Monday, February 28, 2011


The journal you are about to read is part of an ongoing dialogue.  The words are a conversation between "the family" of
the soldier experience.  It's Dads, Moms, Sons,  Daughters,  Relatives and Friends sharing their thoughts of a particular day and/or it could be the soldiers journal entry detailing his or hers.  I believe there are many, many people keeping a journal through the Afghan War.  If you want to share an entry of yours email it to  Your post will be strictly confidential,  no names will be used.  In addition, locations overseas will not be mentioned for security purposes except the country of origin.  Some editing may be done to further protect the journal participant.

Dear Sonpo:

It's been quite a few days since I wrote down anything specifically for the journal about your deployment to Afghanistan.  As I looked back, it was January 1st....far too long to go without sharing some thoughts.  I'm trying to figure out why it's been so hard to write this, frankly I've been numb since you came home on leave and then went back to Afghanistan. 

Maybe it's my way of thinking that the worst is past and that we are on the downward slide.  Another part of me has wrestled with what this will all mean when you do come home.  How will you be affected by your deployment? What has this time meant in the manner of sacrifice for you and us?  How will others view your commitment?

A little over a week ago there was a situation where a wounded  Iraq Vet stood up at Columbia University and voiced his opinions on the military at a town hall meeting.  Anthony Maschek, a former Staff Sgt. who was shot 11 times and received the Purple Heart bravely stepped up to the mike and issued an impassioned challenge to fellow students on their perceptions of the military.  "It doesn't matter how you feel about the war.  It doesn't matter how you feel about fighting", said Maschek.  "There are bad men out there plotting to kill you."   

The response?  Some students laughed.  Others hissed and booed.  Some called him racist.  All of this directed to a young man, 28, who spent two years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington recovering from grievous wounds.  In all, the former Staff Sgt. suffered two broken legs and wounds to the abdomen, arms and chest in the Kirkuk, Iraq attack. 

Anthony Maschek and fiancee Angela O'Neill
This disgusted me.  We're not living in the 1970's.  This is not the Vietnam era.  I can recall the treatment our military men and women received during those times.  I've also heard stories from former soldiers that leave you shaking your head.  Stories like a soldier returning home and upon landing on American soil, threw away his military clothing in the airport restroom.  Why?  Because he knew how little respect he'd get if he wore the uniform.  He knew the public's disdain, where they'd just as soon spit at you as look at you. 

So I wonder, where's the tolerance?  Where is the respect Anthony Maschek should have been given?  And would Maschek have been offered the same response if he had stood up and supported some political view or gay rights issue.  If indeed Columbia University is an educational institution then they need to step up and educate here.  Let's have those same students who booed, hissed or yelled insults, take to the mike and see for themselves what accountability means.  Okay, I know that was a knee-jerk reaction.  Perhaps the real answer lies in the Ivy League school taking the remarks of this "misguided" few for a lesson in tolerance and the freedoms we have...and guess who brought those to us.

Anthony Maschek must be a proud man.  Thank God for that.  His message went practically unnoticed by a group that can not see or hear particularly well.  There are bad men out there plotting to kill us.  If you don't know that by now, well...............

That's what I'm struggling with son.  I don't question your commitment.  I don't question your sacrifice.  We can only hope and pray that situations like Anthony Maschek's pave the way for understanding.  Understanding that as we look around us, the need for our military is growing.  And along with that should be our respect and gratitude.  Stay strong!! 

154 days or 22 weeks to go however you look at it!  Praying for your safety, son.  Praying for you daily......

Love you,

"Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.  Mercy triumphs over judgment .-James 2:12-13 




Friday, February 25, 2011


"When Mom Deploys" is a several part story of the deployment of  Sgt. Teri Waggoner and the family that stayed behind, husband Mike and daughters, Melissa, Tiffany and Morgan.  Through their comments, fears, achievements, frustrations and love, you can come to know and realize another face of deployment.  Sgt. Waggoner deployed on July 30. 2010 from Storm Lake, Iowa and is now stationed in Afghanistan.   It is apparent from the comments made after Part 1 on the blog, that a great support system is at work here.  Those words will no doubt assure the Waggoners that they are loved, remembered and protected during this deployment.  

2011.  It was a whole new set of numbers for Mike and  Sgt. Teri Waggoner and family.  And it meant continued change.  At this stage, five months were down and seven were left in Teri's deployment to Afghanistan.  In some respects time had flown by.  And in others, it seemed like she'd been gone for a long, long time.

Not only were Teri's little girls growing up right before her "Skype" eyes, she was seeing changes in Mike too.  "More than anything, I've learned to be humble", Mike mentioned.  Much of that "humble pie" feeling has been acquired by the lessons he's learned about asking for or accepting help.  And others have been realized in the experience of being the lone parent in the house.  He feels he can truly appreciate what a single parent has to deal with.  In addition, he also has a different spin on accountability.  A comment like, "how you doing?", has a different connotation entirely.  When Mike offers that question, he's asking in a compassionate manner and not in a passing thought kind of way.  Having that taught to you through experience can be a great tool in itself.

It was about this time in Teri's deployment that I met Mike, Melissa, Tiffany and Morgan for the first time.  Mike had called into the WHO Radio show we produced on deployed families last December 10th.  His story fascinated me.  He told the listening audience of the experiences his family was going through.  And more importantly, how he was taking care of the responsibility of three daughters.  I tried to put myself in his shoes since I have three sons but I still couldn't equate much to his situation.  I knew though, I needed to connect with him.  Early the next week, I drove over to his place of work with the Johnston Community School district and left my name and phone number.  Within the hour Mike returned my message and we set forth on a discussion that continued my inquisitiveness.  "How about we do a story about you and the family", I asked.  And with a little giggle in his speech, he said, "sure".  It was mid-January before I made the short jaunt to Ankeny to meet the Waggoners.  Here's what  I saw.....

