The Important Things in Life

This is probably one of the most difficult posts I have ever written. I’ve thought about it for months. I discussed it with Will and asked him if I could write about it since this is his life. He agreed because he knows better than most what the real cost of war is to many military people and their families. He knows his story isn’t unique.

For some families, there is a loss that can never be filled. Even for those lucky enough to return home safely, there is often a terrible price to pay. The war doesn’t end when they get off the plane. Their lives are changed. As a mother and a concerned American, I urge all of you to realize what our military people go through. Visit with them. Be there for them. Support them.

I was reading one blog kept by a group of Iraqi Freedom vets. Most of it was funny and heartwarming. One of the guys posted, “Where’s Steve? (fictitious name) He hasn’t been around for a while.” They did some checking. Steve had gone through three tours. He had a beautiful wife and three children he loved dearly. She informed him she was filing for a divorce one day and this funny, handsome, intelligent man who delighted in his family went out to the backyard and shot himself.

Perhaps if someone had been there at just the right moment or had recognized the signs, this could have been prevented. Not only bodies, but lives are also torn apart in war. This is my plea to you. We have an all-volunteer military. Your sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers and fathers are not forced to defend our country or answer the call. They choose to do it. We owe it to them to support them and their families while they are deployed and after they return. This is not politics. This is our duty.

Will joined the Guards when he was seventeen and a junior in high school. The recruiter came out to our house and visited with us on different occasions. He was extremely honest and told us that Will shouldn’t join if he thought he wasn’t going to be deployed. It wasn’t a question of if he would deploy, but rather when. Even so, his unit had gone active during 911 to help in NYC, so they probably wouldn’t get called up again for a few years.

While most kids are out enjoying their last summer as a carefree teenager, Will was at basic training in the toughest unit there. Some of the sergeants he trained under were discharged the following year for cruelty to recruits. Will said one of them was definitely tough, but he respected him because the sergeant’s main concern was making them realize this training could save their lives. He didn’t coddle any of them, but his group came out much better prepared than some others did.

Towards the end of training, one of the tougher sergeants asked him when the hell he got there.

“I’ve been here all the time, sir.”

The sergeant shook his head and laughed. “Never even noticed you. Good job, Weathers.”

Not screwing up bad enough to get noticed is a very good thing.

Since he couldn’t finish his AIT (advanced individual training) before school started, he had to leave after basic and resume after he graduated. The school would only have lasted a few days into the beginning of the school year, but the military isn’t allowed to interfere with school.

Will came home and got 1/3 of his enlistment bonus. They divide it up so kids don’t join up, grab the bonus and then find a way to get out. Unfortunately, his MOS was as a Bradley tank mechanic. Texas got rid of their Bradleys and he no longer had a “job.” He could transfer to another state, but he didn’t want to leave his unit. He basically got enough money to buy a new computer and the rest of his bonus was never paid due to loopholes, red tape and bureaucracy.

Will’s unit deployed to Iraq during his senior year. They had Christmas in Texas and deployed the first of January.

Will graduated from high school and was on his way to AIT two days later. He retrained in weapons and supplies. He was his sergeant’s right hand man in supply and was responsible for inventory and maintenance on the weapons. Fortunately or unfortunately, his unit was in Iraq. He finished his training and they debated about either sending him to Iraq to join his unit or assigning him to another unit. They did neither because aside from his job training, he also had to train for combat and by the time he finished that it would nearly be time for his unit to return.

So, while most kids are out roaming the malls, he was training to be a soldier in a very life and death situation. One of the soldiers was killed in training. Another blinded and yet another seriously wounded.

Will’s unit was scheduled for deployment again in 2008. While some states have never sent Guards, Texas has never refused the call. His unit wasn’t in the rotation to go, but their commander volunteered them.

Will and Katie got married July 24, 2008. He shipped out for combat training two days later.

In one mission, they were running a convoy and came under attack. Before they moved, they did a roll call to make sure everyone was accounted for. The call went down from truck to truck to be certain.


Someone shouted he was there. Unfortunately, there were two men with that name and one of them got left behind.

The officer who drove down the road later and picked up the soldier who was left behind, reamed them all royally. He pointed at the soldier and said, “You’re dead.” Then he found out who erroneously called out present and told him, “He’s dead and you killed him.”

The Al Q and Taliban don’t take prisoners. They don’t play by our rules. They use our rules against us and our soldiers fight with their hands bound by politicians who are much more interested in popularity polls than what it takes to keep our soldiers alive.

While that may not be palatable to some, that is the harsh reality and soldiers going over there realize they will not be put in a prisoner of war camp, receiving Red Cross packages.

This is what we, as family members, think of every time we hear a soldier is missing or has been captured. Those rags hanging from the bridge are Americans–or what is left of them after the torture, mutilation and burning.

