Josh Evans and Heath Pickard were friends by chance, family by choice... and so were their wives.
"We all considered each other brothers and sisters," explained Monica Evans, Josh's wife. "We celebrated holidays together, birthdays..."
"When you’re in that situation, you need a family. You need something there and your family can’t always be there."
Specialists Evans and Pickard also trained, deployed, and served together... but only one of them came home. Specialist Pickard was killed in action in Iraq on October 16, 2008.
"I remember getting a phone call," Monica recalled. "It was 3:00 in the morning and [Josh] was talking to me and I could barely understand what he was saying because he was getting ready to go into surgery. He had already had one surgery and it was a mess and then he's like - somebody didn't make it. I can't tell you who, but somebody didn't make it and I knew. So, the first thing I did was I called his wife and she was just crying and I didn't know how to help her, how to be the person she needed me to be so I did what I knew how to do and I told her I loved her and that her husband had died a hero and that everything was going to be okay because I was there. I was going to make sure I was there."
It's been nearly a decade and a lot has changed, except that promise. In 2015, Monica started The Pickard Project, which is a local organization that helps military members and veterans when other organizations can't.
Monica's team puts together blessing bags for our area's homeless veterans, care packages for our men and women serving overseas, and fulfills their own missions for those in dire need:
"Our longest one so far was 13 weeks and it was to save two veterans from losing and being evicted from their homes," Monica said. "We were able to keep them in their homes and that day, when I handed over the final check, I felt this feeling of relief that finally one of them or two of them or anyone I talked to or anyone I can help - they got what they needed, because they chose to trust and with PTSD and veterans - a lot of them have trouble trusting."
Monica knows because her husband has PTSD - and so does she.
"I'm not a doctor, but I deal with this mental illness," she said. "I deal with a couple others and I allow wives, children, and the vets themselves to call me. I've probably spoken in the last two years to 1,500 veterans or active military families."
"I’ve actually gotten texts back weeks later just saying if it wasn’t for that call, I don’t know where I’d be and I save those messages, because those are what keep me going when my PTSD says I can’t do it."
"When people ask me that question of what percentage goes to the organization it`s 110%," she said. "I’m not doing anything that everyone else should be doing."
Monica's best friend and Vice President, Tiffany Neels, says Monica's want to serve comes from pure passion.
"She puts everybody before herself and just nothing is too small, too big for her," she said. "She just saddles down and decides how she`s going to do it and she does it."
For Monica, it's the least she can do when she knows others have made the ultimate sacrifice.
She knows it's what Heath would do, too.
"It`s something I think he would be proud of and it honors him and it shows this was the type of person he was," she explained. "He helped anybody."
In honor of him, we honor Monica Evans and The Pickard Project as a 2018 Jefferson Awards Nominee.
The Jefferson Awards Foundation celebrates public service and the people in our communities who are changing lives. Every Wednesday in January and February, WQAD News 8 is introducing you to our 2018 Jefferson Awards Nominees. In March, we will announce our area's Finalist. That person gets to attend the National Jefferson Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C. this summer and meet other Finalists from across the country.
To see who was nominated in our previous three seasons of the Jefferson Awards, click here.