color: SOME SOLDIER'S MOM: January 2005

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Let There Be Light

As I mentioned in my last post, I check that instant messaging screen when I turn my pc on in the mornings. Sure enough, I look at the list and my soldier is online from the middle east!

After a quick exchange, I pick up the phone, dial his brothers and my sister (his godmother) because I know they all have IM and in a minute we are chatting away in a chat room! It was wonderful to have people ask questions and all of us could see the answer! Fabulous! The only drawback to instant messaging and chat rooms is that the conversation isn't "recorded" and (as far as I know) can't be printed. I usually summarize what was said immediately while it's fresh in my head and send an email to the "news group" we have for staying in touch about our soldier.
So here's what I remember from this morning's exchange:
Dad: Have you seen any camel spiders or scorpions"
Son: Not yet and I hope not to.
Mom: How's the food?
Son: The food is very good and we eat 4 times a day. Chow times are 3-4 hours long and we usually go back for seconds. Gained 6 pounds since deploying. [He needs the weight!]
Brother: Are you working out?
Son (brother): Yes, almost every day in the gym... working weights and the boxing bag.
Aunt: Are you doing training?
Son (Nephew): Yes, some every day. Ambush and IED response mostly.
Mom: So what's it like there?
Son: Just like Fort ______ only with LOTS of sand (LOL)
Since they are not yet at their permanent operating base, his unit's commander has asked that no one send mail until next week...
Dad: What should we send you first?
Son: FOOD. FOOD. FOOD. Snack food. We watch movies at night and it's hard without the popcorn (LOL). And toilet paper. And laundry detergent.
Mom: Toilet paper? Laundry detergent?
Son: Yeah, they run out of tp regularly. And I'm doing laundry in a bucket next to my cot.
Aunt: Don't they have a laundry service?
Son: Yes, but this is just socks and small stuff which have a habit of disappearing in the laundry. The washing machine eats socks here, too. LOL
Mom: How are my other sons [R, L, M]?
Son: They're good. R is here and says he sends kisses and hugs. Wants to know if you're sending brownies :-)
Mom: Yup in second or third package.
Son: Not the 1st?????
Mom: No, want to be sure the kinks are out of the mail service so that the brownies are still fresh. I'll send Oreos in the 1st mail.
Brother: Anything else you need?
Son: Non-drowsy cold medicine... almost everyone has a cold (back to the boot camp crud) and the PX is always out of medicines.
Brother: You have it?
Son: Not yet. I'm good.
There was some general family info exchanged (including that my niece's significant other (Air Force) may be heading back to Iraq in the Spring), there was an exchange about the elections and the most recent violence, the brothers "chatted" for a while, and then he had to go.
So we are off the dark side. They move soon, so I know communication may be intermittent for a while. He says he'll try to email before they go. And again when they're settled at the FOB. If he can, he says once they are in a routine at the FOB, he might be able to set a day and time to do the chat thing regularly (as regular as you can be in a war zone where there are no days off and hours are 24/7) and we'll invite more people to join us.
Now the word in the family has spread... the uncle has IM'd this morning with his screen name, and the other aunts are quickly installing the IM program and promising to come up with "kewl" screen names... the cousins are already there and I'll spend the rest of the weekend adding screen names. Don't mind. Don't mind at all.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Far Side of the Moon

Also known as the dark side of the moon. According to Wikipedia, the far side of the moon was sometimes referred to as the "Dark Side" due to the lack of human knowledge concerning that hemisphere. The word "dark" in a cultural context was actually meant to express a lack of information, rather than the actual lighting conditions. And as we all know since “Appollo 13” and “From the Earth to the Moon” (let's just leave the whole Pink Floyd thing out of it), there is no communication with the rest of the human race when you’re on the far/dark side.

That’s what it feels like now. The lack of information AND the lack of communication. It can make you a little nuts. It’s not that we haven’t gone for days without speaking to our son in the past; we have gone weeks without speaking to each other. For instance, when our son was in junior high school, he was an exchange student to France for a term and, after a while, we got used to not hearing from him. In fact, after a while we didn’t mind not hearing from him since (a) no news = good news, and (b) he only called when he needed more money. And of course as our son got older and more independent, we realized that the lack of information on some things was not always a bad thing.