The truth is even more harsh than what we imagine and the only way to stay sane is to avoid the news as much as possible.

Logan James was born on September 13. Will was supposed to get paternity leave, but they denied it and said he was needed for training. Instead of going to Wisconsin to be with his wife when his son was born, he spent two weeks in a tent reading because he was not a gunner and that’s what they were training during that time.

They were also supposed to get leave to go home before they deployed, but that was denied also. They had three days off and the families could come visit them in Savannah. Logan was seven weeks old when Will first saw him. He got to visit with him in the evenings and the last day we had the flag ceremony. A new wave of tears fell when they rolled the flags and cased them. They would not be furled again until they reached Iraq, but he was free after that to spend time with us. I went to be with him in Savannah also. I hesitated as I wanted them to be able to spend as much time as possible together, but he wanted me there.

It was a very emotional time to say the least. At the deployment ceremony in Midland, the Confederate Air Force flew four vintage airplanes over the soldiers. In Savannah, a group of Canadian geese flew over in the vee formation. All of the soldiers started cheering for the geese, interrupting the colonel’s speech.

We laughed about it later. Will said they had to fly geese over due to budget cuts. Will always finds something funny in just about every situation.

They got to Kuwait and couldn’t get a flight out. There were no accommodations for them so they slept on the ground or in a gym the civilian contractors used. The soldiers got rousted out of the gym and had to sit out in the sun any time the civilians had their scheduled aerobics classes or other activities. So, for six days they slept when they could in between important gym classes or just slept on the ground.

Katie and Will agreed they were going to be as frugal as possible and save up for a decent used pickup when he got out and have money to put down on a home. Will was also looking into some investment opportunities.

For the first few months everything seemed to go well. They were saving money. Katie was keeping to a strict budget and keeping bills paid.

Things got hectic for Will and internet connections were spotty at best. He spent what time he could visiting with Katie. Things were going well even though she missed him terribly. She sent him pictures of Logan so he could at least see the baby.

Sgt. Jeffy assured me they were going to be in the safest possible place. They’d already been there once and had no attacks. It was going to be a cake walk.

That was before policy changes and the marines who provided security were pulled out. Attacks resumed as soon as the security left. One group of bombers blew themselves up right outside the gates where the convoys would have been sure to hit the IED.

More policy changes. In order to make the citizens love the US government even more, they decided to route the convoys over remote roads that were seldom used and didn’t go through villages. This way, the villagers wouldn’t be inconvenienced with convoys stirring up dust and getting in their way.

I asked Will what they were going to do without the Marines patrolling the roads as they had been and providing security.

“Hope we don’t get hit.”

Hope isn’t very good security. Their cake walk tour had turned deadly.

Will had leave in June. He wasn’t going to come home so he could save more money and he’d be home in August anyway. Katie missed him, or so she said, and he decided to surprise her and come home to see her and Logan. He wasn’t coming to Texas so he could spend more time with his wife and son. I was disappointed, but I understood.

Everything went great the first day.

Then he decided to go over the accounts and see where they were. He couldn’t come to Texas if he wanted to. A plane ticket cost $360 and he was completely broke.

Then her family started talking to him. Katie had done nothing but party with her unemployed boyfriend. Logan was left at the daycare for sixteen hours at a time. If he wasn’t at a daycare, he was dumped off with whichever friend or relative would keep him. Her father took care of the baby much of the time because Katie was so drunk she couldn’t hear the baby crying when he woke up in the morning.

Will had no choice but to leave Logan with her, but he got a ticket to Texas as soon as his next check came in. He changed the bank account and took care of some other business.

I knew something was wrong, but he wouldn’t tell me at first. I finally said, “She doesn’t want to move back to Texas, does she?”

He swallowed hard and looked away. “She doesn’t want to be married anymore. I tried to tell her we could work this out. She made a mistake, but we can work through it. She doesn‘t care. She doesn‘t want to.”

They were back and forth on the phone and that’s when she dropped the next bombshell. She was ten weeks pregnant.

I was in the bedroom upstairs and Will slept on the couch downstairs. The sleeping pill bottle rattled all night long. I finally went down and talked to him. It was a very difficult talk for both of us. I knew how much he loved her and the baby. He wanted to forgive her and put it behind them, but she wanted no part of him.

I was living in his apartment while he was gone to keep anyone from breaking in and stealing all his things, so it was hard for him to stay here. Everywhere he looked was a memory. She loved blown glass. There were gifts he had given her all over the apartment. She kept flowers even long after they were dead and there were a lot of them because he brought her flowers all the time for no reason other than to make her happy.

I came in one night from work and noticed several things were missing. The dragons she loved were gone off the wall. The calendar with their marriage date penned on it. Glassware. It wasn’t all gone, but he had started moving on.

