The Misfits

This is about our family's journey to a new norm after our son Chris was seriously injured in an IED explosion while deployed to Afghanistan. I chose the title "A Misfit's Mother's Journey" to honor some small way all the amazing young men in his squad, "Martin's Misfits". I owe a debt to these amazing men who worked together to save my son's and his buddy's lives and to the young man who sadly lost his life. This is a debt I can never repay. I hope you will find inspiration in our story and admiration of the young men who understand the consequences and are still willing to risk life and limb in the hope of protecting others.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

In the beginning...

A rock hard lump is all I could feel deep in my stomach the day he told me their next deployment would be to Afghanistan. I can't even remember the actual date; honestly I don't want to. I had the weirdest feeling in my gut, not heart or head, but gut. There have only been a few times I've felt like this and none ended well. It's above and beyond of the fear of him going to war, I just knew this deployment would not end well. I told only a couple friends this cause I didn't want to seem like that paranoid mom. Each one told me we would pray for a divorce to be the worst thing he would go through while over there. Secretly I would add; please if something does happen, just don't let him come home in a box. His departure was upon us in no time. The last image I have of him is him leaning out the window of the white bus as they drove away saying he loves us. He was so tall and skinny and most importantly, handsome, in his uniform. My heart burst with pride and fear for the adventure he was getting ready to embark on. I just wanted to hug him and never let go. But we all have to let go sometime and let life take its course. Over the next couple months he called often, which always made my day. He would tell me only so much of what he had gone through and the things he had seen. He knew despite how strong I may act, deep down inside I would panic a little that my baby boy was in dangerous situations. He has always tried to protect me. My heart broke for him when he called me one afternoon early in his deployment to say his marriage was over. I had a feeling a divorce was inevitable; I just hoped it wouldn't be while he was deployed. His head needed to be in the game, not on things back home. I prayed that would be the worst of it, unfortunately it wasn't. 8 June was the last time I talked to him before our world changed. It was the beginning of the Gere Family Reunion in Gattlinburg. Since Wayne was riding his motorcycle down we decided to take 2 days to get there. On our way to Nashville Chris called, we talked for about an hour. He told me of the fire fights they had been in the last couple patrols. Of course only enough to satisfy me and not to cause me worry. I had retired from the Air Force last year and didn't get picked up for a couple jobs I had applied for. Right before Chris called I found out I didn't get the last one. I remember him saying, "I'm sorry Momma. That just means there is a better job out there for you.". Little did we know... It was a great visit with my family, some I hadn't seen in years! That Tuesday (12 June) was our last full day in TN. When I came home after taking the boys to the National park, my cousins were watching the movie "Taking Chances". I was okay watching it up until the scene where Kevin Bacon took the cardboard off the casket and ran his hand down the wood. There were flashes to flag draped coffins being taken off a C-17 by Marines. All of a sudden I felt the biggest punch in the gut, I wanted to vomit and ran downstairs to our room cause I couldn't stop crying. All I could whisper is "Please don't let him come home in a box! Please, please, please, please don't let him come home in a box." over and over again. I was still crying and whispering it when my husband came to find me later after his ride. I finally gathered myself and spent some time with my family. Later that evening Wayne and I took our young guns downtown to walk around, it was so relaxing and fun. The calm before the storm. My young guns are getting older, their sense of humor and playfulness is so funny and frustrating at the same time. We didn't get back to the cabin until late. My cousin Ruthie was still up when we got home so we sat and talked for awhile. We were making our way to bed when Wayne came upstairs to let me know I missed a call. Normally I don't listen to my voicemails until later, but something was telling me to listen to this one now. To this day all I can remember is "This is SSgt so and so from Headquarters Marine Corp..." I crumpled to the floor crying "No, no, no, no...." over and over. Wayne tried to figure out what was going on but I couldn't speak clearly. He ended up calling for me while I sat at the table whispering "no, no, no..." and Ruthie rubbed my arm telling me she wasn't going to tell me to calm down but she was going to tell me to breathe. What was only seconds but felt like hours, Wayne told me to clam down that Chris was alive but seriously injured. He put the phone on speaker so the SSgt could go over Chris' injuries. As soon as I heard him say left leg amputation I had to run to the sink to throw up. All these scenes flashed through my head of what he went through, how he felt, how alone he must feel, etc. Once I composed myself some we had him repeat everything; on 13 June Chris was in an IED explosion that resulted in a left leg amputation thru the knee, a right leg amputation below the knee and shrapnel wounds to the arms, legs and buttocks. Oh my baby boy! You can never prepare yourself for that call. I thought I had; there were songs I couldn't listen to like Miranda Lambert's "I'll never get over you" but forced myself to, I thought about getting that call and remaining strong cause that is what Chris would want, imagined all kinds of things to toughen myself up. Trust me there is just no way you are ever prepared. I wanted to run to him and couldn't. I wanted to crawl out of my skin and pull out my hair. My young guns came upstairs to hug me (we are so blessed with all our children), I told my next oldest (who worships the ground Chris walks on) that he wasn't joining the Marines now. He looked at me and "Yes I am, even more so now, in honor of Chris." I told him "I know, I just don't ever want to get this call again." I paced for what seemed like hours; called everyone I could think of. All of them were so good about being woken up so early, being there for me and listening to me just cry. About 3 hours later I got an incoming call from a Scott AFB number. It was the best sound ever; Chris' voice was on the other end!


  1. Janet-thank you for sharing the most terrifying moment to the happiest moment in your life. Your words brought me to tears and I couldn't even imagine how those few hours must've seemed like a lifetime. You and Wayne are very strong and to have such an amazing and resilient son as Chris-very blessed. I'm so very happy that Chris came home and is able to surrounded by such love and support...God Bless you and your family and know that my thoughts and prayers are with your family and Chris for a quick recovery! Please tell him for me "thank you for your service."...unfortunately the words are all I can express to a hero who's given so much more... and if there's every anything I can do, please don't hesitate to let me know! Love you Van Etten's!! :)) -JoAnn Finley

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words JoAnn! Trust me it's because of family and friends like you that help us get through this. You really do help prop us up when we need it. We love you too!

  2. My sweetheart..... That night will never leave my heart. I hate that I was there for it almost as much as I am glad I was there. I know I have said it many times, but it can never be said enough; I LOVE YOU!! Anything you and Chris need, I am but a call away!

    Ruthie :-)