Category Archives: Member Blog

Gold Star Mother Responds to the State of the Union

Like many Americans I watched the state of the Union. The Presidents said that we were all part of something greater- the American Family. As a Gold Star mother and an advocate for Military Families I hope that we are truly now a full part of the American Family. The initiatives announced the day before to help families look promising. I am worried about the effects of multiple deployments on the education of our military children. Never in our history have families had such stress as these multiple deployments. We have studies showing the effects of divorce or incarceration on the education of children, but none that I know of the effect of multiple deployments. Children on a military base going to a DOD school may show less educational loss that a student of a guardsman in a school where he/she is the only child dealing with the issue. On the other hand children on base are more likely to know a child who has had a parent killed in the war. I would have liked to hear the president talk about the part of the American Family who has given the most.

As we heard about the deficit I could not help think about how much of this was started in the Bush years with having wars that were not only unnecessary but also unfunded. Had we not squandered on treasure and our precious family members this union would be in a better state.

Diane Davis Santoriello
proud mom
of 1st Lt. Neil A. Santoriello Jr. KIA 8-13-04

President Obama Should Meet the Real Needs of Veterans & their Families – Military Families Speak Out Respond to the State of the Union

Last night, President Obama called for support of our troops and their families, yet he painted far too rosy a picture of the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and stopped short of offering any real plans to ensure jobs and mental health services for veterans.

Since the supposed end of combat operations in Iraq last summer, 18 U.S. troops and at least 649 Iraqi civilians have been killed.  According to many analysts, Obama will likely maintain 5 U.S. bases and 50,000 troops in Iraq indefinetly.1 According to the National Priorities Project, U.S. taxpayers will contribute $65 billion to the war in Iraq, money that could instead pay for over 1 million jobs, or 13.4 million people receiving low-income health care.2

President Obama stated that troops would start coming home from Afghanistan this July, but Pat Alviso, who’s son is currently serving in Afghanistan, asks: “The withdrawal may start in July, but when will it end? My son is in Afghanistan now, and almost 30,000 more troops are scheduled to deploy before July.  When will they come home?”  She continued, “If President Obama, wants to keep his promise of ‘shaping a world that favors peace and prosperity,’ he needs to bring my son and all the troops home now – and take care of them when they get here.”

The president also made sweeping promises about improving education, health care, clean energy, and creating jobs.  However, at the same time he is proposing a 5-year freeze in domestic spending, with only minor cuts to the military budget.  “My community is suffering from cuts to health care, failing schools, and a rising unemployment rate.  My husband was discharged from the Army in Nov. 2010. He is 75% disabled now and just had his 3rd operation.  He is not able to work.  His unemployment benefits have been cut, and his disability pay does not cover our expenses.  I am working full time, but can not make ends meet.” said MFSO member Tammara Rosenleaf from Montana. “Congress and the President may clap to show their gratitude, but I’d rather be able to actually pay my bills.”

Members of Military Families Speak Out and Gold Star Families Speak Out are available for interviews about the State of the Union. If you are looking for a family with a specific story, please contact Samantha Miller, MFSO’s Communications Coordinator – Samantha@mfso.org or 818-419-6994

MFSO is a national organization of thousands of military families working to bring all U.S. troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan, secure the care that our troops, veterans, and military families need, and support a foreign policy that will not lead us into such wars again. Gold Star Families Speak Out is a chapter of Military Families Speak Out made up of families whose loved ones died as a result of these wars.

MFSO has recently launched a new national campaign, The True Costs of War, highlighting the human and financial costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Using online tools, local events, media outreach and grassroots lobbying, we are working to strengthen the voices of military families and build alliances with other organizations who agree that our troops and tax dollars belong at home.

For more information about Military Families Speak Out, please visit: http://www.mfso.org
For more information about Gold Star Families Speak Out, please visit http://www.gsfso.org

1. Jamail, Dahr “Iraq: Operation Enduring Occupation,” http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=18204 and Schwartz, Michael “Will the U.S. Military Leave Iraq in 2011?” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-schwartz/will-the-us-military-leav_b_498579.html

2. National Priorities Project, Trade-Offs Database, http://nationalpriorities.org/tools/tradeoffs/

Speech by MFSO Member Nancy Nygard at the Veterans For Peace National Convention, August 2010

Hi!

I am so glad to see everyone here.

I am a very proud member of Veterans For Peace. My husband and I joined VFP in 2005. At the same time we joined Military Families Speak Out.

Our son Joe had joined the army in 2003 and by 2005 was getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan. We were against the invasions of both Iraq and Afghanistan and knew we had to speak out, act out, rise up. Doing
nothing was not an option.

In February of 2006 Joe was deployed to Afghanistan for a year. It was my first deployment also. I didn’t know what to do or what to think. Why was I crying all the time? Why was I so angry at all the other
mom’s in the supermarket? Why did I have such hatred of the assholes with hummers?

