color: SOME SOLDIER'S MOM: February 2005

Saturday, February 26, 2005

A First Letter

Decided to begin sharing a few of the letters I have written to our son...
January 16, 2005 (the day before he deployed)

Dearest Son,

I don’t know where to begin this first letter to you. I am so conflicted on your departure. On the one hand, I know you have trained very hard for this – everything you have done for the past 15 months was leading to this day. I know that you want and need to be there for your brothers. Not something I will ever fully understand or appreciate because I have never been or will ever go to war. So that intensifies my fears. Dad understands and fears all the more for you.

And he and I are indescribably proud of you for all you have endured and achieved. I know at times you don’t understand why people thank you for your service, but I think some day you will. More than pride, however, is our love for you. You are the single most precious thing in our lives (as is each of our children.) So, of course, we have spent our lives leading you, teaching you and protecting you. These fuel our fear. We have faith in you, your abilities, your skills – but there is nothing you can say or do that will alleviate that fear -- a parent's fear -- until you are home with us again. It is the law of nature and God’s Law.

While I am a pretty non‑violent person, I discovered long ago that my love for my children is so fierce – so deep and overwhelming – that if I were asked to kill to protect you, I not only could kill – but I would actually enjoy it if it meant your or any of your brothers' or sister’s safety. That’s Mom’s Law!

I know that our country has a mission in Iraq; I know that the Army and your unit also have their missions… Just don’t confuse those missions with YOUR principle mission – which is to come home safe to us. Your job is to do whatever it takes to accomplish YOUR mission. If it's you or them -- make it them.

I know that you will, in the next year or so, experience many, many things you have only heard about or imagined (and about which I am already having nightmares!) When you think you’ll be overwhelmed by any of it, just bring it back to a manageable chunk – TODAY I WILL DO WHAT I CAN DO TODAY. This moment only… the rest later.

We will think of you many, many times every day you are in harm’s way. We will pray for your safety and your return. Remember how much you are loved by all your family and friends. And remember that if you want to GET mail, you gotta GIVE mail! :-D

Write and call often. If you email me, I will send it on to your aunts, uncles and your buds! Lots of people will be sending you and your “crew” things – so be sure to send thank you notes or emails (however brief they may be) and they’ll keep sending stuff! :-D

I believe your Dad and I love you more than you will ever know… but I also know we get that back from you ten-fold! Keep your eyes open and your head and ass down! Remember that alert today = alive tomorrow!
All my love – always… until we are together again. Mom

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A Company of Soldiers

The film A COMPANY OF SOLDIERS was broadcast this evening (February 22) on PBS. It is the soldiers' story of fighting in Iraq - a month in the life of the 1st Battalion of the 8th Cavalry stationed in South Baghdad. It was shot last November during one of the most dangerous times for that unit. I saw this program this evening. It was horrific. It was graphic. It was wonderful and is a MUST SEE.

A COMPANY OF SOLDIERS was made by October Films under the umbrella of the PBS Frontline Series (so look for that program name in your cable or satellite service directory.) A word of warning: the film graphically shows the risks and consequences of what it is to fight in Iraq - so you might be in for a shock. Unfortunately, the "powers" that be at PBS (not Frontline) sanitized the language... which is kind of moronic-ironic because they show dead bodies and dead animals and wounded soldiers -- but cut out the curse words??? Yeah -- that made sense... idiots. Oh golly gosh dang nab it I think those guys are shooting at us! Idiots.