When he joined the Army, we got a perfunctory call when he got to boot camp and, of course, we worried, but we knew it was for a limited period of time and that eventually the silence would be broken. We knew where he was, pretty much what he was doing (again in this instance, the lack of details was not necessarily a bad thing), and that the Army would do all it could to minimize the risk. When he became regular Army, he retrieved his cell phone from home and communication became fairly regular, and we were guaranteed to hear from him if he was running short of funds. Then there was Airborne training, then weeks training in the field, and of course JRTC. Again, no news was good news. When push came to shove, we could always dial the cell phone, hear his voice, and leave a message. Then there was email and instant messaging, but telephones were now, this minute, and were on almost 24/7.

What makes the current period of silence even more difficult is the situation. For the first time in my life -- his life -- we have no clue where he really is, what he’s doing, what’s going on around him. Knowing that he’s having a life altering experience but not being able to ask all the details is maddening. What we do know makes it worse. It’s Iraq. The elections. The escalation of violence. And it’s exasperating that the silence is open-ended. Don’t know when it will end. So this deployment -- early as it is -- is already schooling me in new measures of patience. Knowing that he will call (eventually) takes a bit of the edge off. But I’m really bad. I have the patience of a gnat.

Knowing that he’ll call or email compels me to check my instant message screen whenever I am on my computer to see if his screen name is highlighted… in case I missed the “Moo.” I check my email a few times a day to see if he’s written yet. I keep my cell phone on whenever I’m away from the house and we’ve begun forwarding our home phone to our cell phone when we’re out. I know we will hear… as soon as spaceship OIF3 emerges from the dark side of the moon.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Every Parent's Nightmare

I believe that it is every parent's nightmare that something will happen to their child and that they can't get there. My sleeping and waking nightmare is hearing any of my children crying out for me and I'm not able to get to them. It was the singular reason that for many years I turned down more prestigious and lucrative positions in New York City and chose to stay with a suburban company close to my home and my children when they were growing up. I could not bear the thought that there might be an emergency and I would not be there when my child needed me.

This was the first thought that went through my mind yesterday when first I heard of the Marine helicopter crash in Iraq. That the mothers and fathers and spouses and children of those men could not get to their sons, husbands, fathers will haunt me for a long time. It made me weep that other Marines that have the most unenviable job in the service would visit the families of these brave Marines. It made me comment to my husband that I would become completely dysfunctional -- catatonic -- if soldiers ever showed up at our door. I said I might actually refuse to answer the door. "Why would you not answer the door?" he asked inquisitively and with disbelief. "Because there is a part of my brain that believes that if they can't speak those words, then they can't ever be true." It happened when my twin sister called and told me that one of my brothers had died at the age of 49. "No he didn't." Those were the first words out of my mouth to her. It would be 10 times that if soldiers ever came to my door.

When you have a child in the military you do think those thoughts. You are especially prone to transient, fleeting maudlin thoughts when your child heads to a place where they are shooting at him, trying to propel missiles through his vehicle or attempting to blow him off the face of the Earth. You try desperately to avoid thinking about the possibility. You chastise yourself if such a thought creeps into your brain.

It doesn't help that occasionally you are made to talk or think about the possibility that your child might die (it has taken me the better part of 2 hours to just type those words). When our son came home on leave just weeks before his deployment, he made a big deal of hanging his Class A (dress uniform) in his closet and was making sure that all his ribbons and medals were in place, that his shoes were shined, the shirt and tie hung with care. When I said, "Don't worry about it... it will just get wrinkled when I ship it back to you," he replied, "No, the Army might ask for it." "Ask for your uniform? Why in heaven's name would they ask for your uniform?" He just gave me a look, and I instantly understood. We spoke not a word, and he continued putting his uniform SOP. You may tell your soldier that you are thinking of them, praying for them, proud of them. You may never write or speak the unthinkable, the unspeakable. They know you worry. They tell you not to worry. It's a time-honored exchange.

The other time the topic ever even remotely was discussed was when he was recently making out his will -- which the Army recommends before deployment. One of the items to be addressed was where he wanted to be buried. His answer was, "Wherever you and Dad decide." We left it at that, and I admonished myself that we will never have to make that determination. That, today, there are 31 families making that determination twists my heart tremendously. I want every one of those families to know that my family, many, many other Americans and I are thinking of them and praying for them. We honor their sons, their husbands, their fathers.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


A few days after our son deployed, he phoned from Kuwait just to check in and quickly list the equipment and items he’s decided he would like us to send him in a few days. He says it’s raining cats and dogs and some of the puddles are a few feet deep but he and the guys are all fine. Although he has two extremely large calling cards (in terms of available minutes), he has spent $20 cash in a machine to get a calling card from a local (Kuwait) phone company because the line at the phone that accepts US calling cards is 5-6 hours long… He’s never been a proponent of patience if money will solve his problem.

