By Stephanie Hoff, 1st Infantry Division Public Affairs September 6, 2011
She had no way of knowing the course her life would take following a chance encounter at a local Fort Campbell, Ky., hangout. All she does know is… she would do it all over again.
Vickie Hoffman had noticed the man across the dance floor constantly staring at her but said she hadn't really given it too much thought until she looked over again and he was gone.
"Then when I turned around, he was standing right beside me," she said.
Three months later she married that man who noticed her from across the floor and she and Sgt.
1st Class James 'Jim' Hoffman began to build their life together at Fort Campbell. Shortly after their wedding Jim was handed deployment orders. The year was 1994 and they were notified that Jim's unit was set to deploy to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Storm.
"A war is a war no matter what. We lost people then and we are still losing people now. Nothing is easy about it," Vickie said of that first time she had to watch her husband pack his bags and then say goodbye. She recalls immersing herself with raising her granddaughter, who lived with them full time, as well as her work to help pass the time while Jim was overseas.
"That home coming was something that I will never forget," she said of his return. "You looked around and you see so many loved ones and so many kids… and the Soldiers are just so happy to see them all."
She had no way of knowing at the time that the homecoming they shared then would be the last time she would be welcoming her husband home with cheers and outstretched arms.
Jim was stationed in North Platte, Neb., serving as a recruiter when the two planes struck New York's World Trade Center Sept. 11, 2001. Vickie recalls hearing the announcement on the radio during her drive to work and being huddled around the TV with her co-workers at the mall where she worked.
"It was unbelievable. I just remember thinking 'This isn't really happening,'" she said. She was able to keep in contact with Jim throughout the day but only during short, quick phone calls. The phone lines in his recruiting office began ringing nonstop that morning with people wanting to join the military and the fight they were sure our nation was about to enter.
"They were just coming out of the wood works," she recalled of the number of individuals wishing to enlist in the Army that day. "That morning (of Sept. 11) changed all of our lives. It was like the world stood still; watching, waiting, wondering."
The couple wouldn't be left wondering about their future for long as Jim came down on orders to return to Fort Riley, where they had been previously been stationed before Nebraska. His new assignment would find him appointed to the 1st Engineers Battalion, a part of the 1st Infantry Division, the Army's oldest division.
Just short of two years after their return to the Kansas post, Jim received a call one Friday evening informing him he would need to report to work for a meeting the next morning.
"That Saturday he went to work and when he came back home he stopped and looked at me... he said 'We leave in 30 days,'" she recalls.
In August of 2003, Jim and his unit, Company B of the historic 'Diehards' battalion, left for Iraq.
The morning of Jan. 27, 2004, started out like any normal weekday, though Hoffman remembered seeing video shown of an explosion that had just occurred in Iraq, but at the time she said footage of such explosions was becoming nearly an everyday occurrence due to the violence in the country at the time.
"I didn't know it at the time, but on Fox & Friends they actually had Jim's explosion on there. They just said it was a bad casualty and there were quite a few that died," she said with tears in her eyes. "Every day in the war, people were dying… you never think it's going to be you."
A few hours later she was in her kitchen when she heard their door bell ring.
"The door bell rung and I turned and looked out the window and there were four (Soldiers) on my doorstep. I just lost it. I just started hollering 'No!'"
She remembers the rest of day continuing in a sort of a haze with representatives from the Army, her Family Readiness Group and work constantly coming and going.
Vickie knows Jim's funeral is a day that will remain instilled in her memory, from the large amount of people who attended his service to the white snow that blanketed the Kansas landscape. She remembers there was standing room only and some of the funeral's attendees stayed outside in the cold when the church reached capacity. Friends and family came from all over the world traveled to Fort Riley to remember their friend and honor the Soldier, leader and friend who could always make them laugh.
"If a funeral could be beautiful; Jim's was. It was gorgeous. It was just so beautiful that morning. It's like he was telling me 'It's ok.'"
Nearly seven years later and Vickie is still honoring the memory of her fallen Soldier through the volunteer organizations she participates in to naming the gift shop she opened (a plan the couple had wanted to do after Jim retired from the military) in his memory. Whether it's serving cookies to Soldiers right before they load up for deployment or sitting and visiting once a week with the post's wounded Soldiers, she says the busy schedule not only helps the Soldiers but helps her to cope with the loss.
"Even though it's something little, it means a lot. It puts a smile on their face. I love being around them."
Jim's memory not only lives on in her heart but also on the new memorial display in the 1st Engineer's headquarters that honors the unit's fallen soldiers.
"They're never forgotten. They live on. And they always will," she said.