I was on the phone with Patti Patton-Bader the other day talking about some Soldiers Angels issues. We talked about soldier X. He was, in my mind, a lost cause. Patti felt otherwise. And it turns out that she was right and I was wrong. It was a good reminder for me.
I have worked long hours for certified heroes; however, I've probably spent the most energy and political capital I've ever had to get a soldier in prison (for murder) his meds for his wounds from Iraq - the warden denied them at first. I did it because he was a Soldier and his commander told me that he was worth it. And now, I'm gearing up to go to war for another soldier who committed a crime and needs our help.
We also have to remember our own struggles and how far we've all come. I've had a lot of people in my corner but even sometimes my own wife doesn't understand why we do what we do. You all here have helped our various crusades in many many ways. And, as a secondary effect of that, you have helped me.
We all handle things differently and some have a greater capacity than others. It's just the way it is.
Some of us use those lessons to help others as much as we can. Team Rubicon is a good example. Toby Nunn at Soldiers Angels is another. The boys at Ranger Up. This Ain't Hell (the BlackFive Farm Team). Our team here too is involved in so many behind the scenes operations...and many others (apologies for leaving anyone out).
Which brings me to people who haven't served in combat but have an enormous capacity for giving. Soldiers Angel MaryAnn in Germany is probably the premiere example. The USO Girls too. I have depended upon the spouses at SpouseBuzz many many times, and Some Soldiers Mom as well.
Gold Star Dad, Robert Stokely, is another stalwart. We have a must read letter from Robert after the Jump and it's got some back story for Laughing Wolf's post below.
11 FEB 1300 hours:
My cell phone rang as I was in the middle of me supervising my Staff Prosecutor presenting evidence in a Driving Under the Influence case. I step outside to take the call. She was hysterical, calling out to me Mr. Stokely, Mr. Stokely, please help me.... I did not know who was calling me and it was a struggle to even get her name and for now I will call her TS. She was crying, sobbing out of control. Finally, she told me her husband was with Bravo 2/121 48th BCT based in Newnan / Coweta County GA where I live and serve as the prosecutor. I am also privileged to serve as the Family Readiness Group Co-Chair for Bravo 2/121.
The unit has been in Afghanistan since last June, and the going has not always been smooth. Last Thursday was anything but smooth. When TS called me it was dark there and her husband and many other soldiers were in their sleeping quarters. As I got her to calm down she told me something terrible had happened but she was not sure what. Sobbing and sounds that were words that made no sense. I got her to calm down again - firmly speaking to her to slow down, breathe, breathe, breathe deep. Then I asked her to tell me slowly what she heard, what she knew. Still sobbing and with a quivering voice she began to tell me she heard a loud noise as she was talking to her husband who was with Bravo 2/121 in Afghanistan. Then immediately after the loud noise, someone shouted to him "The ****** ****** blew himself up and we got to get to our trucks." She sobbed and cried in anguish again.... I said with a little more firm voice "Calm Down, we have to work through this." She settled down. Then I said " Tell me what you heard next". She then told me the phone was still on, an open line and she could hear sounds - screaming, shouting, etc. Then she heard the words suicide bomber. I told her to hold on and immediately called my Rear D and reported something bad had happened at (omitted for op sec reasons). I switched back to TS - "What are you hearing?" It is calmer now she said - the line is still open.
I thought about calling my Co-Chair, whose son is at the same camp. It was a hard decision to make - if I call her she may become frantic at the least extremely worried. But I decided I had to make the call to prep her to brace for bad news, but at same time brace for calls from other spouses and family. In today's war, news travels fast. Within a few minutes my Co-chair called me - she had heard from her son, a brief message - "Mom, I am o.k. got to go." She was re-assured. Then the calls started coming in to her and she relayed to me. Now, with TS on the phone, and my Co-Chair, I am switching between conversations and adding a third one to Rear D giving them info I am acquiring - names and scope of injuries, all coming from down range from soldiers, mainly through their spouse by phone, email, text...
Five soldiers down, one looks serious I tell Rear D. And it was accurate. In the course of several hours, the info being relayed to me through an open line, family of the wounded, and others to my Co-chair was more accurate and in real time than even our Rear D could acquire. How could that be? Well Rear D had to call into command, who at the moment was kind of busy....
Late Thursday afternoon: I am calling the wives of the wounded, especially E whose husband is most seriously wounded. She is very upset for she hears many things how bad it is yet the info flowing from military notification sources simply says he is hurt. She is locked in fear of the worst. How do I handle this I ask myself - she needs re-assurance, but even though I feel my intel is good, I can't be certain it is 100%. I can't make it sound too good lest things make a turn for the worse. So I talk to her about the process and what "makes sense". I tell her my experience in dealing with soldiers coming out of the war zone - Landstuhl then Andrews and then their treatment / recovery destination. I tell her Soldier's Angels will be on the ground and their to help. I tell her it is maybe a good sign that the military has not sent someone to her home or that she has not heard she needs to get ready to fly to Germany to meet her husband. I tell her to remember he is alive and the one piece of confirmed info I have - he is not expected to die. I tell her as long as he is alive, she has something to work with and hope to get better. I tell her 12 hours ago, she would not have agreed with me that this was something to be happy about, but now she has a new normal and these are good signs. It is now after midnight and we have traded more calls.
