Afghan Women Write Poetry Risking it All

I write poetry and invite young authors to write poetry in workshops I teach at schools. Finding the Words is the name of my program. It is amazing to give students a voice. A second grader wrote this poem:

Stars Gathering by Brad

My mom is like the stars above me

Tickling her feet

All of the stars are gathering up

Like a crowd of people

People whispering

Quietly thinking

It is their time

To leave their homes

Like a lightning bug flying away

The Afghan women have no voice. An article by Eliza Griswold, Why Afghan Women Risk Death to Write Poetry gives these statistics, “Of Afghanistan’s 15 million women, roughly 8 out of 10 live outside urban areas, where U.S. efforts to promote women’s rights have met with little success. Only 5 out of 100 graduate from high school, and most are married by age 16, 3 out of 4 in forced marriages.”

The Afghan women use poetry as a form of rebellion. “Mirman Baheer, Afghanistan’s largest women’s literary society, is a contemporary version of a Taliban-era literary network known as the Golden Needle. In Herat, women, pretending to sew, gathered to talk about literature. In Kabul, Mirman Baheer has no need for subterfuge. Its more than 100 members are drawn primarily from the Afghan elite: professors, parliamentarians, journalists and scholars. They travel on city buses to their Saturday meetings, their faces uncovered, wearing high-heeled boots and shearling coats.

But in the outlying provinces — Khost, Paktia, Maidan Wardak, Kunduz, Kandahar, Herat and Farah — where the society’s members number 300, Mirman Baheer functions largely in secret.” The group’s mission is to teach young women not just to write but also to speak aloud and with confidence. Young poets like Meena who call into the hot line, Amail told me, “are in a very dangerous position. They’re behind high walls, under the strong control of men.” Herat University’s celebrated young poet, Nadia Anjuman, died in 2005, after a severe beating by her husband. She was 25.”

This is one of the women’s poem:

You won’t allow me to go to school.
I won’t become a doctor.
Remember this:
One day you will be sick.

Because the women have no say in what goes on in their lives, they turn to poetry to express their feelings.Now that Afghan women are aware of their rights, they fight for them in their family,”Griswold said. “If they get their rights, that’s good. If they don’t, they kill themselves or get beaten up.”

In the United States, we can reach the stars. Use your voice to write, speak, and talk about the good life we have here. Find the words to shout out about injustice. Can we be as brave as the Afghan women and write?

Deployed Soldier Stays Connected to HIs Wife

I relied on emails and phone calls to keep in touch,when my son, Joe was deployed. I loved this technology! What was even better was seeing my son on a televideo conference just before Christmas. It was such a comfort to stay connected during that stressful time.

Brian Albrecht from tells how Ohio Army National Guardsman, Tim Sheaffer stays in touch with his wife, Amanda using Facebook. Tim deployed in June of 2011.

In November 2011, Tim “rushed into an Afghan coffee shop after the Internet went down at his barracks… He used Skype to connect with his wife, Amanda, at Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna, to watch the birth of their daughter, Brooklyn.”

Tim is due home this spring. Facebook is great, but coming face to face with his wife and new daughter will be the best thing of all. Please pray for Tim’s safe return and for all our troops and their families.

A Medic With a Big Heart

Sgt.Tim practicing a drill.

Unable to see her son before he leaves for his third deployment, Rebecca Huston honors her son by telling the story of how, Sergeant Timothy Ryan Huston, Combat Medic, United States Army, became a soldier. Thank you Becky for raising this exceptional young man.

My Son, the Soldier

By Rebecca Huston

From the time he knew what the Army was, Tim told me he was going to join. When he was little, he only played with G.I. Joes.  I’d find them hanging all over my house; hiding in the corners of the dining room, looking out from behind the coffee pot in the kitchen, or holding onto the branches of the few plants in my living room.

“Don’t touch my G.I. Joes,” he’d tell me before he went for a nap.

“Leave my G.I. Joes alone, Mommy, they’re getting ready for a battle,” he’d say when I got ready to sweep on cleaning day.

“I’m going to join the Army when I get big,” he’d tell me over and over again.

When Tim was eleven years old he went to a flea market with his grandparents.  He came home with two pairs of Army fatigues complete with the soldier’s name on them.  Each day after school he’d change into those Army fatigues and run out the door to play in the woods with his three older brothers and boys in the neighborhood.

“I’m going to join the Army,” he kept telling me.  “When I’m old enough, I’m going to join.”

In high school, Tim became very involved with riding one of the two horses we kept in our little barn.  Okay, I thought, maybe he’s ready to leave his “I’m going to join the Army” plan.

