Staff SGT Donald Wayne West, Jr., enlisted in the United States Army National Guard on September 11, 2001. As part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Company A of the 150th Combat Engineers served active duty Aug 29, 2004, until Dec 30, 2005. SSGT West returned to college in January, 2006. He married Lauren Ritchie June 9, 2006, at Seaside, Fla., and they have three children. SSGT West completed military service at Camp Minden, LA on Aug 23, 2009.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Day One - The Eagle Flies

Earlier in the evening, I worried when Wayne called from the bus saying he had mistakenly put his carry-on bag on the 18-wheeler hauling priority bags to be loaded on the plane headed for Germany. The missing bag was the one with the laptop, camera and GPS. The one that wasn't locked.

It was good Wayne and I had a "situation" to discuss, because I had just gotten off the phone with Lauren, Wayne’s fianceé, who had said her final good-byes a few minutes earlier. Finally able to release her emotions, we cried together and shared imaginary hugs as she drove out the gate from Camp Shelby toward Jackson to spend the night with my brother Blair and his family.

When the phone rang at 2:30 a.m., I answered in my peppiest Mama voice, probably sounding a whole lot like my own mother. Wayne had quietly settled into his first-class seat, earned by his having volunteered for baggage detail. Yes, he had found the missing bag, and stowed it safely in the overhead compartment for the intercontinental flight.

Suddenly, all background noise vanished except the ding, ding signaling passengers to prepare for takeoff.

"We're starting to move, Mom," he whispered. "I've got to go now."

A lifetime passed the next second as I pictured that planeload of 200 soldiers sitting in a dark plane in the middle of the runway in the middle of the night.

Forcing a smile to help hold back the tears, I chirped, "I love you." Next to me in bed, Myron waved three fingers in the air...our family's silent signal, saying 'I love you.'

"I love you, too, Mom," Wayne answered confidently.

I just couldn't say goodbye.

We just said, "Until."