My stepson Alexander Scott Arredondo, a 19 year old private in the Marine Corp, had shipped out of Camp Pendleton in early January of 2003. He had a chance to visit with his Dad, his Mom, his brothers, me and many friends and extended family the Christmas before.
The drumbeats of war had been sounding over weapons of mass destruction and uranium that Saddam Hussein allegedly had in his possession. The chatter began after the 1 year anniversary of September 11. Alex had been in basic training the summer of 2002, he wrote letters home that he had heard rumors around upcoming deployments. He wanted to know more about the countries that were discussed. Alex asked for us to send information in early August of 2002 on "Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq". Immediately, Alex's Dad Carlos and I looked at each other and wondered why Iraq?
Several weeks later President Bush began talking about Iraq and WMDs. The ongoing congressional debates during this period filled Carlos and me with such a sense of doom. By the end of October 2002, a joint resolution titled " Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002" had passed congress.
When Alex told us he would be shipped to Iraq early 2003, our stress levels intensified. Carlos requested for me to put the cable back on so he could watch the news reports, which he did on three different televisions. Brian opted to stop attending high school. I felt like I was on pins and needles with my inner fight of whether to watch the news or not. At my workplace, colleagues would come to tell me the latest, which made it so I had to keep my office door closed.
Ten years ago today, the war in Iraq began. The bombing named Shock and Awe rained down on Baghdad as United States forces unsuccessfully attempted to kill Saddam Hussein. Coalition ground forces seized Baghdad on April 5. Our Alex was among those ground troops whose mission began by crossing from Kuwait into Iraq's desert. Equipment broke down, there were several WMD alerts where troops had to put on their air mask equipment and there was a sandstorm on March 25 th that challenged those troops headed for Baghdad.
Alex was part of the 1 st Marine Division that entered Baghdad. His vehicle was amphibious and became useful when the bridges in Baghdad were all bombed. The United States declared victory on April 14, and President George W. Bush gave his Mission Accomplished Speech on May 1.
I remember screaming at the television when I saw that speech "Where is Alex and why isn't he home?" Alex finally did come home from his first deployment to Iraq in late September. I remember when I first hugged him as he had surprised me and his grandmother by suddenly appearing, the room spun around.
Alex spent the next several months at Camp Pendleton training and on his off time surfing and with his Marine buddies. Alex came back to Boston at Christmas 2003 and then again in May 2004. Afterwards, Alex returned for his second tour of Iraq. He had spoken to me wondering why he was going back when a year earlier the mission had been accomplished. Saddam Hussein had been captured December 13, 2003 in Tikrit. Alex questioned his upcoming deployment and in the end went back to Iraq to support his Marine brothers.
On August 25 th , 2004, I woke in a new home in Hollywood, Florida and turned on news radio that morning to hear that two Marines had been killed in Iraq. I turned off the radio praying that Alex was okay. I also left a card on Carlos' pillow since it was his birthday. A little after 2:30 pm, I received a call while eating lunch on my cell phone. I never received calls on my cell phone and became anxious.
I did not recognize the voice on the phone immediately because the person was weeping. It was Carlos. The Marines had arrived. Carlos kept repeating "They killed Alex. Chi-chi (nickname) was dead." The words hit me hard. I wailed. I kept thinking "But, I had a card waiting on my bureau to send Alex at home." Then I remembered that I had heard the report this morning on the radio. Suddenly a second call came in on my cell phone. One of the Marines ordered for me to come home ASAP. I readied myself as best I could and headed home, about a 15 minute drive.
As I turned onto my street, I saw fire trucks and smoke. As I approached my house, I saw Carlos on the grass in flames. I stopped the car. The Marines ordered me to leave since the Marine van might blow up. As I drove away, it did. I ran back to Carlos. First, I requested for the Marines to let go of Carlos since he was burned. There was one Marine sitting on his back with Carlos t-shirt over his face. Carlos couldn't breathe. The Marine complied. I spoke to Carlos and tried to calm him down. He kept wailing, "No. They are wrong! Not Alex." Then he said, "I'll pay for the van." The ambulance came, and I saw the helicopters overhead. As Carlos was lifted onto the stretcher, he shook uncontrollably and then passed out. After the ambulance left, Luz brought me Carlos' cell phone. It was Brian wanting to wish his father a happy birthday. I explained what happened and asked him to turn on the news. Later Brian told me that he watched in horror and that wanted to die to be with his brother and father.
Carlos first went to a local hospital but was transferred to Ryder Trauma Center in Miami. Everyone was so confused and concerned. There were many family members who hated Carlos for what he had done; who believed that he had desecrated Alex's ultimate sacrifice.
There were outpourings of love and support from all over the world: cards, gifts, and letters, to help Carlos recover from the loss of his eldest son Alex.
Slowly over time, the whole family felt Alex's loss on a daily basis. Carlos and I sought counseling and medication. We both were treated as in-patients two times.
Brian was resistant to counseling though he was running into legal problems and experimenting with drugs. He was not working. Brian became suicidal in 2006 and was placed on an in-patient psychiatric unit for three days. In 2011, Brian encountered further problems with the legal system that led to him going to a state psychiatric hospital and then to prison. Brian's legal issues were to us and his attorney obviously related to his mental health. It was an ordeal to get assistance on the state level to help him out. Finally, on December 19, 2011, the day after official withdrawal of all troops from Iraq, Brian took his life. His Mother found an account of how Alex had died in Iraq next to where Brian was found dead.
This family has lived the Iraq war from day one to the last day. This family has sacrificed two sons to the Iraq war. I don't believe that there is any justification or glory for the loss of our two sons. Ten years of sorrow, pain, confusion and bereavement have overwhelmed us.
President Kennedy stated, "Ask not what the country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." This family has sacrificed plenty as have many who have had their troops die or injured related to the war. The hope is that by speaking openly about our ordeal that it will aid military families from having to experience what we have gone through.