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Fallen Soldier, Missing Father

Three years ago, Bre Priestner's father was killed in Iraq

Almost three years ago, my father died in an Apache helicopter crash in Iraq, when I was 14 and my little sister, Megan, was 10. Our parents had been married for nearly 20 years, and we had everything we could ask for. But it all was shattered on Nov. 7, 2006, when we got the news.

I woke up early that morning and was planning to stay home from school because I didn't feel well. I was lying in bed listening to music when the doorbell rang.

Mom came down the stairs to my room. She looked distraught. I jumped out of bed and followed her upstairs. Megan hadn't left for school yet. When I saw the three Army officers standing in our living room, I froze. I started shaking my head and saying, "No, no."

They asked us to sit down, and then the words came: "I regret to inform you that your father, Chief Warrant Officer 4 John Priestner, was killed last night ..."

Dad served in Iraq in 1991, during the Persian Gulf War; in 2002, he spent nine months in Afghanistan. Although he came home safe both times, we were scared when he left for Iraq in July 2006.

But we all felt that Dad could do anything, and he said he would do whatever it took to bring his unit home alive. While he was in Iraq, we talked to him using Yahoo Messenger and e-mail, and he called almost every day.

The night Dad shipped out, he told us, "If anything happens to me, do not be mad at the Army or at God." That night he called us "Team Priestner." We used that saying when he was in Iraq and we still use it, to keep us going.

Talking to other children of the fallen through TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) has been a great experience for me. At Fort Bragg (near our home in North Carolina), we have support groups for all ages. Some kids don't want to talk about losing a parent; others want to know if things will get any easier, and that question is so hard. I'm just now getting things figured out, and it's been nearly three years.

I've been unfocused in everything and was diagnosed with depression. I'm getting better, but the best thing I did was talk to my mom and my counselor about how I felt.

The road we are all on isn't easy, and I don't know how anyone could think it would be. That's why it's hard when we hear a question like, "Why aren't you over it yet?"

The simple answer is that we've had a major part of our lives ripped from us. A song or anything can trigger a painful memory, and suddenly we get quiet or start crying.

Losing someone so important to you, especially when you're so young, can be devastating. Only one parent will be there for your proms, your graduations, your wedding, and to see grandchildren grow up.

But as military families, we are strong. Even though we're sometimes a little stubborn, we are survivors. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.