Black Hawk crew's guardian angel
U.S. Army Capt. Jan Rose said it was coincidence that she was deployed to Iraq at the same time as her son and her nephew.
But the 52-year-old Abilene nurse said it was something other than chance that had her in College Station this month when her nephew was injured in a helicopter crash on the Texas A&M campus.
Within minutes of the Jan. 12 Black Hawk crash, Rose said, she was by the side of Texas Army National Guard Lt. Ellis Taylor at College Station Medical Center.
"I got to the hospital immediately, and he was only concerned about his crew," she said. "He said, 'I want you to tell me the truth. I don't want you to sugar-coat it, and I want you to tell me how everybody is.' That was immediate, even before we knew how he was doing."
Rose stayed with her 31-year-old nephew for hours until his wife and parents arrived. After Taylor was transferred to a San Antonio hospital, Rose stayed in College Station, visiting the other soldiers' families and those assigned to care for them each day.
Soldiers at the hospital that week said Rose was a constant source of encouragement.
'He would trade places'
Rose was spending the week with one of her sons, a student at Texas A&M University, when the Black Hawk UH-60 crashed.
Earlier that day, Rose said, they drove by Duncan Field, where a group of helicopters was shuttling cadets to a training exercise near Bastrop.
"I saw the helicopters and made the block because I thought, 'I bet you anything Ellis is flying today.' I knew that would be something he would want to do is come back to A&M," she said. "I saw him and honked at him. He waved, but I'm not sure if he saw me or not."
Several hours later, Rose said, she was at her hotel when she got a call from Taylor's wife that he was on the way to the hospital.
Rose rushed to the emergency room and asked to see him. A nurse came out to talk to her.
"The funny thing is, she came back, and she said, 'You can come back if you're not too mad at him for crashing the helicopter,'" Rose recalled. "He was just being funny and letting me know he was OK."
Rose said she knew when she saw her nephew that he would recover from his injuries, but they had not yet learned the condition of the other soldiers in Taylor's crew.
U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Zachary Cook, a recent Aggie graduate, died at St. Joseph Regional Health Center. Sgt. Charlie Mitts died two days later at a Houston hospital. Two other soldiers aboard the flight were seriously injured.
Rose said she put off telling Taylor that Cook had died for as long as possible, but she knew that the buzz around the hospital would eventually reach him.
"I told him, and he was just devastated because he was thinking everybody had made it," she said.
Immediately, Taylor said he planned to attend Cook's funeral -- a promise he fulfilled when he traveled to the Lufkin service in a wheelchair.
"I think he would trade places with anybody on that helicopter in a heartbeat," Rose said. "That's the kind of man he is."
The road to Iraq
Rose and Taylor were close long before they went to Iraq, she said. It was a strange coincidence that brought her, her nephew and one of her sons to the war zone at the same time.
Her son was embarrassed that his mom was in Iraq, but, Rose said, Taylor loved telling his friends that his aunt was coming to visit them.
"It just happened that all three of us on different paths ended up being there at the same time," she said.
Rose joined the Army when she was 48 years old.
Serving her country was something that she had always wanted to do, she said. More than 20 years earlier, when her three children were still young, Rose had begun the process of entering the Navy.
She completed the application before changing her mind.
"I thought, 'I'm doing this for me. I'm not doing this for my family,'" she said. "It was always one of those regrets. I thought, 'Gosh. What if I had done it?' There was also that part of me that just wanted to serve, that wanted to give back."
So, when U.S. Army recruiters called Rose four years ago she jumped at the chance.
"I talked to this young man from San Antonio, and he wanted to know if I would be interested," she said. "I said, 'I think I'm too old now.' And he said, 'Oh, ma'am, you're not too old. How old are you?' And I said, 'I'm 48.' And there was this pause, and then he said, 'You're too old.'"
Rose said she was disappointed, but about three months later she got a second call from the same recruiter, who told her the military had raised the age limits for health care providers.
Rose said she jumped at the chance to join the Army Reserves. She went to officer basic training and received orders to go to Iraq just three months later.
"It makes sense, but I think -- me included -- we were all in shock that so quickly I would be going to Iraq," she said. "Some of my nursing friends were getting orders to go to Hawaii."
Rose and her 30-year-old son, who is in the Marines, entered Iraq on the same day in March 2007.
She said they e-mailed occasionally, but there was rarely an opportunity for them to talk on the phone or see each other.
"When I did talk to him, we never talked about what he was doing, and I never talked about what I was doing," she said. "You kind of have a big job to do, and I didn't want to distract him."
But with her nephew, Rose said, things were different. The two were close before they went to Iraq, and Taylor often flew helicopters to Rose's base.
"I would head out to the airfield," she said. "It was so much fun seeing him out there."
In 2007, Taylor was on his second tour in Iraq. He had also been deployed to Afghanistan and was there in 2001 when war broke out.
Taylor, whose father is a former Aggie yell leader and football player, attended A&M for four years and was part of the Corps of Cadets but joined the Army before graduating in 1999, she said. He later joined the National Guard, which commissions officers who are working to complete their degrees.
Rose described Taylor as committed to serving his country but also loves to have fun.
"He's my hero," she said.
Caring for the caregivers
Taylor was transferred to San Antonio's Brooke Army Medical Center late Tuesday, but Rose stayed in College Station.
After Taylor was transferred, Rose said, she realized it was time for his wife and parents to care for him. Meanwhile, she continued to visit the College Station hospital each day. The number of people who came out to support the injured was incredible, she said.
Caregivers also need support, she said.
"I just went back to check on them every day," she said. "That's hard duty for them. It's hard to go to Iraq and survive Iraq and then come home and have this happen."
Soldiers see it as part of their job to take care of the family of a wounded soldier, Rose said.
"I've just seen it the whole time I've been in [the Army] -- the support for each other, especially when there's tragedy. It's just something you're committed to, it's a family."
Twenty-five years as a nurse, plus her year in Iraq talking to wounded soldiers, prepared her for last week, Rose said.
"You don't know whether you say the right thing or not. All you can do is listen and be available and let them know that you care," she said
Within minutes of the crash, Rose said, friends, families and fellow soldiers converged on College Station.
More than 200 people came to see Taylor in the hospital, Rose said.
The fact that she was in town, Rose said, was an act of God.
"I just truly believe that God has a plan in everything. I don't think that he causes accidents, but he uses people," she said.
Taylor remains hospitalized in San Antonio, but his injuries won't keep him down for long, Rose said. It will be hard for him to come to terms with what happened, she said, but getting back to work, being with other soldiers and flying again will help.
The best support in the world, she said, will be being around people who understand what he's going through.
"I think every commander, leader, pilot or whatever, goes to war or flies a helicopter and weighs the risks," she said. "I think when we all raise our hands, we say, 'If I go to war, I could die.' And I think you come to terms with that in one way or another. But the one thing you can never come to terms with is losing somebody. I think as a leader you have to come to terms with that in your own way."