He spent the rest of his leave with a friend. The apartment was too painful for him.

I took him out to the airport to go back to Iraq and took picture after picture after picture. I didn’t follow him up to the security level because I wasn’t sure I could control myself and even now I am crying. He was breaking apart and there was nothing I could do to help him. Even worse, he was going back to war, wondering what he had to live for.

I told him to keep his head on straight and stay focused. He had a family that loved him and a baby who needed a daddy.

Even so, it only takes one second to give into despair and pull a trigger or do something stupid.

I prayed every night for Will and all the soldiers anyway, but my prayers increased. Any time he crossed my mind, I prayed. I prayed for comfort. I prayed for peace. I prayed a shield of protection around him.

August approached. He would be home soon. Their replacements were there and they were trying to get them up to speed as quickly as possible.

The first convoy the replacements took out got hit and one of their men died. There would never be a cake walk there again and there were no guarantees until Will was safe at home.

Logan’s first birthday was coming up. Will planned to be there and he was bringing the baby back to Texas with him.

More stories and more fights. She had left Logan with her old boyfriend she was still living with and went out partying after work with her new boyfriend. The ex had a baby he probably hated and was calling all of her relatives to find out where she was.

A news broadcast. A woman’s 230 pound boyfriend raped her 13-month-old son and then beat the baby to death because he wouldn’t stop screaming.

I was about to go insane just thinking about that.

Trust God.

Katie brought Logan to her father’s for the birthday party along with her new, 18-year-old  boyfriend. They had to leave because her boyfriend’s mother wanted to see Logan on his birthday. She spent the next two days avoiding Will and making up excuses why she couldn’t bring Logan to him. Her father and uncle finally went to the daycare and gt Logan. They both loved the baby very much and were concerned for his safety. They also volunteered to testify for Will at the divorce and custody hearing. They loaded up my old highway patrol car Will borrowed with what belongings they could find and her father gave Will his cat Katie  abandoned.

All this took place while I was at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Conference in Denver. I planned to cancel it, but Will told me to go. He said there wasn’t anything more I could do in Odessa than I could do in Denver and I needed to get away.

I’m not sure how much good the conference did me, as I didn’t retain much, but being around my friends probably saved my sanity.

Much to my shock, my friends, and I have more than I ever realized, gave me a surprise birthday party on September 12. I thought it was going to be a baby shower for Miss Tara, but it was actually a combination party.

I will forever and always be grateful to all of those very dear people for caring. It truly will be one of those moments I look back on in my life and shed tears of joy over no matter how many birthdays come after.

Will, thankfully, sent me texts and phoned me with updates to let me know things were going well up there. Even so, it was like getting out of Iraq, until he was safely on the road with Logan, I was going to worry.

Katie’s boyfriend called Will and cussed him out when Katie went to the daycare to pick up Logan. Will told the boyfriend he wasn’t too worried about what bf was going to do. He had taken down bigger men than bf and when he took his punk ass down there would be broken bones involved. Then he told him to mind his own business and let the adults handle it.

Will felt bad about taking Logan like that, but he also realized she was going to keep playing games and he needed to get the baby before something happened to him.

Will turned 23 in October. He spent a year in Iraq in some damned miserable conditions at times. He witnessed death firsthand. He should have come home with enough money in the bank to make a good start for his family. Instead, he didn’t even have enough money to fix his old car.

Thankfully, the Guard was going to keep him on active duty until March so he would have a housing allowance and an income until he could get situated and start school.

Not quite. They split his orders so he only had 90 days at a time and they didn’t have to pay his housing allowance. He had no job ten days before Christmas because someone screwed up his second set of orders. A sgt who was in Iraq had four subordinates here who had nothing to do because their sgt was deployed, but Will’s sgt. had one assistant, Will, and they failed to get him approved.

No problem. He would get a part time job and go to school. Small problem. The Guard was behind on their school payments and the “living” expenses. Some of the vets had been registered since September and the school still hadn’t received payment. The school enrolled him anyway because they knew sooner or later they would get paid, but Will still had 40% of the costs to come up with and his schedule was so screwy he couldn’t get a job. What money he had saved went to the lawyer, and stress was the order of the day.

I told Will once I just couldn’t imagine how Katie could blow through $32,000 and have nothing to show for it. He was holding Logan at the time and playing with him.

“It’s just money, Mom. I’ll make more money in my life. I’ll go to school and get a good job. I’ve got the important thing right here. This baby is my whole life.”

And they sat there, my son in his black chucks and his son in his red chucks.

“Look, Mom.” He put his hand up in the air and Logan patted it. “High five. Low five. That’s it, Dude. Now pound it.”

I think they’re going to be all right. It won’t be easy, but they’ll make it.

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