Jackie Kramer was in the bridal party of two of the weddings that we had shot in the past. Her fun, bubbly personality is contagious, and we had a blast hanging out with her during that time. Naturally, when she contacted us about doing a bridal session in her wedding dress, we jumped at the opportunity. When we found out the circumstances surrounding the shoot she wanted to do, we were touched and honored. Her husband Aaron was killed in combat in Afghanistan before they could have a formal ceremony and she was never able to wear her dress. This session was her way to honor his memory, and she wanted us to be able to document it! We knew as soon as she told us that we had to capture her courage and tell her story. So, here it is!
Aaron Kramer had always wanted to be a soldier. When he was a kid, he would play with his GI Joes, go hiking around Yellowstone Park, or explore the ancient ruins of the Southwest. Going into high school, he enrolled in JROTC, often sporting his Army T-Shirt. Before he had even finished high school, he had already enlisted, and was sent out to Fort Benning, Georgia in 2006.
Once he was enrolled in basic training, he realized that he absolutely loved the thrill that came from jumping out of airplanes. Upon receiving his Airborne wings, Aaron was assigned to the 2nd Battalion 502nd Infantry Regiment of the famed 101st Air Assault Division. He then joined his twin brother in serving in Operation Iraqi freedom. Eventually, however, he realized that the army wasn’t completely for him, and so he started dreaming of a time that he could come back to America and possibly start school. Even with that, though, he still went back and completed Ranger School, the Army’s equivalent to the Navy Seals. Everything he did, he did with excellence.
From here, I will give you Jackie’s perspective:
Aaron and I met on January 24th, 2009 at my cousin Chad’s wedding in Milwaukee. All the groomsmen just got back from their year long deployment to Iraq and were currently stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. At the reception I found myself sitting alone at one of the tables when I saw Aaron walking towards me.. he leaned in said “Hey you look a little lonely do you mind if I sit down next to you”. Of course I said yes! The only way that I could deal with the overwhelming situation was to laugh and giggle at everything! The evening was over before we knew it and I was heading back to Kenosha asking my mother what she thought was going to happen between the two of us. I remember Aaron telling me that all he could think about that night was “Jackie from Kenosha, I wonder where Kenosha is at”. I guess it is cheesy to say, but it was definitely love at first sight.
That next day I got a phone call from Aaron, while he was at the airport and he asked if I would join him at the military ball coming up on February 28th, 2009… My response, ” I would love to, but I am going to have to ask my mom!” He made a surprise visit from Fort Campbell driving 9.5hours over Valentines Day weekend to spend more time with me before I flew out for the military ball. There were monthly trips from that point on and VERY lengthy phone conversations During the holiday season of 2009 we decided that we would spend sometime with his family in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The morning of December 25th, 2009.. Aaron proposed and began planning for our wedding. We knew that we would need to start planning for his deployment coming up, but we didn’t exactly know when he would be leaving. At that time, I was still taking classes at the University of Wisconsin Parkside and making traveling plans to see one another every couple of weeks. It was hard to be long distance, but we made every second count when we were together. We decided that we didn’t want to wait until he got back from deployment to get married so we made plans to get married over Easter weekend on April, 3rd 2010. The hardest part was that we had just about two weeks before I could move out to Tennessee, since I had to finish my spring semester at Parkside. We were able to spend two short months together before he left for deployment on June 6th, 2010. That was by far the hardest “see you soons” but inevitably it was our last goodbye.
Here’s Aaron’s perspective, captured in an email to his brother Brandon while he was finishing up his tour in Iraq:
April 15 at 5:53pm hey bro so the wedding went great at the court house. we had to wait a few hours for the criminals to get there bails done but after that we had a wonderful group wedding with 6 other couples, there was a nice black couple that wore a matching blue suit and dress, a couple in t shirt and jeans, there were a few prengant couples there and one navy guy that really like to show off how to march. so hopefully the real wedding will go much better than that. now im already broke because i had to get new car insurance and buy multiple airline tickets for my leave but im keep telling myself it will all be worth it. i think we are going to go camping on one of the weekends when i get to utah so hopefully jackie will have fun, shes not much of a camper, but i will break her. which reminds me she came down last weekend and we wanted to save money so we went to this place called dunbar caves. i had a good time enjoying the nice weather and smelling the fresh air but jackie on the other hand was running down the trail screaming because of the bugs. but she said she had fun. we also had our first “spat” with each other. i really wanted to go to the gym but jackie just wanted to get her ring sized so i suggested we workout after we do that but she still wanted nothing to so with it, so i was trying to tell her how much i liked working out and i said ” i really like being in good shape” she responded with an attitude ” AND SO I DONT?!? i didnt know what to say, i was dumbfounded. we went to jared and then went home. so anyway thats what has been going on here. i hope your doing good over there, im sorry about your flee infestation. take it easy bro, call me if you get a chance I found this just last week when I was going through some pictures and i guess now I thought i was fitting to share with you since it mentioned our court house wedding.
Again, from Jackie’s perspective:
By the grace of God I was able to stay strong through the beginning on the deployment. Every month that went by the communication on the FOB (forward operating base) got better and we were eventually able to skype. I remember the day he called and said he had a surprise for me… he said would you like to have a skype date with me tonight!?!? I was beyond excited. I got off the phone and ran to my car so I could make it to Walmart to get a microphone for my laptop!During our phone conversations Aaron didn’t like to talk about what was going on in Afghanistan, but wanted to hear all about back home, how our puppy was doing, and the plans we had for his R&R.
On September 16th 2010, I was sitting in class when I received a call from an officer asking where my location was at and if they could come meet me. Running through the halls of parkside, to get to my car my classmate frantically drove me home. Upon arriving at my house two officers were standing in my living room waiting to deliver the news of my late husband.
They had planned on renewing their vows on October 18th, 2011 at the Kemper Center, but sadly that day never came. It was fitting that we were able to commemorate the session there. Details of his life were important to us, such as the shell casings from the 21 gun salute and the dog tags he was wearing when they found him.
We wanted to include as much of his personal items as we could so that it was as if he was there as best as he could be for the session.
The boots that Jackie is wearing were his jump boots that he wore during his airborne days. One random fact: Both he and Jackie wore the same size shoes, so it worked well for her to wear his boots.
Jackie’s laughter and joy were contagious during the shoot, and they were what we remembered from being with her on previous occasions.
One of the things that we loved being able to include were the letters between her and her husband. They were able to communicate via Skype and over the phone, but handwritten letters still hold so much value.
One of the letters he sent was a detailed depiction of the first day that they met, including what he remembered about the weather, the way that she looked, and the way that it made him feel afterward. Precious things to be able to cherish in his absence.
I feel like I keep saying it over and over again, but it was such a privilege to be able to capture this special moment closing out this chapter of Jackie’s life and being able to honor Aaron’s legacy. To find out more about his life, here is a link to his obituary, written by his twin brother Brandon.