Here we go again.
JoAnne and Kellie aren’t available to watch the kids until later. Andrea, my FRG co-leader, says she can go to the brief and will bring the information back to me. Hopefully someone can help if we have to do another calldown.
I text Andrea way more than I should when she’s sitting in a casualty brief but I want to know. I need to know. Was it Delta Company? Which platoon? Did they give us names?
She doesn’t answer. She finally calls when she’s on the way. “I’ll tell you everything when I get there in five minutes.”
I set the kids up with a movie. “Anybody want popcorn?” I say in my best singsong “everything in the world is a-ok” mom voice. I tell Birch I will be standing right outside in the lawn if they need anything.
Andrea slides into the driveway in their sedan with all the stickers on the back. My heart is pounding in my ears and I see the sorrow on her face.
“Austin and Eric were hurt,” she says flatly.
My knees falter and I lean on the side of the house for support. “Those are…” I start but then I can no longer make sounds without letting out the sob that I’ve kept so carefully contained for months now.
“….Ollie’s guys,” she finishes.
I close my eyes and I see Liz sitting in Austin’s lap the night the guys left, their baby snoozing in his carrier nearby. Eric is the one that I nearly shorted $10 after the ill-fated Subway run. I talk with his young wife Molly sometimes, who lives in a civilian community and needs some military support to get through this thing.
I reach for my phone and Andrea recites, as though reading from a script she hated, “Rear D says we can’t call the families.”
My knees are under me again, the tunnel vision and roaring in my ears fade, my voice returns and I cuss a blue streak. “FUCK REAR D! I’m not going to build these fucking relationships with these families just to fucking abandon them the moment their soldier gets fucking hurt! FUCK! THAT!”
She backs up a couple of steps. “I know, I just told them I would pass on the message. I don’t care what you do. I would call my families, too.”
While I send a short text to Liz and Molly, she retrieves some cigarettes from the car. Apparently I need to calm the fuck down. “I just wanted you to know that I am here to talk or help you pull together anything you need. Let me know, anything at all, and I am there.” I wish they lived locally, I’d camp on their couches for the night with wine and chocolate.
I pace. I cuss. I wonder if Ollie was there and how he’s doing. Before they deployed, he talked to the parents of some of these kids and promised he’d take care of them, that he’d bring them home safe. It was a dangerous promise and now I wonder if he’s okay. He doesn’t break promises.
After a few minutes of this, Andrea says, “We have to make a call down. I can do it if you’re not up to it. They aren’t going to lift the blackout until we make the calls though.”
I will call my families. We are a close-knit group, even spread out across the country as we are. They will hear this from me.
The kids are still engrossed in their movie. I hope they can’t smell the smoke, but if they do I will blame it on Andrea. Birch knows something is wrong. “Somebody hurt?” she asks.
“Yeah, but nothing to worry about. I have to go make some phone calls and then I’ll be back home. You guys good?”
“Yep,” her eyes are back on the television.
Kellie arrives and I go down the street to Andrea’s house. It helps to do this shit together.
We have a script. I set up with my roster in her living room while she takes the dining room. Her floor is cleaner than mine. I love her pictures. I do not want to do this. I do not want to think about this.
I hear Andrea making her first call and realize I have to get started, too. I pull up the first name on the roster. Liz. I don’t need to call and notify her of anything. I ignore the icy knife in my stomach and call the next name.
“Hi, Mrs. Kennedy? This is Megan Hughes with Delta Company Family Readiness Group.”
The mother on the other end manages a choked, “Yes?” We’ve been through this a few times so she knows my voice.
“There has been another incident which caused some injuries–your soldier is not the one I am calling to inform you about. I have to read you a statement about the incident. Remember, I am not calling you about your soldier.”
“Okay…” she breathes.
“On the afternoon of March 17, two Delta company soldiers were injured when an RPG struck their mounted patrol. They were med-evaced to a hospital where they are receiving care.”
“….are you sure it’s not about my son?” she whispers, like they always do.
My voice breaks a bit when I tell her I am sure, that I know the names of the injured and they are not her son.
“Is my son okay?” she pleads. “Was he there? Did he see anything?”
I don’t know the answer to this. I want to know the same thing about my husband. “I have the same questions, ma’am. I don’t have any of the answers we need.”
She is in the car with her husband. I hear her relaying the information to him. She is not one to whom I explained the casualty notification process to the first time. I ask if it would help her worry less if she knew how information relating to her soldier would be given to her. “Yes, please,” she asks quietly. “It would help to know.”
I explain that when a soldier is injured, the family is notified by phone call from the rear detachment commander. When a soldier is killed in action, a chaplain and officer in dress uniforms come to the door. I reiterate that I will never call her with official information about her soldier. The entire time I speak, I make sure I don’t say, “If your soldier is injured” or “if your soldier is killed.” I wonder if I’m helping or harming by telling her the process. She thanks me. Thanks me for volunteering, for answering her questions, for calling her to tell her about the incident. I don’t feel like I should be thanked for any of this.
I know I’m harming by calling everyone multiple times a week to tell them about incidents. They don’t need to know. We’re all going to lose our minds and we’re not even 90 days in yet. Andrea and I pause as we make our calls to agree that this is wrong. We’re not doing this again. I start asking folks if they want to keep getting incident calls. Most of them say no, unless the incident is within our platoon. I agree.
I finish the goddamn calls. We text the commander so they can lift the blackout. God, I just want to hear Ollie’s voice.
Liz texts me back and says she is okay for now. She has tons of family support and she’s just waiting for information. Molly wants to talk.
I know next to nothing about this. Last deployment was rough, but we didn’t have injuries close enough to have resources, know the process, or anything else on hand to help her. I listen, offer some sort of understanding, and try to give her a safe place to talk about it. She doesn’t have much information. I have no more to offer her. I stay with her until she is ready to go.
I cannot imagine the powerlessness a family member must feel when they know their soldier is hurting and they can’t do anything to help. It must be crazymaking. How can these girls do this? How can they move forward? How do you possibly manage the anxiety?
I hope Ollie calls soon. I need to hear his voice.