Tuesday, June 28, 2022
68.0°F

Honeymoon in Baghdad

| October 24, 2021 1:08 AM

The first time Heidi Radkiewicz’s convoy was attacked, she mistook the sound of gunshots for a blown tire — a common occurrence in the heat of Iraq.

But next to her, the truck driver was white-knuckling the steering wheel. She quickly grasped what was happening.

She and the rest of her convoy of Army National Guardsmen were under fire from insurgents.

Heidi scrambled to grab her rifle, only to find it jammed — full of sand.

“It was like time stopped,” she said. “You just have to say a prayer and hope.”

The convoy later pulled over to assess the damage. Soldiers riding in the truck in front of Heidi’s were injured by gunfire. Behind her, a grenade hit a trailer pulled by another truck.

Heidi’s thoughts turned to Jake — her husband, who was riding near the back of the convoy. Was he safe?

She felt him before she saw him. Relief washed over her.

“He just wrapped his arms around me,” she said.

Jake and Heidi met in the aftermath of 9/11, at a drill weekend in Laramie, Wyo. He proposed less than a year later.

Just weeks after their courthouse wedding, the couple learned they would be deployed overseas.

Together.

They served in the same platoon.

Instead of a traditional honeymoon, Heidi and Jake went to war. They went on road missions together, showered together and slept on the same cot, under the desert skies. They even fought insurgents together.

Over the years, many people have told Heidi they couldn’t imagine serving alongside their spouse. But she can’t imagine it any other way.

“It was everything,” she said. “We could be there together and share the moment and hold each other.”

Many veterans struggle with feelings of isolation after they return home from war, Heidi said, because their families simply can’t understand their experiences.

“You’ll never know what your loved one is going through,” she said. “Jake and I had that. We knew exactly what the other one was feeling. We could lean on each other.”

The couple eventually took a real honeymoon, spending two weeks of leave together in Frankfurt, Germany. They didn’t know their relationship would soon be tested in a new way.

In a hotel bathroom, Heidi took a pregnancy test.

But when she went to compare the result to the instructions, she found they were written entirely in German.

The couple took the items to the front desk and sheepishly asked an employee to help them translate.

The employee took one look at the test and congratulated them.

“It was hard to get excited, because I knew what it meant,” Heidi said.

Heidi would return the United States and Jake would stay behind in Iraq.

“I’d never felt sadness like that,” she said. “It was heart wrenching.”

At home with her parents in Iowa, Heidi struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder.

She had little to do but think about what her husband was facing on the other side of the world and wonder if their child would know his father.

“I was a train wreck,” she said. “I was having panic attacks. My anxiety was through the roof.”

Jake was able to fly in for the birth of the couple’s son, Wyatt, though he had to leave again almost as soon as he came.

“It was the most amazing experience to have him come off the plane,” Heidi recalled.

Jake came home for good after his 18-month deployment.

He and Heidi now have two children: 17-year-old Wyatt and 15-year-old Summer.

Heidi went on to write and publish a memoir about their love story, titled “Honeymoon in Baghdad.” The film rights have been optioned, she said.

When Jake’s job went fully remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he and Heidi decided to do something they’d long dreamed of: move their family of four from the Chicago area to North Idaho.

They settled in Athol a little more than a year ago.

“This is where we want to be,” Heidi said.

In Iraq, she and Jake were battle buddies. They looked to each other for support and relied on each other’s strength.

They face life’s challenges the same way — as a unit. Together, they could take on the world.

“It’s made us really strong,” she said. “We’re best friends.”

photo

Heidi and Jake Radkiewicz served together in Iraq for about seven months. They were separated after Heidi learned she was pregnant with the couple’s first child. Courtesy photo.

photo

The couple settled in Athol with their two teen children, Wyatt and Summer. Courtesy photo.

photo

Heidi Radkiewicz said going to war with her husband, Jake, strengthened their relationship for life. Courtesy photo.

Recent Headlines