Friday, March 27, 2009

Thunder and Lightening.

It is days like today I think of Micheal a lot. Thunderstorms rolling through. He would have been out in the middle of them. I have a more than a few thunderstorm related memories of Micheal.

When he was very little, not more than two, we lived in northern California. Well thunderstorms were very rare. One night one came through. It was a good one. Big booms and flashes of light. I went to the back of the house to his room to check and make sure he was not scared. There he stood in his crib the curtain pulled back jumping up and down yelling "Do it again, do it again". Then it would thunder and lightening and he would laugh. Seems he loved thunderstorms from the very start.

He loved the rain even without the thunder. It meant puddle stomping. Oh I remember he would drag out his old shoes and beg to go on a puddle stomp walk. We had so much fun doing that. How may kids get encouraged to stomp puddles and try and splash mom?

Years later we would move to the midwest where thunderstorms were common. Micheal would beg to go out and play in them. I would let him go out in the rain but not if there was lightening. Once he was a teen I gave up trying to keep him inside during storms. He learned though. He, his brother and one of their friends went out into the yard during a bad storm. Being tough guys proving they were not afraid of some thunder and lightening... till the lightening hit a few yards away. All three came running it the front door at once. Getting stuck like something out of an old 3 Stooges show. And yelling Mommy mommy mommy. After that they elected to stay on the porch.

Just a very few short years later when it would rain he would get a chair and go sit on the porch, usually alone. He would just watch it and listen to it. Sometimes he would be so deep in thought he would not realize someone else had sat down on the porch too. I learned very quickly to just sit and wait for him to see me there. The discussions were random in those moments. Sometimes serious, sometimes mundane. They were mom and son moments.

The day they brought Pokey home there was a light mist. My husband called in "infantryman weather". I think he found some comfort in it. That night a tremendous thunderstorm came through. It was as if he sent it to make sure we knew he was alright and with us. The next day there was 5 inches of snow. My youngest kept saying Pokey sent it for him. My youngest loves snow as much as Pokey loved thunderstorms. I have to think Pokey sent it. The very next day,the day of the funeral, the weather was clear and sunny and 70 degrees. It was the most bizarre 3 days of weather I have ever experienced.

I still love the rain. I tell people I love the rain because it hides the tears. To some extent that is true, but it also takes me back to times in my memory that make me smile remembering the excited toddler yelling "Do it again", the teen who could not resist being in the middle of it, and the young man who would sit on the porch and almost mediate as he watched it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Dover Ban

A few weeks ago I was visiting Washington DC. It just so happens that the day after I met with Congressman Duncan D Hunter and discussed the loss of my son, the Dover ban Policy and taking steps to protect the names of our fallen from being used by organization that disrespect and exploit them, Sec. Robert Gates lifted the Dover ban for media to photograph the flag draped caskets of our Fallen Heroes as they came home to Dover. Of course there was the whole “with the permission of the family” clause in the lifting of the ban. Sounds like they are giving the family a real voice in it right?

Let me explain how it works….

Two men in uniform knock on your door at any given hour. They then very professionally and politely tell you the most devastating news of your life. Someone you love has been killed in a horrific manner. then they offer condolences and their sorrow. Then they lay out a stack of forms you must sign. You have no idea what the forms are you just know you want these people to leave so you can fall apart and start the grieving process in private. So you sign what ever they lay on the table. You can’t comprehend the words even if you do read them. So here is their idea of giving the family a choice… laying a press release in front of them knowing that they will sign anything at that moment. Some choice.

It is a process that will take advantage of many people’s mental and emotional state in that moment of the most extreme grief a human can be in. It has been over a year and quite honestly I still have no idea what my husband and I signed that day or in the following days.. with the exception of one form. But I only remember that because it was quite possible more devastating to be asked to sign it that the original news of my son’s death.

Now the Department of Defense wants to fly families to Dover to be present when their loved ones arrive there. Sounds like a caring move until you think about the emotional state of the families. From experience I can tell you that all you want to do is look at them one last time, run your fingers through their hair, touch their eyes and lips. And when they fly these families to Dover that is going to be what they want, to see their loved ones. But when our Fallen get to Dover they are not coming home to their family to be laid to rest but to their military family to be honored, and lovingly cared for and prepared for that final journey home. Our Fallen are in no state for their loved ones to see them when they arrive at Dover. That is one of the reason they are taken to Dover.. so the men and women who REQUEST to work there can painstakingly care for them and prepare them to come home one last time. The ceremonies and care of our Fallen at Dover are done with Honor. To have the families there is in my opinion psychological torture of the family. It will be more devastating than anyone who has not been through this can comprehend.