Remember the television show, "My Three Sons"?   It was that great 1960's and early 70's show starring Fred MacMurrary. The theme of the show centered on the life of a widowed single parent, Steve Douglas, and the trials and tribulations of life's experiences with sons, Mike, Robbie and Chip.  Now picture three daughters in place of the boys.....oh, and no Uncle Charlie, sorry Charlie.  It had that kind of feeling.  Much  because of the little ladies themselves. 

Question #1 for the three went something like this.  "So what have you learned by Mom being deployed and Dad being home?", I asked.   The general response was learning to take responsibility of themselves and to trust each other.  But it was 9-year old Morgan's comment that cemented my night.  "We need to do what were supposed to do and listen to Mom and Dad", she stated firmly.  Out of the mouth of babes, I thought.

The remainder of our time together I got a great feel for how each was coping and how teamwork was such an important part of their day.  I saw many of the Christmas items they'd received.  I met the cuddly little white bear that Morgan got in Storm Lake when her Mom deployed and I felt the love they had for each other.  "Dad has given up alot of things", Melissa said when thinking of how hard this process has been for her father.  "We try to give him 1-2 nights a week, when it's his time".  How grown up is that?

Towards the end of the evening I asked about their faith and church, curious of how that has played a part in their lives.  Each of the girls get "Mommy hugs" from the women at First Federated Church in Des Moines.  That has been a blessing.  Tiffany was instrumental in her Sunday School group sending Christmas items to the troops.  Melissa shared that she knows God is in control because He pushes away sadness.  Let's see, they get something, they give something and they are putting God's word to work.  I walked away that night thinking they had all the bases covered.

Mike feels he's learned to be a better Dad and a stronger man of faith as a result of Teri's deployment.  Yet he's faced some tests as has his wife.  "My faith has been tested alot. I have realized that I need to include God in all my plans and ask Him to help me each day. It's hard not being with my family and not being able to know what they are doing each day but also knowing that God is there to guide them is a blessing. My faith has grown in trusting that He will watch over them each and everyday", she prefaced.

Sgt. Teri Waggoner at work in Afghanistan counting the days.....

The question now is, when will Sgt.Teri Waggoner get leave so she can see this transformed group firsthand?  Initial reports had a June date but that's changed.  That's all I'm at liberty to say.  For months Iowa Guardsman have been making their way home for 15 days of reconnection.  I'm sure it hasn't been easy for Teri seeing fellow soldiers begin their journey home.  In July those thoughts were a small blimp on the noggin but she is beginning to put together images in her mind on the arrival home with these thoughts.  "I have been imagining that since I left!!!! I can't wait until I can hold them and see their beautiful faces again.  I know I won't be able to get on my knees in front of them because they've grown so much!  But to actually touch them and stand next to them will be such an awesome feeling.  It brings me joy inside!!!

The day of celebration could be near.  Without divulging when Teri will arrive, what I can say, is that for three young ladies....when they least expect it, expect it.  It will be a day for shock and awe....and maybe some "ah" as well.  Enjoy.



"As for God, His way is perfect; the Word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him."- 2 Samuel 22:31

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


"When Mom Deploys" is a several part story of the deployment of  Sgt. Teri Waggoner and the family that stayed behind, husband Mike and daughters, Melissa, Tiffany and Morgan.  Through their comments, fears, achievements, frustrations and love, you can come to know and realize another face of deployment.  Sgt. Waggoner deployed on July 30. 2010 from Storm Lake, Iowa and is now stationed in Afghanistan.   It is apparent from the comments made after Part 1 on the blog, that a great support system is at work here.  Those words will no doubt assure the Waggoners that they are loved, remembered and protected during this deployment.  

Mike Waggoner woke up early the next morning like he generally does.  His sleep had been a restless one.  While laying in bed, he reflected on the previous day seeing Teri, his wife of sixteen years, leave for Mississippi and the beginning of a year long deployment.  The Waggoner's had been apart before, but with the exception of when they were first married when Mike was stationed in Korea,  the only other times were when each was at Guard camp or on weekend drills.  This time was different.  Mike felt alone.  And he remembered, "It was like, wow, she really is gone".

The "alone" comment might be difficult to comprehend, especially when you consider the three young ladies that were now looking to Mike for direction.  But as he would recall, "I was now totally responsible in the daily operation of running a house".  And for most guys, asking for help, is not part of their make-up.  So every chore became an event and every event became a chore.  There was mowing the yard, doing laundry, doing the dishes and the job Mike now has the utmost respect for.  "Grocery shopping was huge", Mike said.  "That was overwhelming".  And then there was the taxi cab service that he knew little about.  He now knew first hand how little appreciation he had in his wife running the children to their various activities.  He was going to need help, for sure.

Help did come and it was certainly appreciated.  The beginning of school was roughly three weeks off and there needed to be purchases made for school clothes.  Mike's sister, Cheri Waggoner, came alongside to help the girls with some of their selections.  Mike gladly relinquished that shopping dilemma.  One can only imagine without his sister's help, what outfits might have been purchased or how difficult it might have been for a father to say "yes" or "no".  We'll never know...and maybe that's a good thing.

The next big hurdle for Mike and his young ladies was the first day of school.  "That's when it hit me" said a misty-eyed Melissa, age 13.  "Mom had always been the one to wake us up and get us off to the bus".   Many miles away,  Teri was having some difficult moments of her own.  "It was hard knowing that they started school and I wasn't there to help them get ready. I knew they could handle it but it was still hard', she said. 

The "handle" in the equation was Melissa.  She was already beginning to take on some responsibilities as a little mom.  Perhaps it's the female instinct that kicks in when needs like this crop up, but for whatever reason, Melissa had stepped up. "I know that she has grown up so fast because of how she feels about being the "mom of the house".  I wish I were there to take that feeling away from her but I can't. She is so strong willed and will always feel that way until I come home and tell her to be a kid again. I know that all three of the girls have had to grow up and be more responsible because of this deployment", exclaimed Teri,

Neighbors also lent a helping hand seeing that everyone made their appointed departure times for the bus and that the return home was chaperoned until Mike arrived from his day of work.  A rhythm was beginning to develop, or at least that's what Mike thought, until September.  That's when he hit the wall.