MFSO helped me understand that it was ok to cry and that anger could be turned into action. They comforted me and held my hand and I knew I never had to say I’m sorry. They understood that I wanted to hear all the news but I didn’t want to hear all the news. They knew about the sleepless nights and I know they remembered holding their babies in their arms and never imagining having to let them go to war. They were and still are the sanity in my insanity that surely goes on for me and so many other military families.

My son Joe was stop lossed in September of 2006 until February 2007. His tour of duty was extended another 4 months. He spent 16 months in Afghanistan. During his deployment 71 soldiers from his brigade were either killed in action or died in accidents. 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division carved out the northern most outposts in Afghanistan. Two years later the army would begin closing them down. Outposts where my son said “good soldiers died”.

In September of 2007 Joe received his honorable discharge and left the army after serving 4 years on a 3 year enlistment. Joe enrolled in college full time, had a great paying part time job, had a daughter and
a son and the hope of change that was to come with a new president. Joe was proud of his service to his country and we are so proud of him.

Two years went by. Two years! In December of 2009 President Obama gave his surge on Afghanistan speech and the next day Fed-ex showed up at our door with orders for Joe to report for duty off the individual
ready reserve for deployment of no more than 400 days…to Iraq!

Thoughtless people told me he’s lucky he’s in Iraq like they used to tell me he’s lucky he’s in Afghanistan.

As of this month our combat commitment in Iraq has ended. I guess the combat infantry battalion my son is assigned to is there on vacation as are the entire 3rd infantry division, 3000 man brigades from the 4th
infantry division, Dave Cline’s old outfit the 25th infantry division, 2 combat aviation brigades and 2 national guard infantry brigades, all on vacation in sunny Iraq!

Standing guard over a stalled convoy, Joe writes, “after we dropped off our load at a little spot outside Tallil we pulled to the side in a friendly area and waited for the rest of our guys to catch up. We dismounted and smoked and joked for a little bit. That’s when the kids came up. I always liked talking to the local kids in Afghanistan. Their honesty and innocence about the only pure things in a shitty, shitty place. Here it is the same way. These poor children have known nothing but death and destruction in their young lives and even if after we leave, their country turns to peace, they will forever be scarred from the horrors they have seen. Life for them has always been about survival. Seeing little girls the age of my little daughter, running
alongside our convoy, their clothes dirty and their feet bare, offering anything, even themselves for just a bottle of water breaks my heart. Back on the base, eating ice cream and pizza and buffalo wings, just
makes the whole experience of war more disgusting. As these people starve to death, partly because of us, we eat like kings”.

To a certain extent our participation in MFSO and VFP has been a selfish act because we think that the American people, in spite of their yellow ribbons, don’t give a damn about American soldiers, but you do! I’ve found a community that not only believes in world peace but respects the courage and sacrifice of soldiers and their families. I’m so glad I’m not alone. Thank you Military Families Speak Out and
Veterans For Peace!

POWER TO THE PEOPLE!!

A Mother’s Tears

Mothers’ Tears
Reflection of a mother of a soldier/veteran of Iraq/Afghanistan wars

“It is now some years later and most remember where they were that day and what they were doing. For me that day was more than a horrific event. That day changed my life forever, the aftermath and events to come weigh heavily on my soul, and will until judgment day. I lost a piece of myself that day and later a piece of my soul.” (From “The Crying of Souls” written by my son reflecting on 9/11)

Over 30 years ago I gave birth to a son.   His arrival came in the middle of the night with great anticipation.   The delivery team of doctor and nurses were wagering on whether I was having a boy or a girl.  For me it didn’t matter – I wanted this life out of my body but more I wanted this life to be healthy.  After my final push a healthy baby was placed in my arms and tears of joy flowed as I looked into the face of a beautiful gift of life.

My son became was one of those who I refer to as ‘squishy babies’ – he was just so cuddly and snuggly.  To say he was cute isn’t just a mother’s statement – he was and it was this ‘cuteness’ that saved him many times from trouble or got him into it.  I found this fifth child of mine to be one of my greatest challenges as a mother accompanied with many tears of frustration.   He became a young man who would try anything with little fear and could respond to an emergency with level headedness and courage.  As he grew into his teens the challenges were on every level.  When he was around 21 he went to a recruiter and came home to tell me he joined the army.  Later he told me that he made this decision because as he watched his friends go down a path of drugs and lives of no prospects and he wanted something different for himself and felt the military was where he could achieve his goals.  I was facing mixed feelings of dread of having a child in the military and yet being proud of a son who saw two paths and chose one that could save him and my tears of pride outweighed my tears of fear.

We are not a military family and I have protested wars for most of my life but at that time when he joined, we were not in any particular war and my hopes was that maybe he could find himself, find a career  – find a way to use his gifts and talents.  He thrived in his life as a soldier – and when he came home from boot-camp walking down the airport ramp my heart burst with pride and tears of seeing my son now a young man, content within his choice.  When I was in labor, my prayers were for a healthy baby and now my son seemed healthy and happy with his decision and I was okay with that.

