By Michele Weslander Quaid
On Memorial Day, and always, we remember, honor, and teach about those who have served in the military and sacrificed for our freedoms, and for the families they left behind.
Today, I share with you a story that is very personal to me and my daughter, Sophia. It is about Christopher Quaid.
Chris was born on 7 October 1970 to John Quaid, a Marine Corps veteran, and his wife Martha, in Houston, Texas. He went through ROTC at what is now known as Texas State University and was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the USAF in 1994. Chris’ Air Force Specialty Code was Space Operator (primary) and Acquisition (secondary).
I first met Chris in 1999, when he was Captain Quaid. He was assigned to be the government lead for the national security projects I was working on. He was stationed at a facility in the SouthWest and I was based in the Washington D.C. area. Chris was an articulate and enthusiastic government champion and I was the technical expert. Soon Weslander & Quaid became known as an unstoppable duo. We worked to provide necessary data, services, and expertise to the national decision makers and to the war-fighters downrange.
After the terrorist attacks of 9-11-2001, I was recruited into government service to help lead necessary change and served as a senior executive in defense and intelligence.
Chris made a permanent change of station (PCS) to the DC area in 2003. In December of that year, we traveled to the combat zone of Baghdad, Iraq, to spend time “boots on the ground” with the warfighters supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) to see what they needed and what we could do to better enable them to do their jobs. We arrived the day they caught Saddam Hussein. Chris joked that Saddam heard we were coming and turned himself in. We traveled from Camp Victory to the Green Zone to meet with the special forces teams, the chief of intelligence, and the analysts in the various ops centers. We compiled a 12 page trip report and came back to DC armed with actions to effect necessary change to better enable the war-fighters to do their mission downrange. We worked diligently to break through the bureaucratic and policy barriers to deliver the capabilities the war-fighters needed.
A couple years later, we found ourselves not only collaborating on national security projects together, but spending time with the same national security community friends outside of work. Soon, we realized that these two business partners — Weslander & Quaid — would make great life partners. So, when Chris proposed to me at dinner with a group of those same friends in July of 2006, everyone cheered and said we were a great pair and were meant to be together. They were right. We were soulmates. We were passionate for America, the mission, and each other.
We planned to get married here in Santa Barbara, CA, on New Year’s Eve. A few weeks after we announced our wedding date, Chris informed me that he would be deploying to Afghanistan sometime in early 2007. The US Army was in need of Electronic Warfare Officers (EWOs) and they turned to the USAF and USN for those EWOs. Chris volunteered to be trained as an EWO by the Navy and then deploy to Afghanistan with the Army’s 82nd Airborne. (HOOAH!) If that isn’t joint I don’t know what is. He asked if I would support him in going and I told him unequivocally, “If this is your calling, you must go, and I will support you.”
He spent the months before our wedding in combat training and was told he would deploy to Afghanistan the first week of January. So, we would have to postpone our honeymoon.
We got married at Fess Parker’s Double Tree Resort in Santa Barbara. My Marine Corps veteran uncle, who now serves as a chaplain in the Seattle area with the Fire and Police departments, started the service while my grandfather, Rev. Weslander, walked me down the aisle. Then my grandfather married the two of us. We had a big party to ring in the new year with all of our guests.
On January 1st, we flew back to DC. January 2nd, he took me to the Pentagon to register me as his spouse. And January 4th he deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).
That same week I was sworn in as the first Intelligence Community Deputy Chief Information Officer for our first Director of National Intelligence (DNI) serving on his leadership team. Given where I worked, let’s just say I had more comms than most spouses with people downrange, so Chris and I were able to keep in touch. Invariably when he would call, he would give me tasking to work the network back home to assist with operations downrange. Once again, Weslander & Quaid were doing good things for the war-fighter.
One call was very sobering, and came after a night I couldn’t sleep. He told me that an improvised explosive device (IED) had hit the convoy he was on. The lead vehicle was Afghan and everybody had died. The second vehicle was American. They thought there might be one survivor, but the medic told them that he may look like he’s OK but the radiation from the blast had fried his brain. He was dead in a few hours. I was grateful that Chris had survived.
Chris spent most of his time “outside the wire” with the troops at forward operating bases (FOBs). He was able to tap into the national security enterprise in ways the Army had never seen before.
When Chris returned home, he was a man on a mission to establish a new capability that would connect the national security community to the tactical fight. He lobbied the leadership for many months before he was finally allowed to create the Joint Collaboration Cells (JCCs), where experts from the intelligence agencies are connected with war-fighters downrange at all different security levels.
In September 2008, we welcomed Sophia into the world. You couldn’t find a happier family.
Chris served as a mission director — a coveted and very competitive job — commanding the nation’s imagery reconnaissance satellites, and he continued to find ways to make national assets relevant to the tactical fight.
Eventually, the DNI highlighted the JCCs as a model for intelligence community operations and made Chris the by-name executive agent to lead the standup of JCCs across the national security enterprise — the intelligence agencies and the military commands.
31 December 2015 was Lt Colonel Chris Quaid’s last official day of active duty. Chris retired, content in the knowledge that he had made a lasting positive impact on the national security community and knowing that people came home alive because of his efforts.
The very next day, 1 January 2016, I had to take him to the ER. After he had an MRI we found out that he had a life-threatening brain tumor — likely glioblastoma, a stage IV malignant brain cancer. I told Chris there in the hospital room that we had been to combat zones together and this was another combat zone and that I would be with him every step of the way in this fight. We would later learn that there were other young veterans who served in OEF and OIF that had glioblastoma.
