Well, here I sit in front of the laptop staring at the blank page in front of me. I want to help a good friend who has been my crutch through the most difficult time of my life. She has given me an assignment and a deadline (which I have missed over and over again). But yet I just don’t know where to start so I can share the most heartbreaking yet proudest time of my life. So please forgive the spelling and grammar errors and please don’t judge me if I jump around a bit. I will try and take my experience and share it so you will know you are never alone in this war called parenthood or in the parenthood of war.
I will never forget the day he was born, the day he took his first breath I started holding mine. He was hyperactive, never needed more than 2 hours of sleep, talked none stop from the time he opened his eyes until he closed them at night. Teachers begged me to medicate him because they just didn’t know what to do with him. I didn’t, we homeschooled and he turned out to be a wonderful teenager (well as wonderful as they can be while doing everything in their power to drive their parents crazy). He did all those boy things, dated and broke up with girls, learned to drive and crash a car, missed curfew now and then but he was growing up and we were proud of the man we could see him becoming. He knew that we could not help much if he wanted to go to college so we had always told him he had to participate in finding a way to pay for whatever education he wanted to pursue after high school.
He worked hard got good grades, was in debate and choir, acted in community theater, and worked part-time to earn money for those things boys just have to have. Had every fade hairdo and outfit and dreams of what his future would be. Most of all he wanted to become a “player” in the law enforcement or legal field. His name was Nick but his alter ego was always Jack Bauer. Over the years his friends and there were many, came and went as they lived at our home as well. I watched them play football in the yard, watch scary movies until dawn, laugh until they puked and play every day. They ate dinner at my table and cried on my shoulder and I love them all.
We had always had an open-door policy; we have had foster kids all the time and tried to provide a safe loving environment for any child who was in need. Several of these young boys were able to turn their lives around and finish school and look to their futures. We had options for everyone jobs, more school, whatever they wanted to do we tried to help them find ways to make it happen. This brings into the picture the Army National Guard recruiter (boo hiss boo) sitting at the kitchen table one night. He was talking to one of the foster kids and helping him decide what his best option would be after graduation. He also talked to us and anyone else who happen to be there (about 10 kids all friends from Junior high on).
Nick was there but we thought he would never join something so strict and active, after all, it took half the day just to get him out of bed! However, we were wrong not only did 7 of the 10 join, one of them was Nick! “Oh no you are not” “Oh yes I am” Oh no you are not” Oh yes I am” “You are not you are grounded and I will give you a note telling them you made a mistake and your Mother says you can’t join”! Well as we all know that was not the way it works. He joined and after some time explaining to us how this was really what he wanted to do and it made him proud to do it. What could we say we had taught him to be independent make decisions on his own and be a man, that was exactly what he had done, and I hated myself for it. This was not what my vision of his life was and how dare he do this.
He left a few days after graduation and we had no idea what was about to happen. The recruiters in their way prepare them to get to the swearing-in and departure but who helps us deal with all of this who tells us what to expect and who do we turn to for answers to all our questions?……………no one……………crickets……………we were alone………..or at least that was what I thought. So he went to basic, we saw him graduate, go to language school, training schools, and all we got for information was him telling us everything was fine he was ok and not to worry, yea right. Over the next couple of years he met his wife and they had a son, Nick missed his birth (training), and just when we thought the training was finally done and he could settle down and get on to living the (please excuse the phrase, but) Bomb dropped. He had joined shortly after 9/11 and most of his friends had done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan but he had been spared while he was “training”.
Ok, where was I…
He had joined shortly after 9/11 and most of his friends had done at least one tour in Iraq or Afghanistan but we thought he had been spared while he was “training”, we were so wrong. His group was up and he was going for? months to the “litter box” as we came to call it, Iraq as others call it – either way, our son, my baby, was headed into the most dangerous area of the world and right into the middle of the war.
My heart stopped, my knees went weak, my stomach turned, I could not control the shaking and I fought to keep from falling completely apart. I could not let him or his family see the devastation I was feeling, I held it in I could not let my baby, his wife, or their baby down, but what could I do? I had no idea how things worked, who or where to turn to when I had a question. How could we send him off to who knows where for an extended time and not have a way to know what is going on.
My daughter-in-law had just signed up for a very intense medical program that was going to last at least two years; my grandson was just barely one year old. She would be alone trying to raise a baby, go to school, and hold her very young family together without him here. So again we had the conversation with him:
“Oh no you are not” “Oh yes I am” “Oh no, you are not” “Oh YES I am” “You are not! You tell them you are grounded and I will give you a note telling them you made a mistake and your Mother says you can’t deploy”! Well, you know how that ended, again.
Both of our sons were grown and other than some ongoing health issues Nick’s older brother has his Dad and I were on our own. After Nick and his family had left us with the devastating news and I had gotten over the tears and denial I stopped and took a step back. I thought about the way we had raised all the children in our home. What had we tried to show them and teach them about taking care of themselves and each other? What would I do if it were one of them …oh wait a minute it was them as well. Of the group that signed together, all were heading out in the next few months. Well, that was that I had to step up and be the Mom.
I got busy, we made arrangements to move into a bigger house and move our daughter-in-law and grandson in with us. This would give our son a few weeks with them without any worries before he left. Also, we were giving him peace of mind knowing that she and the baby would not want or need anything while he was away. Oh so very, very far away.
