Letters from Boot Camp

We waited and waited by the mailbox for a letter from the guys. Day after day Mother Goose would run out to meet our mail carrier, Miss Nell. “Have you got anything for me from Great Lakes, IL?”

“No, sorry, Miss Goose. Nothing for you today but some bills, I guess. Keep hoping…”

And Mother Goose did a whole bunch of hoping. And praying.

When the recruits first arrive at boot camp, they do a lot of hurrying up and waiting. In fact, we witnessed that at the MEPS when we were there for the swearing in ceremonies as well. That seems to be the only way to move large groups of young men and women in a timely manner! Hurry them up and then have them wait. A long time.

Also, as soon as they unload from the bus at Boot Camp, they step into pre-painted yellow foot tracks painted on the floor and they stay in those yellow tracks until all intake processing is completed. They are kept awake doing various processing activities for at least the first forty hours of basic training. After that they are allowed a three hour nap and then it’s back to processing.

One of the first things they do is change out of their civilian clothes and into their first military uniforms. Their old civvie clothes are dropped into a box and shipped back home. They WON’T need them anymore. The Navy supplies everything they need from skivvies to socks to eye glasses to boots.

And omigooseness those nice boots! No wonder they call it “boot camp” — they are measured very accurately for custom boots — interiors even molded to their exact feet! They are very fine boots for the recruits to wear day and night.

The recruits are also allowed a phone call upon their arrival at Great Lakes Naval Training Facility. They stand in line for a long time (of course), and when it is their turn to call, they dial up mom and dad (hoping that somebody will answer the phone because they only get one chance at this), they read the script which is posted on the wall.

“Hi Mom, this is _________. I just want you to know that I made it to basic training. I hope you are doing OK. I’m fine. I love you. Bye.”

Click.

So we wrote them letters and waited for letters. There is no other way to contact recruits at basic training unless you have a true, DIRE emergency in which case you call the Red Cross and they will find your son or daughter. A weeping mother or sobbing father is not necessarily considered a DIRE emergency.

Great Lakes Large Letter CTPA_OCH1856

Finally the first letter! Here’s a short excerpt from Adam’s first letter home:

“…so anyway bootcamp is pretty high-stress…our RDC’s get mad at us because we don’t work as a team. The recruit leaders (RCPO) are stupid though because all they do is tell us to shut up. Like that’s some leadership skills…There is so much swearing also but I was surprised by how much. The RDCs swear the most but I think they just act mean because they can be nice too. But that’s their way of training…”

And here’s something from Erik’s letter:

“We learned how to make our beds and we get timed to do it and have to follow a bunch of guidelines. It’s hard but I think I’m getting better…the first day or two I didn’t like the food very much but now I’m starting to love it. I’m kind of losing track of days and was surprised when I found out today was Sunday…”

Another excerpt from Adam about a week later:

“Dear Mom, Hello! I can’t write much tonight because I have watch from 2-4 so I need to get some sleep. But I just wanted to tell you that I’m having a really good time becoming a sailor…”

After a week, Erik wrote to us:

“Dear Family, Greetings from Great Lakes! First of all I want to say that I love you all and miss you guys more everyday…So what have I been doing for the past week and a half or so…labeling shirts, shorts, bags, towels, hats, coats, gloves and way more. Learning how to fold all of it and where to put it. I also went through medical, got a pair of stylish glasses and wow I didn’t realize my eyes were getting so bad!”

From Adam:

“Mom — We got mail for the first time last night. When I heard my name get called it felt like Christmas all over again. I couldn’t help but smile as I went to pick up the mail. By far, getting your letter has been the highlight of my week so far, which has so far consisted mostly of sitting around studying and getting snowed in. There were snow drifts that looked at least 10 feet high and no one was allowed to leave or come to the base.”

As the weeks went by, the guys wrote more and more about their activities and things they were learning to do — marching, marching, marching and swimming and shooting guns and saluting and more marching. And even though they were both on base at the same time and occasionally saw each other marching around, they never got to talk to each other until finally one Sunday in the chapel towards the end of their boot camp experience.

Imagine that reunion!