Although it was a brief conversation, it made his Dad’s and my day. He said he was going to try to quickly call his girlfriend, and one or more of his brothers if time allowed, but he could only tie up the phone so long before he had to surrender possession and go to the end of the line. I cannot hide the happiness in my voice at how glad I am to hear his voice and get some information while his Dad lobbed questions to me in the background. We spent the rest of the day remarking at how great it could make us feel to get a simple phone call!

Then today, I was working at organizing the piles of papers in my home office that have been replicating and cloning themselves while I sleep, when my computer “Moo's” at me. "Moo," it said clearly. Now, “moo” in itself is a sound that would make a person smile if it came from any source other than a cow. But this particular “Moo” is special because it’s the noise my computer makes when my youngest son logs on to the instant messaging program he uses and set up on my computer for me before he left. (For those not familiar with “instant messaging” it’s the ability to have a conversation by typing – in real time. I type and hit send. He types a response and sends.) I look intently at the screen and, sure enough, there is his screen name!

I tentatively type his name with a question mark and ask if it’s him. He replies, “Who else would it be? LOL” At first I thought it might be one of his friends using his screen name. But it was he! Him.

In the next few minutes he adds Militec-1 gun lubricant to his list of things he would like sent and hand lotion for badly chapped hands as his are so dry after a week that they are cracked and bleeding. Upon questioning, he says he is sleeping and eating better than he has in a long time – except, he admits, when I was squiring him around to the restaurants around his U.S. base. So I add hand lotion and Militec to the list of things to put in the first care package later this week.

I tell him that I have made contact with a sergeant at the forward operating base (FOB) he’s about to inhabit (I came across his email address while googling the name of the FOB and didn’t hesitate to email him to ask about conditions and the specifics of the base as far as comfort needs, access to phones and internet, etc.... he was extremely helpful). This soldier told me that the phones at the base belong to a contractor to the Army (I had never heard of the company), that the phones are ip phones and that they only take that particular company’s calling cards that can only be purchased on their website. Armed with that information, I tell him I bought him the calling card the night before and proceeded to provide him with the dial up number and password. I believe he may have been genuinely surprised (maybe a bit impressed) with old mom…

Due to time constraints (they have PC access for 30 minutes and you must relinquish access promptly), it is a brief “conversation” but it is once again filled with information (he sleeps on a cot in a tent but it is comfortable) and proclamations of missing family and love in each direction. He closes with “mwah” and he is gone again. Later I email one of his friends and ask what that means and am told it is the noise you make when throwing a kiss… mmmwah! His Dad and I are thrilled again to have had this contact and we quickly share what we have learned with the large group of family and friends in the “news” group. It was a good day.

In closing, I would like to say that I have no intention of casually promoting companies or goods in my blog. However, Militec deserves a hearty mention here. Militec, Inc. is a company that produces Militec‑1 Firearms Lubricant that in most soldiers’ opinions (and civilians that shoot) is the best lubricant you can get, it performs especially well in the sand and dust of the Middle East and saves American soldiers’ lives. While in theory soldiers can acquire this lubricant through the Army supply system, that’s not always the case.

So today I called Militec to place an order with them for a case to my son and his company – and while Militec gladly accepted the order, they wouldn’t accept payment for it! Although they are a for‑profit company – it’s the American way! -- they send the lubricant to those who order it for “in theater operations” for free. Out of their own pockets! Now that’s what I call putting your money where your mouth is in support of our troops. I should also mention that the oil is not just for guns – it has many uses including for various pieces of mechanical equipment. People should patronize this business. You can read about their products, read the many hundreds of testimonials from the soldiers and place orders at

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Responsibility for One's Destiny

