Alexandra McClintock’s world was shattered on Jan. 5 when two Green Berets came to her Tacoma home. Her husband, Matt, was killed in a firefight in Afghanistan. She’d have run out into busy traffic outside, but knew she had to keep going for Declan, their 7 ½-month-old son.

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TACOMA — She opens the front door and right away you can’t help but notice Alexandra McClintock’s dyed, long, bright-red hair. It’s the color that Ariel the mermaid has in the Disney classic, she says.

That color came about when her husband, Matt McClintock, happened to comment he liked redheads.

Right away, Alexandra began adding red tint to her brown hair. Oh, how she loved him.

She remembers their first kiss. That was 3 ½ years ago, as they were saying goodbye in a parking lot to go to their respective cars. They had been at a Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner and beers. They both liked Blue Moon beer.

“He leaned in and kissed me. It tasted like Blue Moon, honey barbecue sauce and the strawberry ChapStick he liked to use. It was the first time in my life my heart stopped,” Alexandra says.

“As the kiss grew more passionate, I remember how the car felt against my back. Otherwise I would have been a puddle on the ground.

“It rocked my world, literally turned it sideways. I thought, I want to get married now, today. I knew I’d spend the rest of my life with him.”

Alexandra, 29, pauses.

“I didn’t realize it’d be for only three years.”

Staff Sgt. Matthew Q. McClintock, 30, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group, was killed Jan. 5 in hourslong fighting near Marjah, Afghanistan.

 

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He was shot in the head and lived for two hours and 45 minutes, Alexandra says team members told her. Matt was dragged through a drainage ditch. She says they told her he had left the compound to find a new landing zone for a helicopter to evacuate a teammate who earlier had been shot.

Help arrived too late.

Matt was posthumously promoted and awarded the Silver Star, the country’s third-highest award for valor.

He left behind Alexandra and Declan, a baby boy all of 7 months old.

Matt had chosen the traditional Irish name that means “full of goodness.” That was from his dad’s side. His mom is Hispanic.

McClintock was the latest American casualty in what has been the “forgotten war.”

Most Americans likely don’t even know the official name for our current armed deployment in Afghanistan — now at 10,000 troops, from a high of 100,000 in 2010.

It is called Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

It replaced Operation Enduring Freedom, which ended in Afghanistan when the U.S. announced on Dec. 28, 2014, that our combat missions were over.

By then, some 2,200 servicemen had died there. (The Iraq war claimed the lives of another 4,411 American soldiers.)

Except the combat really isn’t over.

President Obama stressed the “train and advise” part of it, but also said the soldiers would “conduct counterterrorism operations,” which certainly sounds like combat.

So although in much smaller numbers, casualties have continued in Afghanistan in the past 18 months.

McClintock is the latest, at No. 25.

Combat not over

The last time Alexandra saw him was for the birth of Declan on Oct. 21. He had flown in from Afghanistan a couple days before.

Two weeks later the Green Beret was back in deployment, the memories now in photos taken of mom, dad and baby.

The emotions overtake her.

Combat is over?

“How the hell is it over? My husband died,” says Alexandra.

Yes, she says, she appreciates the Memorial Day thanks.

She then talks about her nights.

“Every single night I wake up and reach for my husband,” says Alexandra. “My dogs can’t sleep in bed with me anymore. I wake up groggy, they’re by my side, I think they are Matt.”

One dog, Ruby, “a wiener dog,” was hers before she met Matt. He had a dog named Archer, after the animated TV spy comedy, one those cattle dog-something rescues.

They met at a rock club in Seattle. Both there with their own friends, and both not particularly liking the heavy metal band playing.

Alexandra was always the more outgoing, having no problems explaining the tattoos up and down both her arms.

She made some talk with three guys at the show, one of them Matt. She saw he was wearing a hoodie with a Special Forces crest on it.

“I put my foot in my mouth, my favorite hobby,” Alexandra remembers. “I accused him of ‘Stolen Valor’ just so he could meet chicks. How dare he!”

Alexandra kept at it until one of Matt’s friends pointed out he really was Special Forces. Uhhhhhh.

Later in the evening, they chatted some more. At one point, Matt said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” That would be Yoda’s memorable quote in “Star Wars.”

