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Two Friends Changing Lives

Two Friends Changing Lives

Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Benjamin Faske

     It was a friendship that came from unfortunate circumstances, but one that written in the stars and one between officer and enlisted.

      In March of 2008 while touring in Iraq, the lives of then Air Force Capt. Kevin Lombardo and Army Sgt. Joel Tavera would forever be intertwined after a rocket struck a suburban carrying Sgt. Tavera and four other soldiers.

      Three people were killed in the attack and Tavera and other were critcally injured. Acting quickly Captain Lombardo, ran to the scene and found the then 20 year-old Tavera on fire from his torso to his head and bleeding heavily from one of his legs.

      The two sat there waiting for help to come, and Lombardo said his only goal was to make sure Tavera was awake and kept talking. For nearly 30 minutes the two talked about everything and anything, and a bond was formed

      “Ever since the attack, we hit it off,” Lombardo said. “There’s the officer and then there’s the enlisted but I considered him an instantaneous friend and family member…..and I told him it's going to take a long time for him to get rid of me, even now.”

      And just like that, Tavera was sent back to the States, where his long road of recovery and surgeries started. But after seeing fellow comrades die and spending time with the young soldier, Lombardo couldn’t get him out of his mind.

      “A lot of times when things like that happen you never hear about what happened to the other person or you never get to see that person again,” Lombardo said. “One of the things I wanted to do was know what happened to Joel...I had to know.”

      Lombardo had heard Tavera survived but that he was in bad shape, wanting to know more, he called several times to the young soldier’s parents for updates on his condition.

      While Tavera was dealing with the physical ramifications of the attack, Lombardo was left struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

      “That’s a side of war everyone deals with, and I was no different,” Lombardo said.

      As fate would have it, Lombardo was able to get temporary duty (TDY) to Florida, the same place Tavera was recovering. They spent nearly six months together; time they both say changed their lives and their family’s lives.

      “We did everything together, we were always going out to different events, hockey games...he became like a brother to me and son to my parents,” Tavera said.

      “Joel went from being hospitalized in a bed to by the time I left…. 6 months later, we were going and going out on the town,” Lombardo said. “We healed together, and we found a reason to live again, together.”

      Today, the two are still the best of friends and they travel the country telling their story, inspiring others to keep going and living.

      “We met for a reason, it was our destiny,” Lombardo said. “It wasn’t accident, and I just feel I was in the right place at the right time… and now we’ll both always have each other.”

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