Now I have to stop for a moment and tell you all (most will understand right away) this was the most horrible time in my life and to relive it is opening wounds I thought were long closed, but my hope is that others will learn and perhaps find comfort in my words and recounting.
Ok back to my lament…….
To prepare us all for the Unit deployment, the NG had all soldiers, and families come into an informational meeting. They invited anyone that wanted information on what was about to happen to these young men and women. They talked about the war and the jobs our soldiers would be doing, how they had been well trained to do them and how proud they were of each and every one of them. We listened and took notes, collected fliers but really never got any answers about what we were to do after they left. I am a very “jump in and do whatever needs to get done to support them” type of person but nothing was ever mentioned about how we could help.
Now the military, as many of you have found out, talks and works in a special code only they are able to decipher. Lots of letters for departments and programs -all of which not only have names we never hear as civilians but if you get them out of order you could be ordering a tank for your front yard. We were given numbers of places to call for support but the numbers were bad or not the “correct” department and after being transferred over and over again I gave up.
Nick was part of an advance group that went to Mississippi ahead of the big group to set up. There was no good-bye ceremony, no news crews there, just a bus in the middle of the night in an empty parking lot. “Goodbye son” on the bus and he was gone. My heart died that night, it was ripped from my body and sent to war.
He spent the next weeks in Mississippi getting ready for the larger group to come down and they were also helping the recovery from Hurricane Katrina. When the bigger group got there he helped them process in and was told to make sure each soldier has the information for the “FRG” and that he should encourage them to tell their families to join. He passed the information to his wife and then she told me so we could also join and to get me off his back constantly asking for what I could do. We called got the information for the first FRG meeting and Myself, Renee (Nick’s wife) my husband, and my parents went in to finally get the information we needed to not only help ourselves but to support our troops.
We were introduced to our “FRG Leader” who was the wife of the first sergeant serving with our boys and girls. She was with a person from the state level FRG, and we were told there were different groups all over the state. She talked about many things which frankly went right over my head, we are not in the military and don’t speak Army so we were a bit lost. We were asked to join in and help organize the group and asked if we had any ideas to help keep the families connected. We offered our suggestions which were for the most part ignored, and dismissed until our next meeting.
To make a really long rather nasty experience shorter we gave up after just a couple of meetings. As a family, we were ignored and made to feel like outsiders, as we were not part of the unit our leader was most connected with. When our son called to say he had been told to have his Mom back off, that was it. Our last meeting was a Christmas Party (we only went because my grandson was registered a long time ago) at an Armory where not only did we get to sit in a gym with a bunch of tables, no one knew where to go or what to do they just sat there, nothing for the babies to do and no one was trying to greet anyone, it to say the least was a total disaster. We were about to leave when we were blessed with a guardian angel, she came up to us and said “hey I know you”. It turned out to be one of the other wives that had been at the awful first meeting and recognized me as being the one who every time I made a suggestion it was shot down. She had been treated the same way.
Now not to toot my own horn or anything but I do this kind of stuff for a living - organizing, fundraising, and group events, and I am very successful at it as well. So when I made suggestions they were not made without thought and consideration. I was more than willing to donate as much time and effort to help out but no one ever even bothered to call me back.
The angel had given me her number and e-mail address and after some great sharing of information (she was a “lifers” wife….. yahoo someone to help me, who knew the magic codes, she was fluent in Army) we talked about the experience of the “FRG” (Family Readiness Group for those who do not know) and I was floored to find out just how the rest of the families were being treated. People were told they were not welcome in the group, one person had no family here and was very alone, and this cruel rejection darn near did her in. Now I am not going to go into the whole mess but believe it that out of the over 300 families that were assigned to our group we never had more than a handful of people at the meeting and near the end there were only 3 or 4 people including the leader that showed up each month.
I found this very sad, there was so much I wanted to do and be a part of here to let the unit know that not only did we support them but we were here for their families anytime they needed anything. So with the help of our Angel we started our own group (and we invited everyone to join no matter what, even the leader from the old group came and helped) we called our selves “RHSC” (Red Headed Step Children) and we did things that made me proud and I felt like I actually counted and mattered. We sent over 3000 cookies for Christmas, we sent 5000 thanksgiving cards that were made by area school children, we made trips to the VA here, and we held each other up and always had each other's backs.
Many soldiers talk about the friendships they make while in a war, but we made the same connections here. I would not have made it without these friends and I will love them until the day I die, I owe them everything, and no matter how many miles apart or years that go by all any of them ever have to do is to call and they know I will drop everything to be there.
So my message to all of you - is you are never alone in this and if you are in need ask. Start a small group with someone else in your area, call another group like Blue star Mom's (they will also help everyone, not just Moms), ask at the unit headquarters; call the chaplains connected to your unit. Post a blog on this site and you will get answers. You never have to face the fears of knocks on the door, phone calls in the middle of the night, or that ache in your heart that just won’t go away. Do not, and I can not say this loud enough DO NOT sit at home and get lost in the grief. We are here for you, arms wide open!
I want to thank my angel she saved us, and we saved each other. I love you my friend and am so proud to have you on my side!