Alexandra was impressed. “He’s really handsome and he does not look like he’s into nerdy stuff.” She was into nerdy stuff.

The next day they got together at Dash Point State Park to walk their dogs.

“We talked for 14 hours, from 10 a.m. until midnight.” Scuba diving, cars, the same comic books; they pretty much like the same things.

The evening ended with that kiss in the parking lot.

They married a couple of months later, on Dec. 24, 2013. Yes, they both liked Christmas.

The marriage was in the Philippines. Matt was being deployed.

Before they married, he had told Alexandra that maybe it was best to break up. “He had never had a relationship last through deployment,” she says.

No, said Alexandra, she would always be there for him.

“I’m like a cactus. Water me every now and then and I’m good,” she says.

One last deployment

Matt had joined the Army in 2006, deploying to Iraq, Afghanistan, Thailand and the Philippines.

He left active duty in December 2014 after one of his best friends, Sgt. 1st Class James F. Grissom, died of wounds suffered in a small-arms firefight.

“James died when they were driving back to the compound. He got shot in the head. James died; he lived,” Alexandra remembers.

Matt had nightmares. “He couldn’t sleep unless he was next to me.”

But Matt also couldn’t completely leave soldiering. He stayed in the National Guard. Then the possibility of again being deployed to Afghanistan came up.

“He looked like a little kid, bouncing,” says Alexandra. He’d be back with the Green Berets.

She didn’t try to stop him, even when they found she was pregnant.

“My husband is married to the Army and I’m his mistress. I was a damn good mistress,” she says.

Staff Sgt. Matthew McClintock holds his newborn son, Declan, in November 2015.  (Follow Your Bliss Photography/The Seattle Times)
Staff Sgt. Matthew McClintock holds his newborn son, Declan, in November 2015. (Follow Your Bliss Photography/The Seattle Times)

Then came the afternoon of Jan. 5.

Alexandra had just arrived home. Declan was asleep in his car seat, and one of the dogs began barking.

Two Green Berets were walking up.

“The Secretary of the Army asked me to express his deep regret … ”

Alexandra says that at first she thought the Green Berets were going to tell her that Matt was injured.

Then it sunk in.

“I remember screaming, ‘He’s the great love of my life!’ They had to be wrong. I tried to crawl into the fireplace just to get away. My husband dying in a f—— war after we had a f—— baby,” she says.

She says she would have run out into the traffic on the busy street. But there was Declan, and Matt’s joy at being a dad. “I have to fight through this.”

Alexandra McClintock holds her husband’s military identification tags and wedding ring. (Bettina Hansen/The Seattle Times)
Alexandra McClintock holds her husband’s military identification tags and wedding ring. (Bettina Hansen/The Seattle Times)

Resilience, anger

Alexandra’s dad, Chuck Swesey, lives a short drive away and stops by regularly. Also at the house is Alexandra’s mom, Sara Gilmore, who’s now living with her daughter and helping out.

“I cannot be alone. I cry,” says Alexandra.

The dad says about his daughter, “I believe that she’s on the mend. I see resilience and life back in her eyes.”

Sometimes, though, there is anger.

Alexandra got a form letter, although personally signed, from President Obama.

“My husband died in a war that Obama says doesn’t exist. A seven-sentence form letter. He couldn’t take the time to write me a letter?”

Alexandra has started a Facebook page to honor her husband. So far there are two photos in it, from the funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.

Alexandra McClintock holds her 7-month-old son Declan up to the casket of her late husband, Matthew McClintock, during his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia in March. (Courtesy Alexandra McClintock/The Seattle Times)
Alexandra McClintock holds her 7-month-old son Declan up to the casket of her late husband, Matthew McClintock, during his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia in March. (Courtesy Alexandra McClintock/The Seattle Times)

Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, commander of the Washington National Guard, says about the forgotten war, “It is a shame. I think a lot of the general population doesn’t realize we still have people over there.”

As for Alexandra, he says, “She is really hurting right now. I suspect that like other families she’ll come out of it strong.”

It will be a long journey.

She has kept all the many letters she has received, even Obama’s.

When he’s old enough, she plans to show them to Declan.

“Hundreds of letters, and at the same time, not enough words,” she says.