A military kid is learning about her dad's life and experiences through the eyes of her mom.
Ever since Britt Harris first met her husband, Army Spc. Christopher Michael Harris, eyes have played an important part of her story.
Chris and Britt Harris. Courtesy photo.
From the beginning, she couldn't help but notice his baby blues, so different from her own hazel eyes. The North Carolina natives fell in love and married in October 2016. A paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, Chris deployed to Afghanistan the next summer.
Then came the eyes of the nation on her when her 25-year-old husband was killed in a vehicle explosion on August 2, 2017, making her a Gold Star wife. Just one week earlier, Britt thrilled him with the news that they were expecting their first child.
Britt's grief felt all-encompassing, but she still wanted to feel connected to her husband's unit. She included them in her gender reveal, shipping confetti poppers with the appropriate color to Afghanistan. The men and women celebrated amidst a shower of pink in a now-viral video.
When her daughter, Christian Michelle, arrived on March 17, 2018 — the day Chris' unit returned — Britt knew the story wasn't over. So she arranged for a photoshoot featuring Christian, herself and Chris' fellow soldiers.
With the same otherworldly blue eyes as her father, Christian quickly captivated millions. The moment wasn't just for show, however; the men and women who served alongside Chris (he and Britt are only children) are viewed as family.
"We still see each other. We get lunch, or send texts, or social media," says Britt, 28. "It makes me feel like I'm still part of the group even though I don't have Chris anymore."
Yet thanks to Christian's uncanny resemblance to Chris — especially his eyes — Britt still does, in a way. Christian loves doing handstands now, the result of toddler gymnastics classes.
"She does them everywhere we go," Britt laughs. "She dances all day, every day."
Living as a single mom in Moore County, North Carolina, was never Britt's original plan. But she has plenty of new accomplishments to list since her world came crashing down in 2017, including hiking Kilimanjaro in Africa and starting a PhD program in psychology at Liberty University.
"My husband was really adventurous and he was always the person to push me to do something new," Britt says. "When he passed away, I didn't have anyone to push me anymore, so I started pushing myself to try new things."
And in going after those firsts, Britt now holds the title of Mrs. North Carolina Universal 2020. Though this year's national pageant fell victim to quarantine, she still plans to compete in 2021. Her platform will be bringing awareness to families of the fallen.
"A lot of people don't even know what Gold Star means," Britt said. "I've met veterans who don't know what Gold Star is."
The publicity that pageants offer could majorly change that, giving Britt a wider audience to educate on the definition and needs of Gold Star families, perhaps even affecting future related legislation.
"The pageant world isn't really a place where widows go," she said. "I'm hoping out of curiosity people will read up on Gold Star or ask when I give my interviews so I can speak more about it."
Besides getting ready to eventually compete in a national pageant, 2020 has held another rookie experience for Britt and Christian: being the recipients of a Gold Star canine training program.
Ridgeside K9 Carolinas recently boarded Atlas, the Harris' one-year-old Blue Heeler, and professionally trained him to be a well-behaved family dog. The Harrises were the first selected for this free service for families of the fallen.
"Atlas is a very high-energy dog that was by no means a 'bad dog,' but I certainly needed help teaching him obedience," Britt said. "He's very patient and well-behaved now. He listens and the stress of chasing him and him avoiding and ignoring my calls and demands is long gone!"
Now, Atlas could happily join Britt and Christian on their road trips to places where Chris visited. Britt documents each trip in photos.
"I want to show the re-creations of her in the places Chris went, to walk where he walked, to feel close to him," she says. "I want her to feel connected to him and the things he enjoyed."
As a Gold Star wife, Britt understands that Chris is physically absent. But he — and those blue eyes he passed on to the daughter he never met — will always be a part of their lives.
Follow Britt at https://www.instagram.com/britt.m.harris/ to keep up with her and Christian's future adventures.
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