And then it was time for Graduation from basic training, a story in itself. Please come back next time when Mother Goose continues this special series about our experience as a military family! Remember, November is Military Family Appreciation Month! Hug a Navy mom today! Honk honk!!!

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Swearing Like Sailors

November is Military Family Appreciation month so Mother Goose is telling the story of her twin sailor sons and how our family got all military when they joined the United States Navy.

The military has very specific orders for how families send their sons and daughters off to boot camp. We followed the instructions very carefully for both of the guys — one week we sent Adam away and then seven days later, we went through the process again with Erik.

There is a very secret place called the MEPS.

This is one of the first of many acronyms that parents of military personnel become aware of. It stands for Military Entrance Processing Station. The night before they went to the MEPS, we dropped off our guys at a nearby hotel with absolutely nothing except their ID’s and the clothes on their backs — no jammies, no toothbrushes, no phones, no ipods, no ipads, not even a change of undies or socks.

They spend the night mostly worrying about the next five or six years of their lives.

Even though they haven’t slept, people come around and wake them up at 5:00 for an early breakfast and a bus ride to the MEPS. The family drives to the MEPS too, and enters through much security in the hopes of see their son or daughter being sworn into service in our nation’s great military community.

There are uniformed officers, soldiers and sailors everywhere in the MEPS. For our family, we had never seen so many people in military uniforms, and we were very uneasy. We have always been a family who doesn’t break the rules and this looked VERY seriously like a place where you don’t want to break the rules. We are all very intimidated by people in uniforms…maybe it’s because of the many times Mother Goose has had run ins with the law.

ANYWAY, we eventually find Adam, and the next week we find Erik in the same place.

Adam raises his right hand and swears the Oath of Enlistment.

Adam raises his right hand and swears the Oath of Enlistment.

Erik repeats the Oath of Enlistment one week later.

Erik repeats the Oath of Enlistment one week later.

We stand quietly in a room where the guys are sworn in with bunches of other recruits. Proud tears roll down my feathery cheeks as I see my sons raise their right hands and repeat the Oath of Enlistment:

“I, Adam or Erik, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

Mother Goose poses with her son.

Mother Goose poses with her son.

Mother Goose poses with her son.

Mother Goose poses with her son.

We clap and cheer. We dab tissues at our eyes. We take pictures of ourselves with our precious ones in front of the Navy flag. Then we hug them and kiss them. Then we say “See you in eight weeks, honey. I love you!”

And off they go to boot camp.

Military Family Appreciation Month

Mother Goose is happy and proud to announce that November is Military Family Appreciation Month all across America!

Military Family Appreciation Month

And so, because I am such a proud and patriotic goose, I will be featuring a different military family to salute for each time that I post up in November. [I was going to say “everyday in November” but you know that Mother Goose just cannot make those kinds of daily promises…]

And because I’m a rather self-promoting goose, for this first post in November, I will feature and salute my own family!

Honestly, when my twin sons announced to me in 2010 that they would be joining the service, my heart stopped and my face fell. They completely blindsided me! What were they thinking? Would they be OK? How would I live without daily contact with my young sons?

Our family was going through such a crisis at the time. Their father and I had divorced, and I was planning to remarry and move the kids to a new place of residence in a distant village. We were facing major upheavals in every corner of our world. The guys had completed nearly two years of college, and I was just assuming stability — that they would continue down that educational path.

“Mom, I’m going to join the service,” Erik’s voice still echoes around in my feathery head.

There was a scared and shocked look spreading from my face to all the rest of my motherly body but my immediate answer was this: “Well, please not the Marines or the Army…maybe the Coast Guard or the Navy would be OK?”

A week later, Adam said to me, “Well, of course, I’m joining the Navy too, Mom!”

And that’s how our military family story began.

The guys had a delayed enlistment into boot camp so for the next eight months they met frequently with their recruiter for physical training sessions as well as some good ol’ Navy background informational meetings.

And then we started to have “Going Away Parties” for the guys.

Goodbye Party

And then the day came when Adam had to leave for Basic Training…

We had been prepared for separation anxiety, but nothing prepared me for the sight of him walking away from our car and into his future as a sailor in the greatest Navy in the world.

There were tears galore.

In all of our eyes.

And then one week later, we dropped off Erik at the same location, and the tears started up all over again.

Tomorrow I will tell you the little story about how our family became military — twin sons at Naval Station Great Lakes for eight weeks will do that to you.

A Veteran with a Gift of Peace

In my new role as a Veteran Supportive Services Specialist (and in my new office), Mother Goose is making many new friends and forming collaborative social work connections. And one of my new heroes in this world is Kevin.

Kevin served as a medic in the Vietnam War Era.

Self-explanatory statement, right? We can only imagine the horror he witnessed on the battlefields and rice paddies of southeast Asia. And then he served in a burn unit hospital in Texas when they brought him home. He doesn’t talk much about those days…

But look at him today.

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Kevin knows everybody. He’s one of those amazing connectors who attends meetings, meets everybody in the room and then reintroduces them to others. His friendship is priceless, and his love for people is contagious.

When he speaks, everybody listens. He speaks quietly and purposefully and never wastes a word.

Wherever he goes, he smiles. He smiles at each and every person and makes each one of us feel like we are the most special person on earth. When Kevin walks into the office, he is beaming! And he’s got those smiling Irish eyes — you feel like he’s got a great secret and if you spend ten minutes with him, maybe he’ll share it with you.

In our office, Kevin’s specialty is helping other veterans find jobs. He spent a long career with the state’s employment resources government office. We are blessed to have his expertise in our office and he’s a major resource for us.

Kevin knows well the arts of negotiation and mediation. He has a history of making peace. Mother Goose would love to relay a truly amazing story about Kevin’s ability to bring about peace in a war zone.

More than twenty-five years ago, Kevin and other residents living in the west side area of Chicago known as the North Lawndale community wanted to organize and manage a baseball league for the young kids in the neighborhood. In most towns and villages, this would not be a problem.

But in North Lawndale, as in other parts of Chicago, gang territories are known by the residents and lines are drawn in the sand and graffitized on buildings, billboards, street signs and lampposts. Gang violence in this neighborhood is a horrible fact of life. Almost every kid growing up in the ‘hood knows somebody who has been shot, somebody who has been killed and quite possibly has lost a family member to a gang shooting.

Kevin grew up in a suburb of Chicago known throughout the past century as a village where “classic” Chicago mobsters resided with their families. He grew up knowing that crime was big business, but the leaders of the mobs did not want their children growing up to follow in their footsteps in the business. (Mother Goose suggests you revisit the Godfather movies/books to refresh yourself with the storyline happening in these suburbs…)

In 1987, Kevin called a summit of gang leaders in North Lawndale armed only with this valuable concept: let’s put business aside and let the kids play baseball. All parties agreed, and for more than a quarter of a century, young boys and girls have been playing organized baseball across gang borders with no incident.

With no incident.

The kids know that they can come to the baseball fields and be safe from gang violence and harassment.

Thanks to my friend and hero, Kevin.

Summer of 2013, conference runner-ups, with their coach, Kevin.

Summer of 2013, conference runner-ups, with their coach, Kevin.

Sgt. Minister Paula

Today Mother Goose is very proud to salute Sgt. Minister Paula Buchanan-Tolefree. I’d be happy to introduce you:

Sgt. Minister Paula has worn many hats over the years.

Sgt. Minister Paula

Sgt. Minister Paula

She’s a wife, a mother and grandmother. She was a nurse’s aide for twenty years. She served in the National Guard in Illinois, Michigan and Indiana. She’s been a missionary, and now ministers as a Chaplain and Ordained Minister.

And these days she devotes her time and energy to online and phone counseling for veterans and prison inmates. Because she is disabled and home-bound in a wheelchair, she seldom leaves her comfortable abode in a quiet and secure west-side senior citizen complex.

All of her work is done from home, and yes, she answers phone calls and counsels troubled vets 24/7. Sgt. Minister Paula is connected to various resources, community events boards, helpful websites and forums. Many veterans who suffer from depression, PTSD and other emotional distress can receive her wise, Godly counsel in the privacy of their own homes, at any time of the day or night.

Her ministry is so very necessary in these days and times. She’s a blessing to so many confused and recovering addicts, lonely prisoners and veterans disabled physically or emotionally.

Sgt. Minister Paula asked me to please share her email address with my readers. You can contact her at williambuchana251@comcast.net.

