Words are inadequate to describe how amazing this Gold Star family is...
Below is a message from our friend, Robert Stokely:
1745 hours May 14, 2005 our family got a last hug and said a final goodbye as we had to leave Ft. Stewart (GA) by 1800 after Mike's departure ceremony. The last fifteen minutes needed to be for him and his high school sweetheart now 20 year old bride of ten days to say their final goodbyes. As I got to the car, my family already in, I paused, turned and took one more look. Mike and Niki were embraced oblivious to anyone else, for many like them were doing the same. A small still inner voice, one I believe is God's way of talking to me, said "take a good long look, for it is your last." I wanted to take him with me, hide him away. But he was a man and even though my son, he now belonged to a country. He was an American Soldier.
1745 hours May 15, 2005 Mike said I only have a few minutes dad, for I am about to go on the plane and we have to shut our phones down and my battery is about to die. I love you he said, and so said I to him. The line went dead, not sure whether he had to hang-up or the battery played out. I still have his cell number in my phone under "Bubba" the nickname his brother Wes, then too young to say brother, gave him. Sister Abbey wanted to have her unique bond with his name, so she shortened it to Bubs... When I hear someone say they hate cell phones and how terrible for our society they are, I quietly wonder if they had someone far away and a cell phone would be vital to keeping connected if they might think differently? I still call Bubba every so often even though I know it goes to the service provider's standard message. "This number is no longer in service...."
2300 hours May 16, 2005 after a long flight and several stops, Mike called me from Kuwait. They were on the ground and in a few days would move north into Iraq. He sounded good albeit tired. I was relieved he was their safely if that makes sense, for planes fly high over deep water in the Atlantic and sink fast if they go down.... And you don't know where or how they are doing in that long flight, at least back in 2005 you didn't.
1000 hours June 18, 2005, a missed call from a son now in Baghdad and even in the Green Zone, danger of attack did not avoid his brigade as several hurt when rocket propelled grenades were lobbed in. Disappointed I kicked myself for having missed the call into my cell from Mike, but warmed at the sound of his voice, knowing he was trying to call me for Father's Day. Then as I got home later that Saturday, a card postmarked APO Baghdad in my mailbox. Amazed as I opened and read it, treasuring the hand written note and signature "love Mike". How much love could a father ask of a son in war for that son to find time to send a card to arrive perfectly timed for Father's Day. IAnd even more and equally as good - Mike called again and I got to talk to him for Father's Day. Our last.... I still listen to his voice on the first missed call. I will read his card again this Sunday.
0700 hours August 16, 2005, the phone rings and a voice said "Is this Mr. Stokely?" Yes. "I am Major Hulsey and I am here with Chaplin Diccoppo and we need to speak with you urgently but your dog will not let us to the door. Mike's dog Patches the Pit Bull was barking protectively with fury standing watch at the front door. My heart sank as I knew the drill - if you you get a Commissioned Officer and Chaplin at your door, your son (or daughter, husband, mother, father) is dead. But I hoped I was wrong as I said "I'll be right out" and ran without touching the ground to meet them in the drive, and as I approached, asking "is my boy dead..." Their faces and pause, very likely caught off guard by my question, but more likely not wanting to answer it with the truth, Major Hulsey, as kindly as he could, professionally said "I regret to inform you that SPC Mike Stokely was killed in action earlier this morning." A moment of being unable to speak, breathe, even cry as I seemingly had a giant vacuum sucking all air, even life itself, out of me. A flash, brief as it was, of bitterness, wanting to blame someone or something as though that makes it better. Yet, in that flash, I heard a different inner voice, a voice that spoke from a memory of a son loved and lost. As though I could hear him, that inner voice said "breathe, breathe, now stand-up and think and act honorably. Look after my guys. Look after my family." And as though jolted by a new energy of commitment, I stood up and started asking how, when, where; how was with him and who else got killed? Two wounded, take care of them I said, bring them home alive to their families, get me their names..... And from that moment when I stood up, a broken hearted father, I determined that I would conduct myself in only one way regarding Mike and his death in Iraq: Rather than blame in bitterness, Remember with Honor.
6:30 p.m. local June 16, 2005 she said it was time to go. Goodbye. I love you and will miss you Dad. I tried to remain stoic because I didn't want to dampen her adventure, hugging her and wishing her a great trip. I love you. It had been a long few months, then few weeks, and the last few days and even hours hectic and hard work. The Mike Stokely Foundation had been able to get some special donors to contribute and buy medical and school supplies to send with her and her team of fellow University of Georgia students to use in their medical/nutrition service work. $8,000 in medical and $2000 in school supplies and small toys, with the latter shipped in suitcases with them (heavy suitcases) for free thanks to arrangements with Delta weeks before. My wife Retta and I were nervous and anxious to send her off for six weeks to such a far away place where we would not even have that good of contact in this day and age of technology.
