A Letter from an Army Mother…

Would you please forward this to Bob Krause? I am praying that this wonderful project comes to light.

Specialist Jason Edward Cooper,
United States Army Reserve.

I remember the day Jason called me at work to tell me that he had joined the Army in March of 2002. He was so proud of himself and felt that he was doing the right thing. I too felt proud of my son, he was always finding ways to push himself physically and I knew that he would have no problem facing any challenges presented to him during boot camp training. Not once in that moment did I fear for his mental health, but that was before I knew about PTSD.

Jason was sent to Fort Knox, KY to carry out his basic training and while there Jason did excel in boot camp. He became a platoon leader and was always looking out for his fellow soldiers. There was a young man in Jason’s platoon that came to him the night before they were to do a timed run. This young man knew that he would not pass and was really distraught. On the other hand, Jason knew that he would be the first to cross the finish line. He had been running his whole life. During baseball season, if Jason could get on base, our team knew we had just scored another run, because Jason could steal all the bases home due to his running skills. So instead of pinning up another award for himself, Jason choose to help his friend to pass the timed run. Jason set the pace for him and when the kid would fall behind, Jason would kick at his feet to keep him going and they both crossed the finish line just moments before they both would have failed. A few days later my son turned 21 years old, yes my son was turning in to a wonderful young man and pride is what I felt for my son.

Once Jason left boot camp, he was assigned to the 308th Quartermaster unit from Washington/Mount Pleasant, IA. Within a few short months, Jason’s unit was deployed to Log Base Seitz, Baghdad Iraq. We are now entering a very fearful and anxiety ridden time in mine and Jason’s time together. I look back now and realize that both of us was putting on a huge front to not show our fears. But to survive it all, Jason needed to get his “game face” on as he called it, and I needed to show my support and try not to cry. So onward to Baghdad we marched. The only beauty I have found during this time was our ability to communicate through email and phone calls. I truly believe I would have needed medication to calm my anxiety had I not been able to keep in contact with Jason.

He sent me an email once he arrived at Log Base Seitz, he wrote about his journey there from Kuwait and how their convoy had to stop because of IED’s, but they had all made it safely and he was checking out the surroundings of his new place of residence. He also spoke of the town he was situated, near Abu Ghraib. He said it was the home of the Baath Headquaters and held 500,000 pissed off Iraqis, but for me to not worry about it for he was well trained and to just think of him being gone on vacation for awhile. At least his sense of humor was still intact. But as the months wore on and so many close calls, I couldn’t help but to really begin to worry for him.

Having the ability to keep in touch on a weekly basis was wonderful until I witnessed firsthand a mortar attack on his base. We were chatting with a webcam – Jason’s little brother was so happy to see him and say hi to his buddies that were nearby in the makeshift computer/phone room. We were joking and trying to keep spirits light, and then all of sudden we had no sound, but could see all the soldiers on the floor and taking cover under the desk, and then soon the camera went blank. We didnt hear from Jason for over a week. I thought 22 hours of labor was a long time to bring Jason into this world, but a week of not hearing from him would be an endurance test from hell! I believe 18 soldiers were injured on base that day. That was when we first learned about communication blackouts. No soldier is to make contact with their families when an injury or death has occurred so the military has time to officially inform the families of the deceased. Oh dear God, that was a long year, but nothing compared for what was to come.

Another story of Jason and his need to help others that stands out is when he had come home for his two week leave midway through his tour. I was looking through his digital camera at the photos he had taken. I stopped at a video and asked Jason how to play it. He told me that I shouldn’t watch it. I told him that I would be okay and that I wanted to see it. It started with Jason filming his buddies waving to the camera and saying “Hi Mom,” and then out of nowhere a mortar strike hits within feet of them. Jason drops the camera but it is still filming and you can see what is happening. Jason and another kid duck for cover under something – I can’t tell what it is. The other kid that was just saying hello to his mother is stunned and obviously cannot hear. Jason is yelling at him to come to him and take cover. The kid does not respond and looks like he is in a daze. You can still hear mortars raining down on them and Jason runs from his position and tackles the kid and drags him back to where they were hiding. Jason was right, I shouldn’t have watched it. It left me even more fearful for my son, but again I felt pride for my son for saving his buddy’s life.

Jason had experienced traumatic events like so many others coming home from Iraq or any other war for that matter. He had seen dead children, had been shot at, had to shoot to kill, had seen his friends killed and tried to sun/ive on a daily basis. Two of his buddies published their journals detailing the horror of what they had faced in Iraq. Shane Bernskoetter‘s “Surviving Twilight“ and Brian Clark’s “By My Side.” Both books we hard for me to read, but it also helped to fill in the blanks that I needed to know.

Within days of Jason coming home we already noticed that he was struggling to adjusting to being out of the war zone. After working 36 hour shifts in Iraq, he was having trouble sleeping for any length of time and when he did fall asleep it was only a matter of time before he would wake up with his heart racing and sweat pouring from his forehead. Loud noises would also affect him. One incident around the 4th of July, he was working on his motorcycle in the driveway with a friend and someone drove by and threw out a pack of firecrackers. When they went off, Jason automatically went into a low Army crawl into the garage and hid behind the car. His friend went looking for him and found him almost in a daze. When Jason came out of it, he was embarassed at what had happened. Then the flashbacks started. I believe those were the most frightening moments for him and our family. It was hard to know how to respond to him, with us being in present time and him being in a time that we had no understanding of.

And then four months later on July 14, 2005, Jason was alone at his father’s house and went to the basement and tied a rope to the rafters and around his neck and stepped off the chair. He was only 23 years old. Our hero had taken his life. A life that was so full of imagination, love, passion and creativeness was no longer on this Earth. Jason had just enrolled in commercial design school and had become a new uncle. He had a team together to play roller hockey in the Iowa Games and countless projects with friends were left undone. We had lost the shining star in our family.

Had I known about PTSD and it symptoms Jason would still be here doing the things he loved. Had I known there was a place for him to get help, Jason would still be here, helping his friends with their adventures in life. Had I known suicide was a huge risk of soldiers coming home, Jason would still be here making this world a better place. But I didn‘t have information on PTSD, and I will never be able to hug my son again. I didn’t have a place to take him for help and I will never see Jason achieve his goals in life. And the suicide risk, placed my son in his grave, when life was just beginning for him as an adult. My family is forever changed.

So if you should come to me and ask if we should turn a facility into a National Veterans Recovery Center for PTSD? You can only imagine what my response would be. “Why the hell didn’t we have this place six years ago?“ I would have personally taken Jason there and walked through his recovery with him. And stood by my son with pride for making the choice to heal. But that opportunity was never given to me, so I pray to God that no other family has to endure what our family has faced. There is absolutely no excuse for a veteran to suffer through PTSD and have nowhere to turn for help. Education of PTSD is the beginning, praying for this project to come to light and and for no soldier to feel as though he has been left behind. It is too late for my Jason, so please do not make it too late for another mother’s son or daughter.

In loving Memory of SPC Jason Edward Cooper 4/16/82 — 7/14/05
His mother, Terri Jones