And I hope that you’ll look for the helpers today and find yourself blessed!

Sometimes Families Just Need a Little Help

Today Mother Goose salutes an excellent organization, Erikson Institute’s Center for Children and Families!

“With great care and understanding, family relationships can be repaired.” Erikson Institute has proved this principle countless times since 1969. A progressive family counseling and social work agency, Erikson Institute’s Center for Children and Families consistently meets the needs of parents and children from newborn through eight years of age who are experiencing relational crisis.

Erikson is very glad to announce that they will soon be partnering with Easter Seals’ Willett Center in Oak Park at 120 West Madison Street. This convenient location will benefit resident families of the Austin community in Chicago as well as the people of Oak Park.

Initially, they will be offering counseling and mental health services to veteran families and then soon following with social services to civilian families as well.

Although military children are often described as resilient and surprisingly adaptable to the special stressors in their lives, there are certainly exceptions to the norm. How does a child cope with a parent or perhaps both parents called into active service or even deployed to a combat zone?

No matter the source of the problems, no matter whether the distress is social or emotional, Erikson Institute has the healthy and workable solution to restore peace to homes and families. Their staff of licensed, experienced and qualified counselors work with parents and children through symbolic play-based activities to determine the underlying causes for separation anxiety, clinginess, tantrums, withdrawal, aggression, bed wetting and sleep disorders.

Cassandra Ward has been a staff clinician and family counselor with the Center for Children and Families for the past eighteen months. Her heart is for being on the front lines and helping people right where they are, especially veteran and military parents and their children. Ms Ward recently completed the Infant Mental Health Certificate Program through Erikson Institute, and believes that even infants and toddlers experience family stress and can benefit from these social services.

Cassandra Ward

Coming from SOS Children Villages, a unique foster care placement agency, Ms Ward realized early in her social work career that there is always hope for families when the parents become aware of the special needs of their children and learn to read the cues that even babies and little children will communicate to their parents.

To prove this truth, she described a family situation where a four-year old boy was especially sensitive to sensory overload, including loud noise and bright lights. The mother of the child arranged a bowling birthday party for her son, but entered the bowling alley through one of the back doors. As they walked into the building, her son immediately recognized his own “triggers” and in a state of disbelief called out to his mom over the noise of the pin setting machines, “You’ve got to be kidding, Mom!”.

Indeed, children can identify when there’s a problem! They just can’t solve them alone. With the help of Erikson Institute, problems can be solved and families restored.

Please contact staff clinician Cassandra Ward at 312-893-7203 or email her at cward@erikson.edu for more information or to schedule an appointment.

An Office for a Goose

A GRAND announcement! Mother Goose has been invited to move into The Willett Center with her Blue Star Banners!

Of course, my loyal readers may have noticed my extended leave of absence from the blogging scene, but will surely remember that I had written a story describing the services of The Willett Center. It has been many years — 25 years to be exact — since I worked in an office setting, so naturally I’m jumping up and down for joy on my big old rubbery feet.

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What an honor to be included in this facility along with some really exceptional organizations all offering supportive services to our community’s brave veterans! I am across the hall from Laura Soteno from Easter Seals and Kevin McCauley, our resident expert on employment for veterans. Next door is Cassandra Ward from Erikson Institute, a very warm, loving and progressive family and child counseling agency. I’ve met Miss Josie who is the founder of Patriotic Women of Oak Park who has an office somewhere in this large building.

We are all graciously helped and administrated by Miss Joyce — oh my gooseness, I couldn’t have figured out how to set up this office without her able and admirable assistance! She’s a gem, a one-in-a-million precious treasure!

There are veterans in the Resource Room using the computers and job banks.

There are people coming and going, asking questions about our services and finding the answers that they need.

There’s a buzz in the air about the resource fair that will be held in a neighboring Chicago community on September 28th, Austin Salutes Veteran and Military Families. (Of course, Mother Goose loves the sound of that!)

I have so much space for dressing up my banners, and such a lovely rosewood desk with a matching book shelf. I have a filing cabinet and not one, not two, but THREE chairs — two of them are cushiony and tiltable and rockable and spinnable and twirlable.

