Last June one of the soldiers from my husband's unit was killed in Iraq. Of all my personal experiences with the burdens of Iraq, memories of Sgt. C stuck with me oddly, even though I didn't really know him or his family.
Sgt. C did his first tour in Iraq with my husband in a National Guard military police unit. When they returned, for reasons I will never understand, Sgt. C joined the regular Army and was stationed in Ft. Bragg, NC. Soon after he was sent back to Iraq.
He was later killed by a roadside bomb. He had five children and a wife at home. He was due to return home in September.
We were never real close friends at all with the Sgt. C family. But Sgt. C and his kids were active in my son's little league and they went to the same schools as my kids. We used to see them often at the ball park...their five kids beyond rambunxious. Even if you didn't KNOW them, you always knew when they were around.
What was innocent wildness from a pack of kids with little supervision and an absent father turned into haunting memories for me that will never leave my head. I remember when the unit first left to Ft. Polk, LA for training before shipping off to Iraq. The yellow ribbon ceremony was in a hanger at the local airforce base. The general told us how this mission was the most dangerous mission of all for the state's national guard. (That was real reassuring.) The local restaurant fed us barbeque. The yellow ribbon magnets were selling like hotcakes...so naturally they upped the price from $3 to $4. Nice gesture to the departing war heroes. We said our miserable goodbyes and the soldiers were put on a bus to head out.
The Sgt. C kids were balling...and I mean BALLING. And when five kids scream and cry, again, you can't miss them. I remember thinking how I wished they would just calm down. They were overwhelming eachother with emotion...like a chain reaction....all clinging to their mother, slobbering and sniveling. And the chain reaction was spreading to my kids. And probably for selfish reasons I just wanted them to quiet down. "Just calm down, just calm down" I kept thinking to myself, so we all didn't have to hear the wrechedness, like a wailing injured cat you just want put out of its misery.
Later, we all had the chance to visit with the soldiers in Alexandria, LA before they headed overseas. A last goodbye...again. I remember wishing I didn't have to do it. Sometimes you reach a point after a goodbye when you reach peace. Another goodbye just started another war of emotions. But I couldn't just NOT go. They left on our 15th wedding anniversary. Some way to celebrate.
Again, the Sgt. C clan was at the hotel where we were staying during this last-goodbye-again visit. The kids were WILD in the pool. It was quite hilarious at the time watching them go crazy while their mother tried to coral them. She didn't just descretely do it either...screaming at the top of her lungs, flinging her arms, all of them too fast for her lumbering, child-warn body to catch them.
I watched it all happen relaxing in the hot tub. Sgt. C got in, trying to relax I suppose, though his children pestered him. It was just me and him in the tub. We never talked or anything but I just remember him so clearly as if it were just today that I soaked with him. His tattoos, almost prison like. I thought to myself at that moment that he must have had a rough life and the military was his saving grace- from the law or maybe just financially. His look of exhaustion over what was to come was a look all the soldiers had at the time. The anticipation of what was to come was written on their faces and you could sense that no matter how much they loved their families, they just wanted to be there already. Their eyes looked passed their wives and mothers into the visions what might be waiting for them across the ocean. And the shadow of death weighed heavy on Sgt. C's shoulders.
And I remember the sounds of his kids crying as he left.
God bless his children today as they still cry.