"My biggest concern for Mike was how stressful this was on him and that he'd be able to lean on others for help even though I know he doesn't like to ask for it", Teri offered.  One day one his co-workers asked him how he was doing because she thought he looked a little ragged.  And that's all it took.  The emotions came full force and the tears followed.  Days later at Sunday School, he had a similar occurrence.  It was evident Mike needed to relinquish the pressure he'd placed on himself to "carry the load".  These two experiences opened the door, once and for all to be open to receiving help.  Neighbors and church came to his aid time and again.  He was seeing God at work.  And for Teri, these happenings were further evidence of that too.  She had been praying that Mike would grow in his faith in the time that they were apart.   

Little Ladies "light" the way in the Waggoner kitchen

Next came the Holidays.  Thanksgiving was spent in Newell, Iowa with the Waggoner family.  A number of relatives were on hand for the big dinner.  Afterwards, the family "skyped" Teri.  Seeing her was confirmation that she was alright....and for her,  much the same.  It was a day with very little stress and emotions were held in check.  Christmas was right around the corner.

"We actually had alot of fun getting ready for Christmas", Mike said.  "When we went shopping, we had to split the girls up to keep from everyone knowing what they were going to get".  Melissa, Tiffany and Morgan took exceptional delight in buying a couple of model cars for Dad, a Corvette and a Charger.  Both sit on the desk at home in full view.    Christmas Day was a little less fun.  "It was a lonely day because  there was something big missing", stated Tiffany.  Teri, now firmly entrenched in her duties as a supply clerk in Afghanistan, also had sensed the big hole.  "Christmas was just another day here for me as I continued to work. I know that at home Mike and the girls had Christmas morning together then they went to a friends house. It was sad to have them open presents and I wasn't even there to see their faces", she said.

Two days later, Teri's family visited Mike and the girls in Ankeny.  Seventeen people shared space under one roof, nine of those being children.  It was a time of electricity and little quiet.  And it was a time when support was needed and accepted.  Once again, social media played a big role in everyone connecting to Afghanistan.  In addition,  it also brought about these thoughts from Sgt. Teri of her children, " they have all grown up so fast. I can't believe that the girls I see sometimes on Skype are really mine".

Indeed they had all grown in various ways.  And there were more to come.......

UP NEXT......

A New Year of Growth and Faith



Saturday, February 19, 2011


It's November 9, 2009.  Mike and Teri Waggoner and their three daughters, Melissa, Tiffany and Morgan, have just arrived at the Lincoln, Nebraska home of Teri's sister, Sgt. Tami Nordman.  This has been a day the Waggoner's have looked forward to, seeing Sgt. Nordman return home on  leave from Iraq after a six month deployment.  After the initial bear hugs of love, the thoughts turn to the "how are you's" and "I can't believe your back" mode.  Mike's cellphone ringing interrupts much of the chatter that is going on.  The conversation is short and pretty one-sided.....

As he puts the phone down, he turns to his wife as Staff Sgt. Mike Waggoner and tells her, "well, I guess the rumors are true".  On the other end of the line was his commander out of Oskaloosa telling him that he was to receive his order to deploy to Afghanistan in July of the following year.    This was a stunning but not fully unexpected call.  His response said that.  Staff Sgt. Waggoner began to think of a million different thoughts, but not for long.  His wife's cellphone rings.  Her call seems eerily the same.  As she puts the phone down, she turns to her husband as Sgt. Teri Waggoner with news that she too has received her orders for deployment.   Now what, they both think?

The remainder of the weekend for the Waggoners in Nebraska was a blur.  Mike felt it gave both he Teri an opportunity to be around family and not focus much on the news they'd just received, no matter how difficult that might have been.   It's hard to imagine both husband and wife receiving orders within minutes of each other to deploy.   I'd be surprised if anyone else can top that "deployment news" experience.  Perhaps that's a story in itself.  "Try And Top How I Was Notified For My Deployment". 

After returning from Nebraska, the Waggoners turned to the matter at hand.  How were they going to make this work for their family?  "Where would the girls go, would they go stay with their grandparents?  All sorts of thoughts were racing through our minds",  Mike said.  Then  four weeks later some other news came. This time of a much different variety. 

During Staff Sgt. Mike Waggoner's monthly weekend work in Oskaloosa came word that someone else would be taking his place on the call up list.  Waggoner, who was scheduled for his 20-year retirement in  January in 2011, would stay home.  His back-up would go instead.  The strategy needed to be altered, now, at least one of them would be home for the girls.  For Mike and Teri, for the girls, for relatives, for friends and  for church family it meant they could work towards providing some sort of normalcy.  So for roughly the next six months they planned as much as possible.

Mike's full time job as a bus driver for the Johnston School District meant travel to and from school for Melissa, Tiffany and Morgan in Ankeny would be of the greatest concern.  Once that was addresesed, then extra-curricular events needed to be considered.  Melissa wanted to play volleyball and Tiffany had sights on honor choir.  One by one,  tasks were "game planned".  But quickly the date for Teri's departure grew close.  July 30th was here before they knew it.        

(L to R) Tiffany, Morgan, Sgt. Teri, Melissa and Mike prior to the Storm Lake departure
Storm Lake was one of several locations in Iowa where Iowa Guard troop sendoffs were being held around the state on that rainy July day.  Friends, co-workers and relatives were on hand to support each other and Sgt. Teri Waggoner at the celebration event.  After a short ceremony of recognition of the troops there was time allotted for "last goodbye's" and hugs.   Many families took this time for last minute group and individual photos.  And then the troops began to board the buses and they headed out soon thereafter.

