Long before "girl power" was in vogue and Beyonce had added her voice to the mix, one young woman was already learning what it took to be strong.
"I was a tomboy farm girl, I guess," Tiffany Smiley said as she reminisced about growing up north of Pasco, Wash., miles from town, and often sporting bows and ribbons in her hair. "Those country girl experiences shaped my toughness. If you got bucked off your horse, you had to get back on. And if your steer kicked you in the leg, you still had to go back out and keep working to train him properly."
Little did Tiffany realize during her teen and college years how courage and determination would play out in the days ahead. America was at peace and the future beckoned. In time, there would be a fiance on her arm and a registered nursing degree in her pocket.
"It was like this picture of the American dream," she said, thinking back to that idyllic period while husband-to-be Scott prepared at West Point and she studied at Whitworth College.
"Here he's going to be this military academy graduate and he's marrying this nurse, and the future is going to be bright, and our new last name is Smiley. Oh, it's just wonderful!" she said in a lilting voice.
But before the marriage vows could even be rehearsed, the picture changed on Sept. 11, 2001, when the U.S. homeland was attacked. In a changed world, Scott and Tiffany both went on to complete their education. But their "perfect" life together had shifted, too. Within six months of their wedding, Scott was deployed to Iraq.
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It wasn't the life Tiffany had expected, but she powered through her feelings of disappointment.
"I sort of felt like this isn't fair, that this isn't the future I thought we were going to have," Tiffany said, reflecting on the heart-to-heart talk she and her husband had before he left, how her support was key to his success. "In that moment I realized, 'Oh wow, I'm serving too. This is my sacrifice as well.' "
Initially thrown by the turn of events, Tiffany now felt ready to ride out whatever came during Scott's 2004 deployment in Iraq. But no one could see ahead to what that sacrifice would look like until one night when her world went dark.
The devastating news came on April 6, 2005, with a single phone call from her husband's commanding officer.