Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Saluting my sons on Veterans Day
Saluting my sons on Veterans Day
By Sean Cruz
Both of my sons, Aaron and Tyler Cruz, enlisted in the Army National Guard in 2000, joining an engineering battalion in southern Utah.
Their unit was put on alert, ordered to pack and stand by for deployment for Iraq early in the war, when President George W. Bush’s team began to realize that they didn’t have enough troops, although they would never admit this fact publicly. National Guard troops were activated far earlier than the public has ever realized, or cared to know about.
Their unit stood packed and ready, poised to leave for Ft. Carson, Colorado on 24 hours notice, throughout 2003. All of their equipment, vehicles and weapons were shipped for staging to Iraq.
Tyler was married and living in Utah.
Aaron was also living in Utah, but wanted to come back home to Portland and live with me. We had to obtain permission for him to come out here. I was able to bring him home in August 2003, and have written about this part of our lives in earlier posts.
The main thing was discovering the gravity and severity of Aaron’s physical and mental condition. He had not had adequate or competent medical care in all the years he had been living in Utah. Now he was facing life-threatening illness.
We came to learn that the reason their unit was held back on alert for so long was because their mission involved entering Iraq from the north, through Turkey, and that nation was not allowing U.S. forces through its territory at the time.
In November, 2003, their mission was changed, and my sons were ordered to report.
Aaron came downstairs to give me the news. He was going to join his unit and his brother. Nothing was going to stop him. Not even the warning from his doctor that his seizure disorder could put him into a coma from which he would not recover. He was going to Iraq.
I watched him pack on Thanksgiving day. He was gone the next day, sick as he was, clad in his dress uniform, driving to Utah.
I promised him his room would be exactly as he left it when he returned home, although I could feel in my heart that I would not see him alive again.
He called several days later to tell me that he had passed the Army physical, that he was cleared for deployment and combat. I couldn’t believe it was possible!
He had not disclosed any part of his true medical condition to the doctors, and they were happy to take everyone they could.
Eventually, the Army would decide to hold Aaron back in Utah for medical evaluation, but sent his brother Tyler on to Iraq, where he would serve as a .50 caliber machine gunner, escorting convoys across central Iraq for the next year.
The Army held Aaron in Utah for medical review. He could not leave the state. He received no pay and no medical care from Army doctors while he was there, and he died in April 2005, as predicted, after he suffered a seizure and fell into a coma.
I went broke supporting my son between the time the Army ordered him to report for deployment and his death.
I suspect that he was out of his anti-seizure meds.
Although Aaron is not a veteran of the Iraq war, that is through no fault of his own. He did all he could to get there, even attempting to transfer to other Iraq-bound units, if only the Army could overlook his medical condition, he hoped.
And he died a death common to veterans of this and other wars: alone, sick, broke, unemployed and homeless (his home was here in Portland).
His unit, back from Iraq, turned out in full dress for his memorial service, presented him with a flag; President Bush sent me a certificate, posted here:
Eight hours after we buried his brother, Tyler was on his way back to complete training for his second tour, a year spent in Ramadi, in combat every day and night.
I have had no information about Tyler in more than a year.
How I miss my boys.
To you both, on Veterans Day 2008.
Photos of Tyler in Iraq: