How Could I Know?
From Robert Stokely:
Eight years ago I took a ride out I-20 from Atlanta headed to Augusta GA and along the way stopped to pick up Mike as he had first been to our house to visit while home on leave and then back to his mom's for a few days. Mike was given a four day pass to come home from AIT at Ft. Gordon where he had been for a few months after his graduation from high school. Mike was a member of the Georgia Army National Guard, having joined in March of 2000 as junior in high school on the split entry program, doing his basic training at Ft. Benning that summer and then finishing his senior year of high school.
I had never been to Ft. Gordon although I had ridden by it a number of times. I wanted to take Mike back because it would be an unknown time before he might get another pass and the several hours it would take us to drive there would be valuable time together. It was strange to go through the gates and drop him off at his barracks - although I have to admit they weren't the type barracks you might imagine compared to basic training. They were more like apartments. Mike greeted some fellow AIT buddies as we got there. He showed me around and then it was time for formation and I had to leave. I remember the hug goodbye, the "I love you dad" and straining to see him as long as I could in my rear view mirror. Funny how the ride home was a lot longer than the ride there.
Today (Tuesday) I made the ride out I-20 again and while I didn't go to Ft. Gordon I was headed to Augusta to take a Soldier's Angels supplied computer to a wounded soldier from the local National Guard Unit / Newnan GA where I live. SPC Charles Benson was wounded in Afghanistan in a fierce firefight taking a bullet to the lower body and suffering serious hand wounds from an RPG that hit his battle buddy CPL Jonathan Morita in the hand and wounding him seriously. Both survived and their wounds are non-life threatening with SPC Benson going to Eisenhower Medical at Ft. Gordon and recently being transferred to more long term care and rehabilitation at the VA Hospital in nearby Augusta (GA). CPL Morita is at Walter Reed and I hope to go see him soon, maybe even next week, and stop and check in on the seriously injured SFC Mark Allen who was shot in the head in the same firefight. SFC Allen is at Bethesda.
My visit today with SPC Benson at the VA in Augusta GA was a good one. He looked well for a young man who came closer to death than any parent would want their child to come. More striking is how good his spirits were. Laid back and take it as it comes is how I would describe it. Honestly though, he looked younger than even the young man he is and has served a year deployment in Iraq four years ago and came home to go to the University of Alabama where he was but 14 credit hours away from graduating when he was called up. I thought to myself how such a mild mannered young looking man could be such a rugged soldier fighting for America, and a medic on top of that. I guess it is true, looks can be deceiving. We talked and laughed in a way that few might have understood or dared go "there". He described how they had been on foot patrol all night about 12 miles from their base. I kidded him that they didn't even get one of the junker HumVees like they had in Iraq and he said no. Guess they didn't have it so bad in Iraq after all I said. He laughed. He kidded he might just not wait to get a pass and I said "so what could they do to you if you left - send you to Afghanistan..." And we talked about the battle and how he got hit and he was so down to earth matter of fact "I took a bullet and then the RPG came in and got me and Morita...." like it was no big deal. He has the bullet, thanks to a fellow soldier "digging it out" for him.
Then we talked about a mutual friend - one I didn't know four years ago and one he came to know two weeks ago. MaryAnn Phillips, Soldier's Angels Germany. Need I say more. But, yes I will. Just let it suffice to say that SPC Charles Benson and his family love MaryAnn because she was there at Landstuhl and checked on him constantly and saw him off on the flight to Andrews AFB. MaryAnn made a real difference in his life, such a difference in two days that it will last a lifetime, just as she has done for me and so many others. Thanks MaryAnn for looking after our soldiers when they come into Landstuhl and providing their families a measure of comfort to hear your compassionate voice right by their wounded loved one's bedside.
As I drove home today I thought how I was making this trip to begin with, how I have met and come to have so many new friends these last four years and how they give so much to our soldiers like SPC Charles Benson. It traces back to Mike, for if Mike had not been killed in Iraq, I would not know the many wonderful people like MaryAnn Phillps, Patti Patton-Bader, Mr. and Mrs. G, the Blackfive bloggers, David Marron at Thunderrun, like how many Soldier's Angels across the world, and so many others. I wouldn't have been riding to Augusta today and I wouldn't have been taking the computer sent by Soldier's Angels for CPL Benson. And, on my way back, I wouldn't have been stopping by to check on Mike's grave.... I wish Mike had not been killed by a roadside bomb, but was a choice I didn't get to make and I will just be thankful for the many good things that have come out of his death - blessings I call Romans 8:28 blessings.
As I stood at Mike's grave late this afternoon, I asked myself this question - "How could I have ever known that day eight years ago..."
DUTY HONOR COUNTRY.
proud dad SGT Mike Stokely
KIA 16 AUG 05 near Yusufiyah Iraq
p.s. - thanks Mrs. G for going to see CPL Benson last week
USA E 108 CAV 48th BCT GAARNG
and Co-chair Bravo 2 / 121 INF 48th BCT GAARNG Family Readiness Group