For the first time in my life, this Memorial Day means something personal to me. More than store sales, the husband home for a long weekend and grilling hamburgers, this year I need to take a moment to remember a soldier, a specific soldier, who was killed in Iraq last month.
Back in October I had a writing assignment on how to support the troops, and found the amazing organization Any Soldier. Through AnySoldier.com, anyone to send care packages to a specific soldier serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, who will then forward the packages (and letters) on to other soldiers who aren't receiving a lot of support from back home. It's heartbreaking to think that there are troops over there who aren't getting tons of support from family and friends -- but I don't know every family's circumstance and so I can't criticize those who cannot send care packages to their loved ones.
One of the things my husband and I discussed when we decided to have a family was that we wanted to lead by example and show our child(ren) how important it is to make charitable donations, volunteer in the community and do what they can for those who aren't as lucky as we are. There is more to life than the simple basic necessities of survival, and there are those who do have a roof over their heads and food in their bellies, but do not have, perhaps, presents from Santa to open on Christmas, or books to read at home. And there are soldiers serving this country who lack simple things to make their lives a little bit easier, like shampoo or DVDs or yummy snacks. One does not have to support the war(s) in order to support the troops who are over there fighting them.
So I signed us up for AnySoldier and found a young man stationed in Iraq who had over 60 other men he was helping out. On a day when the Princeling was at daycare I went to Target and filled a cart with all the things my AnySoldier said his troops were asking for: shower gel, shampoo, junk food. I also added deodorant (they're in the desert, after all), men's razors and shaving cream, and, since it was fall, an Entemann's pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. I followed the directions on AnySoldier to the letter, separating the food care packages from the non-food ones. I filled out the customs forms. I schlepped five USPS flat-rate boxes filled with candy and body wash to the post office through freezing rain on a Monday just weeks before Christmas and stood in line for half an hour to mail them to our AnySoldier.
Although I included a personal letter to him, as well as my personal email and mailing address, he never wrote back. I didn't really expect him to.
Periodically he'd update his AnySoldier page with news and more requests for junk food. I wrote to him that I hoped he and his guys were eating more than just the Skittles and snack cakes I had sent. In February he mentioned how many months he had left and thanked everyone who was sending care packages. And he asked for more snacks.
In his last update he mentioned how hot it was getting over there and asked, yet again, for more snacks.
A week later I got an email letting me know that his page was once again updated. This time the update wasn't written by our AnySoldier. It was a copy-pasted note from the Department of Defense, identifying our soldier as a casualty "of wounds sustained April xx when enemy forces attacked his unit with indirect fire." He died a few days later. The last update he had written himself was the day before the attack.
I don't know anything about our AnySoldier. Until he was killed and his photo posted on his page (surrounded by black ribbons) I didn't even know what he looked like. The day I found out about his death I could not stop thinking about him. Were his mother and father still around to mourn him? Did he have brothers and sisters? A wife? A girlfriend? Children? Was his family able to be at the military hospital when he died? Did he know they were there? Did he wish they were there? Was he awake before he died? Did he feel pain, or was he knocked unconscious? Was he scared?
It was amazing to me how much I could grieve over someone I never met in person, someone who never communicated with me directly, someone who I knew only by name. But he was our AnySoldier, my family's, and now he is dead. And we will honor his memory on Memorial Day.
That day, the day I found out, I contacted AnySoldier to ask if there was anything I could do for my AnySoldier's family -- send them a card or flowers or something. They contacted his family on my behalf, but couldn't reach them. I've had no news since.
But I needed to do something to honor my AnySoldier's memory, something real, so I found the organization The Fisher House, which builds homes near military hospitals around the world that families of wounded soldiers can live in for free while their loved ones are being treated. I chose Fisher House because I like to think that my AnySoldier's family was able to be with him when he passed on, and I want other families to be near their soldiers when they all need comfort and togetherness the most.
I also signed us up for another AnySoldier, this one a young woman stationed in Afghanistan with the Navy. She is part of the military's new Female Engagement Teams, which I had to look up because I had never heard of. The FETs work to make personal contact with the women of Afghanistan who aren't allowed under Taliban rule to be seen by or speak with males they are not married to.
I won't lie: My feminist sensibilities are pleased by this, and I'm excited to help out the 10 young women receiving care packages from my new AnySoldier. This time I included some scribbles from the Princeling, in case any of them have little ones at home they miss -- or wish they had little ones at home to miss. Once again I included a personal, hand-written letter with all of my contact info and a long paragraph of thanks from my family.
It's easy to get overwhelmed by the thought of all the troops over there, but the AnySoldier program allows me to become personally, if indirectly, involved. And I want at least one soldier over there to know that she isn't fighting for just anyone back home -- she is fighting for moms and dads and children and families and real people, people who are thinking of her, supporting her, and thanking her.
You don't have to support the wars or subscribe to a certain political philosophy in order to support the Troops who are over there fighting: