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.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Day 299 - Good News Sunday

A huge clap of thunder went KABOOM! outside the window next to my bed just after dawm this morning. Even though work has reduced sleep to a minimum the past few days, I bounced to the floor, convinced more than ever I’m a real military mom, since my first thought was how soldiers respond to mortar fire in the middle of the night.

Like a zombie, I stumbled past the computer, just to check whether Wayne might be online. Sure enough, he was. Already 3 p.m. Sunday in Iraq, Wayne and a buddy were scheduled for night shift guard duty. We got to chat for a precious minute and exchange Internet hugs before he had to go.

Scanning my Inbox before heading to the coffee pot, I noticed an email from Bret, my younger stepson who works as a news editor for The Ruston Daily Leader in north Louisiana. Bret is also an aspiring sports editor, now blogging his passion at Strictly Sports.
“I did my column for Monday about Veterans Day and talked about Wayne,” he began. “I wanted you to read it. There are some things in there that I've never told him (and probably should).”
Here’s Bret’s column, posted with pictures I either got from Wayne or took at the Hot Springs Veterans Day parade Friday night.

Veterans Day Still Important

Growing up, I never really paid much attention to Veterans Day.

That's not because I'm unpatriotic, don't care about veterans, am a pacifist or disinterested in history. In fact, I'm the opposite of all of those things.

It's just that many people in my generation took freedom for granted. We didn't love through war, didn't understand many of the sacrifices that were made to obtain the freedom we all cherish.

The closest thing I experienced to war growing up was Desert Storm, which really wasn't a war. Sure, I grew up in the end stages of the Cold War — but people weren't dying in battle then because it was more of a political war.

I didn't have a Vietnam growing up — nothing that profoundly affected my childhood and youth. Therefore, Veterans Day wasn't a particularly noteworthy holiday for me.

Sure, I thought about the veterans of the World Wars. But I didn't dwell, and I moved on.
Over the past four years, however, my life has been profoundly changed. I've experienced war firsthand — the war on terror.

It was my country that was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Sure, the battles in Afghanistan and Iraq are many miles away, but this thing was started on my home soil. Therefore, it matters to me. Veterans Day matters to me because we have people — kids my age and younger than me — dying overseas everyday so that we can feel safe back at home.

This Veterans Day was one of even more particular importance to me and my family. I have a family member fighting in Iraq. For the first time, I'm experiencing Veterans Day for what it truly means.

My stepbrother, Wayne West, is a hero. No, he's no different than any of the other soldiers that are putting themselves in danger so I feel safe in my cubicle at work or on my couch at home. They're all heroes.

It's just this year I had a little bit more of a reason to reflect on just what Veterans Day means to me.

For nearly the past year, I haven't seen my stepbrother. We've communicated via e-mail for a couple of times, but we haven't spoken since we spent Christmas together last year. However, I have been able to follow Wayne's chronicles in Iraq. His mother (and my stepmother), Rebecca, has kept us all up to date via Wayne’s World.

I am extremely proud of my stepbrother, just as I am all of our soldiers.

However, there is something deep in me that glows when I think of Wayne.

His story is truly unique. On the morning of Sept. 11, he was driving from Monroe to Jackson, Miss., to enlist in the Mississippi National Guard in order to gain money to attend college.

Despite being repeatedly warned about the dangers of signing up in the wake of the terrorist attack, Wayne was even more determined to serve his country.

What I realize, and what I hope all of you realize, is there are thousands of stories out there just like Wayne. Many times our soldiers are simply names and faces, but all of them have stories that make them unique and fascinating.

It's because of them that Veterans Day is such a special holiday. We have the chance to simply reflect and honor those who give the ultimate sacrifice so we don't have to.
Footnote: My mom has been visiting here all week. Turns out, she was walking her dog outside this morning when lightening struck the ground a few away, seconds before the sonic thunder which woke me up. Quickly deciding a doggie accident inside would be better than a dead mama outside, she and Angel headed for dry ground through the garage. Only the garage door won’t close now, a malfunction apparently caused from the electrical surge.

For now, we really mean, “Our door is always open!”