"It's funny how things roll in your direction when you think everything is all good in the hood. Life can switch momentum on you in a flash but don't let it get you down as long as you can do something about it." - Jason Arnette in an email to his sister.
SSG Jason Arnette was born on November 7, 1982 in Richmond, Virginia. He grew up like most asthmatic kids: long, last-minute drives to the hospital at regular intervals throughout childhood. His mom, Michelle, would frequently have to go and get him at school and drive over 50 miles to the doctor's office. It seemed there was no way to avoid it. Jason's father, Bill, had died in 2006 from complications of lung disease - one year to the day of Jason's own death. It ran in the family. Miraculously, he never had an asthma attack on the sports field.
Since he was old enough to walk, Jason had wanted to be a Soldier. His dream was to become a Green Beret - Special Forces. So he joined the JROTC program during his freshman year of high school in an effort to work toward his dream, but school did not come easy to him. Had it not been for his good friend, Crystal Lester he may never have gotten any where. She was the glue that held him together. When she moved to North Carolina to live with her family, it devastated Jason. His grades began to suffer and he felt as if he had hit rock bottom. He was beginning to think twice about going into the military - or any profession for that matter. He missed Crystal so bad.
One day, Jason called up his mother in tears and told her he was going to join the Army. Realizing that her son was making emotional decisions, she encouraged him to go and speak with their good family friend and pastor - a retired Army Chaplain - Reverend Dorsey Drawhorn. For many, many years, Dorsey had been a big influence on Jason's life and now he would help him with his decision about joining the military.
"I had him call Dorsey," Michelle said. "I told him not to do it at this time. He was not in the right frame of mind to make those decisions." Jason had graduated from high school in 2001 and was supposed to be in his winter semester of college. He had gone during the fall semester, but didn't go during the winter. So, he didn't have a lot to keep him occupied except thinking of Crystal.
Instead, Michelle called Dorsey and he came and picked up Jason. They had a two or three hour lunch and he was able to calm Jason down a little. They talked about many different things and Dorcy provided him valuable advice. Dorcy took Jason to Army recruiter SGT Debra Cunningham. She spoke with Jason honestly for a few hours about the pros and cons of military service. However, she wouldn't let Jason sign anything. She advised him to sleep on it for 48 hours because he was too anxious. She wanted to ensure that he made the right decision, free of buyer's remorse. Jason didn't sleep for two days! He was that excited.
When he went back, he took a buddy with him. They studied the ASVAB vigorously and felt really good about taking the test. Unfortunately, it didn't help much. His buddy ended up doing much better than Jason did. Which was kind of ironic considering his friend was always in and out of trouble. Since Jason had brought his friend with him to join the Army, Jason would enlist as a Private First Class. His JROTC would have only gotten him Private 2. Unfortunately, his friend got arrested and didn't enlist, so Jason came in as an E2 instead an E3.
Just before he went into MEPS to sign and swear in, he called his mom. She asked what MOS he had chosen and he said he'd tell her when he gets home. Michelle wasn't having it and insisted he tell her. "Are you sitting down?" he asked his mother. "No, but your dad is," she replied. Jason's dad always got a bit more excited than she did.
Ever since he was little, Jason could accomplish anything he set his mind to. "I always swore that you could put him in an airplane without a parachute," his mom recalled, "push him out and he would fly!" He was on his feet the first time he put on water skis. He was four years old. The same day he was introduced to snow skiing, he was on the advanced hill before his mom could do anything to stop him. In the two hours that it took his mom and sister to get down the hill the first time, Jason was on his umpteenth trip up the lift. He had a way of seeing a challenge and running with it. He just made it work!
So, it was with this in mind that Michelle listened as her son began the story. "Mom, I've done a bunch of junk," Jason began. He related the many things that he had done - and excelled at - in his life. "And I've always liked those kinds of challenges," he continued. "But there's one more thing I want to do." Fearing the answer to her own question, she asked anyway: "Yeah? What's that?" "I wanna freefall from airplanes!" Already speechless, Michelle simply uttered a long "OooooKaaaaay…." Jason wasn't finished.
"But I want to know if you'll watch me if I do it," he said. She was flabbergasted. Watching your child fall out of a perfectly good airplane is NOT the number one thing on any mother's list of things they want from their kids. It was a mother's worst nightmare. Jason was had signed on to go Airborne. His first duty station would be Korea. On March 25, 2002, Jason was on his way to Fort Benning, GA to begin his journey to becoming an airborne Infantry Soldier.
Unfortunately, there wasn't any space at Airborne when Jason shipped off and his training had to be postponed. In the meantime, he went to Javelin training. His first assignment was with the 506th Infantry, 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division at Camp Greaves, Korea.
In September 2003, he was reassigned to Fort Drum, NY with the 10th Mountain Division. By the time he had gotten there, his unit had already shipped out to Iraq. He arrived in Iraq the same day that Saddam was captured. He wasn't there for long when his mother contacted him that his father was in intensive care and on life support. Michelle was able to get Jason out of Iraq and back home within two days.
The doctor told Jason that his father basically had a 50/50 chance of making it through. "I can't give you hope, but I can't take your hope away either," the doctor told him. Jason looked at him and said, "You're not going to do anything with him, you're going to leave him alone. It's in God's hands." His dad made it through and was back with the family in no time.
By the time that situation had worked itself out, it was too late for Jason to head back to Iraq. The unit had already begun preparations to redeploy. He went back to Fort Drum to welcome the rest of his unit home. Before heading back, however, he traded in his pick-up truck for a sporty Suburu WRX. To Jason, it was his dream car. It was customized for speed and hot looks. But, he didn't have it for long. Just before Easter 2004, Michelle got a call that Jason had been in an accident and totaled the car - one month after he had bought it. Thankfully, Jason was okay. He had lost control speeding down a road and was thrown out of the car as it spun around before hitting a tree. Jason suffered some bumps and bruises. If Jason hadn't been thrown out of the car, he would have surely died as the engine block of the car was shoved into the back seat from the force of hitting the tree.