Then football became a passion along with his horse.  When Tim reached sixteen, he put his sights on buying a 1989 red Ford Mustang with the money he earned working at our local McDonald’s.  Soon a girl named Jamilyn began to occupy his time.

“ Finally,” I thought, “no more Army talk,” as I blew out a sigh of relief.

One day, a couple months before graduating from high school, Tim came to me stating he’d figured out what he wanted to do with his life.

“Great”, I said, “What is it?”

“I want to become an emergency room nurse……and I’m going to let the Army pay for it!”

I was dumbfounded.  I hadn’t heard Tim talk about the Army in maybe five or six years.  Where did this come from?

“Tim, are you sure?” I asked.

“I want to help people and you know I’ve always wanted to join the Army. I’m going to do it, Mom.”

A week, maybe two weeks later, Tim made his way to the Army recruiter’s office.  He’d told me that if the Army wouldn’t take him as a medic he wouldn’t enlist.  He was gone all day.

When he came home that afternoon, Tim told me that he’d passed all the physical tests along with the test to qualify him as a medic. The problem was his “anxious” blood pressure level. When it dropped after spending the whole day in that recruiter’s office, they signed him up.

After graduating from high school in June, Tim got married to Jamilyn in July and at the end of August boarded an airplane for Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. There he was transformed into a soldier in the United States Army.

I was so proud when we arrived at Fort Leonard Wood for Tim’s basic training graduation.  Every hair stood up on my arm and I had goose bumps, when I heard the heavy boot steps and the echoes of each soldier responding to the reveille calls of their commanding officers.

Each soldier looked the same as they moved past me.  Then I saw him, my son, the soldier.  He looked so different; strong, muscular, focused, jaw set, and eyes looking straight ahead at his drill sergeant. I wept when we went through his graduation ceremony; hearing story after story of all the drills these new recruits had to go through.  Then we watched a video of the days Tim spent learning and growing to become a soldier.

“There’s my son”, I said as they showed them lined up for role call.

“There’s my son”, I said as I caught the picture of him holding his gas mask in one hand as he entered the gas chamber without it on.

“I can’t believe you did that to my son in order to bring him through his basic training.  Oh God……what’s next for my son, the soldier?” I cried out under my breath.

The next day after boot camp graduation Tim boarded a bus that took him to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas where he spent six weeks being trained as a combat medic.  Then another order came for a transfer to Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Tim and Jamilyn didn’t have much time together as newly weds.  Before they could celebrate their first anniversary, Tim was deployed to Iraq where he tended to the needs of his unit through a clinic outside Kirkuk.  His tour lasted only four months.  This unit was coming home.  And home Tim came, too.

After spending about seven months together, Tim received orders for a second deployment.  Five weeks after his little baby girl was born, Tim along with his unit deployed once again to Iraq. This second deployment base was located just North of Baghdad.

On the morning of their first mission off the base, IED’s were discovered buried across the driveway leading out of the base.  “The enemy” was wasting no time in welcoming this unit to their country.

One of Tim’s first missions was patrolling a street in Baghdad. Tim was approached by an Iraqi Mom and Dad who recognized him as a medic.  They had with them their little five-year-old daughter.  She had been diagnosed with a brain tumor.  They couldn’t afford the treatments that might heal her.  So when the saw a U.S. Army medic they asked Tim through an interpreter,

“Do you have medicine in your medical bag that can make our daughter well?”

The reality of this family’s life in Iraq came down on him.  Tim had just left behind his own five week old daughter.

“No”, he responded….”I’m sorry, I don’t have the medicine that will keep her alive.”  This is my son the soldier.

Another day, Tim was in a convoy of Humvees traveling down the most dangerous cargo route in and out of Baghdad.  He was in the second Humvee.  A soldier, who had become his friend was in the first Humvee leading the convoy.  Before Tim’s eyes, his friend’s Humvee hit a land mine.  Before his eyes, Tim saw the Humvee explode.  When he got to the wreckage, Tim found his friend.  He tried to work on him, but on the forty – five minute truck ride to a base hospital Tim’s friend died.  This is my son, the soldier.

Half way through his fourteen month tour Tim got to come home for a twenty-day leave.  How good it was to see him, to hold him, to love and feed the thinner, tired looking man who left my home after graduating from high school over two years ago.

“Lord, let our days go by slowly.  Please, Lord, let these days be so sweet.” I prayed.

Twenty days later, Tim left to go back to Iraq. Once again, Tim began his work as a combat medic.  Wherever his unit went, he went.  When they went out on three-day missions, Tim went too. When they responded to tips of houses full of explosives, Tim also carried his weapon, guarding those who would canvas the area before setting fire to the house, destroying the enemy’s bombs.