A Pentagon staffer who saw A Company of Soldiers before its broadcast said, "It is compelling stuff. It proves once again that it is our Soldiers who are our best spokespeople. It is not only courageous filmmaking (both figuratively and literally), but it's also an example of very insightful filmmaking. The film captures our Soldiers' humanity, putting a human face on a very complex set of issues - that is priceless stuff." More details can be found at
The program is being re-broadcast over the next few days and weeks and I urge you to take the time to track down the date and time of a showing and see this piece. It certainly is an eye-opener. Please pass this on to everyone in your notebook and your email list.
I now know what my son's job entails (he's a driver in a headquarters platoon like the one profiled in the program). I will have nightmares for sure, but I am prouder than ever of him and his fellow soldiers... doing a difficult job under the worst possible conditions but with a steadfast, moral commitment to the mission.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Deaths In Our Family

There were four fatalities over the weekend in our son’s Army division. We learned of these deaths in an email from our son’s brigade’s Family Readiness Group (FRG) officer. The Division is large, but it fosters – and is rewarded with – a kinship. A big extended Family. And each unit has it’s own branch of the family – battalion, brigade combat team, company... Each of the family groups has people – flesh and blood – in common. They have skin in the game. It's a bond no one else could understand. And every death is hard. When one of “our” soldiers dies, we (both the soldiers and the family of those soldiers) call it a “hard day” – and we hope out loud that there won’t be many hard days in this deployment.

And while the four deaths were hard and we were truthfully saddened, the soldiers were not from my son’s Brigade Combat Team (BCT) or his battalion or his company or his platoon. Four steps removed. And then, to try and find one more measure of reassurance – clawing for every extra shred of peace of mind, we consulted the map of Iraq and determined that the attacks occurred many miles from our son’s FOB. It wasn’t him. It wasn’t “us”. We still hurt. We still worried. But there is an uncontrollable need to isolate – to insulate – your soldier and, thereby yourself, from that imminent danger. You mutter, “There, but for the grace of God…”

That changed first thing this morning. We received another email from the brigade’s FRG. This one informed us that a non‑commissioned officer (NCO) had been killed by an IED… He was from our son's division… his brigade… his brigade combat team… his battalion… in the town where his FOB is located! Not from his company, but a sister company…

But our son drives for or rides with the NCOs all the time... I was overwhelmed by waves of emotions, starting after my initial audible gasp when I saw the unit designation. My eyes and my thoughts jumped around like ricochets and my heart raced. Then I saw the name… the family had been notified… no one had been at my door, so it was not my son… not my “adopted” sons either. Do I know him? No the name’s not familiar. I mentally wailed in relief, and was immediately repulsed by a wave of guilt when realization dawned on what I had just thought! I had been holding my breath and exhaled.

Later in the day, I told a high school friend, “Of course, you know in your mind that this is war and soldiers die, OTHER soldiers, not YOUR soldiers. It was just too close to home. Deployed just 30 days and less than 2 weeks in the box. This sucks.” My friend, a Vietnam vet, replied, “Yes this one was too close to home. Time to ramp up the prayers a notch or two.” Or three.

“Lord, hold our troops in your loving hands. Protect them as they protect us. Bless them and their families for the selfless acts they perform for us in our time of need. I ask this in the name of our merciful and caring God.”
Update: The NCO was SFC David Salie. Sgt. Salie leaves a wife and three children to mourn his passing... and celebrate his life. SFC Salie was one of Noah's Airborne instructors.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Cry Me A River