On Friday, September 13, 2004, Jason married his second high school sweetheart, Sky. His dad had tried to talk him out of this and her dad was doing the same on that end. Love overruled them both and they were married near Fort Drum, NY by the Justice of the Peace. They set a July date in which they were going to have a much bigger ceremony for friends and family. A few months later, in January 2005, Jason got deployed again with the 10th Mountain Division. He was assigned to Charlie Company, 2-14th Infantry Battalion for a six month deployment to Iraq. They returned on June 20th, but during this deployment, Jason had to decide if he was going to reenlist or get out of the military. Sky tried to convince him to get out, but while still deployed Jason reenlisted anyway.
Jason and a few members of his squad all reenlisted together. Jason stood taller than anyone in the group and was proud to be an American Soldier. He wasn't a 4-star General yet, but he was quickly becoming the "best of the best.' With the reenlistment bonus, Jason treated Sky to a romantic honeymoon in Jamaica.
For the next year, Jason's unit reset and began their normal training cycle and training for their next deployment. The unit was scheduled to deploy in August 2006 and something didn't sit right with Jason.
Then, on March 31, 2006, Jason's father passed away while he was training at the National Training Center. His demeanor changed. He was supposed to go to Ranger school after the NTC rotation, but there wasn't enough time when he got back got things settled. He spoke extensively with Skye about his worries and feelings of uncertainty. He didn't have to deploy. Jason was the only surviving male Arnette and by military regulations wasn't required to deploy into a combat zone. He could have gotten out of the deployment, but he chose to go anyway. He loved his job and he was damn good at it! But, his father's death would continue to weigh heavily on him. He told his mom that something didn't feel right. As much as he loved the military and enjoyed doing his job, he didn't feel good about going back anymore.
Jason's R&R in Iraq was scheduled to take place around April 07, but he was able to beg, borrow, and steal to take his leave in December so he could head home and surprise his wife for her graduation from Radford University in Virginia on December 16, 2006. His return was supposed to be a surprise to the rest of his family, but Michelle was able to find out anyway through a close friend. Michelle's daughter had called her at the last minute and said she wouldn't be able to pick him up at airport and would Michelle be able to do that. Being only five minutes from the airport - and Jason's mother - she was more than happy to go and get him. She had a huge "welcome home" sign made up for him and was on her way to welcome her son home from combat at the airport. She picked him up from the airport at around 1100 and they talked and hung out until about 1530, when he left to spend the rest of his R&R with Skye. That was the last time Michelle would see her son alive - December 4th, 2006.
Jason borrowed his mother-in-law's car and drove all day long to surprise Skye. He had been telling her the whole time that he would not be able to attend the graduation and was stuck in Iraq. When he got to the house, he knocked on the door. When Skye opened, there stood the love of her life in flesh and blood.
While on his R&R Jason made sure that Skye knew how much he loved her. He prepared a very special Christmas for her. He bought them matching robes and a gift certificate at a spa. Then he bought her a dress and him a nice outfit that they wore to an exclusive restaurant. Finally, he bought them each some pajamas and time at a bed and breakfast at which they could relax. After spending a magical two weeks with Skye, Jason returned to Iraq on December 20, 2006.
Jason was a friend to each and every one of the Soldiers in his unit. He touched the lives of everyone he came into contact with. His leaders respected him, his Soldiers looked up to him, and his peers worked feverishly to keep up. He set a high standard and made the most of his life. His lieutenant said that Jason was always "a professional first." He could set his mind to anything he wanted and somehow, some way he would get it done. One of his Soldiers said, "he could take a cigarette butt and make it fun."
In November 2007, C Co, 2-14 Infantry Battalion returned from Iraq. Jason was not with them - at least not physically. On April 1, 2007, SSG Jason Arnette was killed in an IED blast - adjusted for time differences, exactly one year to the day his father died. Jason's ashes were mixed with his father's and buried at Arlington National Cemetary, exactly where he wanted to spend eternity.
Jason is survived by his wife Sky, his mother, Michelle, his two sisters, Tonya M Arnette-Donavan and Shelby-Grace N. Arnette, Brother in-law Billy Jack Donavan, nephew W. Jacob Donavan and niece Chloe M Donavan.
Jason was one of the best Soldiers I ever had. He was intelligent, open minded, disciplined, and above all an outstanding NCO. I was his platoon leader in Charlie Company. I joined him over in Iraq in 2005 taking the place of his prior platoon leader Captain Langreck, Clinton. My name is Captain Jaison Morgan. I just felt the need to write and tell you how great he was. He was always trying to help me out in any situation and when he had to take charge he did. I can only wish there was more like him in the Army. He will be missed my many. Charlie Rock!!! - CPT Jaison Morgan
When I first joined the Army in 2004 and completed basic, the first unit I went to was 3rd Platoon, C Co 2-14. One of the first people I met was Jason. He told me that I was on the same fireteam as him. I could tell just from talking to him what kind of Soldier he was. Growing up as a Private in the army and being lead personally by Jason was one of the fondest memories I have of him. He instilled a lot of motivation and inspired me to exceed in the Army. I am where I am now because of him. He was a great Soldier and I personally looked up to him as a great leader. I will miss him very much.- Tom Snare
Video of C Co 2-14 2nd Squad, ESAD in Iraq - made by SPC Woloszyn
LINKS TO SSG Jason Arnette
Jason's story respectfully written by CJ Grisham.