The daughter of a career Air Force man, Donna Lorrig grew up on military bases, part of a global family whose bonds were defined not by blood but by shared perspectives and purpose.
"We considered people in the military our family. They're working toward the common goal, they're in it together and there for each other," Lorrig said.
She chose a life outside that environment, however, studying art, animal science and politics in college, and marrying, raising and homeschooling seven children in Colorado Springs. By the time her third youngest, Gabriel, decided to enlist as an airman straight out of high school in 2011, she was already an Army mom to his older brother Nathanael. Still, Lorrig admits that in many ways she'd lost touch with what it truly meant to be part of America's extended family of military.
"I think after so many years on the civilian side, I'd really forgotten what all that is like," she said.
Gabriel planned to work his way up the Air Force ranks like his grandfather and great-uncle. But his path was cut short in 2012 when he had to be medically evacuated from deployment in the Middle East to Germany's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center for emergency treatment of a severe and - as it turned out - chronic intestinal inflammation.
News of her son's health crisis sent Lorrig on a desperate and whirlwind 5,000-mile odyssey from Colorado Springs to Europe to be by Gabriel's side at the military hospital southwest of Frankfurt.
Lorrig writes about that journey in her essay "Serving Those Who Serve," one of a collection of short stories featured in the recently published "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Military Families."
From the strangers who offered comfort and encouragement as she tearfully scrambled to prepare for the last-minute trip overseas, to the supporters and Samaritans she met along the way and at the hospital, the experience reminded her she's not alone - and never was.
Many of the people Lorrig encountered had a personal connection with Landstuhl and reassured her that Gabriel was receiving top-notch treatment; some offered to pray for her. What they said was precisely what Lorrig needed to hear.
"It was very reassuring for me spiritually," she said. "Each encouraging word and prayer I received from friends and strangers alike, as I made my way to Germany, reminded me that although I had no idea how this story would end, I knew that God was walking with me every step of the way."
Lorrig made it to the hospital in time to help her son through a night that his doctor later admitted he feared might be Gabriel's last. She stayed for a month, until Gabriel was stable enough to travel back to the States, where his treatment and recovery continued.
"I think I came away from the whole experience with an even greater awareness of how important it is for our military people to feel supported," said Lorrig, whose son is now 25, medically retired from service and a junior at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. "I think I really realized how important it is for them to know that the people on the civilian side are there supporting what they do and supporting them all the way through."
Lorrig, who works in media relations and has other stories published in the popular "Chicken Soup" series of inspirational books, said she was proud to contribute a piece to the line's military themed compilation. Sixty cents from the sale of each book goes to USO, a nonprofit organization that provides services to members of the U.S. military and their families.
"I know a lot of people understand the bond that happens in the trenches, but in the trenches of family life for military families, there's also that bond that's very real," Lorrig said. "I hope these families know that even when we're out of the military environment, we support them and appreciate all the sacrifices they make for our nation and our safety and the quality of life we live."
Contact Stephanie Earls: 636-0364