Day in and day out, Tim and his unit worked with the Iraqi army striving to teach them how to defend and fight for their freedom against terrorists.  Time and time again, they would train these men only to see them flee in fear when coming face to face with the enemy.  Frustration consumed my son and those he served with.

As Tim’s fourteen-month tour of duty drew closer to it’s completion, Tim went out on his very last mission.  New soldiers had arrived to take over the work that Tim’s unit had been doing. On this mission, Tim was driving a Humvee full of soldier when he hit a land mine.  The explosion was loud.  Loud enough to put a ringing in their ears and hard enough to crack the Humvees windshield.  This time, that was the only damage they sustained. Finally, Tim’s fourteen-month tour was over, and he returned home to Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

A few months later, Tim was reassigned to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, where he had basic training, to work in the Army base hospital as a medic.  He began to take on- line classes pursuing not an emergency room nurse degree, but under the recommendations of his Iraq commanding officers, a physician’s assistant degree.  For two and a half years Tim processed what he had lived during his second tour to Iraq.

Once again, Tim received new orders to report for duty at Fort Carson, Colorado in 60 day and to be prepared to deploy for Afghanistan shortly after he arrived. Tour number three looms on the horizon.Tim packed up his family and moved to Colorado.  They lived in a hotel for three weeks, as they searched for a house to rent. They then waited another two weeks for their furnishings to arrive from Missouri.  Tim went through Afghanistan readiness training and still awaits his upcoming deployment.

Why does he stay in the Army?  Why does he put himself and his family through this?  Because he has a heart that longs to help people, and from the time Tim was little, he told me he was going to join the Army.

As I was out shopping this Christmas, my cell phone rang.  It was Tim.

“Mom, I got my deployment date.  I’m supposed to ship out January 5th or 6th.  The unit has lost seven medics.  I’m going to replace one of them.”

“How many more times, Lord?” I asked.

Fervently trying to find a flight to visit Tim before he deployed, I soon realized I couldn’t afford one on such short notice.  The reality that I wouldn’t see my son off on his third deployment tore my heart in two.

“What can I do, Lord?  What can I do to show my son how much I love him, how very proud I am of him and his service to our country?”

Two ideas filled my mind.  My first idea was to decorate a pine tree in my driveway with red, white, and blue twinkle lights and keep the tree lit until Tim and his unit return home in June! My other idea was to tie a red, a white, and a blue ribbon on a tree at the beginning of my driveway, so that my neighbors would know that my son, the soldier was deploying again. Once I had tied up my tree, I began to contact each of my family members and each of them took strands of the red, white and blue ribbon to tie on a tree in front of their homes to support Tim as well.

Tim is only one of the thousands of men and women who are or have been a part of our nation’s war against terrorism.  These lights and ribbons are for them too—for your sons, your daughters, your husbands, your wives.  For them, I commit my prayers and my thanks for they too are like my son, the soldier, Sergeant Timothy Ryan Huston, Combat Medic, United States Army.

“Because he loves me” says the Lord, “I will rescue him, I will protect him for he acknowledges my name.” Psalm 91:14

Life is Fragile

On July 3, 2011, my daughter had an emergency c-section and my triplet grandchildren were born at 26 weeks 5 days at 2.8 lbs, 2.4 lbs. and 1.11 lbs. After three months in the hospital NICU, our miracle babies came home on Oct.1. I am sleepless helping with the babies but filled with such joy! We celebrate the birth of these grandchildren, their lives, and who they will become.

My new grandson, Oscar Fredrick was born on Oct. 30th. As parents and grandparents we pray and worry and work each day to nurture these fragile new lives until our little ones are grown.

I can’t imagine the deep sorrow of losing a child. My heart cries with the families and friends of the 17 people killed in Kabul by a suicide bomber in the attack on Oct. 29, 2011. A dozen of those who perished were American NATO soldiers.

As I hold my grand babies, I ask you to join me  as we hold the victims and the families of this attack in prayer.

IED Explodes On Marine’s Third Tour

Jill Dalla Betta (Justin's Mom) and Justin

It was the day after Thanksgiving in 2010. U.S.Marine Lance Cpl. Justin Gaertner , twenty one years old, was in Afghanistan leading a specialized sweeper unit. The sweeper unit,detecting and defusing improvised explosives,was traveling with an eight truck convoy in the desert. One of the trucks set off an explosion.

Rushing to assess the damage, Justin and several other Marines were surprised, when a second remotely triggered bomb exploded. Justin’s legs and those of a Marine friend disintegrated in the blast.  The blast also killed a third Marine.

