Why I Continue To Serve



Originally published October 25th, 2018

As my wife was getting ready to the leave the house this morning, I said, “I’m going to leave a little early this morning.”

“It’s the 25th.”

“I know,” she said. I’m grateful for that. She knows, she remembers.

Nine years ago today, 25 October, we lost Sergeant Eduvigues G. Wolf during an enemy attack when a rocket propelled grenade pierced the side of her vehicle. A family lost a mother, a husband lost a wife, parents lost a daughter. Our unit lost a great leader. The world lost a Warrior.

I drove to the store, hoping to find a single white rose. I wasn’t sure I would. What do I know about roses? It’s not February, but they probably have red roses, but white? And, of course, I didn’t see one. They had little ones, in vases. That wouldn’t do. Slightly frustrated, I looked around for someone in the floral department; no one there. That’s okay, I wasn’t really in the mood to talk to anyone. One last look…there. On the floor, a bucket of single roses. Only one white one left.

Thanks, God.

I drive in silence, alone in my thoughts. Wondering if I should tell the story of this morning. My private grief, but one that I know is shared by many. The thing is, the story needs to be told. So that others may know, understand, comprehend. Private grief looms large in the mind, but sharing the story is a relief. In the way that a painter expresses with a brush, and photographer expresses with a camera, this is how I express how meaningful this day is.

As I drive through the gate to go to the Fort Carson GWOT Fallen Soldiers memorial, I’m greeted enthusiastically by a young Private First Class. No false motivation here, genuinely a guy who’s doing his best to be upbeat on a crappy detail on a cold October morning.

Not today, brother. I appreciate your positivity, but today, the serious get more serious. The silent get just a bit more silent.

“Steadfast and Loyal,” he says, handing me back my retiree identification card. Good ol’ 4th Infantry Division. Steadfast and Loyal. Fitting, as I continue to think about it. That’s certainly what SGT Wolf was. Steadfast. Loyal. She didn’t have to be there. She volunteered for the patrol. She didn’t even have to be on the deployment…her husband, Josh, was in our Brigade as well. They had two daughters. There were plenty of ways out of the deployment…we all knew people that took them. She didn’t. She was steadfast. Loyal.

As I drive through post, I think about the happy gate guard. Good for him. Don’t blame him one bit. Then, the memory of that day, again, hits me in the gut. I was one of the unit leaders that had the responsibility of letting everyone know. As I drove through the FOB, I rememberer looking at everyone going about their daily tasks. Laughing. Joking.

As if the world had not changed forever.

Approaching the memorial, I’m hoping no one’s there; I want to be alone for this. And, at the same time, I hope that someone is there…someone I can share this with. Funny how that happens.

As I walk up to it, I know exactly where her name is. Strangely, I feel my feet start to drag. I’m not dreading this…I came here. I made time to do so. At the same time, though, there is some resistance.

And there it is. Surrounded by other names I recognize. Too many of them. Each of them with their own impact, their own memory for some; but this one is heavier than all.

Her stone was the last one on the left, but now a new stone casts a shadow. It reminds us that the war is not over. Names are still being added to this wall of heroes.

I think to myself: will there be a name on that wall on future 25 Octobers? I see other memorial elements. Eight quarters lining the curb, one for each of the Soldiers lost at COP Keating. A fresh vase of flowers; I scan the names. Someone was here yesterday, honoring their fallen hero.

I see President Bush’s words inscribed on the memorial, in the picture at the top of the page. I think about how his words applied to SGT Wolf.

“We will not tire. We will not falter. We will not fail.”

She didn’t. We won’t. I may be fighting a different war now, a war against the aftermath of combat, but it’s still a fight in which I will not falter. I will do my best not to fail. I will continue in spite of doubt, in spite of fatigue.

I owe SGT Wolf’s memory that much.

Last night, the organization Cretivets, which uses creative arts to help veterans find a path to wellness, allowed me to join them to tell Sergeant Wolf’s Story. From their website:

The CreatiVets songwriting program pairs veterans with accomplished songwriters and music artists to allow them the opportunity to creatively express their story through a song.  The veteran travels to Nashville, Tennessee, where he or she is met by a veteran that has gone through the program and can help make the veteran comfortable with the experience, and then participates in a songwriting session to write a song that is recorded and made available for the veteran to share with family and friends.Through the songwriting sessions, veterans are provided with an opportunity to tell their stories in a different way, and they take something from the program that they can keep forever.

The songs are written to capture the veteran’s personal story so that it is their voice talking about their experiences, but in a way that captures certain universal experiences that others can understand and often relate to. Following the experience, the veterans not only have their own song to listen to or play whenever they want, but they also have a new strategy for helping themselves cope with anxiety and depression. Many participating veterans have taken it upon themselves to learn how to play the guitar after they return from the songwriting program, and they continue to write songs on their own, which furthers the healing process.

This is the result of our collaboration

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Duane K. L. France is a combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a mental health counselor practicing in the state of Colorado. Do you want to join the conversation regarding veteran mental health? Share, like, and comment. Read Duane's previous posts and follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn. Keep the conversation about #veteranmentalhealth going.

1 thought on “Why I Continue To Serve

  1. The family and I want to thank you for sharing your story and thank you all for the beautiful gift of Duvi’s song. Something we can and will cherish forever.

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