"That's when I went kind of numb", Mike reflected.  "It felt real but not with alot of certainty.  There were alot of tears, me, the girls, everyone."  To help ease as much of the pain as possible, a good part of the Waggoner clan went out to eat at a Storm Lake restaurant.  Hours later, Mike and his three daughters arrived home.  Drained.  The journey had begun, ready or not......


School begins, Holidays, And More......

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Over the years, I've been one that doesn't go with the flow.  I dislike fads, try to avoid fixating on commercials that tell me what I need to do, that will in turn determine how I'll feel.  I'm sure much of that is because I want to make up my own mind.  Or at least as much as I can by myself, anyway.  I think back to my younger days when the Beatles were the craze.  That's all people talked about.  Not me....I was in with Buffalo Springfield all the way. I liked the fringed jackets much more than the nehru ones.  I will say years later, many years later, I came to respect the Beatles place in history and the music world, but on my own terms.  I'm that same way with movies......

Perhaps You Should Take A Look
Last year I came across "Lions for Lambs" as I was moving across the movie channel lineup.  The summary listed, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep and Robert Redford in.....the experiences of two soldiers in Afghanistan tied together with seperate stories unfolding in California and Washington D.C.  I will have to admit, this was the first time that I could recall anything about "Lions for Lambs", which was released in 2007.  I watched and was impressed by a number of things in the storyline. 

"With a title that alludes to incompetent leaders sending brave soldiers into the slaughter of battle, the film took aim at the U.S. government's prosecution of the wars in the Middle East, showing three different simultaneous stories: a senator who launches a new military strategy and details it to a journalist on the edge of a mental breakdown, two soldiers involved in said operation, and their college professor trying to re-engage a promising student".  At the conclusion of the movie, I decided to put it in my DVR library.  The true test would be if I watched it again.  Last night I did.

 I was surfing across the movie directory and there it was.  I hit "select" and "Lions for Lambs" became viewable to me for a second time.  I liked the movie the first time I saw it...but after this second session I was intrigued to find out why it wasn't any box office hit.  Here is what the critics said:

"I went to a war-time thriller and a Poli Sci 101 seminar broke out"- Kyle Smith, New York Post

"Politicans, the media, educators, military commanders and the docile public all come under fire for a well-made movie that offers no answers but raises many important questions"-Ray Bennett, Hollywood Reporter.

"Despite its powerhouse cast, "Lions for Lambs", was a series of disjointed lectures rather than a sharp narrative that falls flat".-Tomatometer critic. 

Clearly, there is a dramtic difference in what people experienced based upon those comments.  Critics either loved it or hated it and the movie industry itself had issues.  "Lions for Lambs" was the first Cruise/Wagner production with United Artists since his fallout with Paramount Pictures.  Hmmmmmmm.  But there is more to the story......

Writer Matthew Carnahan was inspired to write the script when, while channel surfing trying to find a USC Trojans football game, he saw a news report about a Humvee that had flipped into an Iraqi river, drowning about five U.S. soldiers. Carnahan considered it an awful way to die, and "couldn’t get past it fast enough", considering he was too indifferent, "talking so much and not doing a damn thing", and "the same hypocrite that I so can’t stand in our country, the kind of people that will flip right past the news to get to Access Hollywood".   One exchange between Professor Stepehen Malley (Robert Redford) and student Todd Hayes was extremely poignant.  The Professor spoke about life and the road ahead:

Professor Stephen Malley:  The decisions you make now, bud (Todd Hayes), can't be changed but with years and years of hard work to redo it... And in those years you become something different. Everybody does as the time passes. You get married, you get into debt... But you're never gonna be the same person you are right now. And promise and potential... It's very fickle, and it just might not be there anymore.

Todd Hayes: Are you assuming I already made a decision? And also that I'll live to regret it?

Professor Malley:  All I'm saying is that you're an adult now... And the tough thing about adulthood is that it starts before you even know it starts, when you're already a dozen decisions into it. But what you need to know, Todd, no Lifeguard is watching anymore. You're on your own. You're your own man, and the decisions you make now are yours and yours alone from here until the end.
I'm not going to try and persuade you to like "Lions for Lambs".  What I am going to suggest is, if you haven't seen it yet, watch it.  If you've watched it before, try one more time.  I'm always amazed what I pick up when I re-read or  re-watch something.  Don't be dissuaded by the critics, don't let anyone tell you what it is or isn't.  See for yourself.....that's all I'm asking.   



Monday, February 14, 2011


A non-descript U.S. military vehicle pulled up to the modest Coon Rapids, Iowa home in the early evening  of  January 29th.  The two military men in the car had received an assignment earlier that day, a difficult one to say the least.  As both got out of the car, they took some deep breaths for composure sake and headed up the walk and into the garage where the side entrance was located.  Inside the house were Vice Commander, David Muhr, and two of his American Legion Post 357 friends.  The three were partaking in a competitive game of cribbage.  Their plans that evening, after the friendly card game was a relaxing dinner and some further conversation.   The sound of the doorbell interrupted the game.  As Mr. Muhr made his way to the door, little did he know that on the other side of the door would be information..... information that would assure that the dinner conversation later that night would be one they had not experienced before.  The major and  chaplain readied themselves as the door swung open.  They were the bearers of some news.... Specialist Shawn A. Muhr had been killed earlier in the day while on a supply mission in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan.  They were there to deliver that message as respectfully as they knew how.  All eyes met at the Major asked, "Are you David Muhr"?

Respect In Life And In Death
The names of the two military men are not of importance here.  What I would like to impress upon you is  how that day unfolded.....the thoughts along the way and the necessary "gifts" needed in relaying the death notification to Muhr family.

The United States Military is extremely experienced at delivering the death notification to the proper kin of a fallen soldier.  During WWII and the Korean War, notification was done through a telegram.  Hardly a respectful way.  Years later, with the shear number of fatalities from Vietnam and the Gulf War,  the military began training their personnel to deliver the death notification in person.  To date, 3,503 death notifications have been delivered to families of servicemen and women who died in Iraq and 1,475 in Afghanistan.  If anything, this has become a "learned" process, one where compassion is of the upmost importance.

