Justin is on his way home from Iraq! I just got his email today, that the Army is letting him come home earlier than his expected Dec. 31st date. He should be home by the 22nd or 23rd. I’m sure his family is ecstatic, but I am just proud. You see, I don’t even know Justin, really. Justin’s been in Iraq for a year. I wouldn’t have even known about him if it wasn’t for feeling this urge to help our soldiers back in May.
I had heard that so many men and women in our military don’t ever even get as much as 1 letter while they are overseas putting their lives on the line. I was heartbroken and wondered what I could do. I found an awesome website called Any Soldier which lead me to an area of the website where you can read all the thousands of letters from Soliders in Iraq and Afghanistan asking for a care package. I started writing letters and sending what I could to these soldiers. I decided that I could do more by doing a fundraiser. I found out that a mom in my church was beside herself, as her son was in Iraq. His name is Ryan. She told me of the many soldiers in his unit who never hear from home. I was blessed to have a local restaurant offer to donate 30% of their profits for a benefit dinner in honor of Ryan’s unit. And so it went…
I then heard of a second mom in my church also so worried and fearful. Her son was also in Iraq. This was ever-so-brave Justin. I didn’t even know him, but after his mom forwarded me emails he had been sending home, I knew I had to try to organize a benefit dinner for his unit. Again, I was blessed to have my property owners association step up this time and offer to hold the dinner here in my community. Volunteers poured out to cook, help decorate, create a picture slideshow with music to the tune of Natalie Merchant’s “Kind and Generous,” they gave money and the dinner guests brought donations for the care packages. Our State Representative Jerry Birmelin even came. Justin’s parents brought photo albums for us to pass around to all the guests, who were so moved by them. It really was a fantastic night.
For the past several months I was on Justin’s email list, so I got to keep track of what was going on…and when days went by without an email, I often got worried. I stopped watching the news whenever they talked about soldier’s being hurt in Iraq. Justin has lost many friends during his time in Iraq. I read his heartbreaking emails each time he lost someone and I sat there and cried. My oldest would often ask me fearfully if our soldier friend was hurt. I was happy to say he was safe, but sad that another soldier was not so fortunate.
Justin sent back so many great pictures of the children in Iraq and the “#1 family” that his unit loved in Sammara. He sent great videos too. And through all of this I really felt I got to know who Justin is, even without really ever speaking directly to him through email. I can tell you he is wise beyond his 23 years. He is brave and full of courage that even I don’t possess. He is thoughtful and caring, and most of all loyal. I can see why so many people in his life are drawn to him. He is the kind of guy that if he is your friend, he is a friend for life–through thick and thin.
I surely hope that when Justin gets back in the states, that there is an opportunity this Holiday season for a true gift…a meeting in person and to be able to hug a true hero.
Love you Justin, glad you are coming home!!! xoxo