color: SOME SOLDIER'S MOM: March 2005

Monday, March 28, 2005

Happy Birthday Son!

Today our son celebrates his 20th birthday. I wish I could be with him to hug him and tell him (again) what a miracle and gift he is to us! How much we miss him. How much we love him. I’m sure he knows, but you can never tell them enough. But I see birthdays as the one day each year to let a person know that you are glad they are here and a part of your life. Birthdays are BIG to me. And we are glad he is in the world and a part of our lives!

I want to tell you about our son. He was born on this date at 7:11PM... three months premature at 28 weeks gestation instead of 40. He weighed 1,240 GRAMS (they weigh critically premature babies in grams not pounds). That's approximately 2 lbs. 11 oz. -- or about the weight of 20 Hershey bars. He was just under 8 inches long. Imagine THAT birth announcement in your local paper!

When he was born, Dr. John Driscoll at Babies Hospital, New York -- the saint of a doctor responsible for our son’s survival – gave him a 50% chance of survival, and if he did, a 20% chance (one in a million odds) of surviving without a major physical malady. Our son beat the odds -- our “miracle child”. He was. He is still. I would be remiss if I didn’t also credit the spectacular care he received from the most undervalued profession in the world – the nurses. They were his angels – our angels – who watched over him 24 hours a day for the five months he was in their care, especially Stephanie D. who called him a “good preemie” despite the fact that he would pee on her at least once a week!

During his hospital stay, our son developed what was then a common but usually fatal lung condition of premature infants and, while he was eventually well enough to leave the hospital, his damaged lungs required that he have special treatments to assist in keeping his air passages open and had to be hospitalized a number of times -- when he got a cold, for instance. We also call him our “Million Dollar Baby” because his hospital bill approached a million dollars for the first year of his life. Thank heavens for major medical insurance!

His lungs healed and there was no stopping him! Although he was remarkably smaller than other children his age (in fifth grade he looked like a second grader), the doctors assured us he would eventually grow – and he did. He is by no means a mountain of a man physically, but he truly has the heart of a warrior! In Little League, no one could pitch to him because he was so short: he would either walk or get hit by the pitch. In fact, he got hit so many times in the back of the arm, he wore a soccer shin guard there to alleviate the bruising! His on base percentage was the highest on his team -- he was a quick and smart base runner and made his size work for his team. When he was a seventh grader, he was half the size of the eighth grade linebackers on the middle school football team, so a traditional tackle was out of the question. But he wasn’t deterred: he would latch on to a leg of one of these behemoths and just hang on until the bigger boy fell. His football coach used him as an example of tenacity to his other players – they called him “The Bulldog.” While he was the smallest boy on his high school crew (rowing) team, he worked his upper body strength to row 2-man, 4-man and 8-mixed (men/women). He would often arrive at the finish line, get out of the one boat and into another to make the start of the next race! He was the only oarsman on his team to row in more than one race whenever it was permitted (in some scholastic competitions, a rower may only crew in one event).

He also took his schooling seriously and we never had to remind him to do homework or write a paper or complete a project. He has an easy laugh and a wonderful sense of humor. He is fiercely loyal to his friends and is rewarded with an extremely large network of both male and female friends that would do anything for each other. He was by no means a “goody-goody” but we suffered no major problems, as did (do) many other families. He loves women, video games, fast cars, faster motorcycles, his family, his friends, and his pets. He is model-handsome (not bragging neither) but so kind and well mannered that every girl he has ever dated still calls him friend. His picture appears in the dictionary next to the phrase “All-American Boy”.

He has dreams – lots of them. Get out of or maybe stay in the Army (depending on the day). Go to college. Join the New York City Police Department. Own a big truck or SUV. Get a good job. Live in a big house. Ride jet skis every day. Go snowboarding every weekend. Hang with his buds every night. Get married (some day). Have kids (maybe, some day). Live the American Dream!

We are exceptionally proud to call him our son. Our soldier. Our hero.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY SON! Wishing you a hundred more birthdays full of happiness and health and love. With all our love, always.
Copyright 2005. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Phone Rang… and Other Things

The phone rang mid-morning today and when I checked the caller ID, it said “Fort Huachuca” -- the nearest Army base to us. My heart skipped a beat and I could hardly press the "on" button.
"Hello, this is Ms. S from the Morale and Welfare office at Fort H... I understand your son is deployed to Iraq.."
"Yes…" My heart was beating so fast I thought I'd hyperventilate before she could speak again. The only thing in my head at that moment was, “Ok, they don't call if he's dead or really hurt... only if he's got a minor injury...”
"Well, I was just calling to let you know that your son has you down as his contact and I wanted to call and give you my name and phone numbers in case you needed anything while he was deployed."

