Thinking of My Son the Lieutenant

(This is Scott writing…. and reflecting)
It’s been a month since I last saw my son Keith, at a dinner where we said our farewells. I miss him; I am concerned for him. It’s taken me too long to write about this.
My angst comes in knowing he leaves for Iraq soon. As I’ve noted here before, my son Keith is an officer in the Virginia National Guard. His engineering unit is now in final preparations in chilly Wisconsin. He will be leaving soon and directly for Iraq, part of a region I’ve dedicated my own career to studying.
No, I don’t want him to go, not under these circumstances. I’m not like Governor Sarah Palin, who last June proclaimed from a church pulpit how her son going to Iraq was somehow “a task from God.” I think too highly of Providence to be so presumptuous. My prayers for Keith are more modest, and, for the moment, private.
The day after 9/11, Keith volunteered to serve his University’s rescue squad. He joined ROTC and earned a scholarship. Not a path I would have chosen. My late father, once a West Pointer, would smile. From all accounts, Keith is today a good officer; he feels honored to be doing his duty.
We see the Iraq war rather differently. Yet our recent conversations and our last dinner were not to be about the cause, but about… Keith and his family. I was speechless; still am.
Helena at the time helpfully reassured me that “for Quakers, being speechless is our most common and usually deepest form of spiritual connection.” I like that. Just being with Keith, his wife, and my grand-daughter was precious. (Jessica is the one who so kindly delayed her birth until my birthday – 9/11 – last year. She’s an angel, just now learning to walk.).
Yes, I did manage to talk a bit, listened hopefully a lot more.
My son is an engineer in training, with a focus on bridge building. (for VDOT) If only he could be doing that for Iraq! I gather his unit will be engaged in “horizontal construction.” (roads & such) I wonder just why it is that Iraqis could not perform such tasks. It seems “trust” remains in short supply.
At a family briefing day in September, I was struck that most of the speakers inserted quick lines to the soldiers about “how much we appreciate your service” — without quite mentioning what it was they were to be doing. We were mercifully spared any of the Bushisms about a “war on terror” and undefined hoo-ahs about “victory.”
We were there vaguely as “a band of families,” even as we are dispersed up and down the east coast. Most Guard member families are isolated; I doubt my son’s neighbors in Augusta County even know he’s been deployed.
Like Vice President elect Joe Biden, when speaking about his son, I wanted – and tried – to tell Keith I am proud of him, that I admire his courage, that I can celebrate his maturity, his achievements in his own right, that I know he will make good decisions, that he is a good leader
Maybe I didn’t get that all out quite right; I had lump-in-throat disorder.
When Keith was told that his former middle school was asking about what they could do for him, what things they could send, Keith at first was a bit defensive. As his unit’s executive officer, he takes pride in making sure his troops are well supplied. (Think Radar — as a Lieutenant!)
But then he swallowed hard and asked quite earnestly that any care packages be sent to his daughter — Jessica — that she gets extra love and attention while Daddy is away….
In that sentiment, I could not be prouder of my son. I salute you Keith.