The early hours of January 29th were somewhat uneventful for the Major and Chaplain.  All that changed at 12:20 p.m. when the cellphone call came from the Deputy Personnel Officer telling of a death in the Iowa Military family.  Immediately, the problems of the day changed.  In several hours, they were going to convey one of the most difficult and important message of their lives. "I knew I was going to deliver some news that would ruin someone's day", the Major recounted.

Now, the important aspect for the two officers to remember was respect.  It was the significance of that word, that provided strength and composure the remainder of the day.  It began with the Class A uniform both took considerable time in preparing.....ensuring their dress was precise.  Other preparations were taking place in their minds and some of those were of the prayerful variety.  Prayer for the right demeanor, the strength in the words to deliver and compassion to help direct the family in picking up the pieces.  By 3:15 p.m. they were on their way to Coon Rapids.....albeit with a potential slowdown in the making.

The Army's policy is for the primary next of kin to be notified first and then the secondary next of kin.  In this particular case, the widow of Specialist Muhr, Winifred Olchawa, who was at Fort Rucker, Alabama, was first on that list.  As the Major and the Chaplain drew closer to Coon Rapids it was apparent they would need to divert their course.  Not only did they have to wait on the news that the Ft. Rucker message had been delivered.....they now needed to avoid anyone detecting them.  Two Class A uniformed officers in a government vehicle in a small town would certainly be easy to spot.  For a little over an hour the wait continued, hidden next to a grain elevator in town.  Finally, the message delivered call was received.  At 5:45 p.m. the   non-descript military car began its final course to the Muhr residence.

Minutes later, when the Major began his words to David Muhr, he said them with a sense of strength and compassion.  "Mr. Muhr, I have an official message from the Secretary of the Army".......

A recent NPR program (National Public Radio) discussed the notification process from all sorts of angles.  It spoke on the "sorrowful anger" that many experience when they are informed of their soldiers touched on how that moment affects everyone (officers and family) very deeply in so many ways.....and it
spoke about the assistance to the family in the days leading up to the funeral and beyond.  One of the officers interviewed mentioned, "there is no way to soak into the experience of seeing two soldiers in their Class A's  coming to the front door.....and then to see that world collapse.  Our faces will be locked together....the image of the news I just delivered".   



P.S.  My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed.  God has fixed the time for my death.
I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me.  That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave--- Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson

Friday, February 11, 2011


Our son, Jonathan, snuck in just under the mark.  Yesterday would have been the sixth month of his leaving for Basic Training and AIT (Advanced Individual Training).  Only thing is, he avoided that distinction, if you can call it that, by arriving home late Wednesday night.....dressed to the hilt.

February 9th will be a day he remembers for quite some time, I'm sure.  He got up at 4 a.m. with the rest of his graduation buddies.  Showered, cleared out his room, chowed....and headed off to an 8 a.m. graduation.  In stark contrast to Basic ceremonies, not many family are present.  But that doesn't lessen the pomp and circumstance of the day or diminish the honors that are bestowed on the graduates.  That remains.

I think back to October 21st of last year and Jonathan's graduation from Basic at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  Over 200 soldiers were acknowledged that day.  The honor graduates received special recognition and one in particular spoke of the road ahead.....and the trials that will present themselves.  "Stay guarded" was the message.  I could only imagine how proud the parents of that soldier were.  Shortly thereafter, the caps flew in the air signalling an end to the festivities.  It was then, that soldiers went looking for friends and family.  The image forever implanted in my memory is seeing the person I knew as my son, maneuver through the crowd to reach us.  The aura surrounding him was different.  Frankly I've thrown out words like changed, manhood, jaw dropping and a bunch more that I thought might fit.  None have really expressed it's been intangible.

Later that day, Jonathan and 53 of his fellow soldiers boarded a bus to take them to Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland for AIT.  There they would begin working on their MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) as a Light-Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic.  "From Day One, I had my eyes set on being an honor graduate",  he reflected.  He reminded me of an early Facebook post when he first arrived in Maryland saying that same thing.  If only I could remember that.....

Several graduates and 1st Sgt. Sanders at Aberdeen with Jonathan (far right)

Because, he was.  Distinguished Honor Graduate PV2 Jonathan Kelling.  Has a nice ring to it, I must say.   Now,  I don't have to imagine what it must have felt like for the honor graduate's family at Basic, I know.   What I now find myself trying to visualize, is if I had been there Wednesday, hearing his name announced and watching as he made his way across the stage.  "If only I could imagine"......

What I won't have problems in remembering is his arrival at Des Moines International Airport later that evening.  He purposely was the last person from his flight to head for the escalator.  At the top, he stood in his Class A's, the same uniform he had on when he graduated earlier in the day.  Most of the graduates chose to travel in their ACU's (Army Combat Uniform).  Not this rascal.  He came dressed to the hilt.  As he descended the steps you could see the pride he carried growing the closer he got to us.  If we couldn't be there for his graduation, then he'd bring it home to us.  And I'm glad he did.

It has been a long six months.  So much has taken place, changes have been happening so, so fast.  Young men have had their lives altered.  They've learned accountability, teamwork, responsibility and a whole lot more.  As Jonathan summed up, "I've learned to be a leader and how to be a better one in the future".  Forty nine soldiers graduated from Aberdeen on February 9th.  They are going to be the ones to lead us.  I challenge them all to LEAD BOLDLY.

"Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me"-Psalm 23:4




Thursday, February 10, 2011


6 BANDS....3 CITIES......1 CAUSE....AND IT'S ALL COMING YOUR WAY IOWA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The name of the cause...."Pizza Ranch Restaurants Present The Establishment Rocks the Iowa Guard" is a fund raiser for the families of the Iowa Guardsman currently deployed.  And it's coming to three Iowa cities in the not so distant future.  It's the brainchild, of Eric Boetger, a member of the rock band, "The Establishment", who was moved to do something after hearing of the deployment of a family member of his group. 