I burst out laughing -- and then very enthusiastically thanked her for calling. I did mention at the end of our conversation how she had about given me a heart attack... and she apologized. My hands were shaking and I about cried when we hung up. A little while later I started to tell my husband the story and as soon as I said, "the caller ID said Fort Huachuca..." he got really pale and, before I could tell him the rest of the story, I had to say, "No, it's ok -- it was a courtesy call from Morale & Welfare...”

My day used to start in the dark at 5:00AM and by 6:30AM I'd be on a bus to New York City praying nobody screwed with the tunnel under the Hudson that day and that no one wanted to cause havoc at Rockefeller Center and that the tourists wouldn't block the sidewalks that day. Ten hours later (on a good day), after a day of dealing with lawyers, clients, meetings, memos and paper, I'd be on my way home.
Here’s my typical day since retiring and my son went to war: I wake whenever the sun gets me up. Before leaving my bed I pray, “Lord, please let this be a good day or night for everyone. Please keep my son and our soldiers safe.” If the dogs haven’t been out yet, I open the door to the yard; check their food and water on the way to the kitchen. If he’s out of bed before me, I track down the hubby and we hug and kiss, and I tell him I love him. If he hasn’t already made me coffee, I put my coffee on. If the cats haven’t been fed, I do that. I cruise into the home office and wake the computer up, turn off the “I’m Away” message and quickly check to see if my son or any of his battle buddies are online, then scan the list for my other kids, family and friends. I turn the volume on the speakers up so that if that “Moo” comes we can hear it.

Next, I open emails and respond. I get a lot of Department of Defense releases and releases from an online military news service. Others are from news services and newspapers and I select the most interesting headlines and read those articles. This fills a few hours of the mornings when we or I don’t have plans. Even if we have commitments, if my son or one of the other soldiers IM’s me, I’ll be running late because I won’t ignore IM’s from “my guys”. I now have their screen names programmed with sounds (different from the “moo”). The guys know we're happy to call their families and let them know their soldier is online. The bulletin board opposite the computer has little slips of papers with phone numbers scrawled on them for quick reference… It’s so heartwarming when I get to hear a brother or sister yell, “Mom! Turn on the computer! V’s online!” or a wife say, “Oh thank you so much!”

We watch a number of the cable news channels during the day. Even if we’re sitting and reading, the television is on and tuned to a news station. I’ll stop in the office and check emails occasionally during the day and log on to news sites just to see if there have been any developments. My husband will do the same. In the evening, I repeat the morning pattern: feed the cats, let the dogs out, check the emails and the online list, tell my husband for at least the 20th time today that I love him. Then I climb into bed and pray, “Lord, please let this be a good day or night for everyone. Please keep my son and our soldiers safe.” Some nights I can fall asleep. Some nights I don’t wake on the hour every hour. Some nights.


Half way through my morning today my son came on line. They are only getting mail about every three days so he hasn’t had mail yet this week. He still hasn't gotten the shooting gloves I ordered and had sent direct to him almost 7 WEEKS AGO despite the company’s assertions that they were mailed! Nor have the safety glasses arrived AFTER SIX WEEKS – again the company telling me they were mailed… and each company saying, “Well, it takes a while for things to get there. Check back the first of the month.” Our packages are getting to my son in two or three weeks! My blood’s doing a slow boil. My son couldn't stay on long as he was going to catch some sleep until he had to be back for a patrol in four hours, but he did say they heard that the big shoot out at the insurgents' training camp was a hell of a firefight.

I got a new digital camera yesterday and I played with it a while today learning some of the features... 'cause I'm going to a baseball game tomorrow! So now, “Lord, please let this be a good day or night for everyone. Please keep my son and our soldiers safe.”
Copyright 2005. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Kids Say the Darndest Things

This was at 3:00AM Iraq time (tomorrow):

