Changed By War, Family Relieved By Troop Removals

Originally published on November 11, 2011 5:25 pm
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Guy Raz.

In this part of the program, we're going to mark Veterans Day. This year, it comes as many military families breathe a sigh of relief. President Obama's decision to bring all U.S. troops home from Iraq means an end to one of the most dangerous assignments the U.S. military has seen in decades.

From North Carolina Public Radio, reporter Jessica Jones introduces us to one military family as it reflects on the war's emotional toll.

JESSICA JONES, BYLINE: Mary Ward keeps the china cabinet in her comfortable Durham home full of military mementos. It's stacked with everything from her son's Purple Heart Medal to special banners that service members' families display outside their homes.

MARY WARD: So here, let me open in here. These are the blue star flags - there's a few of them - that we hang up when Sean deploys. And so we put them up for the entire time: as soon as he leaves till the day he comes home.

JONES: The flags are backed with crinkly plastic so they're durable. Mary Ward, who's a high school teacher with a bright smile, says it's good they've lasted. The Army has deployed her son Sean four times since 2003, twice to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan.

WARD: I think it takes an enormous toll on a family. I don't think you ever feel like your life is normal again. We mark our time in life by deployments.

JONES: On Sean's second deployment to Iraq, a sniper's bullet ricocheted off him. He was saved by his body armor. Like any caring mother, Mary Ward says she hates to think of her son in harm's way. That's why she supports the president's decision to pull troops out of Iraq.

WARD: I think it's long overdue, and I'm happy to see it. And it's really nice to know that that's one deployment they're not going to have to think about again.

JONES: Her husband, Tom Ward, is a former Marine who is proud of his son's decision to enlist after 9/11. But he's angry because in his words, officials justified the war with false claims.

TOM WARD: I did support his patriotism. But, you know, we didn't know what kind of war it was going to be. What could we have known? All we really knew is what we were told, you know, that there was weapons of mass destruction.

JONES: Since then, Sean's deployments have been emotionally draining for the Wards and strained their ability to communicate. When Tom Ward was diagnosed with ALS last year - also known as Lou Gehrig's disease - the Wards struggled to find the best time to tell their son.

WARD: And you don't get much communication from him, you know?

WARD: And he's never really home long enough to really be able to tell him. What do you tell him when he first comes home, oh, and by the way, let me tell you about your dad. He's got ALS.

JONES: Sean Ward, who's 28 now, is back stateside. But he returned to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. So to his family in Durham, he's still away. The Wards call him as often as they can.

WARD: Hey, Sean-O. It's Dad. It's about 6:30, our time here in Durham, so I'm just calling to check in with you and see how you're doing, man.

JONES: On this evening, Sean is preparing for an early morning of training. Like his parents, he's glad he'll never deploy to Iraq again. Sean says it was a hard experience.

SEAN WARD: Iraq changed me. It made me bitter. I think it made me a little angry.

JONES: Sean says when he was in Iraq, he couldn't get a single leader to tell him why they were there.

WARD: Ask them why are these soldiers dying? Why a mom should come up and say, why has my son died for the Iraqi people, and is that beneficial to the Americans or beneficial to the Iraqis? Now, obviously, they could care less.

JONES: But Sean Ward says there were good things about his time in Iraq. He liked teaching the soldiers he was in charge of. And his life is moving forward in other ways. He recently married a female soldier he met in Afghanistan. They're deploying to Germany in December to start their married life together.

For NPR News, I'm Jessica Jones in Durham. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.