Friday, May 13, 2011

What Price, Freedom?

     This Blog is dedicated to my son, Stewart Ruel Ferguson.  Let me tell you, if you find the time to read this, that there is no man in this world as proud of his son as I am you.  Even though we are miles apart, please know I will continue to pray for your safety and the well-being of your family.  I love you, Stewart, more than words can say.  Always hold that deep in your heart!!   I am so very proud of the husband, father and man you have become.  You take care of yourself and those men with you.  We will see each other again.


So let us begin...

On 12 May 2011 around 2015 hours I was visiting with friends on facebook when my daughter Lindsay called me on my cell phone.   She said, “Dad, Stewart just told me he was leaving for another “assignment” in the morning for another four month rotation.”  I asked her if he was going with a “Special Forces Team” or a “Ranger” team, of which she could not answer.  I thanked her for the call and told her I loved her.  She could sense my hurt as she said “I love you, too” and hung up.    Oh Dear God.  Here we go again…

This time last year this same ‘rotation’ was Afghanistan.  Because of security reasons, he cannot divulge his destination to anyone, which any person who has had this experience understands…  He actually told me on the phone when we were on speaking terms that his area of operations included Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa and South America, so he could be anywhere our government desires to place him.   Doesn’t matter where he is, I know what he is trained to do and I know he does it well.   He goes and looks for trouble.  He takes the fight to the ones that raised their sword against us, and he and his fellow warriors do it very well.   
These ‘rotations’ are coming too fast now for a 60 year old man.  In just a few paragraphs I am going to share with you the heart felt thoughts of this writer when I was just 50.  It was not long after his first tour in Afghanistan that the Liberation of Kuwait took place… He was involved in that operation as he was one of the first to enter Baghdad from the West.  By 2005 he was again on his second tour in Afghanistan

The last five years were relatively peaceful as he was assigned as an Instructor at Hurlburt Field in Ft Walton Beach, FL…  There, I’m sure if he truly packs my DNA he became a legend among those being trained, as it was his job to provide the very best he could to those that depended upon this skill.  While an instructor there he attended U.S. Army Sniper school and graduated as honor grad and went on to finish the distinguished U.S. Army Ranger School at Ft. Benning, GA in 2007.  Now he is one of a handful of selected Air Force Special Operations personnel assigned to support tactical air operations for the Army’s best.  And in fulfilling this obligation, the rotations seem faster and more intense for those that are involved in his world and care about his coming and goings.  Like fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers not to mention wives and precious children.  So what price, freedom? 

As I stated earlier, in May of 2010, he made his 4th trip to Afghanistan.  So when Lindsay sent me a text a few minutes later answering my question, posting, “It’s a Ranger Team.”  I was unprepared for another trip into harms way.  Regardless of my state of equilibrium,  just know that when he is in “the grid”, I retreat into a place in my mind where I can find peace, pray for him despite my sins, and protect him any way I can from anything that could disturb his thoughts while he is ‘there’ doing his job.  

So almost a decade later after his first deployment, my son slips for the 5th time into the borders of some unknown country to apply his trade with the unlimited resources of the United States Government against suspecting and unsuspecting  enemies of our way of life and religious beliefs.  I told him as a young boy when he would follow his Drill Sergeant Dad around telling me he was going to be a soldier some day, never to forget that somewhere in this world there was a young boy about his age telling his dad the same thing.   My heart aches thinking of the possible meeting of these two boys, now men, whose very life was shaped and defined in their youth by their Dads?  When this meeting occurs will the dad whose son is lost be able to forgive himself?  I struggle to rest in the peace that my God understands my resolve.
So let me slip back in time to June of 2002 and sorta ‘set the stage’ for where we are.   My son Stewart had graduated from high school and joined the United States Air Force.  He was at the time of this posting a Tactical Airborne Control Party (TACP) with Airborne Wings assigned to Pope Air Force Base which is next door to Ft. Bragg, NC.  The sole purpose of his job description is to deploy into the field with U.S. Army units and provide Air Support for what ever mission they encountered.  You have heard of the JDAM’s or smart bombs?  Guess who on the ground gives that information to the Aircraft at 35,000 feet so it can be programmed into the bomb before it is dropped?   Or who paints that laser on a target and calls “target hot” for a fighter pilot to release that laser guided missile to its target?   As you will read, his war came and he was ready. 

In the mean time I had gone to work with the City of Pineville as Foreman of the City’s Recreational Department and was the Education and Safety Officer for the Gold Wing Road Riders Association’s Chapter “E” in Alexandria, LA.  Every month I would write a safety article for our monthly news letter and as I sat down on this June day to share with our members, the following is what came from my heart.  This was posted in our July 2002 newsletter.  If you have ever had someone deployed, maybe your thoughts might connect.

