have courage. take heart. bear witness.
As a college student in marine biology, Adele Kubein's daughter, M'kesha, wanted to help repay the Oregon taxpayers, who were underwriting her education. She was also keen to focus her energy, engage in physically demanding work, and help pay her college expenses. So, in 1999, M'kesha enlisted in the Oregon National Guard. She trained in engineering, and took great satisfaction in applying her skills to road building, firefighting, and other public services. She understood that at some point she might also be called to serve in a military capacity, but that possibility seemed remote.
Then, in 2003, the United States invaded Iraq, and M'kesha's Guard unit was deployed overseas, ostensibly, to build roads and schools; her military contract stated that she would not be in combat situations. Furthermore, Pentagon regulations prohibited women from being assigned to ground combat units. But once in Iraq, she was ordered to operate a .50-caliber machine gun—initially, without body armor and with minimal ammunition—to protect convoys of the private engineering and construction company Halliburton KBR.
Meanwhile, Adele had joined other military families in opposing the war. As she told an audience at University Unitarian Church, in Seattle, Washington, in May 2008:
"From the minute my daughter took life, our lives have been divided into then and now. Then was a time when my daughter laughed, and we hiked mountains, snowshoed together, rode our mountain bikes, and shared our joys as well as our sorrows. I remember the day she left for Iraq. I begged God to magically swap us; I offered myself as sacrifice, the way mothers have done throughout the ages. And, most of all, I begged God to send her home with her soul intact. I was willing to give up a bit of her beautiful body—a leg, an arm, some of those toes I tickled long ago—because I knew that infirmity can be dealt with, whereas innocence can never be returned."
Adele talks more about M'kesha's experience as a soldier in Iraq and the effect it has had on them both.
Recorded in Corvallis, Oregon, December 2008.
NOTE: Eligibility rules for VA health care benefits have now changed. Reservists and National Guard members called to active duty may now qualify, but you must enroll within five years of the date you separated from military service. Health care benefits are not just for combat veterans, nor are they only for service-connected injuries or illnesses. Find out more at the VA's web site.
"She and I just kind of looked at each other, and I said, 'You're going to war.' And she said, 'Yep, I know I am.' I said, 'You know, I'll support you if you choose not to.' And she said, 'I have to. I'm a sergeant. I have my own soldiers that I have to take care of. I have to fulfill my commitment.'"
"One night, she called me in the middle of the night and she was just weeping and she was out there in the middle of the desert. 'Mom, I'm never going to be able to come home. I am never going to be able to live a normal life again. I cannot live anymore. I just can never come back. I killed a 12-year-old boy today. I looked in his eyes when he was dying. He was just trying to protect his family. I was just so scared.'"
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"She was shot down in a helicopter, and it turned out that she had a shattered leg. And when they did a preop screening on her, she found out that she had been pregnant in combat for three and a half months. They didn't tell the female soldiers that the antimalarial drugs made their birth control fail. So they told my daughter, 'Well, you're going to have to have an abortion, because, you know, we can't operate on you like this, and if we let the leg go, it'll just be messed up forever.' And she said, 'I've killed enough people, and I'm not killing another soul.'"
"We must understand that no matter what they did over there, we sent them to do it. They were soldiers. They were doing what they said they were going to do, and they were following orders. We're the people who were pulling the lever in the voting booth. So now all of those returning troops are our responsibility. We have to do the very best that we can for them."
"I saw my Congressman, Peter DeFazio, on campus, and I said, 'I really need your help. My daughter's stuck in Colorado. They're not treating her, but they're keeping her on active duty. We've got to get this kid home. She needs some help.' And he said, 'Okay.' And they issued a literal Act of Congress. They sent my daughter home, she was seen by civilian doctors, she got to keep her job pay until they decided if she was too disabled to work, and they started addressing her disability. So it worked. And then Congress became aware of what was happening with the National Guard troops, because they just never thought about it. Nobody had told them."