Six Years after 9/11, my son is off to Iraq

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By Sarah Phelan

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My son leaving Oakland Airport on his way to Iraq

Six years ago, when the first planes hit the World Trade Center, I never imagined that my son would end up being deployed to Iraq as part of Bush’s 2007 troop surge. I also never imagined that there was a connection between 9/11 and Iraq. That's because there wasn’t one, even though Bush kept trying to make one, and can now claim that Al Qaeda is in Iraq--even though he won't explain his own role in creating a vacuum in Iraq, which Al Qaeda and other faith-based militias have since filled. But enough about Bush.

My son was 14 years old in 2001 and already showing interest in all things military, despite or perhaps because of, my own peacenik tendencies. But as I watched horrific images of the towers burning and imploding in New York, I had no inkling of the personal price that Bush’s warmongering was going to cost my family on the West Coast, or the losses that the people of this nation and Iraq would start to endure within two years of the 9/11 attacks.

But within weeks of those attacks, I did get my first clue of Bush’s takeover plans for Iraq when I interviewed a former UN ambassador to Iraq, a weapons inspector, and an activist who delivered medicine to Iraqis in defiance of US sanctions during the 1990s.

These three experts on Iraq warned that Bush was serious about invading Iraq, a country they said was broken from years of sanctions and not home to weapons of mass destruction—though Saddam Hussein’s pride would not allow him to admit as much to the US and the rest of the world .

In the ensuing years, I saw the claims of these three experts being proven right, and those of Bush's experts being proven wrong, over and over again. And yet, once the invasion was in full force, opposition to Bush’s illegal invasion was successfully framed by his spin meisters as "opposition to our troops".

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The "Stop the War" sticker came first, then the "Army Mom" sticker. And then is a yellow ribbon on the side bumper, of my car too. Proving that you can support the troops and oppose the war on Iraq all at the same time

Want to know a secret? Stating the obvious, namely that US military intervention can't solve Iraq’s civil war. But stating this stark truth won't endanger our troops, nor will it dishonor them or their families. It will endanger the credibility of all those who peddled the war and have still not taken ownership for misleading the public.

Here's another secret: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rove, (the list goes on and on) still need to be held accountable for misleading Congress and the American people into authorizing the war on Iraq and endangering our troops. Anyone who has raised a teenager knows the perils of not imposing consequences for irresponsible behavior. The same holds true for adults. As Barack Obama recently joked when Scooter Libby's name came up, "Even Paris Hilton ended up doing jail time!"

Want to know what endangers our troops? Poor medical care, malfunctioning equipment, and a Commander-in-Chief who starts an illegal war and then cherry picks information so as not to personally lose face in the eyes of the US and the world. But enough of Bush.

Last week, I dreamed about my son. He had just returned after a six-day leave to Fort Dix, New Jersey, before deploying to Iraq. In my dream he was voicing his concern that his shoes weren’t up to some mission he was about to do. Then he shrugged it off and smiled, like he does when he can’t be bothered to do anything about a situation that he does not believe he can change.

I woke up panicked.

When my son was on leave, he’d told me that sometimes his ankles roll over when he’s walking in his Army boots. Worried, I took him to an orthopedic store run by a Russian who I'll call the Shoe Elf. The Shoe Elf fixed my son up with shoe inserts, then suggested covering them with fabric to make them more comfortable. I agreed and picked them up the day before my son flew back to New Jersey. But to my surprise, the Shoe Elf had used a brightly patterned green and purple material, leaving me worried that the inserts now looked too flowery for his tastes as a young man in the military and that he therefore might decide not to use them.

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The author with her son while he was on leave in San Francisco --and wearing ballistic glasses, because he forgot to bring the other pair home

My fears seemed confirmed when I gave the inserts to my son, and he smiled and shrugged, then shoved them deep into his backpack, claiming that he'd deal with them, "Later."

That incident doubtless fueled my dream, and the memory of the emotions that I felt while dreaming — powerlessness to protect my loved one, worry that his equipment might not be up to the task, fear of what all this might mean for his wellbeing — hung over me long after I woke up.

Then, as I was about to go to work, my cell phone rang with an unusual looking number.

It was my son calling from Kuwait, on his way to Iraq.

He told me it was 120 degrees of dry heat and that the light was very bright.

He sounded stunned, tired, but otherwise his usual smiling cheerful self.

“Are you using your shoe inserts,” I asked, fussing my son with the one detail I could control.

"Yes, they are working fine," he said.

Then, after a few quick questions about the family, he had to get off the phone, so the next soldier in line could call home. And I was left knocked sideways by the reality that after about six months of training , my 20-year-old son is headed into what is variously being described as “a surge,” “a civil war,” or “an occupation.”

At the airport, the morning that my son prepared to fly to New Jersey, and from there to Iraq, I tried to keep it together as we waited together in line. When we got to the point where only passengers can proceed further, I hugged and kissed him, told him to come back safe and soon, and that I’d be keeping him in my prayers.

I didn’t start to cry until I turned away — and saw the look in the face of the guy behind us in the line, who was tearing up because he witnessed our scene and realized that we were saying goodbye.

This folks, is what it’s like to have a loved one in the military, six years after 9/11. Remember that when you see families saying goodbye to soldiers at the airport, when you see yellow ribbons, or go past the field of crosses out on Highway 24 near Lafayette.

I never want you to have to experience the pain of saying goodbye to loved ones as they are shipped off to fight a war that was unjust from the start and about which Bush continues to mislead the American public. So, don't shrug it off and smile like you can't do anything when Bush talks about withdrawing troops in July 2008.

For the record, my son is still into being in the military and has never complained about being sent to Iraq.
But that shouldn't stop you from standing up and demanding that Bush withdraw the troops now.
You owe it to your loved ones.

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