Her story inspired our patriotism and parenting, and yet broke our hearts at the same time. It’s a stellar example of what it means to be an American, a Texan, a veteran and a mom.
Kharisma Ashlee James, 33, was raised in Massachusetts. She participated in ROTC in high school and then joined the U.S. Army, reaching the rank of staff sergeant and NCO. In her eight years of service to our country, she deployed on two combat tours in Iraq where she worked primarily in logistics.
She was an E-6 and planned on a long-term career in the Army, but that changed when she became pregnant with her first child and then her second.
She explained, “I always thought I was going to be one of those people who was going to do 25 years,” but, after a failed love relationship, Kharisma just couldn’t see herself spending a year overseas away from her children, especially as a single mom.
The Women’s Fund of El Paso, which commendably granted her scholarships to help retrain her as a nurse, explained: “Kharisma wanted to do something meaningful, something that would be counter balance all the destruction she saw on her deployments. She decided to follow in the footsteps of an aunt she admires and study nursing.”
She started at El Paso Community College and then was accepted into the nursing program at the Gayle Greve Hunt School of Nursing at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, where she excelled and was eventually featured in a Texas Tech Veterans Day video. She also served on the school’s Student Government Association along with representatives from the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
For years, Kharisma juggled the demands of being a single mom, full-time student and worker. But it paid off when she graduated with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in May 2017, after which she passed the state board exam and went on to serve as operating room/surgery nurse at the Hospitals of Providence in El Paso, Texas.
She credits the Women’s Fund of El Paso for helping her re-establish her life and career after the military. She communicated to Women’s Fund officials: “It’s phenomenal. If you guys ever need anything let me know. I’d love to do whatever I can to contribute in the future because I think what you guys do is amazing – helping other women get through their education. It’s really important.”
For the last year, Kharisma has been doing what so many hard-working patriotic Americans do: love and care for family and friends while serving in some significant way to help their community and country.
Tragically, Kharisma’s service to her children and community was cut short this past week on the very first day her kids went back to school at Tippin Elementary School. Kharisma was picking them up after a great first day. A 58-year old father, who incidentally had no prior criminal record or charges, was also picking up his kids as well. He backed out of a school parking space, accidentally hitting the accelerator and barreling toward Kharisma and her kids walking along.
Kharisma did what any mom would do, especially one that was also an NCO: She leaped in front of her six- and seven-year old kids and another 10-year old student to somehow buffer them from the blow. All of them were hit. The kids were injured seriously and hospitalized, but are expected to recover. However, Kharisma didn’t make it. She was killed courageously trying to protect her kids and another student.
“She was trying to get in front of the kids,” El Paso Independent School District spokesman Gustavo Reveles explained earlier this week.
Kharisma has been rightly hailed as a hero from the blogosphere to mainstream media outlets like Fox News. Her heroic story has been shared from Germany to China. The UK’s Daily Mail even posted a photo tribute of her.
Nicholas Tejeda, the Market CEO of the Hospitals of Providence, said in a statement: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of our colleague and friend, Kharisma James. This is a tragic loss for our THOP family. Our hearts go out to her family, friends and colleagues during this difficult time.”
Stephanie Woods, dean of the Gaye Greve Hunt School of Nursing, conveyed her alma mater’s condolences in this way: “The Gayle Greve Hunt School of Nursing is saddened to hear of the passing of Kharisma James. She was an outstanding student and served as Vice President of Finance for the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso Student Government Association. Nurses dedicate their lives to the health and safety of others, and Kharisma James lived those ideals, putting herself in harm’s way to protect others.”
Velusamy Sathish Kumar, the father of the 10-year old who was also injured alongside Kharisma’s children but spared even worst consequences because of her bravery, said about that courageous veteran single mother: “She is the angel of my son.”
My wife, Gena, and I also salute Kharisma Ashlee James. We thank her for her love and service to her country, community and kids. Her life was not in vain. Though we all wish she had not been struck down in her prime, her tenacity and tenderness shines like a beacon to all of us. And we pray for God’s strength and peace upon her family and friends.
I wanted to share her story with my readers around the nation and world to honor her. And remind us all that it is amazing souls like Kharisma in every community across our great nation that makes it so great. (Please make sure you listen to Kharisma herself speak about how the military helped develop her core values and leadership skills in the Texas Tech Veterans Day video.)
It won’t take us waiting for another Memorial Day or Veterans Day to remember the power of Kharisma’s love and sacrifice. As Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: that one lays down their life for another.”
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Kharisma’s name means “A gift of grace.”
A GoFundMe has been set up to help with Kharisma’s kids if you feel so inclined to help.