Chapter “E” Newsletter July 2002

The leaders are back from their week long jaunt into the Smokies and Honda Hoot.  The wrestle with the Dragon at Deals Gap must have been successful as I received an e-mail from Carrie saying they all thought about me in the mountains!   Like most of you,  if you’re reading this, you already know the details of their trip.  I’m glad they are back and can tell you, I just wish I could have been with them. 

Anyway, now that I know they are safe and back home, I want to talk about me and mine.   A different twist, so to speak, of safety.  What is it really and why?  Well, let’s try to “indulge” and participate for just a few minutes… What price, freedom?

I leaned against the chain link fence looking out at the Prince Street ballparks at 0800 hours on the morning of the 25th of June, 2002.  That was a Tuesday morning here in Pineville, LA…  753 miles east of me, a C-5A Galaxy labored to lift off the runway at Pope Air Force Base, as the slow climb to altitude turned eastward.   The Atlantic Ocean eventually monopolized what little view could be seen from the inside of this mammoth bird as the United States of America quietly slipped away behind her.   Onboard  this massive aircraft were the young men and women of the armed forces of this country.  Army, Air Force, maybe Marines and possibly Navy, not sure… Destinations for many, unknown, but for a handful of these warriors of Air Force Special Operations, I knew, was Afghanistan.   In this small group of Air Force Special Operations men, was one of special concern.  It was the very best I could offer this country.  My Son, Stewart.   My heart was heavy that morning, as it is with the typing of this article.  I knew where he was going, and exactly what he was going to be doing.  He was trained for “harms way.” Oh I thought, what price, freedom?

Oh my Precious God…  The falling of the Towers and the scorching of our nation’s landmark in Washington.   And the heroic plunge of the commercial flight into the countryside.  He was home on leave that day on September 11, 2001.   I had told him years and months before, that his generation as did mine,  would have “their war.”   And here it was unfolding before my very eyes as he sat next to me on the end of our bed watching the television set as his future was being laid out before us.  A father’s prophecy coming true.  I had no doubt my President’s resolve and the will of this great country.   I looked at my son and told him, “You need to call your squadron at Pope AFB and see if you need to cut short your leave.”  He did as I asked and was able to finish his leave without being called back immediately.   He continued to train and to prepare for the task at hand until he got “his orders.”   And as if we didn’t know, those orders did eventually come, and I thought again, what price, freedom?? 

We went out to see him in North Carolina the end of last month for four days… We knew he would be leaving, so we went to see him..  14 hours of driving alternating with Linda… Memorial Day Weekend. Wow! Has that holiday taken on a new meaning in my heart…  But what a wonderful time I had.  I fought the feelings of negative thoughts..  I’m stronger than that.   Aren’t I?   Well, I met other warriors of his kind and listened to their banter!  Their jobs were well defined and to the last one, they were ready for the call at hand!  Who wouldn’t be!  I was, 30 years ago, as was many of us reading this right now.  I was proud of them all.  Especially that boy of mine..  Oh my, what price, freedom??

He was to leave on the 10th of June, but like so many times with the military, things happen.  So he surprises me the day before father’s day with a phone call!  “Hey dad, I’ve got three days off.  Come and pick me up in New Orleans tomorrow at 11:15!   I’m coming home to see you on father’s day and to get engaged!”  Well, he was true to his word.  I picked him up, brought him home, saw him a couple of times and yes, he is engaged to a beautiful young woman I am proud to take on my name.  Wow!  My name?  And just like that, at 2 am the following Wednesday morning, this young warrior stands over my bed and we are saying  goodbye.  “Son, this is no game,” I tell him, “I’ve given them my very best and I want you back the same way you left!”  That confident smile, and I love you dad, and he’s gone.  What price, freedom?  

I have mixed emotions, as I sit here typing.  I look out the window at the falling rain and fight back the emotions I feel.  The “what if’s,” and “I can’t wait,” and the “I don’t knows.”  I just cannot help but think of my friends three decades before.  Lonnie, Chuck and Randy all memorialized on that black granite wall… What price, freedom??  I’m beginning to understand a little better that there is nothing free about it…There is a price that many of us have paid, and continue to pay…

So as we slip across the asphalt and concrete ribbons of this country on our gold wings, let’s remember that safety is a choice. One of the many choices that was given to us with the price that was, and continues to be paid for freedom.

Please remember my son and the many others of our armed forces that are giving their all for our choices.  We call it Freedom..  It isn’t free at all..

Rodney “Skunk” Ferguson

So I find myself almost ten years later doing it again.  I sit here typing with that same heavy heart sharing my thoughts with my friends, family, people I love and people whose names  I may never know, or who might not ever cross my conscious thoughts.  I have also lived long enough to know there is a Memorial Wall yet to be built someday.  This wall, like my generations black granite wall will include the names of my son’s closest friends. And oh Dear God, the names of those yet to be defined as I ache deeply with tears in my eyes and think once again, “What Price, Freedom?"

Rodney S. Ferguson