Always in her heart
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on May 26, 2013 1:50 AM
Christina Kazakavage holds her son, Adam's, dog tags while his stepfather, Jim, holds a picture of him. Adam, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician, was killed in Afghanistan Jan. 19, 2010, when his unit was ambushed while responding to a call to check a school that was reportedly wired with explosives.
News-Argus file photo
Airmen stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base salute the funeral procession of their fallen comrade, Adam Ginett, in January 2010. Ginett, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician, was killed in Afghanistan.
It started with a long embrace -- a young man holding his mother tighter in his arms than he ever had.
It continued when his cheek touched hers -- when he pleaded with her to read the book he had left on her pillow.
But it wasn't until he turned his back to her -- when the 29-year-old stepped ever closer to a plane that, moments later, would be bound for Afghanistan -- that Christina Kazakavage, for the first time, broke the pact she and Adam made the day he joined the Air Force.
"It was the first time seeing him off on a deployment where he had hugged me so tight and he had said, 'I love you, Mom.' So for some reason, I started crying," Christina said. "We had always made a promise that this was his job. We were to honor that. We were to respect that. There were to be no tears."
She couldn't hold back.
And when she returned to her house and began reading the book her only son had left for her, she, again, broke down.
"When I got home, I ran to the bedroom and I got the book off my pillow. It was, 'The Final Salute.' I went out into the living room and read that book until 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning. I cried my eyes out through the whole thing. It was written by a Marine who was the (officer in charge of casualty notification) for eight families," Christina said. "I went into the bedroom and woke (my husband) up. I said, 'He's not coming home. He's not coming home.'"
Christina lights up when she talks about the first time she held her first-born child.
"He changed my life," she said. "He changed who I was."
Tears fill his stepfather, Jim's, eyes when she reveals that Adam was the ring bearer at their wedding -- when she told a story about the day her son asked Jim if he could call him Dad.
"Adam loved him," Christina said. "Just loved the hell out of him."
The two smile when they unwrap how good the boy was with his little sister, Sarah.
"Adam was the proverbial big brother. He took care of her -- even when she was a baby. He'd feed her and get her bottles. He did it all," Christina said. "And he wanted to. He just took on that big brother role. They were so tight. So very, very tight."
And they beam with pride when the mother discusses how, as a young man, her son sat her down and told her that he had decided to join the military.
"He said, 'Don't totally freak out Mom ... but (I) joined the military today.' He said, 'Mom. Remember. You always told Sarah and me that whatever we chose to do with our lives that you would support us 100 percent. You said that our lives were supposed to be our lives,'" Christina said. "I wasn't frightened. I wasn't scared. I had always told my children, 'Don't live for Daddy and me. That's not what life's about. We'll be proud of whatever you choose to do.'"
But when, upon his graduation from basic training, Adam confessed that he was going to be an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician, his mother, for the first time since he was born, began to worry -- a feeling that never completely subsided.
The daughter of a Marine who served in the Korean War, Christina was always proud of Adam's service.
And that pride grew when, after his first tour in Afghanistan, she learned just how humble her son really was.
He called his parents' house one day and asked them to visit him at Shaw Air Force Base.
Several hours later, they were by his side.
But it took Adam until the following day to come clean about just why their presence there was so important to him.
"So we go for a walk around his little neighborhood ... and after a while, he says, 'It's no big thing, but I have to go to this dinner ceremony on base tonight. He said, 'Mom. It's no big thing. ... I'm just getting the Bronze Star,'" Christina said. "He said, 'Mom. I've told you this a million times. When I go over there, I'm not supposed to take lives. I'm supposed to save lives.' I said, 'So what happened?'"
Over the next few minutes, Adam talked about a mission that went wrong -- how he and his eight-man team were ambushed.
"They killed 23 Taliban and captured 13. And they captured over 600,000 pounds of explosives. I said, 'And that's nothing? This is not nothing,'" Christina said. "I said, 'If it's you or them, by golly, you had better pick up that weapon and make sure it's them.' I said, 'Why are you not proud of this?' He said, 'Well, I just don't want it to be a big deal."