Over the past year or so I have followed a number of Iraqi bloggers. I normally have no particular reaction to posts -- I view them as a singular view (by the blogger) of life from their perspective. I enjoy reading a number of recountings of the same event and then sorting out what might be the reasonable version of the truth.
However, some bloggers can get under my skin. You know -- the one's that insist that everything past, present and future is all our (the US) fault. It (however unfortunately) affirms to me the widely held view that it can never be an Arab's fault. It must always be someone else's failure. It's usually the Israeli's fault. Could be some other Muslim sect than the one of the one doing the complaining or finger pointing. But it's really all an excuse for the complainer taking no responsibility for their own existence or destiny.
I once had a teenager complain that the reason they were routinely in trouble (at home, at school) was that they "didn't like rules." Then I reminded them that life was full of rules, even if they weren't written down. If you're hungry, the rule is you have to go to the fridge for food. If the room is too dark, the rule is you have to turn on the light switch. If the light is red, you have to stop. This is the rule of society, as well. If you don't like what you see around you, you have to do something to change it. God's rule says you must try and make it better.
And I tire of hearing "if Allah wills it". People with a sincere devotion to their God do something with the opportunities God/Allah gives them to better their lives and the lives of those around them and thereby better serve God. To wait for someone or something else to determine your destiny is just plain laziness or depression or some other condition that challenges Darwin's principle theory. And as for the latest book or fad book -- people tend to choose books that support a previously-held belief; they hardly ever truly enlighten since politically inspired books are written from a single point of few. And, of course, I should believe as truth the writings and opinions of a nuclear scientist associated with Saddam Hussein the madman??
I am grateful that not all Iraqis think the way of those bloggers that see no hope, though I fear that there are too many of them. I fear that such fatalism (and that's what it is) will keep Iraqis from the polls. Did it ever occur to them to ask why the terrorists are so intent on undermining the election and keeping Iraqis from voting?
Well, I'd like to tell them what we know here in the US: you can't win it if you ain't in it. We also know that a single vote -- every vote -- counts. Sometimes the candidate we support wins. Sometimes not. But we get to decide every four years. Change our government's policies by changing our government. It's really the coolest thing. And while those who do not vote have no real right to complain, but we let them anyway. And in this initial election where those that will craft the first modern Iraqi constitution it is vital that everyone take the opportunity to influence those who will do the writing and send the loudest message that Iraq and her people can not -- will not -- be stopped from joining the 21st century. Will the results be perfect? They never are. The victory is that there ARE results!
Democracy is not perfect. But it's the best thing going anywhere. Our constitution is not perfect either otherwise we would never have to even consider amending it, but it protects my right to say these things openly and freely, to practice (or not practice) a religion -- my religion but not your religion, to vote or not vote. But every four years I get to choose. It's just the coolest thing.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Getting It Together

I recently returned from a visit to my son's army base. It will be the last visit there for quite some time. I went because his deployment to Iraq was imminent, the base was having a farewell ceremony for his Division, and I wanted to spend a last few days with him, to be there to hug him one last time and tell him (again) how much he is loved.
The farewell ceremony was at 4:00 on a Friday afternoon. Each section of the stadium had signs at the top designating the seating areas for each deploying unit. A local country artist performed. The base's Army band played. Soldiers sang. A U.S. Senator spoke. A Congressman. Two local mayors. The state governor. The Base Commander. Some speakers (two of whom were vets) drew lots of "Hooahs", others just got snickers. There was a rousing rendition of "I'd Rather Be a Dogfaced Soldier." Weather prevented the elite jump team from parachuting into the stadium (which brought more than a fair share of good-natured cat calls and chiding from the Infantry -- LOL) Except for military personnel and family and friends, no one else bothered to attend, and only the local news channels covered the deployment of more than 6,000 troops from this base. If it made the national news, no one I know saw it.

The farewell ceremony was well-attended by the affected military personnel and their families. At least the spouses and children of the married soldiers. There were very few parents in evidence. Not because they didn't want or intend to be there, I believe, but because the word of the ceremony was so poorly communicated to the soldiers. If I had not logged on to the Division's website over the holidays, I would not have known about the ceremony at all. And had I not the instinct to look for the press release on the ceremony, the date and time would have eluded me completely. Some soldiers I spoke with remarked that they had only been made aware of the ceremony that day. While I recall reading somewhere that 60% or more of soldiers are unmarried, parents are an after-thought. Even the unit's FRG (Family Readiness Group)website says "FRGs are designed to provide information to the spouses of Soldiers. Soldier's family members, such as Mom's and Dad's [sic], and friends may find this site useful as well." An afterthought. Sigh.

While my visit was originally intended to last 5 days (through the final weekend prior to deployment), it turned to a 12 day stay when the deployment was delayed. I will forever cherish the time I was priviledged to spend with my son and his fellow soldiers. It could well be a new MasterCard commercial: hotel bill $$$, car rental $$$, meals and other sundry items, $$$. Opportunity to be there when your son deployed: PRICELESS. It was especially heartening to me to have the opportunity to be a little help to these soldiers before they deployed. Since most soldiers had already moved their POVs (personally-owned vehicles) home or to off-base storage, transportation from their barracks to other places they needed to be -- especially off base -- was exceedingly limited and prohibitively expensive.

