It was four years ago today, that I got the call. A call that changed my life significantly in the Army. I had lost friends outside the military and I had even lost friends in the military and in war. But this was the first time I had lost one of my soldiers. Not just any soldier, but one of those soldiers that stands out amongst all of them. Because of Iraq being several timezones ahead, he was killed in a terrible ambush on the 20th and it was on the morning of the 20th EST that I got the call.
My Commander and good friend called me around 7:30 in the morning with the words “we lost one”. I remember walking in my living room and then quickly moving to the steps to sit down. I asked him who, and the reply was simply “Roustum”. I was in a hazy daze. I remember that too. The world had stopped, all of my senses seemed to be shut down….just paused.
My mind was racing trying to make sense of it, thinking of just 5 days earlier when I, along with most of our Family Readiness Group, were at the VFW putting together Christmas boxes to ship to my soldiers. I remembered standing side by side with a mom who always impressed me and was so nice and my mind though of her when those officers in uniform along with a deputy would be walking to her door to tell her the news.
My schedule was shot that day. Everything I had on my plate, that I thought mattered was quickly forgotten. I didn’t care about anything or anyone except to find out what happened. The rest of the day was a day full of phone calls, between the Commander and I, the Battalion and Brigade HQs, and eventually family members. Many were wounded that day, and as those wounded soldiers were being treated in hospitals between Iraq and Germany, they were calling home. Two humvee loads of soldiers were wounded that day, and of course one of those soldiers, SGT David Roustum was lost forever.
It killed me and my wife to stay silent as families kept calling through the day as they either suspected something or were told something by their soldier who was forward deployed. Until Dave’s family was notified I could not be the comforter, instead I had to be the soldier. This meant that I had to deny knowing anything and could only advise the families to please not spread rumors until we knew something official. That was a quandary that I hated being in. These families were hurting for their own soldiers and they were hurting for a family they did not know of yet, but they were sure they knew personally.
During the day there were problems trying to find a Notification officer and someone from State called me to ask me if I could serve in that role. Typically the Army likes to use someone from outside the unit and not someone the family may ever see again to be the notification officer delivering the terrible news. For them to ask me was against the norm, but I knew they would only do it if they had to. My heart sank when they asked as I could not think of worse task, but at the same time I would step up and do it if asked. After that call, I quickly started checking my Class-A uniform and making sure everything was there and ready to go. For a while after that I just wondered how I would do it, what I would say, if I could maintain my composure.
Several hours later I got a call telling me they found someone outside the unit that could do the notification and I was greatly relieved. I could not imagine delivering that news and then having to face the family later.
It was four years ago today, that started a path in my career and life that I would say would be the lowest point in my military career and the highest point in my career. Let me explain what I mean by that. The lowest becuase I had to bury one of my soldiers. A soldier, that I along with the Commander, had to pick to send to combat without us becuase the National Guard did not want the whole company, they just wanted our soldiers. The highest point in my career because we pulled out all the stops and did everything we could to render the highest honors we could for one of our fallen brothers. The Commander and I worked every deal we could with anyone we could to get anything the family wanted for the funeral service with full honors. Even though I was not serving side by side with my men in combat, I could at least serve one of them by providing him the honors he deserved.
It has been four years today since that call came, and let me tell you time may heal becuase over time we eventually turn back to life and focus on things but it really never gets easier. I have talked with Dave many times since that day and I still do today. I miss him greatly as does many other people who ever had the pleasure of knowing him personally.