Christina is having lunch with her father when her phone rings.
It's Jim calling from work.
He has just been interrupted by a pair of unexpected visitors and they are asking for his wife.
"He said, 'You need to get here now,'" Christina said.
Jim knew that they had come to deliver a blow to his family.
Their uniforms told him all he needed to know.
"We pulled into the shop and I saw the blue car with the government plates. All I remember was my dad reaching over and grabbing my arm. He said, 'It's gonna be OK,'" Christina said. "My heart dropped, but then it picked back up because this would not have been the first time Adam had come home early and surprised me. So I looked at my dad and said, 'Of course it's OK. Adam got home early.'"
She didn't know just how wrong she was until she reached the garage door.
"I saw all three of them standing there," she said. "I just threw my hands up and said, 'Nope. You don't have anything to say that I need to hear. You all can go. I'm not gonna hear this.'"
She refused to listen for more than hour -- until her father told her he was taking her home to receive the news.
"They got me back to the house and they, of course, read the paper. The first words you hear is, 'We regret to inform you.' Then you hear, 'On the death,'" Christina said, wiping tears from her eyes. "That's all I heard. I couldn't tell you what else was on that paper. ... As a mom, as a parent, you hope that there's been a mistake. But of course, there hadn't been."
Adam was the EOD crew chief on a mission his mother said likely touched his heart.
A school full of children had been surrounded by explosives.
"One Army captain was walking next to Adam. The rest of the eight guys were behind them. And as they were approaching the school, an explosive was detonated," Christina said. "He was definitely on a mission that he was all about. He was gonna go save schoolchildren. That was him."
Hundreds of people line both sides of the street that connects Seymour Johnson Air Force Base to the city that houses it.
None had ever met Adam, but each felt compelled to grieve as a procession guiding him to his final resting place made its way out of the installation gates.
Christina broke down when a group of children waving undersized American flags caught her eye -- when she realized that her loss was felt by the nation her son gave his life for.
So when, several months later, she had an opportunity to participate in a dignified transfer of remains escort for a fallen Fort Bragg soldier, she felt compelled to, for the first time in her life, climb onto the back of a motorcycle.
She knew the man driving.
He was the leader of the detail that had "taken Adam home."
But she had no idea that the few minutes she would spend on that bike would change everything.
"He was going and I clearly heard Adam. His favorite thing to do to me was to say, 'You're cool, Mom. You're cool.' I could see those thumbs up and I heard him say, 'You're cool, Mom. You're so awesome,'" Christina said, as more tears rolled down her face. "At that moment, such a peace came over me. I knew that I had heard him. So I'm crying the whole time and I said, 'Adam. I don't do things like this.' He said, 'Yes you do, Mom. You're cool. You're awesome. Do it for me.'"
And now, she and Jim have made riding on behalf of the fallen -- and all veterans -- their mission.
"We celebrate and we honor our son's life, rather than mourning. We celebrate giving him to our country, because that's exactly what we've done," she said, choking up. "From the time that Adam's body came home to the time he was buried, throughout that whole week, all we heard was, 'We'll never forget. We'll never forget. He'll never be forgotten.'
"I'm here to tell you, the very first thing you think about, as a mother, is, 'Oh my God. What do I do to make sure he's never forgotten?' Now, we have a way."
Christina, Jim and Sarah won't be healed when they place the Gold Star wreath during the Wayne County Veterans and Patriots Coalition's annual Memorial Day service Monday at Wayne Community College.
Their participation in the event won't bring back his infectious smile.
"I don't think I've really gotten over it," Jim said.
"You're never gonna get over it," Christina added. "It's something we're just gonna have to live with."
But being among others who know what true sacrifice is -- sitting beside Adam's friends and comrades -- will help them, again, honor a young man who will forever be remembered as a selfless hero.
Even if he never would have characterized himself as one.
And when they hit the open road after the ceremony on the motorcycle they purchased -- the yellow bike that serves as a traveling memorial to the man they will long for, always -- they might, if only for a second, hear his voice again.
"We should never forget and we won't," Christina said. "Adam would want us to remember."