I waited a week for my son to come home to me. I was told when he had arrived at Dover. I knew he was with his military brothers and sisters and I knew they were taking care of him. The wait was hard and emotionally draining. But it was also a period of time to get the emotional support of family, friends and the community. A time to plan our last good byes, his funeral. At the end of the wait watching his casket with the flag he fought to defend draped over it come off the plane at our local airport was intensely emotional and personal. More so than the funeral. It was the moment I knew there was going to be no apology that it had been a mistake. It was the moment I saw the shear angry and pain on my other son’s face and my heart broke once again in to so many pieces I don’t think I will ever be able to truly put them all back in place. It was also the moment I knew my son was finally home. We welcomed him home and said goodbye in that moment.

I’ve heard the arguments for lifting the Dover Ban:

Freedom of speech. Taking a picture of the caskets at Dover is not freedom of speech. Freedom of speech means you get to say what ever you think about the GOVERNMENT.
The Cost of war. We need people to know the human cost of war. Well by God anyone with a brain can read the names and know they were real people why do they need to intrude of the dead and their families? Do they not realize they are costing the families more? These familoies just paid the ultimate price of war and some want to make them pay more by invading their grief and using their loved one as nothing more than a prop for a picture. That not only have we given the life of our loved ones, a piece of our hearts and souls but they are taking the one last thing we have the dignity and privacy to say our last good byes? Price tag that!!

Honoring the Fallen is an other argument I have heard. Well I want them honored too. They deserve it but respecting them and their families and the intimacy and pain of their coming home is how you do that. There is time for memorials and tributes later.. honor them and their families by giving them the right to grieve and get through the devastating process without intrusion. All the photos and fanfare is is a painful reminder of those keeping score and who look up on our nation’s Fallen as a weapon to be used for politic gain. If you ask those taking the pictures or looking at them on the news the name of one of those Fallen Heroes, who’s flag draped casket they have to have a picture of, a week later they couldn’t tell you. But they can give you the numbers. Well Spc Micheal E Phillips was not just a number or a casket covered with the flag of the nation he loved. He was a man who loved and was loved. Who believed in something beyond himself and knew it was worth fighting and dying for. And so are the others who have fallen. Give them the peace of knowing their families are respected not preyed up on in their time of grief.

The way our Fallen Heroes should be honored and remembered....

Saturday, March 7, 2009

JSS Shulla Iraq

JSS Shulla Iraq was turned over to the Iraq security forces on March 2nd, 2009. It is not a story you will hear on the main stream media. It was a positive story and more proof our military accomplished their mission in Iraq. More proof we have won in Iraq.

This story jumped out to me for one very special reason, Shulla is where my son and his Company were located in Iraq. Once one of the most dangerous places and home to the Mahdi Army. There was a time when the citizens feared leaving their homes. Now they are opening new restaurants and shopping in flourishing market places. They are taking over their own security and becoming more independent. I know my son had a hand in that success. He and his brothers, who I know think of as my own family, gave this gift to the people of Shulla and all over Iraq.

My son came home March 2nd, 2008 and one year later the people of Iraq came home to a new found freedom in the town of Shulla. He did great things in Iraq... they all have.

The barracks in Shulla Iraq named for my son.

Friday, March 6, 2009

"That's a When I Get Home Story Mom"

Pokey never told us much about what was going on in Iraq of a personal nature. He would mention little things or funny stories. I think he told his father more than he told me. He would often say he took pictures or this or that happened but "That's a when I get home story". Obviously he never got to tell us his stories. His band of brothers share some. They are still careful about what they share though. I don't think they quite yet understand that no matter how scary they think it is for me to hear I have faced the scariest part. And also they have put those stories away so they can adjust back to life here. Some day they will pull then out again when it is safe for them too and share them with me then.

It is hard for me to know there was a facet of my son I will never know. I will never know the combat soldier. The man he became while he was in Iraq. Not saying he wasn't a man before but I know being there and fighting for what he believed in, gave him a strength of character and a perspective on life different than anything he could have had here in the civilian world. In fact in our last conversation he admitted, in his way, he had changed and he was scared that his friends here would not understand who he had become. He had grown up in a way that most will not in years and years of life. I know it was being there and the " when I get home" stories that made him into the man he had become.

But regardless, there is a part of me that wants to know what it was like there for him. Oh I know I will never fully understand because I was not there. But I want a better insight. I need to know what his life there was really like. I think, just may be, that gift has been given to me. There is a movie coming out "Brothers At War". when I first heard about it was leery. Hollywood is not kind to our military. But investigating a little told me the producer was a man who loves our troops and I knew this was going to be a good film. Having seen the trailer and clips it hit me.. these are my son's stories that he was going to tell me when he got home. No not his personally but his all the same.

I have to stop now and then when people touch my life these days or things happen to me. I have to stop and realize that all my questions, all my need to know, is slowly being answered. I have to think Pokey is asking God for a special favor of letting him put the right people and events into my life as I am ready for them.