IOWA FALLS — “I can’t forget that one bad day. Never really fades away.”

In the video for his song, “Forever 29,” Jeff Hauswirth sits on a stool, playing an electric guitar and singing a song remembering his friend Jaime Jaenke, a Navy hospital corpsman 2nd Class from Iowa Falls.

It’s one of two songs on Hauswirth’s new six-song album of the same name about the woman who served with him in the military — and who didn’t return.

Jaenke was killed in action on June 5, 2006, when her Humvee hit an improvised explosive device. Thirteen years later, Hauswirth wanted to tell her story — for her, for other veterans feeling alone in their trauma, and for himself, too.

“It kind of wound up being good therapy for me, to kind of face that,” he said.

Hauswirth, a retired Navy corpsman from Hancock, Michigan, met Jaenke in April 2004 when both were serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Hauswirth was in charge of the medical department, and Jaenke was a medic interested in becoming a Seabee, the informal name for the Naval Construction Battalions.

Hauswirth was assigned to mentor Jaenke.

“It was kind of my job to make sure that she knew — not medical stuff, because she was really good — but that she knew what the Seabees were about,” Hauswirth said.

When Hauswirth was recalled to active duty in January 2006, he was on one of three convoy teams assigned to go to Kuwait, and Jaenke was on another. They trained and worked together and became close.

“Two days before we left to go over to Kuwait, they cut one of the convoy teams, and that was the team she was on,” Hauswirth said. “She was really bummed out about that — her forte was emergency trauma medicine. I said, ‘Well, if anything happens, I’ll make sure you get back on the other team.’”

Sure enough, another corpsman couldn’t go.

“I pushed to get her back on the convoy team,” he said. “I felt like that was her purpose. I felt that she felt that was her purpose.”

Hauswirth’s convoy was in a different part of the country when they heard a vehicle had been hit and two people were killed. Nobody officially finds out before the family does, according to military policy, but Hauswirth said he knew.

“I just got a gut feeling Jaime was one of them,” he said. A friend in a communications unit confirmed it.

“Hole in the road left a hole inside of me. Lost your life to an IED.”

Jaenke’s death hit Hauswirth hard.

“It was kind of like being stabbed in the chest,” he said. “I’ve had people in my life die, but none killed in combat like that.”

Just three days later, searching for an outlet for his pain, Hauswirth wrote “Ballad of Jamie.” He would later write “Forever 29” and four more songs about his time in the military over the years.

“It was just a very numb feeling for a very long time,” he said.

But the songs wouldn’t be recorded until a chance encounter with someone at an entrepreneurship program for veterans at the University of Tennessee who happened to know a producer in Nashville.

Hauswirth connected with the producer and recorded his six-song EP, “Forever 29” — with Jaenke’s portrait as the album cover — over the course of a week in August. The process was emotionally difficult, Hauswirth said, because he had to sing and play the songs over and over.

“It just kept kind of tearing at that, but it was really good — as much as it hurt,” he said.

“Parked the car outside your house. Couldn’t find the courage, so I just drove out.”

“Forever 29” was released at the end of April on a record label Hauswirth started, Humvee Records LLC. It’s available only as a digital download on places like iTunes and Soundcloud.

Hauswirth said he’s been getting emails from fellow veterans thanking him for talking about the difficult times. That, plus knowing 25% of the album’s proceeds are donated to the USO, gets him through tough days.

“I know I’m not alone, but when I got home, I felt very alone,” he said. “The first year or so it was very ... not a fun time. But if (the album) helps somebody, then yeah, that’s one of my goals. I’m not the only one, and I know others might think they are.”

Hauswirth said he’d love to play his songs live or go on tour, but doesn’t yet have a band. So he concentrates on his job as a seventh-grade physical education teacher.

He’s been invited to a songwriting program for military veterans in Texas this fall, and said he’s open to wherever the album’s journey takes him.

“To me, it is about the story — it’s not about me,” Hauswirth said. “The more people that hear this story, the more people I can help.”

If the player above doesn’t load, you can listen to “Forever 29” on Soundcloud at this link: https://soundcloud.com/jeffhauswirth

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Staff Writer

Staff writer at The Courier 2005 (college intern), 2007-2012, 2015-present. Graduate of UNI 2006. Three-time Iowa APME award winner (investigative reporting 2008, lifestyle feature 2016, business feature 2018)

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