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Family Surprised at Military Appreciation Ceremony
“He’ll turn around and look at the kids, and the kids always turn around and look back at him. It always tears my heart apart. It’s their last look before they walk away from each other.”
Marcia Hartwick has been married to U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Jason Hartwick for 20 years and has seen this moment play out every time Jason leaves on one of his deployments.
When Jason walked away from Marcia and their four kids in April of 2019 for what would be Jason’s longest deployment yet, the family all agreed they wouldn’t look back this time.
“They still did,” Marcia recalls. “It really just gets me.”
The Hartwick family’s journey – like so many military families in their shoes— has been anything but easy, anything but predictable.
That’s how each of the Hartwick kids describe their family’s day-to-day life. Between chores, homework, after-school activities, breakfast and dinner, there’s no such thing as a dull moment.
However, each kid is quick to say that life in their household is equally fun….and even more so when dad’s there – not via spotty Skype calls from thousands of miles away, but home, in person, hanging out, going to the movies and cracking jokes.
“He does dad jokes a lot,” says 13-year-old Alycin, “but it’s funny.”
In fact, it was one of Jason’s “cheesy,” romantic jokes that ultimately won Marcia over 20 years ago: “Let’s act like Tom and cruise out of here,” Marcia recalls with a smile.
For Jason and Marcia, it wasn’t just love at first joke, but love at first sight.
Seventeen-year-old Marcia was sitting in a Mississippi church one day when she saw the pastor’s son, Jason, walk in.
“That’s going to be my husband one day,” she said at the time.
A year and a half later, they were married. Now, twenty years, four kids, several moves and countless deployments later, this Mississippi couple –who now calls NAS JAX home – is still going strong.
But Jason’s latest deployment – to Al Dhafra Air Base 7,674 miles away—has been the toughest one yet.
He missed Christmas for the first time; he missed each of his kid’s birthdays; he missed karate competitions.
“It’s very difficult for [the kids] to have these milestones in their lives, and he’s not here to see it,” says Marcia.
But each kid carries a piece of dad with them.
Jayce, 7, totes around his dad’s military wallet and keeps one of Jason’s military challenge coins inside.
“When he’s away, I get to look at it and feel close to him,” says Jayce, as he flips the challenge coin between his fingers.
Xander, 15, wears Jason’s jacket and Alycin prefers a favorite hoodie.
“It reminds me of him.”
They also hold onto advice their dad has given them, trying to live out his words every day.
“If you start something, you finish it; you can’t quit,” says 16-year-old Cobin, the oldest of the Hartwick clan.
Marcia and the kids also lean on their military community to make it through Jason’s deployments.
“It’s very difficult, but you get to meet other military families and you come together as a family,” says Marcia. “It’s like you already have a bond, and already have a connection, because they understand what you’re going through.”
It was their extended military family who introduced the Hartwicks to THE PLAYERS Championship team, which then led to an invitation to attend the 2020 championship, where they sat in the front row during the Military Appreciation Ceremony.
Each year, THE PLAYERS designates the Tuesday of tournament week as Military Appreciation Day, which concludes with a ceremony and a concert on the iconic 17th hole.
The March 10 ceremony featured a flyover by 125th Fighter Wing, nearly 50 enlistees taking an oath of service, a keynote address from Jacksonville native Vice Admiral P. Gardner Howe III, (retired), USN and a concert by the Grammy-award winning duo, The Chainsmokers.
But before The Chainsmokers began their electrifying performance, emcee Carson Daly welcomed the Hartwick family on-stage. As Chainsmokers fans, the kids were excited about seeing their favorite band. However, Carson offered them an even greater surprise – a message from their dad.
“Look at that screen over there,” Daly told the family, who were both surprised and confused. “We are going to try to connect with Jason who is on deployment at Al Dhafra Air Force base.”
Jason Hartwick then appeared on the jumbo video board on the 17th hole.
“It’s been almost a full year being away from my family,” Jason said. “I just want to tell them I love them and I’m so proud of them. It’s been a little hard, but I just want to thank the PGA TOUR for their support and appreciation of the military. We do this to serve the greatest country, the United States of America.”
As the signal appeared lost, Carson apologized for the technical difficulties and asked production specialists if they could get him back on screen.
With their eyes still on the videoboard, Marcia and the kids had no idea that Senior Chief Jason Hartwick was just a few steps behind them.
Prompted by Carson, Marcia, Cobin, Xander, Alycin and Jayce turned around and looked back and saw their dad walking toward them. They all embraced amid the cheers, applause and tears.
Jason Hartwick was home.
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