Mom: whenever I hear your “moo” I smile ‘cause I know you’re ok…
Son: kk awww that’s nice.
Mom: it’s 3AM there - what? can't sleep?
Son: I’m just off guard
Son: someone tried to blow our FOB up
Mom: shit
Mom: today?
Son: but I’m off guard right now
Son: yup
Mom: how
Mom: vb?
Son: vehicle borne IED
Son: we were finding body parts in our MOTORPOOL
Son: inside the FOB we were finding body parts
Mom: ok.. had they already been blown up? Or the body parts were part of the IED?
Son: yes after the explosion
Mom: killed our guys?????
Son: nope
Mom: tg [thank God]
Son: only IA [Iraq Army]
Mom: too bad there
Son: then the IA got scared and started shooting civis and then at us, so we returned fire at the IA
Mom: oh man... bad bad bad
Son: eh its ok
Mom: when was this... day or night?
Son: day at 830 our time
Mom: were you doing the shooting or some other plt? [platoon]
Son: ppl [people] on guard
Son: I don’t think 500 plus ppl are going to start shooting at once in all diff directions
Mom: no, I didn't mean you'd all just pick up yr guns & shoot, just meant were you /v/r/m there
Son: yeah we were there, but we weren’t shooting
Mom: do they know how the vehicle got in? or was it at a gate?
Son: it was at the CP [check point] right outside our gate
Mom: glad they didn't get IN... how many IA killed?
Son: 3, 10 wounded plus they shot another dozen or so
Mom: f*kkk what is wrong with those people? can't figure out what they think they (AIF) [anti-Iraqi Forces] accomplish? It w/ just make me (and hopefully the rest of the Iraqis) pissed and fight back harder...
Son: wow don’t make a big deal out of it, it happens every day here
Mom: still w/ piss me off... doesn't make it more palatable/acceptable and I would never get used to it
Son: yes, ok. But it just is the way it is here for the time being. We can’t take it personal or we w/n be able to do our jobs.
Mom: understand. Just can’t imagine what that m/b like for you guys… and the Iraqis. The world should know that the AIF are evil evil evil.
Mom: of course there has been nothing on the news... and nothing in the DOD press releases either
Son: well it just happened today
Son: give it a day or so
Mom: gtg [got to go]... love you son... be safe ... stay alert... mwahs... x0x0x0x0x0x mom
Son: I will. don’t you worry
Mom: impossible... when you love someone, you worry.. you c/b in paramus and we'd still worry ;-)
Son: lol [laugh out loud]
Mom: come to think of it, the traffic in paramus was probably good training for driving in baqubah :-P
Son: lmao [laughing my ass off]
Mom: ttyl [talk to you later] mwahs my son! Here’s Dad…

Dad: Hey Son - it's Dad
Son: Hi pops!
Dad: At 2300 tonight I'm going to the casino to take lessons in Texas hold-em poker.
Son: win me some money
Dad: you bet. If I play roulette, what's your favorite number between 0-36?
Son: let’s see… 11
Son: it was my number in baseball most of the time
Dad: yeah, I remember. ok, I'll put a couple bucks on 11 when I feel the karma is right!
Son: ok
Dad: that'll be somewhere around 1100 today, your time - so keep your fingers crossed then.
Son: I will
Dad: happy St. Patrick's Day. are they serving up any green beer at the mess hall?
Son: no
Son: just no alcoholic beer
Dad: Luv 'ya, man. Anything special you want me to send you?
Son: nope
Son: I’m good…. Lots of stuff from you guys and Aunt M and Aunt K and my buds... very generous. love in every box! lol
Dad: ok...speak to ya later. Love you. I'm VERY proud of you, son.
Son: love you too, dad

Anyway, I sometimes just can’t believe I’m having these conversations with my son. Shouldn’t we be talking about cars? Girls? (Well, to be honest, we talk about those things, too.) I can’t believe how many times I told my kids not to swear – and now I’m almost as bad as them – but if you could hear the way soldiers talk – every third word is a curse and it’s so ingrained they don’t even know they’re doing it – or they end with a quick “Sorry, Ma.” The part about Paramus is a reference to New Jersey... near where we used to live and where our kids grew up and learned to drive. -- the worst traffic in the world -- an LA traffic jam at 55 mph! When our son went to Airborne School, we used to joke that six months before we wouldn't let him drive in Paramus because we thought that was dangerous -- and now he was jumping out of planes! And now...

The conversation with his Dad was pretty amusing and brought big smiles. Since our son deployed at age 19 but will be 21 by the time he returns (and he’s the only one of our children that was not old enough to drink or go to the casino before he left for Iraq), we told him that when he gets back, he can register to vote on the way to the casino to have a drink – so it has a special meaning between the guys!!

This incident has not yet been reported on the news… but I’ll be watching to see how close the details are and whether there’s a spin to it. If it ever makes it to the news (see last post). And maybe by morning my heart rate will have slowed. Maybe.

Monday, March 14, 2005

War? What War?