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There’s a second door out of my office. It has a two-way mirror…”they” can see me, but I can’t see them. I’ll be hanging a lovely patriotic curtain over that mirror, you can be sure of that! What happens in the office of Mother Goose STAYS in the office of Mother Goose…

Only the most vain goose would require such a large mirror for checking her feathers and beak...

Only the most vain goose would require such a large mirror for checking her feathers and beak…

And the most wonderful “accommodation” — some perfectly wonderful racks to hang my banners on to let the glue dry after I’ve attached the gold fringe to them.

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What a marvelous blessing! My family members will all be quick to tell you how unusual our home has been these past 18 months with banners hanging and drying all around the kitchen and dining room.

So now I feel very “official” here in my office. Besides the upcoming resource fair and meeting so many people and making so many valuable connections, I’m also making plans to attend many upcoming military family support meetings. Oh the looks on the faces of the moms and dads when I present them with their own family banner to hang in their window. The love and pride in their sons and daughters just shines from their eyes…

The work of Blue Star Family Platoon goes on! We know our mission. We are marching forward. With rubbery feet, but marching nonetheless. God bless you today with His love.

Mother Goose

Veterans on a Trek

Mother Goose salutes Anthony and Tom, two veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom, who will begin their WALKING trek across America this morning at 10:30. Beginning at Milwaukee County’s War Memorial, they will WALK every day until they reach their destination, Los Angeles! What? WHAT?

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And why? They are WALKING this journey for a number of reasons. Firstly to raise funds for a great coffee shop called Dryhootch whose mission is to serve and attend to our brave veterans. They provide coffee, companionship and peer mentoring for any veteran who walks through the door. A safe place! They have locations throughout Wisconsin, two in Illinois (Oak Park SOON!) and St. Louis. So far, the fundraising is going well!

Another purpose of this trek is raise awareness of veteran issues in our nation. Many people are simply not understanding that these men and women have risked their lives in support of freedom around the world, but not suffer the consequences of combat. There are physical and emotional scars that may never go away for these warriors.

You can follow the progress of these guys by going to their website or following them on Facebook or checking on their tweets. What an incredible journey!

Anthony Anderson and Tom Voss start their trek across America TODAY!

Anthony Anderson and Tom Voss start their trek across America TODAY!

Breaking News from our Oak Park Bureau

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – August 12, 2013

Easter Seals of Metropolitan Chicago is looking for America’s veterans. This newly-formed branch of the well-known charitable organization has the distinct focus of military and veteran supportive services and is easily accessible to Oak Park, the western suburbs and Austin community citizens. This facility, The Willett Center, is located at 120 West Madison Street in Oak Park.

All veterans are welcome!  Come on in!

All veterans are welcome! Come on in!

Laura Soteno, Program Manager for the military and veteran services group, says that her biggest challenge in this center is finding veterans in the area who want to take advantage of these services and benefits. Many people do not realize that Easter Seals has a special department devoted to veteran and military supportive services.

This prime-location space has been redesigned to provide workforce training, benefits counseling, financial literacy workshops, support services PLUS veterans and their families can soon relax and enjoy the camaraderie of others when DryHootch, a non-profit coffee shop for veterans, moves into the location.

Easter Seals recognizes that military culture is significantly different than civilian culture with different
values, attitudes, goals and even its own language and terminology. They are developing these special programs to meet the complex needs of our military veterans and are working with veteran volunteers to provide immediate services to veterans and their families.

The program concept is based on veteran peer-to-peer mentoring (combat veterans helping other combat veterans). Advocate mentors work side by side with veterans to assess their needs and then design an individual employment plan for them. Job readiness training begins with the assessment and then continues with the basics, such as dressing for work, employment behavior training, resume preparation and interview simulations.

Finding a job is commonly the priority mission for our veterans

Finding a job is commonly the priority mission for our veterans

The center houses one of the finest resource rooms in the area with computers, job postings and work areas for the veterans to get organized in their job searches.

Ms Soteno’s greatest joy is seeing the transforming power of peer mentoring for these men and women who have served our nation and defended liberty around the world.

