My soldier is a recipient of the Bronze Star with Valor Device, the fourth highest combat award given by the Army, and often reserved for officers or deceased.
Very early on the morning of July 4th, 2009, the Taliban launched a brutal attack on a Command Out Post Zerok in the remote mountains of Afghanistan. That day changed all of our lives forever.
There were some cowards that day. At least one officer hid for the entire battle. My soldier and many others in his unit were stop-lossed, the involuntary extension of a service member’s active duty service under the enlistment contract in order to retain them beyond their initial end of term of service (ETS) date. These young men should have already been back at home with their loved ones. Some, like my soldier, were not officers. Yet, on that morning when the bombs and bullets began dropping, a few of these brave heroes valiantly stood in the gap and held the day.
That day my soldier crawled through broken glass, cutting his arms and legs terribly while taking fire in order to deliver needed weapons and ammunition to his men. He ran from point to point back and forth across the compound, directing the men and supplying them with first aid, water and ammunition all the while being shot at by the enemy. He carried a mortally wounded comrade across the compound under fire to find the medics. He assisted the medics. He administered first aid to other wounded men as he found them. He crossed open ground to secure the compound main gate that had been blown open by a truck bomb. He stood and directed fire for his men while bullets flew past his head. One of his men later wrote that at one point he looked up to see my soldier standing, “like George Washington crossing the Delaware” while bullets whizzed past him. As he was attempting to smother a fire in the mortar pit, another soldier threw water on it, exploding the burning white phosphorus supply, leaving my soldier’s lungs badly damaged. Refusing to quit, he continued to lead his men, until at long last air support arrived and the Taliban were finally driven back. Even then, feeling that the enemy would strike again in the next few days, he steadfastly refused to be flown out to the hospital Germany, and instead chose to stay with his men.
When this team finally returned to their home base, an awards ceremony was scheduled. The Commander did not attend. The cowards who shirked their duties that fateful day did not attend. With little fanfare, my soldier was pinned with the Bronze Star with Valor Device, the fourth highest combat award the Army bestows. One would think it would have been deemed more of a big deal for the entire base, instead, it was virtually ignored.
One particular medic bandaged my soldier’s wounds and took care of him for months while still in Afghanistan as he coughed smoke and blood from his lungs. This medic promised to file the proper paperwork for him to receive a Purple Heart award when they returned home. However, this sweet young man could not get past the horrors he had witnessed. Soon after returning to base, he took his own life. My soldier’s Purple Heart paperwork mysteriously disappeared, and despite our best efforts, now four years later, he still has not received this award. It rather angers me, as a mother, that the Army treated my soldier so poorly.
The base doctor told my soldier that if he wanted to receive a Medical Discharge, he would have to stay on active duty for at least another year, and yes, he could be deployed again during that time. He was told that no, a transfer to a base closer to his family would not be approved. He was told to instead take his Honorable Discharge and then go to the VA to receive a Medical Discharge. Of course, he found out too late that this was all a complete lie.
Sometimes the incompetence of the military is indeed frustrating. Sometimes we shake our heads with amazement at the way our heroes are treated by their government. Sometimes, as mommas, we’d like to make some heads roll! This is when we must step back and look at the bigger picture, more from God’s point of view. We must admit that while maybe it was the Army that put them into these situations, we still believe that God works all things together for good to those who love Him and serve Him.
God allowed my young soldier to become a very strong man much more quickly than we maybe would have liked. God allowed him to face his deepest fears and over come them. He made him a better person. He continues to strengthen him and we watch in amazement and overflowing pride as our child becomes more and more of a great man every single day.
We know God kept His hand of protection on our soldier. We are broken-hearted for the lives lost and eternally grateful that we can still hug our soldier. So, yes, despite some of the bad memories, despite the “I wish it didn’t have to be this way” days, despite being angry whenever we see politicians and others disregard our service members, despite not being able to get any one to move on my soldier’s Purple Heart award; still for his life, for his smile, for his laugh, for his family, for his love of God and country, we are, and forever will be, so very deeply thankful.
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28 KJV