On their non-working days and on some work day evenings, we drove to uniform stores to acquire last minute necessities: extra PT (physical training) clothing, having names, rank and other insignia added to DCUs (desert camouflage uniform) and backpacks, extra brown t-shirts, extra canteens, second set of boots... and to other local stores to buy batteries, movies, music, toiletries, socks... All of which these soldiers pay for (including all the insignia and sewing) out of their meager earnings. Evenings were spent at local restaurants and movie theatres. It was as if these young men were trying to soak up every last ounce of Americana they could before they left. That and fending off extreme boredom as almost every television and personal piece of electronic equipment had also been dispatched to homes and storage.

Some time was spent packing up the last of personal and civilian belongings and shipping it home, together with issued but non-deployment Army equipment. My basement is now littered with green duffle bags, suitcases, backpacks and boxes filled to the seams with such things. An almost equal quantity of not used, not worth keeping things were stuffed in garbage bags and hauled to the industrial-sized dumpsters outside the barracks. (Trust me when I say that if the things I saw in that dumpster area could talk -- oh my, the stories they might tell!!)
While the amount of belongings shipped and garbage chucked was inspiring, it was nothing close to the overstuffed to bursting duffle bags, ruck sacks and backpacks taken by the soldiers when they deployed. Everything they thought they'd need or couldn't bear to be without for the next 18 months was crammed, banged, stuffed in those bags together with required Army equipment such as DCUs, camelbacks (hydration system), gloves, hats, shirts... one set of civilian clothing (which had to include a long-sleeved, button down shirt with collar). Much of the optional belongings was what I would classify as "entertainment" but which those that have been there say is sanity-saving equipment: music CDs, DVDs, books, magazines, PCs, walkmen, minidisc players, MP3 players, paper, pens, envelopes...
The soldiers' ruck sacks and duffle bags were loaded onto trucks for the journey to the airfield. The backpacks, however, had to be carried. They were required to wear their field vests (without armor plates which then had to be packed at the last minute!), kevlars (helmets), and weapons. It was quite a show. It's an experience I hope to participate in only once.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

One of Those Extraordinary Days

There are days in our lives that we remember forever. Not just wedding days or the birth of children -- or even days marked by catastrophic events. Just days that would otherwise be considered "normal" but by circumstance become extraordinary. Days to be treasured. Today was such a day.
We rose early and made a two hour drive from our home to the home of two of our sons' younger cousins (14 & 15) whom they have not seen since the death of the cousins' father -- my older brother -- four years ago. Until recently, we have lived across the country and, as a result, and because my brother did not have custody of these children, these four cousins have not seen each other more than four times in their lives -- although for the better part of the last three years they have spoken almost weekly. It was important to our youngest son and to my niece -- who are very close -- that they see each other before our son deployed. It was a short two hour visit, but to observe these four laughing and joking and sharing stories and their lives, the older ones giving advice to the younger (stay away from the older boys, take school seriously), I could feel my dear brother smiling in our midst. It pulled at my heart to see my niece and nephew fight back the tears as they hugged and promised to write as they said goodbye to their soldier cousin and told him how proud they were of him!

Then it was on to visit the boys' paternal grandfather -- a diminutive, exceptionally active 77 year old who still plays every woodwind instrument professionally. It was a good visit -- nothing exceptional but every minute cherished. These, his two oldest grandchildren, are especially dear to him and the worry for the first soldier in his family crept behind his eyes as his grandson described for him his plans and the mission. Although their grandfather had never been particularly demonstrative over the years, he could not hide his tears as he bid his grandsons goodbye and hugged them both so hard that the boys -- towering over him -- could not help but smile. In parting, he told his soldier, "You are already a hero, so no hero stuff. Be safe. Come home to us." And he stood in the driveway of his home and waved until we were around the far corner.
Finally, it was on to the home of my older brother -- an especiallly cherished uncle for my sons as he seems to always be the same age as them -- more common ground at every age than should be possible between adult and child. He is wise and brilliantly intelligent and funny and hugely compassionate... Today it was the two nephews and their uncle crawling through the engine compartment of his garaged Corvette, then talking motorcycles, exchanging their favorite Orange County Choppers stories and taking turns riding the uncle's classic Harley up and down his street while I stood there shaking my head. This, too, would, on any other day, be considered an ordinary visit. But his uncle's big handshake and ensuing bear hug, followed by, "Bring your bike and we'll go ride Oak Creek Canyon when you get back" almost robbed me of my knees and his "Keep your head and ass down," made me turn away for composure.
I know as I look back later in life, today will be one of those days I will recall fondly as "the good old days". My sons, too. I hope that the remembrance of this day will carry my youngest son through his deployment in Iraq. It was just one of those extraordinary days.