"It was in mid-October and I was traveling back to Des Moines from Sioux City", mentioned Boetger.  "I just spent the weekend with our band and was talking to our lead guitarist, Terry Hubert, about the deployment of his son-in-law, Andy Pick, with the Iowa Air National Guard".  He continued, "Terry told me about Andy deploying to Iraq for eight weeks with his group and that during this time, his daughter, Amanda was pregnant.  That got to me.  I got to thinking that I needed to do something", he said.   And move he did.

Boetger began reaching out to music friends about his idea to "build" a tour with bands that had Iowa roots.  The Establishment was a 2008 inductee into Iowa's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Much of their music was displayed during a stretch from 1969 to 1977 when everyone lived around the Sioux City area.  Today, their members live in Iowa, Minnesota and Nevada.  Playing is a little more difficult, but the love and commitment is still there.  The other bands, The Locked and Loaded Band, Checker and the Bluetones, Dirty Grandpa,  Faculty Lounge and Hoodoo Prophets will be appearing at one site or another.

"I kept seeing the number three", said Boetger.  Three different locations.....Sioux City this Saturday, Waterloo and West Des Moines.  "We wanted to do something before the first of the year, but it just didn't work out with venues and schedules". "So, we put a plan into place for early 2011".

Deployed Families Find It Hard To Ask For Help
The interesting part of the plan came in the manner of how the monies would be directed to the families of deployed guardsman.  While in Iowa City on business,  Boetger decided to drop by the new armory and introduce himself and his idea.  The lone soldier on duty listened to Boetger's thoughts and liked what he heard.  He directed Boetger to Family Services at Camp Dodge and the last part of the project came into place.  All the monies from the concert proceeds would be placed into an account and families could then apply for assistance.  It was now full steam ahead......

So, it all begins this Saturday in Sioux City at Emma's Event Center.  Doors open at 6 p.m. for social time and viewing of silent auction items.  The bands will begin playing around 7:30 p.m. all the way to midnight. On the Sioux City card is The Establishment and The Locked and Loaded Band.

On February 26th, the tour will move to the Electric Park Ballroom in Waterloo.  Headlining that night will be The Establishment and Checker and the Bluetones.  And.....on March 5th, the Val Air Ballroom in West Des Moines is the sight for The Establishment, Dirty Grampa, Faculty Lounge and Hoodoo Prophets.   The door and concert times are the same for all three cities.

All the band members have donated their time and talents......there is no cover charge.  Only a free will offering.  According to Boetger, they are still looking for auction items from area businesses.  You can contact Eric at 515-360-6058 if you have any items you'd like to place up for auction.  100% of the monies raised will go to the fund.  A fund that came from an idea of someone wanting to do something to make a difference.  

Now, you can too.....plan on making this a night out when the tour comes to your city for this really good cause.  Cause it's something you need to do.   




Tuesday, February 8, 2011


You might see this today, then again you might not.  It will surely depend on the editorial decision of your local TV news director or newspaper editor.  So just to make sure we've got this story covered, I'm going to talk about it and I hope they do to. 

This month,  five sets of brothers with the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, a reserve unit headquartered at Houston's Ellington Field will deploy to Afghanistan.  Last year, nine sets of brothers deployed from a reserve unit in Nevada.  Our church listed eight sets of brothers in the military, although not deployed....and that doesn't count us if we'd add our middle son, Jonathan to the mix.  Is this becoming the norm?  Frankly, I have no idea.  But I will tell you this, for those families this is not about doubling the pleasure and doubling the fun.  Linsay Wise, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle talked to one family as the preparation for departure day neared.    

"Debra Koym-Kirton spent the day crying in bed after her first son left for Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego.  By the time her second son went to California a year later to become a Marine, too, Koym-Kirton knew what to expect and managed to hold it together.  But nothing can prepare her for what's coming next: Both young men — her only two children - are headed to Afghanistan  with 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, a reserve unit headquartered at Houston's Ellington Field.  "When I found out they were going together, the same place, the same time, same company, same platoon, I was hysterical," Koym-Kirton said.

The Henrichsen Brothers enjoying Mom's cooking 
Her sons, Bobby and Cody Henrichsen, both lance corporals from Houston, are among five sets of brothers deploying to Afghanistan later this year with 1/23 Marines, also known as the "The Lone Star Battalion." Bobby, 19, and big brother Cody, 22, serve in 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company.  Military policies don't prohibit family members from serving together in combat zones, but it's rare for siblings to fight alongside each other on the front lines. The scenario is more common among Reservists, who live and drill near their hometowns.
"It's actually pretty cool," Bobby said. "Every time we're together, it reminds me of home. He's there if I need talking to, more than I guess if it were just my best friend or someone, and it's a lot easier to talk to him than it would be other people."  "He can watch over me, and I can watch over him," Cody said. "And then at the same time, there's a comfort level that, you know, there's still family here.  Other people don't really have all that."

I have a call into the public affairs office of the Iowa National Guard to find out the numbers we might be talking about with their deployment.  As soon as those numbers become available, I will be updating this blog.  I think those figures might prove very interesting.  On a side note, I can see why Mrs. Henrichsen was overcome with emotion with the thought of her only two sons being deployed at the same time.  I said, I can see why, but I'd just as soon, not experience that myself. 


I mentioned last week, "My Father's Voice" had been visited by readers from 16 different countries.  Ooooppps.  Wrong there.  Actually the number was seventeen.  I forgot New Zealand.  And yesterday, we had a visit from Israel.  How cool is that?