Our family is a very close, demonstrative, and emotional family. We are prone to uncontrollable hugging, laughing, crying... usually in the appropriate circumstances, sometimes mixing the laughing, crying, hugging for the same event (funerals, weddings, comings and goings). Before airport security reacted badly to wild and loud noises, we could be found shrieking upon each others' arrivals at airports. If one of my sisters has experienced some emotional event, it is not uncommon that in telling the story, one or more of the other sisters will experience the same emotion upon the retelling -- even if we are retelling the story of some other sister's experience. You get the picture.
As my son's deployment approached, the contact with my sisters via phone became more frequent. And more emotional. It was virtually impossible not to become teary-eyed at some point during each of these conversations. Two of my four sisters and my brother and their families came to visit over the Christmas holidays because they wanted to be here for their nephew and cousin before he left. At times, my sisters were very emotional about my son deploying and I had to fight hard to control myself so that the situation didn't disintegrate to a slobber festival (we can do that, too.)
Beginning in the wee hours of the morning on the day my son was to deploy to Iraq, his friends and family began to call on his cell phone to say their farewells and to wish him a safe journey. He has a rather large and extended network of friends, so he spoke to people every few minutes for the better part of the day. I couldn't always hear the conversations, but I knew that most of the women that called tried to stay upbeat and my son was sweet and reassuring. It was not surprising to me that many of his best "civilian" buds became very emotional during their calls and it became harder for him to be unemotional, but he managed.
When he spoke with his aunts and uncles and cousins, I could judge what they were saying by my son's responses and it became harder for me as the hours wore on not to cry. When he spoke with his Dad and said, "I want to thank you, Dad... thank you for everything, Dad. I love you, Dad." The tears welled in my eyes and I couldn't help when they poured down my cheeks. "Don't cry, Mom. It's not that sad." And I fought to regain control because I didn't want my son to be upset. When I heard one of his brothers lose it on the phone, I had to leave the room. When a child cries in pain or sadness, no mother can NOT cry, too.
The hours passed, and many times during the day I could feel the emotion swell right up to my eyes as I helped pack those last few things, and he handed me things to take home, talked about last minute things, had a great dinner and then we headed for the staging area. Watching all the soldiers arrive with their families, the hugs from wives, children, siblings, mothers, fathers and even grandparents... pictures with families, pictures with buddies... Then it was time for me to leave. Over the month or so I had to "prepare" for my son's deployment, people told me -- and I told myself -- Mothers have been sending their sons to war for thousands of years. I thought it would steel me for his departure. It didn't.
I tried desperately not to break down when I put my arms around my son and kissed him for what I knew would be the last time for a very long time. It is the most counterintuitive thing a parent is called upon to do: you spend his whole life trying to be sure he isn't too hot, too cold, bugs aren't biting him and no one is shooting at him. Now I was sending him off to a place where it was always too hot, too cold, the bugs bite incessantly and people were going to be shooting at him! I hugged him as hard as I have ever hugged him and he hugged me back just as hard. I couldn't keep the tears from my face or my voice when I told him I loved him with all my heart. "I love you, too, Mommy. Don't cry. I'll be alright." I only cried harder when his buddies and I hugged and they each said, "Don't worry, Mom, we've got his back."
I knew I would cry when I said goodbye, I just didn't want the last image my son had of me as he left to be this blubbering blob. So I cried a little and fought back the BIG wave of tears that waited just under the surface. As soon as I got back to my car in the parking lot, I called his Dad and began to cry. Big heaving sobs. Felt like my heart being ripped from me. The hardest thing I have ever done in my life. As I drove to the hotel, I cried and begged God, His Mother and all the saints in Heaven to protect my son, and then implored my late Mother, Father, aunts, uncles, grandparents, brother to watch over him and his new brothers.
I still get emotional at times. I cried while I tied yellow ribbons on my trees. I tear up a lot when I read news that a soldier has died. I know I'll remain emotional the entire time my son is deployed. Yesterday, the emotions were really raw as I heard from my son that he had been under mortar fire during his day... Watching the salute to troops during the Super Bowl, and that Anheuser-Busch commercial where the folks in the airport applaud the soldiers coming home. Through my tears I told my husband, "I can't wait to be there to applaud when he comes home." He put his arms around me and just let me cry.

