So our guys headed off to Iraq the first week of December 2005. Most of us did our best to just keep going. Going through the moments, living in what I now call the "bubble". A lot of us didn't know what to expect and we were naive...really that's what it was, we were naive. We heard of other units losing Soldiers, but it was them, not us. We were invincible. It's not like I personally had not known Soldiers who had been killed. One of our neighbors from Fort Knox was killed at a checkpoint in Iraq. My brother lost his squad leader in a rollover. I knew the cost personally, but not close enough that I could still live in the confines of that "bubble".
Christmas 2006 was largely overshadowed with worry as my husband was one of a few Soldiers from his unit convoying from Kuwait to Baghdad, we prayed that both Santa and the Lord would get them to their destination safely.
I was very involved in the FRG and attended many trainings and forums. My heart broke when we would meet with other units within our brigade and hear that they had casualties. My heart broke but it was still far enough away from me that I wasn't too affected. It was in late February or so when we had our first serious injury. The crazy thing about it, no one thought it was that serious. Even when my husband told me, it was almost in a nonchalant way. When the Soldier was shipped to Germany and didn't return was when they realized it was serious. He had some shrapnel in his eye and to this day is still receiving treatment and surgeries for it. That was the beginning. In a matter of four weeks, we suffered injuries and death in our unit. Our "bubble" was burst. We had a Soldier lose both his legs in an IED incident. Just a couple weeks later an RPG hit one of our Bradley's causing serious injuries to all riding and burning one so badly he died from his wounds 3 weeks later (SGT Brandon Teeters). Just over a week after the Bradley incident we had the first losses of the tour. I didn't know how much this incident would change my life. My husband lost two friends, his brothers in arms. SFC Bryant Herlem and SGT Jose Gomez were killed by an IED on 28 April 2006.This event would be a turning point not only for this deployment but in our lives as well. It had a significant impact on our unit, my marriage and me individually. I learned a lot through this experience. I gained a lot. I gained a new friend (LaNita Herlem), I learned what mattered. I lost a lot as well, some innocence, some fair-weathered friends. It was interesting to see who stepped up and who backed away. I had some hurt feelings but overall it was a learning experience for me to see what the meaning of "friendship" truly was.
I won't go into detail how this event really affected me as it is quite personal and I admit that I am still working through many things.
I learned from my friend LaNita to make every moment count. Be good to your spouse and make the relationships you have matter. I don't stress about the big things, I appreciate the small things.
I wish that I could say those were our only losses, two losses too many but we would lose two more Soldiers in our Squadron and numerous others within our Brigade. We would be affected by a loss of a Soldier in another unit. CPT James Funkhouser, an officer who Kevin had served closely with before he went to take command of another unit. That loss also hit Kevin hard. It was the first time that Kevin forgot my birthday. CPT Funkhouser's memorial service in Baghdad was on June 2, 2006, my birthday. I couldn't be upset about a forgotten birthday when others were suffering a loss so big.
Kevin would come home on R&R just a week or so later. Already I could see a change. We muddled through our 15 days together, but the reality of war lingered over us heavily.
15 days isn't enough time to process such life altering experiences. You put on your best smile and you take each day as it comes.
From the beginning, we knew we had a great responsibility to honor the legacies of those who had fallen. Sending Kevin back, after our "bubble" had been burst was hard. It was harder then sending him away the first time. I didn't know how I could get through it.
To be continued...