And speaking of cool.  Did you see Staff Sgt. Savlatore Giunta at the Super Bowl in Dallas?  Coming back from a commercial break during the third quarter of the Pittsburgh Steeler-Green Bay Packer game, the house PA directed everyone's attention to the end zone where he was standing.  Millions upon millions saw the image of a man that reflects our country's commitment to freedom.  What a fitting send-off for our Medal of Honor recipient.  Congratulations again on your decision to retire from military life and your commitment to "making a difference" going ahead.  Job well done, Staff Sgt. Giunta.



Monday, February 7, 2011


"What will happen is God's business.  Remaining faithful, no matter what happens, is yours".  These are the words that jumped off the page to me today in reading "Daily Guideposts....Daily Inspiration for Our Military Families".  So it is with those thoughts that I share with you my impressions of the day of Specialist Shawn A. Muhr's funeral, Sunday February 6th.

As my wife and I made the drive to Coon Rapids, Iowa Sunday morning, I found myself hoping for a glimmer of sun, somewhere....anywhere.  The day was gray, cold and a fresh snow fall blanketed much of the countryside.  It was a somber day.  A day for reflection and a day that we'd try to find out more about Specialist Muhr.  And most importantly, it was a time to pay our respects for a job well done.

Arriving at Coon Rapids-Bayard High School, we were "drenched" in an array of  U.S. flags.  It was a humbling experience to enter the school through this patriotic doorway.  As we crossed the threshold,  we came face to face with a number of military personnel and Iowa's Commander in Chief, Governor Terry Branstad.  The Governor's presence gave me comfort that one of our own had not been forgotten....that Super Bowl Sunday had not gotten in the way of our leaders taking the time to remember.

U.S. Flags for a Fallen Soldier at Coon Rapids-Bayard High School 

After signing the guest list, we made our way into the gymnasium where over 500 were already assembled.  The mood was calm and quiet.  At 1:30 p.m. promptly a young man from the Coon Rapids community opened with a very nice rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.  He didn't forget the words and he didn't try to over exaggerate the song.  He nailed it.

The service itself had several rough moments.  The audio system had numerous failures and feedback issues.  I found myself wondering if Shawn, the man they called "Ox", was being ornery, as he was known to have been over the years.  Was he trying to get everyone's attention, one last time?  I also found the music selections quite unusual for a young man of his age, 26.  How did he ever develop a taste for Jimmy's Dean's "Big John" and Claude King's "Wolverton Mountain?"  It had to be the sure country in him coming out.  The final choice of music, "The Ballad of the Green Beret" provided the lead-in to recognition from his fellow officers and soldiers.

Maj. Gen. Rodney Anderson spoke on behalf of the 546th Transportation Company, 264th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 82nd Sustainment Brigade of Fort Bragg, N.C..  The Major used such words, as "loyal, larger than life, always uplifting, exceptional Soldier....and Awesome", as a means to emphasize the fact that his buddies will roll on in his honor.  Major Gen. Anderson's words captured much about the man, Shawn Muhr.  Other words were brought forth by friend, Jeremy Storey, who wrote a poem that appeared on the back of the bulletin.


Leaving my family and friends today
Shipped off to another place to stay
I was always there to help, always knew what to do
....I always knew that I was part of my crew
It was always hard to leave my family behind
But I knew that my buddies needed me on that line
I fought for your life, and so many others
I fought for all of my sisters and brothers
When I got into the fight, I knew what to do
I was always on mission, that wasn't new
Now I'm back home, glad to be home again
Only this time, I won't be walking in
This trip home I will be laying down
With all of my family standing around
I know they'll be crying, and they are all so sad
I never wanted them to feel this bad
They look so down, but they have love in their eyes
Everyone knows, I'm going to the stars in the sky
...I'll never get to say, what I hope they know
I'll be watching over them as they all grow
They will never forget me, and I hope they see
How much I love them as they look down upon me
There was more love in me than stars in the sky
Everyone knew me, as that big lovable guy
I know what I did was right.  I never had a doubt
Driving my truck was what my mission was about
A name is now called, a single bell rang
Think about me, you can't forget my name
Just keep your memories of me in a box
Don't ever forget me.  I'm the big lovable "OX"

.....I'll miss you big guy!

A picture tells part of Specialist Shawn Muhr's story

Days before the funeral, I was talking to a military friend of mine who knew that I was going to attend Sunday's service.  "What ever you do", he said, "just don't stay in the shoes of  Shawn's father too long".  "You mean, go there, but don't stay there?",  I countered.  So I did.  I put those shoes on in my mind and went there for a short period of time, then I jumped back into mine when I put some perspective in the day.  But it was then, that I began thinking of your shoes, and yours and........yours.

I have a myriad of new questions.  Some relative to funerals themselves and others surrounding the news coverage of our fallen soldiers.  Today is not the time to delve into those other than to say, this.  I appreciated the coverage the Des Moines Register gave Specialist Muhr's day.  On the other hand, there was only one television station present at the funeral.  As we walked out of the door of the high school, I asked the news reporter where she was from.  "News Channel 8 in Des Moines", she said.  "Thank you for coming", I responded.

Now, I've got to keep reminding myself, "What will happen is God's business.  Remaining faithful, no matter what happens, is mine".



Friday, February 4, 2011


The journal you are about to read is part of an ongoing dialogue.  The words are a conversation between "the family" of
the soldier experience.  It's Dads, Moms, Sons,  Daughters,  Relatives and Friends sharing their thoughts of a particular day and/or it could be the soldiers journal entry detailing his or hers.  I believe there are many, many people keeping a journal through the Afghan War.  If you want to share an entry of yours email it to  Your post will be strictly confidential,  no names will be used.  In addition, locations overseas will not be mentioned for security purposes except the country of origin.  Some editing may be done to further protect the journal participant.

Growing up leads our sons and daughters to hopefully make decisions on the career path they'll take. Some lead to college, others to the workplace, some decide to start a family and others take the military route.  I can recall the people our son ran with in school and how they impacted choices he made.  I wanted to share some thoughts with you that I put to paper several years ago.  These ideas came as I watched....took notes and wondered about the road my son would travel years later.  He has made some great choices and some not so great choices in "learning" the ropes of manhood.  Perhaps you can see your parenting or a neighbors parenting in the story I relate.