Friday, February 04, 2005

What to Write

When I tell people that I write my son a letter every day, most people tell me how nice that is... However, some people actually ask, "What could you possibly write about every day?" Well, to be truthful, I sometimes only write a brief note inside a funny or sentimental card, but that counts, too. So far, since he has been deployed just 2 weeks, I have only written 6 letters -- although they contain 14 days worth of news and chit chat. Because it takes a fair amount of time to sort out the postal situation as new troops arrive and other troops are redeployed, families were asked not to send mail for the first few weeks. Judging by the website for the families in my son's division, that won't help the situation much because I think everyone has mailed a month's worth of letters and packages in the last 2 days!
While this is early in this deployment, I have a track record in writing when we and one or more of our children are otherwise incommunicado: we wrote to our sons every day when each of them was in boot camp or basic training. Now, in addition to speaking to our children regularly, we also email personal messages at least once a week as well as forward articles or information we know will interest them.
Back to letters. My husband served two tours in Vietnam and some of the most moving stories he tells of those years involve mail he received -- not just from family but from complete strangers -- someone from his hometown, his church, one of his mother's or father's associates. Without exception, he and all the soldiers were awash with happiness whenever they received mail. He said the experience never got old and sometimes was the only thing that would bring them out of terrible funks. Each of our children has thanked us for the mail we send.
So over the years I have discovered that Moms (and Dads) have wonderful reservoirs and reserves of things to prattle on about. I have written and will continue to write about the weather, how the dogs are, the cats. We recently moved to a new region of the country and into a new home, so there is plenty to write about. I have also written and will write about people and things he's interested in. Rowing (crew), baseball, cars & trucks... um, and girls. Music. Movies. Television. Weird news.
I get to tell stories about when his aunts and uncles and I were kids... stories about all his grandparents -- both when we were growing up and stories we have heard about them when they were young. It's probably an unprecedented opportunity to pass down family history. Even new wives have the singular opportunity to tell their new (or young) husbands their hopes and dreams and friends, foibles and follies while growing up... and their visions of growing old together.
As for my son, I will remind him of funny things that either he or his brothers/sister or all of them did or mischief created. I can write about vacations we took. We have had 19 (and counting) really terrific years together and I want to remind him of all the wonderful, happy times we shared as a family, and the times he shared with his friends.
I will ask questions -- millions of questions. How's the weather? What's the weirdest thing you've seen so far? The most spectacular? How are the people? How are my other "sons" (the members of his unit that we have adopted)? What do you need? What should we send? Are you getting our mail? What can you tell us about your work?
I will send him news articles. College catalogs for schools in which he has expressed interest. Brochures for cars and trucks and electronics he wants to buy when he gets home. All things that scream "future" so that he has something to aspire to -- something to come home for.
I will share how I'm feeling, my commentary on the news, politics, the weather. I will carry on conversations with him as if he were here. I will try desperately to always sound cheerful and encouraging. It's still my obligation to be sure that he has nothing to worry about except his principle mission: staying alive. His Dad will write. His brothers will write. Aunts, uncles, cousins and many, many friends. Total strangers will write him, too. It all represents HOME -- a place to return.
Above all else, I will write how much I love him. How very proud of him I am. I will write of the past and the present, but all the while reminding him of his bright, shining future.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Sick Bastards

This morning I awoke to a breaking news story that an American soldier had been kidnapped and would be beheaded if Iraqi prisoners were not released. I was nauseated at the thought. It was reported as breaking news for a short while on all the cable networks, but the story mysteriously disappeared by late morning. Even though we knew it was not our son, my husband and I commented a few times throughout the day that we wondered what was going on and how odd it was that the story was just "gone."

By evening, it was revealed that some sick bastard (from apparently within the United States!) had staged an elaborate (although apparently amateurish) ruse -- a hoax! posing toy dolls dressed in military garb. A Mesa, AZ toy dealer had searched the web, found the picture, and immediately contacted the Associated Press and a number of news organizations to alert them to the hoax.
What kind of sick bastard causes that kind of message -- the imminent death of someone's son, father, husband, uncle, nephew, cousin, friend -- to be broadcast around the world??!! What kind of deranged pervert goes to that much trouble to cause such worry and pain for the families of US soldiers?
And what is wrong with the mainstream media that they would be so intent on beating the competition that would put out such a story before it even had a second source? All they had was some grainy picture on a web site -- no confirmation of a firefight, of American soldiers' deaths and capture as claimed on the site. Shame -- SHAME -- on the networks who "ran with this" before it was confirmed! As if the networks' spinning everything to suit their own political agendas weren't enough...
I sure wish the American public would get serious about accountability of the media... but then again, the real shame is that most Americans don't realize there is anything wrong.

In closing, I sure hope they get that bastard(s) and throw the book at him/her/them for this despicable stunt! I'm trying to figure out what the crime would be, but if it's not a crime -- it should be!