
"She told me about who Jared was, the kind of man he was," Doherty said shortly after their jet landed. "The emotions arose."
And the experience took him back to his days in combat -- to those moments when he and other aviators answered calls just like the one Jared made over that radio before facing the enemy.
"It brought it all home. I mean, there are people in Afghanistan right now calling for air," Doherty said. "So this is definitely (a flight) I'll never forget. It was special.
"It was a tremendous, tremendous honor to fly her -- to acknowledge her sacrifice."
Janet, too, characterized the experience as an honor.
But you could tell, as she looked at a photograph of herself sitting in that cockpit, that the ride she called "awesome" was more about the hero she lost back in June 2006.
"See that, Jared?" she said, holding the picture toward the sky. "There's your mother."
And you could sense that for this particular woman, no honor, no matter how great, will ever replace her love for the son taken from her far too soon.
"I would give this back, I would give the medal back, I would give all the money back that we got, I would live in a trailer. I would do anything to have him back -- anything," she said. "A lot of people talk about closure. Well, there's no such thing as closure. You live with it for the rest of your life and you hope that you can get beyond it and not be sad every single day."