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Friday, April 15, 2011

A Tough Week for the Iowa National Guard

Everyone -- soldiers, families, and friends alike -- knows going into a deployment that there are great risks to the soldier.  There are physical risks, psychological risks, and risks of fatality, as well as others I'm probably not even aware of as a mother.  As much as one prays for it not to happen, it does.  It's inevitable.

Almost all Americans have become complacent.  We've become disconnected from both wars --  immune to the casualty reports, if and when they ever get reported in a public forum.  That's one of the most important missions I have with the blog, to help people put a face on the war, to help people develop a personal connection, and to help people understand through Tyler's and my eyes what soldiers and their families experience.

Spc. Brent Maher
Two Iowa families dealt with the ultimate sacrifice this week.  First, we learned on Tuesday about the death of Spc. Brent Maher from Council Bluffs who was serving with the 1-168th Infantry Regiment, Iowa National Guard.  Spc. Maher died April 11 in Paktia province, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when enemy forces attacked his own unit with an improvised explosive device.  I learned of his death through my nephew, Gabe, who had served with Spc. Maher.  Gabe spoke very highly of him and shared with me a photo of Spc. Maher carrying Gabe on his shoulders.  Gabe's comment indicated that Spc. Maher was a very strong soldier who served his country in an exemplary way.  As a mother of a soldier, of course the death of any soldier hits home, but it becomes even more meaningful when it affects those you love.

As an aside, yesterday (April 13) was my birthday.  It was a great birthday with the only thing missing being my older son, Tyler, 27, serving with the 1-133rd, Iowa National Guard, in Afghanistan.  We are able to chat nearly every day on Facebook which relieves my angst.  I was delighted earlier in the week when he called, something that rarely happens.  So I didn't give it a lot of thought when we didn't connect at all on my birthday, but it did register with me that he hadn't posted anything on Facebook either. Just before going to sleep late last night I noticed that he wished me happy birthday on my Facebook wall and he apologized for not sending birthday wishes earlier because they hadn't had internet access.  And he phoned Thursday morning (April 14) and woke me up at 6 AM to give me official birthday wishes.  It was in retrospect this afternoon that I realized he hadn't had internet yesterday because all communications cease (internet and phone) upon word of a casualty.  They do this to avoid rumors spreading like wildfire and to ensure that the family is appropriately notified in the official manner and not from other soldiers, families, or the media.

This morning just before noon, I saw a "breaking news" article posted on the Des Moines Register website that Iowa had lost yet another soldier.  It's a punch-in-the-gut feeling as a parent to receive first word of an Iowa casualty.  It's that immediate inspiration of breath, holding it until you know it's not your child, and then breathing a sigh of relief when it's not.  The parents of Spc. Donald Nichols from Shell Rock, Iowa, didn't get to breathe that sigh of relief today.

Spc. Donald Nichols
As I was eating my lunch in my office today shortly after reading the article, my cell phone rang, about which normally I give little thought.  But today, the name on the caller ID was the leader of the Family Readiness Group (FRG).  I knew this would not be good news.  The phone tree had not been activated during this deployment thus far so this was my first experience.  The caller introduced herself in a polite yet regimented way and read the carefully prepared script.  She informed me that there had been a death in our unit, the 1-133rd, and that she was calling to let me know and that the soldier was not my son.  While so very thankful my son was fine. my heart ached for the parents of Spc. Donald Nichols.  Spc. Nichols died in Laghman province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using an improvised explosive device.

I'm sure many people think that the parents of deployed soldiers shed tears often.  Really we don't.  We do worry, wish, hope, dwell, anticipate, wait, and most of all pray that our children return home safely in body, mind, and spirit.  We move from one day to the next by dealing with emotions as we must, most often "brushing them under the rug" so we can go to work, interact with others, and complete our daily tasks.  But today, I hung up the phone and I cried.  I cried because the phone call made it real.  Very real -- real in the sense that our children there are all vulnerable and never safe.  I cried for Spc. Nichols and his parents and I cannot begin to comprehend their experience.

If you're reading my post, I ask you to consider my mission, that is to help put a face on the war.  Imagine yourself in the shoes of a parent, sister, brother, or child of a fallen soldier.  Remember them.  Thank them.  And embrace them when they come home.

* * * * * * * * * *
The Iowa Troop Pantry is holding a benefit for the families of both soldiers on Friday, April 15, at the Fish Fry at Regina High School in Iowa City from 5-7 PM.  Donations and letters to the families are being accepted at the benefit.  To contribute, drop off at the ITP Bake Sale Friday during the Regina Fish Fry or mail to Iowa Troop Pantry PO Box 3032 Iowa City, Iowa 52240.


  1. Your mission is admirable and has made its way into the heart of this reader many, many times. Thank you.

  2. Nancy, you never cease to amaze me. It takes dedication to consistently provide your updates and thoughts, and courage to share those thoughts in such a public forum while having a positive impact on many people.

  3. You are amazing. Thanks for what you do. I am Brent Maher's aunt and we are having difficulty getting our arms wrapped around this recent event. Our prayers go to Spc. Nichols family and the others who have been injured physically and emotionally by the recent events. The military liaisons that are working with Brent's family have been super. Thank you. Darwin and Sandy Bugg

  4. Darwin and Sandy, first let me express my sincerest condolences to you and Brent's family. My nephew spoke so highly of him and you all should be so very proud. It's reassuring to know that their family has had good support from the military.

    This blog has been the most rewarding project of my life and I wish I could think of a way to expand it following Tyler's return. From the feedback I receive, I am accomplishing my mission. I ask others to share my blog widely since it seems to help convey our message. Thanks again and condolences to your family.

  5. Thanks Nancy. You have expressed feelings that I have not been able to put into words. My son is home, and yet I am still grieving for those who are not. I was at the send-off's for Gabe & Tyler's units. We were sitting next to the aisle as they came into the auditorium. Many of them were openly crying, know the possibilites of what they were facing. Surrounded by so many who loved them, knowing that it might be the last time they saw them, and yet they willing went. They deserve so much respect and gratitude.

  6. Where do we get such men as these? We get them from women such as Nancy Davin.

  7. Many thanks Laurie, Lucy, and Cindy, and thanks for your support. Nancy

  8. I pray continually for the soldiers that are serving for our country..The two soldiers that died here in Iowa, I just grieved for their families because I know what it's like to lose a son.. (My son was killed in an automobile accident, he was 33).. I read your blog and I just pray to God for all our boys safety. These young men and women are so brave.. Your blog is one of my favorites..
    thanks for all you do and all we can do is trust in God and pray.. ta ta for now from Iowa:)

  9. Many thanks to you for your support and I'm sorry for your loss.