|eager to serve his country, and although I worried about his safety, I was proud of his commitment and
grown-up sense of patriotism. Yes, I was proud of my son. I was proud of all the men and women who
now bravely and dutifully stood between Shias and Sunnis as civil war raged on. I was equally
ashamed of our government for launching an unjust war that had thus far taken countless innocent
Less than three weeks after returning to Iraq from leave, my fears were realized. On November 2nd I
received a call telling me Michael was severely wounded in an IED (improvised explosive device)
attack in Al Anbar Province. On a mission to rescue some Marines bogged down in a fire fight, Michael
was injured when the Bradley vehicle he was riding in rolled over an IED and the turret gun door blew
into him. Pulled from the vehicle by another soldier, Michael was airlifted to Al Asad airbase. Two
Marines died in the explosion. Michael suffered severe injuries to his lower right leg and right elbow.
Three surgeries were done at the field hospital at Al Asad airbase, and doctors were able to save his
leg. Michael said that when he woke up from surgery, a doctor stood by his bedside and said, ?Well,
son, you just earned the Purple Heart.? Michael?s response at that point was, ?Yes, but do I still have
my leg?? The incision that extended from the ankle to the knee was left open when he developed
compartment syndrome, but within a few days, Michael?s leg was sewn up, and he was moved to an
outpatient area at Al Asad.
Initially, I was told by the Red Cross that Michael would most likely be sent to the Landstuhl military
hospital in Germany within 48 hours. However, when I talked to Michael 2 days later, he said the Army
fully intended to keep him at the outpatient facility at Al Asad until his wounds healed and he was able
to re-join his unit at the Forward Operating Base near Camp Hit. Michael described the outpatient
facility as ?a trailer with four beds and nothing else.? ?I was extremely upset and confused over the
sparse and conflicting information coming from the Army regarding Michael?s condition, and of course,
not being with Michael was unbearable.
During his time in the outpatient facility, Michael had no access to medical care or health care staff
unless he walked over to the hospital. Barely able to get around with crutches, this was no easy task.
A soldier also staying in the outpatient unit had been extremely traumatized by his experience/injuries
and was having difficulty sleeping. Michael hobbled on crutches to the hospital to advocate for him,
asking to speak with a Chaplain and to receive medication for the other soldier to help him sleep. He
was told no Chaplains were available, and only after repeated requests (each request a bit more
angry and desperate than the previous one) was Michael able to help secure sleep medication for his
friend. ?At one point, an irritable nurse told Michael that he?d better be careful how he talked to people
because they had control over what happened to him. Clearly, the medical staff was as overwhelmed
by the situation as the soldiers they cared for.
As his step-mother, Michael?s situation was clearly unacceptable to me. I was eager to get Michael out
of Iraq and to Germany where he could receive adequate medical care for his injuries as soon as
possible. During the three weeks Michael spent at Al Asad, I repeatedly called my Congressional
representatives in Iowa and Michael?s Senators in New York. In Iowa, Senator Harkin?s office was
helpful and sympathetic, offering to look into Michael?s situation. Senator Grassley?s office never once
acknowledged any of my calls or letters. In New York, I spoke with Senator Charles Schumer?s Military
Affairs person, who told me Michael would need to contact Senator Schumer himself in writing.
Senator Clinton?s staff took information and asked me to send her, in writing, my request for help. I
immediately wrote letters to all of them.
Growing more desperate by the day, I contacted Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times. Gordon
wrote an article for the Times in September 2006 entitled ?Endurance Meets Doubt in Iraq.? The article
was about Michael?s unit and the loss of Spec. Michael Potocki. I learned that two of the soldiers
quoted in the article received punishment for speaking out against the war, and I wondered if Gordon
might be interested in Michael?s situation as well. Gordon offered to talk to Michael directly about his
current situation, and I thought perhaps Gordon may be able to help get Michael to Germany to
receive the care he needed. I contacted the father of Ryan Kahlor, one of the soldiers in Michael?s
platoon who was quoted in the Times piece. He referred me to the website of Military Families Speak
Out, an organization made up of military families victimized by the unjust war in Iraq.
I contacted the organization, and from that point on, I finally felt supported in my fight. I talked to
Nancy Lessin, founder of Military Families Speak Out, and her advice and support was invaluable to
me over the next few weeks. MFSO took Michael?s name and details of his situation to a meeting with
Nancy Pelosi?s Chief of Staff in Washington, DC, and they promised to do all they could to help. The
vast network of MFSO families has since become very dear to me as we work together to end a war
that?s robbed so many of our sons and daughters.
During the entire ordeal, Michael called me almost every day, and every day I tried to give him
something to be hopeful about. I told him who I spoke to that day, what letters I wrote, what advice I
received, and above all, I told Michael to hang in there. I sensed sadness and pain in his voice every
time we spoke ? my son was wounded and afraid and hurting ? there was nothing that would stop me
from fighting to get him out of there.
Finally, on November 17th, fifteen days after the injury, Michael called to tell me that the Army doctors
at Al Asad had decided to send him to Germany for ?substance abuse counseling.? Those who know
my kid know he?d never in his life had a substance abuse issue, so we were both extremely perplexed
about this new development. When Michael questioned the doctor, he was told to ?Never mind ? just
take it and get out of here.? Michael and I decided that if ?substance abuse counseling? was a way to
proper medical care, we would, indeed, ?take it.?