Laura Soteno on the right with Josie Pierce, one of the case managers at The Willett Center

Laura Soteno on the right with Josie Pierce, one of the case managers at The Willett Center

For more information, please call The Willett Center (Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago) at 708/524-8700 or send an email to lsoteno@eastersealschicago.org.

A Blog from my friend, Max

Since his return from Iraq in 2004, U.S. Army Sgt. Max Harris has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and is an ACTIVE advocate for veterans who have experienced those symptoms. Max fights diligently as well against the stigma attached to that diagnosis. I thought it appropriate to share what he wrote last evening in remembrance of the night in Iraq ten years ago when he lost his friend, 1st Lt. Leif Nott to “friendly fire”.

Ten Years to the Day: The Night that Changed Me Forever
07/29/2013

TRIGGER WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

I have to work tomorrow. Tomorrow, of all days, is the last day I want to be around anyone. It’s the ‘anniversary’ of the incident that changed everything for me. I don’t normally write about the actual event that was a major contributing factor to my PTSD, but this anniversary is different.

It still feels like yesterday, but tomorrow makes ten years to the day that 1LT Leif Nott died in a friendly fire incident in Balad Ruz, Iraq. I still struggle with what happened every day. I remember the sounds, the smells, the feel, everything.

This is the first time that I have mentioned the incident specifically. I don’t know why I feel compelled to share it now. I just couldn’t let another year go by without honoring those that were injured and those that died that day.

I can’t bring myself to recount all that happened, but you can read about that night and the cover up HERE.

I tried to ‘suck it up’ but I landed myself in the Combat Stress Control Clinic at Balad Air Field a week later. Everyone back at the unit I had been attached to was acting like nothing had happened. I felt compelled to make sure the truth was known – so I contact JAG and CID and reported the friendly fire incident and violations of the rules of engagement. I also reported my suspicion of attempts to sweep the whole thing under the rug.

A week later, I was released back to duty by the clinic. My reporting the incident should have remained confidential. Somehow, it made its way back to the commanding officer of the unit I was supporting and I instantly became persona non grata.

Things went downhill fast from there. I was denied R&R and mid-tour leave because I was a ‘mission critical asset’ – yet the rest of my team and all of the other attached special operations teams we worked with got to rotate home for two weeks. I isolated and shunned by all but my colleagues. The sectarian violence ratcheted up soon after and the trauma continued to build.

Six months later, I found myself being sent home, a danger to myself and others.

The greatest travesty: The unsung heroes that never received the recognition they deserved for jumping into action.

When it became clear that we had shot up our own, the direct support Psy-Ops team, two young medics and myself ran out to conduct triage. It became evident that we needed another vehicle so I ran back to the TOC and ordered some privates to clear out the Psy-ops turtleback so that we could use it as an ambulance. The next few minutes were a blur. I remember SGT Anderson being carried into the medic bay. Same with SPC Devers. I remember returning to the scene to continue to help and things become disturbingly clear in my mind.

I remember the old man, blood and bone chips flowing away from the mangled mess of his leg to pool in the dust on the side of the road. Somehow we managed to stabilize him. When the medevac birds arrived I positioned myself to lift the old man’s upper half into the stretcher and discovered that he had a gaping wound on his back. I had put my arm, almost up to the elbow into his chest cavity. I cannot adequately describe the sensation of feeling someone’s heart beating from inside their body. Those sensations and smells will stay with me until the day I die.

To this day, I still don’t know if those two young medics or the Psy-Ops team were ever recognized for their actions. I know, like me, they ran out there in untied boots, brown t-shirts, no protective gear, and M-16’s on their backs. We didn’t think, we reacted. And it is with the utmost humility that I need to express my admiration for their actions that day.

I just wish, on tomorrow of all days, that I could remember the medics’ names, Or the Psy-Ops teams’ names. Maybe this blog will reach them somehow.

Most importantly, I need to express my most sincere condolences to the family of 1LT Leif Nott. Until this year, I couldn’t muster up the courage to even do that. The memories were too much to handle. Honestly, they still are, but it’s been ten years.

I couldn’t be silent, reticent anymore.

Requiescat in pace, Lief. It is in honor of your service and sacrifice that I have finally mustered up the courage to share this. May you and your family find the comfort and peace you deserve.

Rest in peace, brave soldier...

Rest in peace, brave soldier…