Then 9/11 happened and life forever changed for military families.  While the President at that time told the American people to ‘go back to normal life’ – ‘to go shopping’ – that he would take care of things, for those in the military life would never be normal again and spending time shopping wasn’t even an option.   I found my days in constant state of tears knowing deep down that at some point my son was going to be sent somewhere into a war because of the attack.  There were acquaintances who had no sons or daughters in the military tell me that I worry too much – that things will be fine.  When I spoke out against the possibility of going to war in Iraq, and my tears of what our country was about to do, I was told by others that I was unpatriotic, that I was clueless about the horror of terrorism.  No I was not clueless I knew what the cost of war was going to be first hand.

The day my son called to say good-bye as he was going to Iraq my heart broke and the tears flowed.  My body was gripped in fear and I began to hold my breath as I did when he was a toddler running through the house – fearing he would fall or hit his head – or as he grew older and went out the door – holding my breath until he would return safely to our home.   Now he was going to war –into a horror that I could not stop and could only hold my breath and pray that he would return – safe and healthy.

That day my son changed.  He had three deployments – two in Iraq and the last in Afghanistan. It was in Afghanistan that my son experienced the horror of war at its peak.  He almost died twice and he also experienced more the deep destruction of his soul as he killed others, as he watched children become pawns in a war of adults, and as he picked up body parts of his buddies and held a soldier as life seeped and exhaled out of his body.  Along with all of this, his wife completely fell apart and he asked the family to have her come live near us until he came home.  We had no idea of the extent of her breakdown and within a couple of months of moving near us, she took the children and ran away to meet with a man she met on-line.  The youngest in our family were lost to us for 10 weeks and my son in warzone was thrown into the pit of despair, unable to come home to find his family.  A young man, who took the oath to defend his country, was helpless in defending his family.  My son was hurting and I lay helpless every night in tears unable to take away his pain as I did when he was little.   Eventually we did find the children, and we were able to bring them back and keep them safe with us.

My son finished his time in Afghanistan and requested and received an honorable discharge.  He came home to take care of his children.   I was relieved that my son was home from the war and he could no longer be sent back into the throws of hell.  Little did I realize that while my son left the war behind him, the war has not left him.  When he first got home, he was his old self – crazy, funny and wanting so much to find normalcy in his life and being with his family again.   His marriage had ended but he had his children and that seemed to be all that he needed.  He got a good job and decided to go back to school to get a degree – looking into possibly EMT work or working at a VA center.   However after awhile the dark remnants of the war started to immerge and he became argumentative, explosive, angry, and even hateful.

He no longer laughed or joked.  Family gatherings became events for arguing and hateful rhetoric. He had rage against anyone he felt were whiners or complainers; commenting at times with phrases of ‘they think they have it tough, try looking into the fact of someone you killed.’ Or, ‘they think they have it tough, try holding a friend’s body together.’   He was angry at the world and rightly so but his anger became misdirected.  He and I went to a social worker at the VA because the family kept telling my son that he has issues and he could not see what we were talking about.  It was a good session as I talked about how it was like walking on egg shells around my son – never know what would trigger his outbursts.  I cried as I stated how I missed ‘my son.’  Tears filled my son’s eyes when he listened.

I had hoped that was the beginning of healing for him but in actuality he has never sought help again because he deems himself ‘okay.’ How could any human being be okay after what he has experienced?   The radio and talk show racist commentators who make their money spewing hate now feed into my son’s anger and it helps him justify such feelings and hate for everyone.

My son was raised Catholic, steeped in tradition of family life. Our family is very diverse and because my children’s father is full-blooded Lebanese, they themselves along with their father have had to deal with racism, profiling, and vile comments because they are of Mid-eastern culture.  My son ignores what such hate does to his family and pursues his own racist, hateful comments of others.  It rips at my heart because he is becoming the total antithesis of his upbringing.  He was taught tolerance and acceptance now he has no compassion, does not care for anyone and cares little about others’ pain.  He looks for ways to start arguments.

I find my tears flowing more and more as I watch my son ‘die’ while alive.  I cannot imagine the horror my son, my child has experienced in war; no mother ever wants her child to experience desecration of life or decisions that war forces humans to make.  So many mothers in our world scream into their pillows at night for the shear pain of losing a child to war.  Their tears could fill rivers to over-flowing and the emptiness remains a lifetime.  Because of the group Military Families Speak Out (MFSO), my family and I have found out we are not alone in any of this. There are also mothers like myself who watch their child’s spirits slowly die while trying to live.    The child we gave life to now is a child in which life doesn’t exist.

When my son was in Iraq the first time, I actually had people tell me that this wasn’t as bad as wars in the past because there are not that many soldiers dying!!  I didn’t know how to respond to such ignorance – I just sat and stared at them wondering how that would console a mother whose child just died. I have written and spoke out against congressmen who make callous remarks about soldiers’ lives being expendable and have met with representatives to talk about ending the wars.

War is wrong and I have yet to be convinced otherwise.  I will continue to write and speak out for I want my grandchildren to read what I have written and spoken, so that maybe their generation will see war for what it is and search other ways to solve our world’s problems.  I wish for them that war becomes just a word and peace a way of life.  Mothers’ tears should only be shed for the pure joy of life not because of its destruction.

By Susan Handle Terbay