In order for Michael to be moved, the Army required him to have his gear with him. Most everything
was destroyed in the IED (improvised explosive device) attack, but his helmet and vest was in the
supply room back at Camp Hit. Because Michael served on a Marines/Army joint task force, getting
word from the Army to the Marine soldier in charge of the supply room at Camp Hit apparently was no
quick or easy task. The soldier in the bed next to Michael had been waiting for two weeks for his gear
to be retrieved, so Michael wasn?t optimistic that he?d leave Al Asad anytime soon. ?I immediately
phoned my new friend and fellow MFSO member, Tim Kahlor. Without a moment?s hesitation, he
agreed to ask his son, Ryan, to put Michael?s gear on the next convoy to Al Asad. As it turned out,
Ryan was going to Al Asad the next day for training, so he was able to personally deliver Michael?s
gear to him, just 24 hours later. When Ryan walked in to Michael?s room with his gear, Michael said,
?How the heck did my gear get here so fast? Did the supply clerk get a requisition?? Kahlor replied,
?No, your Mom called.? Those generals have nothing over us Moms! Even in the scary and dark days
immediately following Michael?s injury, we were able to find room for a little humor.
Michael was next sent to Balad, where his stitches were removed prior to transport to Germany. He
arrived at Landstuhl hospital two days before Thanksgiving. Again in an outpatient facility, he waited
to see the psychiatrist for ?substance abuse counseling? and began physical therapy on his leg and
elbow. The psychiatrist was as perplexed as we were regarding the need for substance abuse
counseling, and within 48 hours he had released him back to his unit in Baumholder. Shortly
thereafter, the physical therapy department also released Michael back to his Baumholder unit, ?and
he was moved from Landstuhl shortly after Thanksgiving. Michael would continue his physical therapy
at Baumholder with visits scheduled to Landstuhl for re-checks with the doctor.
Michael remained in Baumholder and was never sent back to rejoin his unit in Iraq. The rest of the 1-
6 returned from Camp Hit in February 2007. They are scheduled to deploy again in November 2007,
but we are fairly confident Michael?s stop loss orders will be lifted, and he will be allowed to leave the
military for good in June. Until then, he continues to work on his physical rehabilitation and prepare
himself for civilian life. I had the wonderful fortune to travel to Baumholder in February to visit Michael
and meet many of the soldiers he now calls ?brothers.? It was an incredible experience, full of emotion
and mixed feelings. My son was a sight for sore eyes, but many of the stories told to me by the
soldiers who served with Michael were absolutely heartbreaking. I fear that the Iraq occupation will
have negative and long-lasting repercussions on the psyches of our American soldiers for
generations to come.
We?ll probably never know why Michael?s orders were changed and why he was finally allowed to
leave Iraq to receive medical care in Germany. Perhaps doctors realized his injuries were significant
enough to keep him from the front lines; perhaps one of the many members of Congress I contacted
was able to help; or maybe a sympathetic doctor at Al-Asad simply wanted to help my son get out of
there. ?Regardless, I am thankful Michael is now safe, and I know our family is very lucky. I continue to
grieve for all the families whose loved ones won?t return home ? soldiers who bravely followed the
orders of their Commander in Chief ? soldiers who trusted America to send them to fight only just
causes. I am so sad we let our soldiers and their families down.
My MFSO work remains an important part of my life, and until all American soldiers return home to
their families, I will remain an active part of the grass roots effort to end this senseless and disastrous
Brenda Hervey lives in Sioux City, Iowa, and can be reached at:
|On March 8, 2007, I contacted ?Brenda Hervey to write a story about
her step-son, Michael. ?I was so deeply moved by the story that I
thought about it for days. ?I finally knew that I couldn't write words
more eloquent than Brenda's own. ?A column of my reaction to this
story is on my blog at www.monashaw.com.
by Brenda Hervey
On Tuesday, October 10, 2006, I stood outside the Buffalo
International Airport and hugged my step-son tightly as he readied
himself to return to Iraq after a two-week mid-tour leave. This was
Michael?s second deployment to Iraq in three years, and this time
he'd been in-country since January 2006. I tried to re-assure him by
saying the deployment would be over in a couple months and then
he would be back to the safety of his base, and soon thereafter, to
his family. Looking back, I realize I was trying to reassure myself as
much as Michael.
|My son?s initial three year active duty commitment
to the Army was scheduled to end in October 2006,
but his obligation had been extended arbitrarily by
the issuance of stop-loss orders. So Michael should
have been home for good ? three years after
entering the Army, one month after his 21st
birthday. Instead, we stood clinging to each other in
the airport ? the moment for me almost unbearable.
Every day I prayed Michael would not pay the
ultimate price for the mistakes of the Bush
administration, as almost 3,000 American soldiers
and countless Iraqi civilians had already. Every day I
prayed the American people would demand an
immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and
would demand our country take care of our soldiers
when they arrived home.
When Michael enlisted three years ago, just shy of
his 18th birthday, he did so with a sense of pride
and honor. Feeling not yet ready for college, he was