Earlier that evening, I had sent an an email to our favorite SA in Germany - she is truly an angel and not the first time I have called on her and so have others. I give her info on two soldiers coming up range. She is on it even though it is late into the night in Germany. Early Friday, she has info and has contacted E and has her husband covered when he comes in. SA contacts at WRMC already lining up as well. And the other soldier, and his wife A also covered, even though she is able to talk to him from Afghanistan field hospital and when he gets to Landstuhl, groggy as he is. "A" is less frantic, but still worried, and scarred at what almost happened. "A" husband served with my "boy" Mike in Iraq five years ago. She knows the rigors and harshness of war. She knows she, like E, has dodged the call no wife wants, one which tells her she is a widow.
Saturday, things looking up, although E husband still sedated and serious but stable. "A" husband doing well, but she is still scarred. I talk another of the wounded soldier's wife, S; he has returned to duty and she is shaken, for her husband saw 9 friends die in Iraq five years ago when his unit, Bravo 2/121 deployed with the 48th Brigade GAARNG, along with "A" husband's unit, E 108 CAV 48th BCT, which three soldiers. The two units combined and 12 names are on the Wall of Honor at the Armory. S also realizes what she has dodged. Then, the most amazing story is told me.
S husband and the other guys had adopted a couple stray dogs. One named Rufus and then another, younger puppy named Sasha. Last Thursday, 11 Feb. the dogs alerted while they were in their barracks. Even though told to be quiet the dogs bolted to the front room where they attacked a uniformed, seemingly friendly Afghan coming in the door. The Afghan kicked at the dogs but Rufus would not give up, and then it happened - the Afghan detonated his suicide vest. Sasha was killed, but Rufus, less some hair, burned and with serious injury, survives. Without a doubt, five soldiers, maybe more, are alive today because Rufus and Sasha slowed down the attacker, maybe even panicked him into detonating his vest before he got further into the filled barracks.
Monday night EDT/Newnan GA - I am talking to "S" and she tells me her husband and the other soldiers want to bring Rufus stateside and back to the Armory when they re-deploy late March - early April. I send an email to my "go to" angel in Germany and within minutes she sends it on to Mr. Wolf who sends it on to Baghdad Pups who contact me. Technology and email are amazing.... Within a few minutes I am talking to TC who is somewhere in Central America and shortly after that I have e-connected TC with "S" and her husband/SSG in Afghanistan. Operation Rufus the Dog is underway.
In the meantime, I have worked to help coordinate E and A to get them to their husbands bedside. E finally got to WRMC today. A is with her husband at FT. Benning Martin Medical Center. And I am letting my cell phone and key board rest..... And maybe on Wednesday or Thursday I'll go to FT Benning, about an hour and quarter away to see Mike's friend, and now my soldier, SSG MB and his wife A. Maybe in a week I can buddy pass on a one day trip to Regan National, jump the Metro to Bethesda, catch the free inter hospital shuttle between Bethesda and WRMC and go see E and her husband SFC GW. I know the route well, having been there last summer for SFC Mark Allen, a fellow Bravo 2/121 soldier of SSG BW and SFC GW, and also Mike's good friend. Mark took a serious gunshot wound to the brain, and his fellow soldier, CPL Jonathan Morita, an RPG to the hand in the same firefight.
Five years ago this time, I was a Dad with a son in train-up at FT Stewart with an impending deployment to Iraq. My first real up close and personal experience with war. That was as much as I knew about the military. Iraq and Afghanistan were more abstract than real. I didn't know what an ITO was, or IRD. While I knew what an IED was, I had no clue what my son was saying when he used acronyms left and right. I didn't know where or what Landstuhl was. And Soldiers Angels - who were they? I didn't know names Matt Burden / Blackfive, Subsunk, Mr. Wolf, Uncle Jimbo, Laughing Wolf, Greyhawk, Mrs. G, Mudville Gazette, David Marron / The Thunderrun Andi, Some Soldiers Mom, or even Chuck Z, much less so many others. I was about as ignorant military dad as they came. But my learning curve ramped up at great expense and pain. These past few months, especially these past few days, it has helped me be a better "switchboard operator" and stand with other military families and their soldiers in their time of need. I will never be a soldier, and never will be the man my "boy" became. But one thing I can do is serve the family he loved dearly, his second family - his military family. And I hope to finish his 20, even if only symbolically and I'll just do what I can as best as I can.... if only in hope it does a little good for others.
proud dad SGT Mike Stokely
KIA 16 AUG 05 near Yusufiyah Iraq
USA E 108 CAV 48th BCT GAARNG
Please note that Baghdad Pups and Grypon Airlines are again on the case. Read Laughing Wolf's post below on Sasha and Rufus.