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No soldier stands alone in a battlefield

By Sue Diaz / January 23, 2006


If I could, I'd begin this with my son's account of what happened to him and the men of his Bravo Company unit at 14:30 on Dec. 22, 2005. Roman and his squad were on foot patrol somewhere in the south of Baghdad. An insurgents' bomb exploded. That much I know. But I can only tell my side of this story right now. And it begins with a call from an Army captain.

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"Is this Susan Diaz?" a man's voice said when I answered the phone in my office here at home the day before Christmas Eve.

I'd just finished feeding Roman's pet turtle in the guest bedroom down the hall. When he joined the Army three years ago after high school, Roman entrusted "SpongeBob" to our care. Now every morning before my workday begins, I drop several handfuls of arugula and baby lettuce leaves into the wooden enclosure Roman built for his old buddy.

The voice on the other end sounded like a telemarketer. I answered with a wary, "Y-y-e-ss."

"Is your husband there?"

"He's not available at the moment," I said, rather than offer that he'd left for work an hour earlier and that I was home alone.

The man, all business, introduced himself - Captain Candrian, 101st Airborne - then went on to say that our son had "sustained injuries caused by an IED."

I sat down. Slowly.

"That's an 'improvised explosive device,' Ma'am."

No need for that extra bit of information. These days those three letters are as familiar as PTA used to be.

Above the thumping of my heart I heard Captain Candrian relate details of what he called "the incident." I switched the phone to my left hand, reached for the yellow legal pad I always keep handy, fumbled for a pen, and wrote down these words: Perforated eardrum. Peppered face. Treated at the aid station at Mamuhdiyah.

"Could you spell that, please?" I heard myself say. In everyday circumstances, I can be as ditzy as anyone. Ask my husband how many times he's heard, "Seen my glasses anywhere?" But in this situation, my mind was surprisingly focused, almost as if spelling the aid station's name correctly could somehow make right the rest of the story Captain Candrian was telling me.

"Does this mean Roman will get to come home?" I asked, hoping.

"No, Ma'am. His injuries are listed here as 'not serious.'"

I wrote down "NOT SERIOUSLY INJURED" in big block letters. I underlined those words three times and drew a box around them.

"Your son should be back with his unit soon. But you might not hear from him for a few days, because of the, uh, news blackout over there."

He rushed through the last part of that sentence.

"News blackout? What do you mean?"

The captain explained - reluctantly - that when soldiers from a unit have been killed, no one from that group is allowed to phone or e-mail until the next of kin have been notified.

"Oh," I murmured as that sunk in. "Some soldiers died in the attack?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Do you know their names?"

"Yes, Ma'am. But I can't tell you that."