Our baby, our girl - now a 19 year old young lady, had just finished her first year at UGA . A great first year as a pre-med student in the wake of five of the worst years a 13 year old headed to adulthood could imagine. A brother killed in war, attending his funeral - her first ever - two months after her 13th birthday and the public spotlight that came with it, some not always so welcome or good. A car wreck five months later that nearly killed her, leaving her seriously injured and recovering for the next 18 months. Then a tick bite that led to two years battling LYME Disease tat at times seemed to be heading toward causing permanent neurological damage and being so sick she missed over half of her classes in her sophomore and junior year of high school. Never mind the desocialization that comes with not being in the mix with your friends day to day at that age. A grandmother dying at age 81 (the most normal thing that happened). And then, just as it seemed to be coming back her way, her best friend and first boyfriend died three weeks later - they were classmates and rising seniors with dreams and goals they shared and supported. thomas Broadwater, a young man who knew what being a gentleman was all about and how to treat someone with love greater than his own self, died June 8, 2009 at the age of 17, and the day after her 17th birthday. Immense stress and grief can not even come close to describing what she went through. Yet she remained determined to not only finish school but graduate with her class. And she did - top of her class at that.
My wife and I were relieved, excited and thrilled her first year went so very well - academically and socially making new friends in a new environment living away from home. While at times it seemed from her viewpoint it was not going well, she barely missed making a 4.0 the first semester bouncing back with a 4.0 the second one. Then she came home excited and asked to go off for six weeks on this trip - so far away, and going to a place where you are still required to have a yellow fever shot and malaria medication is a daily requirement and don't even think about drinking the water. Watch out for Typhoid and working with children who have also probably been exposed to Aids, and very likely hepatitis and other diseases. And for free while paying tuition as a study abroad without even really needing the course credit to graduate in three more years...
It was a natural concern to not want to let her go, especially given what happened "last time" one of our children left the safety of America and traveled so far away. But we couldn't let what happened to Mike be a reason to say No and she had a right to live her life fully even if doing so means danger and being far away. Thursday night - June 16; seventy months to the day from when Mike was killed, we said goodbye to her. When we got home I turned on the computer and began using internet web sites to track her flight - air speed, altitude, rate of climb, sometimes descent (that kind of puzzled me while over the mid Atlantic), course changes, time elapsed and time remaining on the eleven hour flight over deep waters. First heading eastward out of Atlanta, then turning south to be nearly at the equator. One flight tracking site even gave an indication of the water depth she was crossing. That probably didn't help my nerves. I stayed up late, like early in the morning late tracking her flight. All seemed well and I finally went to sleep.
7:30 a.m. June 17 - I was up and checked again and saw words I wanted to see and that relieved me, kind of like when Mike called me from Kuwait. FLIGHT ARRIVED. She was on the ground an hour early. Later on a one minute phone call to her mother to let us know she was there, they had good hosts, and everything fine... She had to rush it as other students waiting to use the same land line phone. Kind of reminds me of Mike's calls from Iraq.
She will get a week of "sight seeing" to settle in, have some fun, and then it is time to go to work for five weeks - long hot days helping sick and malnourished children. And I go to bed late in the early morning hours of June 18 having come in from being on my front porch. As I did with Mike, I like to watch the Moon over Yusufiyah come up, which tonight it had to come out from behind the clouds that brought us much needed rain. I look sharp to the south east and think of my girl as I did Mike. I am so very proud of her. She is living life in spite of it all. She is living it with vigor, determination and purpose. She is serving the needs of others when she could have a very relaxed summer at the pool, lake, beach, and other places college students dream of having carefree fun. Instead of shopping trips to the mall or downloading music on-line, she is spending her money from her savings to buy food and pay for other expenses in a far away place where she is the stranger and one seeking to understand a culture she does not know. She simply loves children and after what she has gone through, she is not waiting to become a pediatrician to help them have better health, or at least show a kind gentle touch of love to soothe their pain. How could I be such a blessed father?
Tonight as I write this, the Moon over Yusufiyah has risen over the Stokely family home in Sharpsburg GA. Just as Mike saw and shared it with me in Iraq before he died, so it is with Abbey. Tonight the Moon over Yusufiyah has risen over Ghana Africa. And for the next six weeks, I will spend a lot of time on my front porch gazing at the Moon over..... How could I be such a blessed father? Nothing I could have ever done or will do can justify such blessing. Truly there is a God who loves me unconditionally.
I continue to be reminded to focus on what I have been given... rather than the tragedy of what I have lost.
proud dad of Abbey Stokely living life by serving others in Ghana Africa
proudly Remembering with Honor SGT Mike Stokely
KIA 16 AUG near Yusufiyah Iraq
USA E 108 CAV 48th BCT GAARNG
proud dad of Wes Stokely, a boy who stepped up to be a man
looking out for his family with love and protection