I grew up in the heat of the Vietnam War. In the last years of the war, the mainstream media (at that time three major television networks and the print news services) bombarded us in our homes with the harsh realities and gruesome images of war and it became difficult -- nay impossible -- to ignore. Many (including myself) believe that this barrage of bloody images changed public perception of and resulted in outright opposition to war. After all, the Vietnam conflict began in the late 1940's and had been largely ignored until the late 1960's when these horrific images were beamed into the world's living rooms and a generation became mobilized. The media told us the war was wrong -- and that our soldiers were baby-killers -- and the public believed them. History was written.

At the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, again the media -- this time free, cable and internet -- assailed us with imagery of this war. Unlike the Vietnam War, the stories came to us from embedded reporters and the soldiers themselves and filled us with pictures of daring, of courage, of military might... These images caused us to pump our fists, beat our chests, weep in sadness and aroused in many a sense of long‑missing patriotism. Will any of us ever forget the images from the Thunder Run to Baghdad? Or Saddam's statute toppling amongst wildly celebrating Iraqis? Whether people supported this particular war or not, a generation that had been scarred or were ashamed by the post-war treatment of Vietnam vets and the children and grandchildren of that generation overwhelmingly embraced America’s fighting men and women.

Now, approaching the second anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I'm appalled by the paltry news coverage afforded our soldiers. It’s not just wanting to see news about my child, it’s news about any part of the battle. Something’s going on there and I sure as hell would like to know what it is. Most nights, it's the third or fourth story on the evening news. It will be the lead story only if there has been some massive carnage or France or Germany has discovered that their flies are open again. I can't recall the last time I saw a story reporting on the progress being made in the reconstruction of Iraq. Leaving aside the talking heads on the Sunday morning programs (which is so much BS and spin anyway), I spent the better part of the day switching between cable news outlets. Absent. Not there. Were it not for the fact that my son and 149,000 of his closest friends are actually participants, you could almost assume from the lack of coverage that there is no war. The quarter hour critiques by the "experts" and Wall of Heroes have been replaced by stories of Martha and what that coulda/shoulda/woulda mean for the economy, the appointment of a new chairman of Disney and why that particular media outlet thinks that's important, and (currently) the dissection ad nauseam of that reprobate in the Atlanta court house killings accompanied, of course, by the next round of "former police detective and now crime analyst" opining who did what rightly or wrongly in the case. Don Henley's "Dirty Laundry" was never truer.

Living a bit on the edge, I get DOD press releases via email. Some days I get 30 releases containing news about weapons systems, quotes and sound bites from military officials, officer promotions, human interest items. Some report the latest casualties. That’s Monday through Friday only. Saturday and Sunday I'm lucky to get five releases in two days. You'd think the war and anti-Iraqi forces took weekends off! Now, I know that there are many dedicated military public affairs people and that they do in fact work weekends and nights and that they don't intend to appear indolent... But perception is everything. And since DOD releases are the food of the media (and inter alia, the public), it’s no wonder the media isn’t paying attention. I would be heartbroken to think that the conflcts in Iraq and Afghanistan had become "just another day at the office" to anyone whose job it is to keep the media and the public aware.

I have a general impression (shared by many other military parents) that the lack of interest by the spin hooties has settled on the American public. It's not that I think that the American people have forgotten our troops; it's just not a priority anymore (for some it never was). Old news. Life goes on. I am always openly grateful when someone acknowledges my yellow ribbon pin or the personalized yellow ribbon magnet on my car (My Son Proudly Serving, OIF3, 2005 and the division insignia) and am effusive if they ask me to thank our son for his service. We are also fortunate to have friends and acquaintances that show they care by routinely asking how our soldier and his friends are doing. And we are blessed to be a part of a network of family and friends -- even those who oppose the war -- who not only verbalize their support of our troops but have magnanimously shipped goodies and gear to our son and his buddies. However, these are people who feel personally connected to our soldiers and I think the number that feels some connection may well be a minority. It is both moderately depressing although perhaps predictable.

As the parent of a soldier I suppose I’m more high strung than most on the issue and perhaps I'm even judging against much too high a standard -- one that asks the media and the American public to at least appear to give a shit about the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines that have their guts on the line. And maybe I'm a bit hypersensitive but I seem to be bothered just as much by the appearance of apathy as apathy itself. Seems to me if you’re grateful and/or you care, you ought to say so or show it in some manner.

Perhaps I'm looking at this all wrong? Perhaps I should be thanking God for the lack of coverage on the time-honored adage that "No news is good news!" Yup. Glass half full.