Joyful hopes, painful reminders
Last week my friend Manal, a fellow aspiring author who is originally from Lebanon, started a blog. On her first blog post she told the story of taking her family to Lebanon for vacation in 2006, only to be blindsided by the outbreak of the Israel-Hezbollah war. She and her family had to be evacuated by US Marines. She posted the photo above on her blog, and asked if anyone might know the young Marine in it. He had greeted her family at the US Embassy gate, told them they were safe, high-fived one son, carried another and held her daughter’s hand as they walked into the embassy compound. She wanted to find him, just to thank him again.
In the photo the Marine’s name, Wilks, and rank, Lance Corporal, are visible. I decided to help her find the Marine. I posted the photo on a military forum, and asked if anyone knew him. I figured someone would know someone from his unit, I’d get a name to search for on Facebook, and a happy mini-reunion would follow.
Instead, I got this response:
“He might be KIA, brother.
There was a CPL Kyle Wilks from CLB 24 that died in 2008. This same Wilks was assigned to CLB 24, which supports the 24th MEU, since 2005. 24th MEU went into Beirut in 2006.”
A few others sent similar messages, along with links. And it was confirmed. Corporal Kyle Weston Wilks was killed by an IED in Afghanistan in 2008, two years after he welcomed my friend and her family to safety in Lebanon.
Manal lived through the horrible Lebanese Civil War. She is no stranger to death. But she was crushed by the news of Wilks’ loss in Afghanistan.
Her blog was intended to be funny, filled with stories about the hectic life of a wife, mother and business owner who travels around the world visiting her far-flung Lebanese family. Instead, her second post was about the loss of the young Marine who she so fondly remembered, the man whose image represented America’s safety and security. That blog post, “RIP instead of a big hug”, drew comments from several people who knew Wilks, including family members and even a corpsman who was in Wilks’ convoy the night he died. Manal has been overwhelmed by the response.
Obviously, I didn’t know Kyle Wilks. But I knew many men like him. One was an infantry lieutenant named Jared Southworth.
Jared and I attended a marksmanship training course in Arkansas in 2008. We instantly hit it off; we were both cops, both combat arms soldiers, both married. Despite being a young guy, he had four kids. I had three and one on the way. Jared was funny as hell, and despite never having met each other before, by the end of the two week course we were pretty good friends.
Jared and I were both about to go to Afghanistan, Jared with an Illinois unit, me with my Texas unit. Jared tried to get me to switch and go with him. I decided to stick with a Texas battalion, and he wound up going to Afghanistan a couple of months before me.
A few days after I arrived at my firebase in northeastern Afghanistan, I ran into a soldier wearing Jared’s unit patch. I knew their unit was spread all over Afghanistan, and hoped Jared was stationed close by. I asked him if he knew Jared.
A pained expression came over his face. “Yeah, I knew him. He was killed two days ago.”
Several seconds of silence followed. The soldier looked at me sympathetically. I performed mental gymnastics, trying to find some way to make the news not true. I asked several questions to confirm: “You’re talking about the cop? The Ranger school graduate? The guy with four kids?”
The answers were all “yes”. Jared was dead. Killed by an IED, at the age of 26.
As proud as I am of my service in Iraq and Afghanistan, I hate what these wars cost. I hate the fact that my friend Manal will never have the chance to thank her Marine. I hate that four children in Illinois will only have a hazy memory of their father. I hate that so many families have Gold Stars on their walls.
Kyle Wilks. Nicola Belda. Jared Southworth. Yann Hertach. Tommy Folks. Matthew Freeman. And thousands of others.
I wish they were still with us. I wish we could just “win” in Afghanistan and leave. And I wish this war was over.
Filed under: Afghanistan | 20 Comments
Tags: Afghanistan, Jared Southworth, Kyle Wilks, veteran writers