Gold Star widow and Navy veteran Emily Feeks can’t help but smile when talking about the animated tales of her husband’s life. In the years since his death, Emily has embraced her complex love story with Patrick “Pat” Feeks — one described as a whirlwind romance with comedic happenings, but also includes the unimaginable void that comes from missing him.
Pat always wanted to be a Navy SEAL. His father was a retired Navy captain and his sister commissioned as an officer. Pat was so determined that he overcame a variety of vision issues, including eye surgeries, to fulfill his goal and enlist in 2006.
In his role with the SEALs, Pat was responsible for calling in airstrikes as a joint terminal air controller.
Petty Officer 1st Class Emily Booth, who joined the Navy in 1999 after high school, knew that cryptologist technician (CTR) was the perfect job for her. In this highly-technical and precise role, she provided an in-depth analysis of ongoing threats. She said the complex challenges of working with Naval Special Warfare were the most gratifying aspect of the job.
Both highly motivated and driven, it’s no surprise that Emily and Pat hit it off during a chance meeting out on the town in 2010. Fresh off deployments, Pat was just back from Iraq and Emily from Afghanistan.
Emily says they were surprised that they hadn’t met before because she was one of the few female service members who supported Pat’s team in her CTR role.
“We never even saw each other and we must have met in meetings, but I kept my head down. You know as a female, there were only two of us in the room so you keep your head down,” she said.
After they became a couple, Emily began working with a different Special Forces team. Busy schedules kept the two on their toes.
“Suddenly, we were married,” Emily said with a laugh. “We had to elope to Vegas because he was in the middle of sniper training.”
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She left for a deployment to the Philippines shortly after their elopement. Pat was able to visit her in Asia for a couple of weeks.
Emily returned home in early December of 2011 only to have Pat leave for Afghanistan with SEAL Team 3 three weeks later. Although disappointed about the short reunion, both were committed to their Navy careers, assuring themselves that time together would come.
In August, Pat promised to check in with her at midnight when his team returned from a mission. But he never did. Emily turned the TV on in the middle of the night and CNN was showing news of a helicopter crash. Her heart froze.
When she arrived at work, a friend’s face said it all.
“I said, just tell me when to be on the plane. Whatever it is, it’s going to be OK. She said ‘No, he’s gone,’ and I just remember screaming. It felt like I was outside of my body,” Emily said.
Pat was among seven Americans and four Afghans killed when their helicopter crashed after sustaining enemy fire northeast of Kandahar on Aug. 16, 2012.
“He was the most calm and loving person. He was always joking around, having a good time but he also had the biggest heart,” Emily said. “I said, ‘I love you more.’ It was the last thing I said the night before he went out on the helicopter.”
Through the whole process, the Navy SEAL community served as a rock for Emily and Pat’s family.
Since his death, Emily heard so many new stories of Pat that would bring her to laughter — instead of tears. While on deployment in Afghanistan, a bull charged him but he couldn’t get away because he was weighed down with so much gear. Reflecting on the way he described falling, “ass over tea kettle,” still makes Emily laugh.
During one deployment, Pat’s team was pinned down by the enemy when he jumped up and laid down fire. As the team assessed the damages, Pat relaxed with a Red Bull and veggie squeeze pouch from a care package Emily had sent him. The guys on the team couldn’t help but laugh as he offered to share, calm and steady with his snacks.
“I didn’t even know about it until he received the Bronze Star after he died,” Emily said.
Emily has spent the years since his death keeping his memory alive through helping others. She works with Gold Star families and the Navy SEAL Foundation, including its yearly Frogman Swim.
A few years ago, she found love again when she met a teacher named Curtis Owen.
“I feel like Pat sent him to me,” she said.
Over the past few years, Curtis has completed the Frogman swim in Pat’s honor.
Emily remained on active duty until retiring in 2019; the only surviving spouse to do so within the Navy Special Warfare community. She now resides in Tampa, Florida. Over the years, she has remained close with Pat’s family. When she walks down the aisle to marry Curtis, she’ll be on the arm of Pat’s father.
As Emily starts this new chapter, she stresses the importance of soaking up time with your loved ones and living in the moment.
“My mantra now is to be proud of the path I am on,” Emily said with a smile. “Sometimes I just need to cry and miss him and that’s OK.”
The Unquiet Professional is honoring Petty Officer 1st Class (SO1) Patrick D. Feeks, Spc. John A. Pelham, and Maj. Philip D. Ambard for its 2021 Virtual Memorial Mile. To register for the #TUPMile, visit https://www.theunquietprofessional.org/tupmile.