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Tuesday, April 23 2019 @ 08:41 PM EDT

Army major dies in attack - James Michael Ahearn

By April Johnston, Staff writer, Fayetteville Observer

Her mother warned her: A soldier’s business is war. There is no safety. There are no guarantees.

But the Iraqi daughter loved the American officer.

And so, in 2005 — two years after they met in Iraq — she left her country to move to his and become his wife.

And on Thursday — four years after her mother’s warning — Lena Ahearn became a widow.
Her husband, Maj. James Michael Ahearn, 43, was killed in Baghdad when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb. Sgt. Keith A. Kline, 24, of Oak Harbor, Ohio, was also killed in the attack.

“Jimmy was the greatest gift I ever had,” Lena said Sunday from the couple’s home in Raeford. “I will never regret marrying him for two years and moving to the United States.”

Ahearn, who had served in the Army for 18 years, and Kline were assigned to the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion, 95th Civil Affairs Brigade at Fort Bragg.

This was Ahearn’s third time in Iraq.

It was during the second tour that he met Lena. She loved the way he looked in his uniform and the way he used his own money to buy toys for Iraqi children.

When they married, Ahearn offered to convert to Islam for his bride.

“I only want you to convert if you believe in it,” Lena told him.

He did.

And he used that belief to try to bridge the cultural gap between American soldiers and the Iraqi people on his third tour of Iraq.

“He told them there are no differences between people,” Lena said.

But his message of tolerance did not reach everyone. And Lena said she is ashamed, knowing her husband died in her country at the hands of her people.

She told the casualty assistance officers that came to her home Thursday to tell her of her husband’s death that she wanted to become an American citizen.

It would have made him proud.

“He was the strongest and bravest man I ever saw in my life,” she said.

And one of the most sentimental. When he was home, Ahearn bought Lena a card, a flower and a doughnut every Sunday morning.

And on the rare occasion he forgot to buy a card, he’d hang a love note on the refrigerator or hide one in the kitchen cabinet.

Lena got her last love note in March, just before Ahearn left for Iraq. He was scheduled to return in September and to retire from the Army in 2009.

Before he left, he said one of his greatest fears was that his 17-month-old daughter, Kadi, wouldn’t recognize him when he returned.

“He was afraid always that she would forget him,” Lena said. “I hope she does not.”

Staff writer April Johnston can be reached at or 323-4848, ext. 384.

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