A few days later Chris had emergency brain surgery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to save his life. I spent the first two weeks living in the ICU room with him. Unfortunately, he was moved out of the ICU too soon and there were complications, so he had another emergency surgery to save his life. He had a third surgery before he was finally discharged home four weeks later.
Chris was rated 100% disabled with 100% service-connected disability, unemployable and homebound by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
To say our lives were radically altered would be an understatement.
After Chris finished the “standard of care” cancer treatment in the DC area, we moved to Santa Barbara, to the property that used to be my grandparents. Here he was under the care of an amazing oncologist at Ridley-Tree Cancer Center, Dr. Dan Greenwald, and he received glioblastoma specialty care at UCLA Medical Center.
The cancer and cancer treatments wreaked havoc on his body and his disabilities became more pronounced. He had brain surgery at UCLA in January 2017. There were complications with his surgery and treatments. He went through rehabilitation but was discharged too soon. After losing his balance, falling and hitting his head, Chris soon became unable to walk. He never walked again. From then on, he required 24×7 care.
There is much more that could be shared regarding the horrible saga that we went through, but we haven’t the time here.
Suffice it to say that despite great support from the compassionate local VA outpatient clinic staff and Santa Barbara County’s outstanding Veteran Service Officer, Joe Fletcher, we faced an intransigent bureaucracy in the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Given Chris was 100% disabled with 100% service-connected disability, he qualified for the maximum VA benefits, but it was a challenge to get anyone at the regional center in LA to do their job to ensure that he got the benefits to which he was entitled and the care that he required. Their “one size fits all” nursing home solution caters to a geriatric population. Clearly, that does not meet the needs of all veterans — especially younger veterans who do not fit that demographic. As a result, Chris suffered unnecessarily, and so did our family.
There were numerous quality of care concerns that I expressed to the VA but they chose to ignore those concerns and did not address them. Ultimately, this led to Chris having to deal with numerous life threatening issues. On Thanksgiving Day, I had to intervene and have him taken to the ER. The doctors there and at Cottage Hospital told me that if I had not intervened when I did they wouldn’t have had a chance to save him.
Sophia and I were by Chris’ side every single day. After I dropped her off at school I would go to be with him and after I picked her up from school we would return to the hospital and stay there with him until he went to sleep. Chris rallied because he had a reason to live. Sadly, despite a valiant battle against the odds, Chris’ war-torn body ultimately gave out. He died in my arms at Cottage Hospital with our daughter holding his hand on 16 December 2017. He was 47.
We are Christians and because of our faith we have hope that Chris is now truly the invincible warrior he always claimed to be and that we will be reunited with him again someday. But we still miss him every day. This is our story, but it is representative of countless veterans who gave their lives for the cause of freedom and the families they left behind.
We owe our freedom to our veterans, and they deserve our best care. And let us not forget those veterans who survive combat in foreign lands only to return home and in desperation take their own lives. That is a national tragedy.
John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
So on this Memorial Day may we remember all the veterans who paid the ultimate price — whether they died on a battlefield in a foreign land, or from service-connected injuries and illnesses after they came home.
America is far from perfect — perfect is unattainable — but as wartime President Abraham Lincoln said, “We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of earth.”
Anyone who has joined the military or government service, such as when Chris joined the USAF, took the following oath: “I, [name], do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”
Make no mistake. There are enemies of the Constitution, both foreign and domestic, that are very active right now. We must be ever vigilant and aware of what is going on.
Thomas Jefferson said, “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”
Unless we stand up to government overreach, our freedoms will continue to be eroded away.
Let us remember that the Declaration of Independence says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
The governed are We The People.
In his first Presidential inaugural address, Ronald Reagan, former governor of California, highlighted many problems facing the nation and said, “We must act today to preserve tomorrow.”
He went on to say that “We, as Americans, have the capacity now, as we have had in the past, to do whatever needs to be done to preserve this last and greatest passion of freedom. In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?”
Reagan added, “Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it. If we look to the answer as to why for so many years we achieved so much, prospered as no other people on Earth, it was because here in this land we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before. Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than in any other place on Earth. The price for this freedom at times has been high, but we have never been unwilling to pay that price.”
He said, “It is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel and are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion in our lives that result from unnecessary and excessive growth of government. It is time for us to realize that we’re too great a nation to limit ourselves to small dreams. We’re not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing. So, with all the creative energy at our command, let us begin an era of national renewal. Let us renew our determination, our courage, and our strength. And let us renew our faith and our hope. We have every right to dream heroic dreams.”
The crisis we are facing today does not require of us the kind of sacrifice that Chris and so many thousands were called upon to make. But as Reagan said, “It does require, however, our best effort, and our willingness to believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds; to believe that together, with God’s help, we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us. And, after all, why shouldn’t we believe that? We are Americans.”
Reagan reminded us that, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”
On January 1st, we flew back to DC. January 2nd, he took me to the Pentagon to register me as his spouse. And January 4th he deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) as an EWO and Battlefield Airman.
We are blessed to live in the United States of America. We cannot take our freedom for granted. We must all cherish our priceless freedom and fight to ensure that we continue to have it.
We are the home of the free because of the brave. Let us do everything in our power to ensure that the sacrifice that Chris and other brave souls have made was not in vain.
May God bless our veterans and their families, may God bless you, and may God bless America.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal
Michele Weslander Quaid is a Santa Barbara native. She is the President of Sunesis Nexus. Michele has a B.S. in Physics & Engineering Science and an M.S. in Optics. The majority of her career has been at the nexus of national security, domestic and foreign policy, and technology innovation. After the terrorist attacks of 9-11-2001, Michele was recruited into government service and served as a senior executive in both defense and intelligence. She has been to the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan in support of US troops. Michele was married to and is now the widow of Lt. Colonel Christopher Quaid, USAF.