Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wow - it's been a while

So I ventured into blogland and saw that my last post was way back in January. Long before my world changed. So I figured I'd post a little bit, maybe a lot once I get going.

I thought during the last post that we were going thru one of the worst possible things ever. I laugh now at how wrong I was.

I'm happy to report that Kayla is doing well. Her hair has grown back, she's now back in school and she's still doing maintenance chemo. Next July she should be having a "cancer free" party. Yay!

But as most of you know in August Mike, our Mike, was on the helicopter August 6 that was shot down in Afghanistan. The week before Bre and I had been talking about my 50th birthday next October and how I would most likely be on Tybee Island watching my kid get married. I wanted Mike to wear his dress whites and she was adamantly against it. The morning of August 6th we'd been texting about the Glee Project, I told her I was jumping in the shower getting ready for a cousin's surprise birthday party. I'd just gotten out of the shower and gotten dressed when the phone rang, it was a number I didn't recognize and I ignored it as someone had posted my number on craigslist as selling a large parrot cage and I was not answering strange numbers. They called twice more. Then the phone rang with Bre's number coming up - I answered it with my goofy Hellllooooo thinking she had another thing to add about the Glee Project. A man (whom later I would meet and be introduced to as her CACO, Matt Bieker) asked if this was "Dawnya" and my heart stopped as I could hear Bre wailing in the background. Instantly I thought she'd been in an accident. I answered yes, is that Bre is she alright. He replied that Mike Strange had been killed in Afghanistan and he was there with Bre. My mind froze for a minute and I told him that wasn't possible. Then I told him to let me speak to Bre. He handed her the phone and all she could do was whimper. I told her I was on the first plane out, asked for Matt and told him that somebody better stay with her, I was on my way. I think Delta kicked someone off when I called to make flight arrangements, they were awesome. That was the longest trip of my life. Bre met my mom and I at the airport and when I dropped my bags and ran to her she was shaking like a leaf. I'd worried all the way out what to say, what to do - the reports were on every television in each airport and it just got bigger and bigger. I just whispered that I was there.

Over the first days that passed it was like moving thru water, everything slightly out of focus and very robotic. My main focus was making sure she ate and keep track of everything that was happening. Matt gave us info on what was happening, how it had happened, when they would bring the men home and set up an appt for her with the Command's psychologist.

Three days after the downing they brought them home. We were flown to Dover where the repatriating of the men happens when someone gets killed over there. There usually one suppose to be 3 family members there but this was such a big deal they eased up on that. When we got there the Secret Service and dogs were all over the place. We were held in a large room with all of the other families. Mike's family was one of the last to arrive, they'd been escorted by the Philly PD from Philly as Mike's mom is a police officer. We were suppose to be meeting for the first time at a wedding, not this way.

Obama walked into the room and talked to each individual person with either a shake or a hug. I found myself with my nose in his armpit and wished I was anywhere else for any other reason. I have a picture of us that looks like I'm crying but all I remember saying was I wanted the son of a bitch that did this head on a pike. He said he could promise the pike but they'd get them and we'd know. He also said "if there's anything he could ever do". We'll see.

After that we were lead to a large hangar. It took 2 large transport planes to bring them all back. We sat in folded chairs as the President, Leon Panetta and others stood at attention as each coffin was solemnly taken off the plane and transported to a waiting white ambulance-like vehicle. Four coffins per vehicle. It took three hours and the President never moved except to salute each coffin. At first it was hard as you didn't know which was Mike as no one had been positively identified, so you imagined each one as Mike but then as with time went on you just became numb. Bre held up well, well - let's say she mentally checked out for a while, it was her way of coping.

We were told that Mike was one of the most recognizable, but we also knew that one of the caskets held remains from numerous men and they would most likely be buried like that. She was told that viewing would not be an option, so most recognizable took on a new meaning.

She had received a note from the last guy that had seen Mike - that was still alive - Dan. He said that he was on watch and that when the call came in for the mission that Lou - the CO told him to grab Strange - "tell him if he can be ready in 5 he's with us tonight". Mike had been on missions for the past 3 nights and was suppose to be down that night. Dan found him in his tent reading his English text - he was taking an online class - and said if you can be ready in 5 Lou wants you. Mike's response was "hell yeah". Dan helped him get his gear on and put him on the bus taking him to the helo.

The report says that the rear rotor was hit by an rpg upon take off after successfully completing the mission. That the blast would have either knocked them unconscious or that the spin of the helo would have stopped their hearts and they probably never knew anything. I hope this is true. They were only 300 yrds off the ground. Mike once told his mom, don't worry about me over there, I'm the guy that goes in after the shooting has stopped. The only place I'm really in danger is on the helicopter. --

I'm stopping for now - I'm writing this more for me I guess, so if you've read this far I'm sorry it's so jumbled.


kim (weltek) said...

Thank you for sharing this, Tummy. It was really nice that you got the note from Mike's fellow soldier, letting you know the circumstances at least a little bit. I'm sorry your meeting with a President was in this scenario. Did you get any snot on his shirt?

You are an amazing family. Thank you also for the update on Kayla. So glad there is good news!

Puffy said...

Whoa, it's hitting me all over again. You wrote this beautifully and you'll be glad that you did, in the future. I don't know how you summoned the strength to go through this. *TIME* *big hugs*