In many ways, my son is the “All American Kid”. He played little league and soccer. He was a Boy Scout and a Sea Scout and, from the time he was small, it was his stated intention to join the military.
He was not seduced by college assistance or any of the other benefits that lure young people into the service. My son simply wanted to serve. It is a sort of tradition in my family. Many of our men served. It started with the Second World War. My fathers and uncles were drafted or joined and served in both major theaters. I had cousins in Viet Nam and another cousin who served in both Gulf Wars. I served too, but not in a very heroic way. I did my bit to stop Soviet expansion by drinking beer and eating schnitzel in Germany for three years.
When my son turned seventeen, he announced that he wanted to enter a National Guard program that allows one to receive basic training between his junior and senior year then complete advanced training after graduation. We talked about this at length, it was post 9/11 and US forces were engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq. I first tried to talk him out of it. I was (and am) very much against the war in Iraq and I knew he would eventually find himself there or in Afghanistan at the very least.
My son does not share my politics and insisted he wanted to do his part. I then tried to talk him into the Navy or Coast Guard; at least it would be safer. He insisted on the Army. He invoked my and my family’s past service and declared that it was his turn.
“So there is a war on” he once said to me, “That’s my hard luck, it’s my turn”.
I signed the consent form with a heavy heart. I could have refused but I was not willing to deny my son something he felt so strongly about and he was very close to his eighteenth birthday anyway when I would be irrelevant, legally speaking. I always told him that I respected his intelligence as well as his devotion to honor so I felt bound to consent. I truly believe that to not do so would have caused irreparable harm to my relationship with him and would not have stopped him from going anyway. He would not be whole unless he served. How could I deny him that?
My son went through his training then graduated high school and went on to his advanced training. He made the decision to join the regular Army and became a medic assigned to the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York. He left in late January of 2006. My wife drove him to the airport to catch his plane to Fort Drum. On the way they stopped at my job so I could say good-bye. I shook his hand then gave him a hug and off he went. It was all I could do to hold back tears for the remainder of my shift. These were bitter tears indeed. By March, he was in Afghanistan.
When I was in the service I often wondered how my family would have felt if I was serving in Viet Nam or some other war zone. I now know, they would have been worried sick 24-7.
At first it was really hard. I became obsessed with Afghanistan. I read every article and Internet piece I could lay my hands on. I remember the first American killed after my son was “in-country”. It was agony for about a week until my son called home. During that call he told me that the Army shuts down communication with the outside world when a GI is killed so the family doesn’t hear about it on the news. He said that if I heard it on CNN instead of from an immaculately uniformed military chaplain at my door, he was OK.
For my own sanity, I scaled back my Afghan news consumption to what I come across in my normal media intake (which is considerable). I still feel every death in Iraq and Afghanistan (US and non US). Flag draped coffins and those professional photos of resolute looking kids in uniform, with the stars and stripes behind them, that are now dead still tear little bits of my heart out every time. I am appalled at the all the loss of life caused by this criminal enterprise of the Bush administration but I am forced to admit that each death of a US soldier or Marine cuts a little deeper. In the eyes of every photo of killed GIs, I see my son, every day, week after week.
It has been almost a year he has been over there. Right around the holidays (2006) he told us that his deployment would soon be coming to an end. He was going to get 18 months at Fort Drum then off to Iraq. The 82nd Airborne was already arriving to relieve the 10th. He said there was going to be a welcome home ceremony at Drum then he was going to get a pass. My wife and I decided to take some time off, fly back there and see him.
My son gave us the name of the wife of his NCOIC (supervisor) who was a civilian volunteer with the Family Readiness Group, or FRG at Fort Drum. She liaises between the army and the dependant wives in the unit. She is a strong and heroic woman who is raising her three kids alone while her husband is overseas as well holding hands and getting information for lonely and worried army wives. She is vivacious and funny and a real joy to talk to. She would relay the bits of information she could get about the boys’ arrival home. She advised us on lodgings and other travel tips as neither my wife or I had ever been to upstate New York. We had all our reservations and we were ready to go. We were very excited and she was downright giddy.
Then one morning, in late January, there was a message on my phone. In it, our contact asked us to give her a call immediately. It was obvious she was upset. I thought the worst. I thought she was going to tell me something like there had been an ambush and they were all dead. I called her as fast as I could. When she picked up, she was crying.
“You can cancel your trip,” she sobbed. “They have been extended until June”. They had apparently told the troops this the day they were supposed to fly out. I probably knew it before they did.
My heart broke, this strong and charming woman sobbing on the phone because the war had pushed her to the end of her tether. I was angry and sad for my son of course, but he is just a young kid. His home is where he lays his hat. I really grieved for the husbands, wives and kids, for the families that will remain asunder. It’s just so damned unfair. My son called that evening. He was disappointed but philosophical. He is a soldier and he will do his duty wherever it takes him, but that doesn’t help the families.
I hate this war. There are so many good kids over there that need to be here solving our very real problems here at home. I hate the corporate stooges in the government who are perpetuating this war for the greater profit of their Wall Street masters. I am enraged when I think of my son and all the others who serve just to serve and the memory of my father and uncles and cousins who served. I am livid to think of something so honorable as love of country and protection of our homes dragged through the mud in this filthy exercise in mass murder for corporate profit. When I think of the unspeakable things soldiers are asked to do in time of war with the knowledge that this war is only in the interests of a small and elite well moneyed group of parasites at the top of the economic ladder, it instills in me an anger that darkens my soul.
Haliburton, Blackwater, The Carlyle Group, The Saudi Royal Family, The oil companies and others as well as their faithful lap dog the Bush Administration, have made a mockery out of service and selflessness. They have disgraced those that have come before and are not fit to shine the shoes of the kids they are sending to die today. How many ways can we say it? How many ways must we show that the entire country is sick to death of Bush’s’ war? How many more failed policies and ineffective tactics do we have to watch? How many more blood baths do we have to witness in places like Baghdad, Anbar, Falujah and Kandahar? How many more lies? How many more flag draped coffins and pictures of resolute young soldiers now dead? When can I stop looking for the immaculately uniformed military chaplain knocking at my door? When do I get my son back?