04/12/2012 09:00 am ET Updated Jun 12, 2012

After Virginia Beach Crash, the Military Family Felt it Personally

If you were anywhere near a TV on Good Friday, you know that an F-18D crashed into an apartment complex after a massive malfunction. The jet was seen by many in the Virginia Beach area before it hit the 40 homes later deemed destroyed. Some say it is a miracle no one was killed.

My husband flies F-18s. The second I was told of the crash, not knowing where it landed, many thoughts ran through my head simultaneously: "I'm glad it wasn't MY husband," "Did I just think that? It was probably SOMEone's husband!," "It easily could happen to mine," "Did we know the pilots?," "Should I start calling my fellow military spouses in Oceana?"

This is the typical cascade of thoughts when tragedy strikes one of our own within the military: Relief, survivor's guilt, fear, concern.

However the events unfolded, I was connected to it in a much more visceral way than most. When anyone from within our own community is hurt or dies, we feel it as if we knew them personally. It's part of the fabric of who we are as a military culture. What is normal for us is not normal for most. Death and constant fear of the unexpected are both part of our everyday lives. They figure into our very thought process when we look to make our next decisions. As military couples, we know and accept that any day could be our last together, and that every day is probably someone's last.

Somehow, by the grace of God, no one got THAT notification Friday. No spouse, military or civilian, fell to her knees living out her worst nightmare. No one was killed.

There's been much controversy over the Master Jet Base-Oceana. Many Virginia Beach (Vah-Beach is what we call it) residents want the base to move, citing intolerable noise levels and the jets' proximity to residents. Others say a crash into the surrounding population is (now was) imminent. Truthfully, the laws of statistics would agree.

In the 1940s, when Oceana was built, there was little more than flood-ravaged farmland surrounding what would become the takeoff runway for Friday's crash. The military came in, built the base, created what is one of the most advanced military air stations in the entire world and, as one would expect, businesses and residents followed. In 1952, Virginia Beach became it's own, independent city from Princess Anne County. That was just twelve years after Oceana was planned. In the nearly 75 years since, Virginia Beach has flourished.

The Base Re-Alignment and Closure (BRAC) process has brought NAS Master Jet Base Oceana under review several times. Many residents want it moved. Relocated. Closed down. They're forgetting that a monster part of their economy comes from the military pouring their money into it. People are enraged, impassioned and convinced life would be better if the military left Oceana. But, if the military leaves Virginia Beach, they'll take their money with them. The military families who leave will take their economic impact, their jobs, their mortgage payments, their tuitions and their taxes with them.

I have to say, what fascinated me about the coverage unfolding Friday was that none of that came across. In those terrifying and horrific hours, people just helped people. It didn't matter who wore what uniform, who did what for a living, or who wanted what outcome for the base itself. It just boiled down to lending a hand to someone in need, civilians risking their lives to save a service member.

The sometimes angry debate was instantly put on hold by everyone, at least until safety could be restored.

As for me, a military spouse whose husband flies that very same jet? I am eternally grateful to the residents of the apartment complex for their selflessness and bravery. As we say in the Navy, "Bravo Zulu."