My strong, blue-eyed son was being sent to Iraq. I knew it was going to happen, but I was surprised how quickly he was deployed. He graduated from John Carroll University in January 2003, completed Army officer training in June and was now being sent to war in August of the same year. He was going from his base in Germany, so we did not get to send him off.
I work in the schools writing grants and implementing programs for at-risk children and families. Now, I was facing my son being at-risk on a daily basis in a land I knew little about. I didn’t care what people thought about the war, I just knew my son was there—in some hot, hostile country, with spiders that looked like land crabs! I wanted the world to stop. I felt just like I did when my parents died.
Doesn’t anyone care?
Of course they did! I turned to positive supports, my faith, family, and positive friends. Most days, it helped. I work full-time and have a pretty intense job, which keeps me busy. When Joe was in Iraq, I was so frustrated because there was little local coverage on the war. Why not? I wanted to know what was going on there, daily. My brother informed me the BBC news coverage was more thorough. I became hooked, maybe even a little obsessed! I wanted to know what was happening in Baghdad or Najaf both places Joe served. Reflecting back, I know this probably was not a good thing to do right before going to sleep.
There were nights I woke up in the middle of the night and would pray, “Please Lord, wherever he is—whatever he is doing, keep him safe.” I was almost always able to go back to sleep knowing Joe and his troops were in the Lord’s hands. In fact, Joe informed me in an instant message that his Sergeant, Smoke was amazed that he hadn’t been attacked since he started on patrols with Joe. Smoke and his old lieutenant got attacked all the time. He called Joe his good luck charm. Joe and his soldiers were on many prayer lists.
I sent Joe packages filled with movies, books, and other needs he requested and shared with his soldiers. I tried to keep to holiday themes to cheer them up. Of course, we did not miss the St. Patrick’s Day themed package—even though, they often arrived after the event. A few ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) friends sent him packages. My brother read an article in a magazine about families sending their sons better quality equipment. He sent Joe a global positioning system, I knew he wanted to do something to keep Joe safe and let him know he cared.
At one point, I became an advocate due to what I read about our soldiers having to fix their Hummers to minimize Improvised Explosive Devise (IED) damage because there were not enough of the good armored vehicles! I thought, “What?” So, I wrote to Hummer about being so interested in filling the roads of America with their vehicles for profit, yet, they are not producing armored one’s quick enough for the military to keep our men safe! I received no response but it felt good to vent!
Joe was corresponding with a mother of a ROTC friend. He connected us and we started writing to each other and became supports to each other through email as our sons’ served. It was good knowing someone who cared and knew my fears, even if they were unspoken. I felt very disconnected, because Joe was stationed in Germany and I was not able to jump in a car when he was leaving or returning. I wanted so badly to be there, and hug him just like I saw stateside units do for returning Reserve troops in news coverage.
I am so grateful for the soldiers to have cell phone and computer access. I gained an overwhelming respect for families in past wars where they heard nothing for months. I could not stand that. We would just talk about everyday things in our lives. Of course, Joe’s everyday events were quite different from ours. My husband, son, Patrick, and I were thrilled to get an email or catch Joe on instant messaging—live! That was the best! I even printed and kept one IM with Patrick and I conversing with Joe that was 9 pages long. I hated to sign off when he was live on the computer. Unfortunately, while Joe was in Iraq, my sister’s husband died and we had to tell him this through email. Joe was not able to come home. He also missed his three closest friends’ weddings, which were hard to attend without Joe there
Oddly enough, when Joe was in Iraq, I was at my healthiest lifestyle living. I was losing weight (needed) and exercising. My spiritual life was very connected. I know my faith is what brought me peace through this difficult time. When fears came, I would ask my very private husband to pray with me, and he did! All of this kept me grounded so I could be there for Joe. There were times (holidays, birthdays) I would break down and cry as a result of a song on the radio or just thinking of what he was doing that day. Sometimes I would look at kids his age and think, “Yeah, enjoy it, my son is putting his life on the line so you can enjoy yours.” I knew it was wrong, but I sometimes found myself having a little “pity party” thinking about how everyone else’s life was going on. Mine seemed frozen in time.
Joe was honorably discharged from the Army in September 2006. It is great to have him home. He worked using his business degree from John Carroll, but after six months decided he wanted something different then a desk job. Before he left the army he was considering applying for the Army’s Physician’s Assistant program. He began taking required science classes in the Fall of 2007. He also volunteers at the local Veteran’s Hospital and is enjoying giving back to fellow veterans. Joe hopes on completion of school, to become a physician assistant or nurse practitioner and work with injured veterans.
Our family is very proud of what Joe did for his country. As a mother, there were times when my heart ached, but my faith pulled me through, knowing Joe was in God’s hands. Joe came home and like many of his comrades his life has been forever changed. I would like to see a memorial in Washington for the soldiers lost in combat from this war on terror. God Bless Captain Joe and all our soldiers.
Mary Patricia Wise
Bay Village, Ohio