Back at home in the States, Justin’s dad, Larry got the phone call.  Drew Harwell, of the St.Petersburg Times, reported what was said in the call home.

” Dad I’ve been hit. I’ve lost both of my legs…I can’t talk. They’re taking me to Germany. I can contact you in 24 hours.”

As the line went dead, Larry screamed, “Justin! Justin!”

Larry began to cry. Justin’s little sister, Nicole, and little brother, Larry Jr. began to cry too! When two Marines showed up at their door an hour later, Jill, Justin’s mom, collapsed  on the floor. She thought her son was dead.  The Marines were there to tell the family about the flight schedule from Germany to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center near Bethesda, Md.

Fast forward to May 2011. Alex Tiegen writes in an article quoting Justin, “I didn’t want to come home until I could walk and stand proud.” Justin’s dad says.“He’s the first one to therapy and the last one to leave. He’s been busting his butt to get back on his feet, and that’s what he’s done.” Justin is working with his third pair of prosthetic legs and jokes about being taller. He is 6’1″ as compared to his original height of 5’11”. Besides losing his legs, Justin’s left arm was severely injured.

Tiegen reports in the article, “Gaertner is home until the end of the month, and then he returns to D.C. for further treatment. His arm still isn’t whole, and it will probably be two years before he finishes occupational therapy.  Tendons from his right arm will be transplanted into his injured limb.”

A motorcade of 42 motorcycles escorted Justin from the Tampa International Airport to a to the VFW hall near his home in Pasco County. The community lined the way with flags and signs to welcome Justin home.  God bless you and your family, Justin on your road to recovery. Thank you for your service.

Honoring an 85 Year Old Veteran

Michael Parker, Jackie Montgomery, Heather Ligus Photo by Donna Schneider

The room was filled with senior citizens, some in wheel chairs, some with canes, all with smiles. On September 11 this year, I was fortunate to be at a Celebration of Honor held at the Pearl Crossings Retirement Community in Strongsville, Ohio. My friend, Nadine asked me to come help sing patriotic songs for the ceremony.  Her husband, Dr. Walt George is the Medical Director of Crossroads Hospice, which sponsored the event.

The Celebration of Honor was for patient, Michael Parker, who served as a Merchant Marine and then in the Air Force during WWII. Thirty other residents, who were veterans were also honored. Nadine shook hands with one of the veterans and said, ” Thank you for your service.” He responded, “I didn’t expect this.” Nadine said, “It’s about time you got some recognition.”  This veteran said, “That’s not the reason I served.”

Kathy Holt, a Crossroads volunteer, did a beautiful job playing patriotic songs on her flute and stirred everyone to sing along. Another highlight for me was when one of the veterans at Pearl Crossings played The Marine Corps Hymn on his harmonica in honor of his friend, a Marine and also a resident.  The events of 9/11 were remembered with a moment of silence. Jackie Montgomery, Army veteran and hospice volunteer, handed out certificates, small flags, hats, and pins to the other veterans for their service. We are grateful for our veterans. May God bless you all.

Cousins Gave All- Buried Side by Side

My Mom’s funeral was on July 2nd last month. She was 84 years old. Today, there is a funeral for a local Marine,Sgt. Daniel Patron. There is such sadness in losing this young life.  Daniel was killed at the age of 26, diffusing a road side bomb in Afghanistan.

Daniel’s wife, Cody says in the article by Bob Jones, “There’s just no words to explain how wonderful he is and how much everyone loved him and how much I will always love him.”

The family has suffered with this same sadness before in the loss of Danny’s cousin, Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Kessler last August of 2010.  Kevin was also killed in Afghanistan. The cousins will be laid to rest, side by side. We hold Cody and her family in prayer. There’s just no words to express the gratitude for Kevin’s and Daniel’s service to our country. Semper Fidelis

Our Hearts Break at the Loss

We hold in prayer all the families, friends, colleagues,troops,and Navy SEALs that recently lost their loved ones in Afghanistan. The Associated Press stated,” One source says the team was thought to include 22 SEALs, three Air Force air controllers, seven Afghan Army troops, a dog and his handler, and a civilian interpreter, plus the helicopter crew.”  We can only cry with you and never forget the sacrifices you made for us.

Welcome Home Daddy

Aydan holds a sign standing as tall as his five year old self can stretch. He wants his Daddy to be sure to see it.

The Ohio National Guard’s 112th Engineer Battalion is home from a year long deployment in Afghanistan.

SFC Brian Gillum hugs his wife Katie and was welcomed home by his two boys.  Thank you for your service! We are so glad you are home!