Our son brought home a new friend last night from school....and I was curious who he'd be.  When the two of them hit the front door, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw.  After our introductions, I already had a great impression of the "new" person in my boy's life.  The eyes are what did it.....they just radiated life and happiness.  The voice was pleasant, respectful and it was evident, that talking to adults was something he was comfortable with.  I felt relieved to know that my son had someone who could help in the peer pressure area. 

In the days and weeks that followed, I had more and more reasons to feel, see and hear that this friend would be a good impression on my boy.  He must have parents that cared and emphasized good morals and character, I thought.  Mr._______, this friendship, now two months old  is something I cherish.  I just wanted you to know you've done a terrific job with your gift.  God's present to you has been a blessing and one you've nurtured.

That's a far cry from the other boy I met four months ago.......His shoulders slouched, his eyes never met mine and I could tell he was uncomfortable in any question that I asked.  That young man, was the first acquaintance my son brought home his first days in a new school.  The surroundings were different and the students all seemed curious of the new one in town.  As the days wore on, our son asked daily about bringing home "that" boy.  Some days I said yes, reluctantly, and other days, NO!!  When I met his parents, I understood why  their son was.....without.  His mother and father were both career people, locked into work and had little time for anything else.  No wonder things were unsettling for me, why I could understand their son was looking for something to catch on to, anything to catch on to.  I came to find out, this boy had sought acceptance in so many ways....and truthfully he had, but not along the lines one would hope.  He stole things, got into fights and challenged nearly any part of authority he could.  He had no boundaries and his parents were either absent or didn't care.

Accountability can be learned in many places

So, Mr._________, this is the letter I should have written you many years ago.  I should have taken the time, then, to thank you for the job you did in raising your son, because frankly, he was partially responsible in helping me raise mine.  I wonder how kids can be so different when all God asks us as parents to do, is to take the Gift he has given us....and to mold it.  AND you sir, did just that!!


How often do we thank parents for the molding they've done of their children?  and how that development played such a big part in our own children becoming responsible men and women.   Now as my son fights for our freedom, I can look back and see that his desire to do the right thing and make a difference came through many trials and errors.  He is accountable, now..  He knows that....and he knows that I know he knows that.




Tuesday, February 1, 2011


This will be a hard post to write.  It will be hard for me to focus, to process and to come to any sort of conclusion to the news that hit the Iowa community with full-force on Monday.  And as hard as it will be for  me.....I can't even imagine what the Muhr family of Coon Raids, Iowa is going through, right now.

Saturday they lost a husband, a son, and a brother... and that's what we know at first recognition.  I'm sure though, that if you ask the Muhr family, there are numerous other "titles" they find themselves missing.  The days ahead will offer proof to that.  January 29th.  That will be the day listed as U.S. Army Spec. Shawn Muhr's death.  Muhr, 26, was killed in action by a roadside bomb while driving a truck for a military transportation unit.  He is listed as a full-time soldier and not part of the recent Iowa National Guard force deployed to Afghanistan.  Specialist Muhr died along with Spec. Joshua Campbell of Bennett, Colorado in the Afghan province of Helmand.  Muhr is the 75th soldier to die with  Iowa ties since March of 2003.

So who was Shawn Muhr?  What made him the person we are coming to know more about?  And how will we remember him?  Take a look at his picture for a moment.   

U.S. Army Specialist Shawn Muhr

Now, look again for a minute, if you would.  What do you see?  Can you catch a glimpse of your husband, your son, your brother, your friend......or maybe the boy down the street that you saw grow up and head off to war.  Muhr's picture is a reflection of all of us in so many ways.  He was common in his approach to life, yet driven with his love of the military.  By all accounts, he had found his "niche" there.  In earlier days, Muhr was a star athlete at Coon Rapids High School.  He excelled at wrestling placing sixth at the 2003 Iowa State Wrestling Championships.  Standing 6'2" and weighing over 200 pounds, Muhr offered a presence.

He was about as ornery, happy, joking and dry-humored as they ever get," said father David Muhr, who is an Army veteran of the Vietnam War and vice commander of American Legion Post 357 in Coon Rapids. In  addition to those comments comes a deep appreciation in the Muhr family of the pride that goes with wearing the military uniform. In these days that we yearn for role models to follow, are these not two men that we could learn much from?  In life and in death, I'm not sure whose loss is larger...but what is apparent, is that both men understand the words, commitment and sacrifice.  MERCY.

Coon Rapids, a small community of 1,300 people, northwest of Des Moines will be experiencing some very moving moments in the coming days.  Media will be converging on friends and family members to put a spin on Shawn's life and death.  No doubt there will be others as well.  This will be a time for community to heal and grow all at once.  It will also be a time where Iowa and the World can see where our men and women of the military come from and what provides the foundation to their sacrifice.  I do know that as a parent of a soldier, I pray that Shawn will be remembered.  And I'm not just speaking of this week, or next month, but for ever more.

When I started this blog three months ago, I wrote about this day.....and what thoughts and feelings I might have in coming to grips with one of our Iowa soldiers being killed in action.  The word that comes to me today is "opportunity".  I will have an "opportunity" to travel to Coon Rapids to pay my respects to U.S. Army Specialist Shawn Muhr when funeral arrangements are made.  I will also have the "opportunity" to see the community of Coon Rapids and the state of Iowa and it's leaders come to the support of a family that needs our love and hope for what lies ahead.  And I also see this as an "opportunity" to share some words with you that put much into perspective.

"Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever and ever.  Amen".

Those words can provide solace.  They are for all of us, regardless of our situation.  Pray for the Muhr family, if you would.  And if in your prayers, you see other seeds of "opportunity", share them with us all.  God is calling......