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Confessions of a Military Mom

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In America, Mother's Day falls on May 9 this year. In Palestine, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon it fell on March 21, and in Afghanistan it fell on March 8, where it is also celebrated as the first day of spring. Israel forgoes Mother's Day in favor of Family Day, celebrated on February 14 this year.

I take an interest in these countries because, while my son served in the US Army, I visited them to understand more deeply the effects of war.

Mother's Day has not been the same for me since my son deployed for three tours of duty, one to Afghanistan and two to Iraq. I barely remember those kinder, gentler celebrations when my young kids proudly presented me, under strict order to stay in bed, slightly charred pancakes on a flower-bedecked tray.

I remember a time when few Americans could locate Afghanistan on a map yet the prevailing sentiment held that bombing that country was "righteous"...and Colin Powell used flip charts to preach the gospel of Iraqi WMDs...and civil dissent was akin to treason.

My son is out of the Army now, honorably discharged, and moving on with his life. I have stayed in touch with many war-affected families; in the US this is relatively easy to do.

The US

Adele Kubein's family immigrated to the US from Jordan. Her daughter, M'kesha joined the National Guard and deployed to Iraq where she was gravely wounded. After years of military medical treatment, this young woman will get what she has repeatedly asked for: to have her constantly painful leg amputated. She will be able, then, to walk beyond the half block from her home where she lives with her profoundly deaf and disabled son.

M'kesha became a mom despite her base commander's order to abort that new life conceived in Iraq. She refused and is, Adele says, "a caring and attentive mother. My grandson is a beautiful child that we will have to care for the rest of our lives. He may be M'kesha's spiritual path of atoning for the killing she was forced to do as a National Guardswoman in Iraq.

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M'kesha writes her way back to the land of living beyond war wounds. A recent poem begins:

"Welcome home soldier,
you're just in time for the recession."
They hand me
a fist full of medals,
a quilt sewn by some unknown women,
a teddy bear,
in a paper packet.
This is my guide
to becoming a civilian again...

Rita Dougherty's son Ryan was an Army lieutenant trained as a nuclear engineer at West Point. He almost died in an attack on a Stryker, the armored vehicle designed to be impregnable to first generation Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)...but not to the next generation weapon that pierced through the vehicle's floor, his seat, and his hips and legs. He fought infection in his critically wounded leg for months in Walter Reed Army Medical Center, then for years in a Warrior Transition Unit (WTU).

At this point, Ryan is exhausted from dealing with the WTU, recovering from eighteen surgeries so far, and regularly using Methadone to ease his pain. He wants to get on with his life and has been accepted at Harvard in the fall.

Rita supports her son's decision to have his leg amputated. And sometimes the military medical teams agree to do it; sometimes they do not. Ryan's caseworker warns him that a prosthetic limb may not fit him when he is sixty.

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Rita says, "I am stunned! What a thing to tell a 27-year-old. Who knows what to expect in 30 years? I certainly hope we will be light years then from the sort of care WTUs provide today!"

At twenty-one years old, single mom and Army Specialist Alexis Hutchinson was not physically wounded in war. In fact, she never deployed although she fully intended to accompany her unit from Georgia's Hunter Army Airfield to Afghanistan in October 2009.

Alexis had followed the directions outlined in the Army's Family Care Plan and her mother was set to care for Hutchinson's month-old son, Kamani. But a family emergency intervened and her mother was unable to follow through. Specialist Hutchinson asked her commander for an extension of time to find a trusted caregiver for her child. On November 4, her commander refused. On November 6, when she missed her flight to Afghanistan, Army officials took Kamani from his mother, placed him in foster care, arrested Hutchinson, and read her court martial charges: desertion, dereliction of duty, missing movement, failure to obey orders, and insubordination.

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Susan Galleymore is the author of Long Time Passing: Mothers Speak about War and Terror, sharing the stories of people in Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and U.S. [Pluto Press 2009]. She is also host and producer of Raising Sand Radio (more...)

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