Advocacy Corner: Operation Iraqi Freedom

By Amanda Cassidy-Trejo, Reentry Advocacy Fellow

Growing up as the daughter of 2 Army Medics I always knew that there was a possibility that one or both of my parents would be called up to serve in a wartime mission. If I am being honest I always thought it would be my dad. He had in fact been given orders in the ’90s to be shipped to the Gulf War operation but my mother was pregnant with my brother at the time and it was a high-risk pregnancy so he was able to not go. I spent 17 years growing up in the Army and as I approached adulthood I was fairly confident my family would never be affected by a wartime mission. 


Then September 11 2001 happened. Most of us can’t remember what we ate for breakfast yesterday or what we wore last week but anyone 30 years or older remembers every moment of that morning. My dad who was approaching retirement was at Ft Sam and my mom was at work in her civilian job. We still had answering machines. I woke up to be at work by 11 am and saw the light blinking on the machine and I hit play as I went to brush my teeth. The first message was from my dad, I could hear a strange uncertainty in his voice. He said my brother and sister were home with him and for me to turn on the tv and call him, the post was on lockdown, and they couldn’t leave. The next message was from my mom saying she was on her way home to not go anywhere. So I turned on the tv and sat glued to it like everyone else in America til my mom got home. I didn’t personally know any of the victims but a part of me knew this was a point of no return for my family. On September 12th, 2001 my mom went to her duty station and volunteered to go when they were ready. 


It would be another 17 months before she would leave. By then I had my first son and was in no way prepared for my mom to go. She got the let’s go call on Presidents day of 2003. I went home from work to find her duffel bags packed and she was telling me all the things I would need to do to get her apartment packed up. I would not be able to stay there with my son. My dad and stepmom helped me find a place to stay but the reality hit me like a freight train. My mom may not make it back alive. My addiction began a steep spiral downward at this point. As my mom deployed to Fallujah Iraq to fight the “War on Terrorism”, I began my own battle with the war on addiction. I surrendered custody of my son to family friends when CPS intervened in our lives, I lost my apartment because I was unable to maintain a job, and my family cut ties with me. I was grieving and reliving the trauma I had experienced as a child all while surviving thru new trauma. A lot happened to me while my mom was gone, the loss of my son, sexual assault, domestic violence, I lost my apartment to a house fire and my addiction was wreaking havoc on me physically, mentally, and emotionally. After 14 months my mom came home alive and in one physical piece, but as I had changed into a shell of my former self so had she. 


Her reintegration was challenging for me and I can not imagine how challenging it was for her. I often hear that Combat Vets feel more purpose in combat and feel lost in the normalcy of everyday life. I can see that. My mom will tell you she has accomplished everything she ever wanted to in life, she is one of the strongest women I know. In the years since 2004, she has gone on to work in child welfare helping hundreds of children and families as a social worker ( personally I think she is the best social worker in the world ). She has also sacrificed to raise my sons when I was caught in my addiction. She never gave up hope on me, even when it hurt. She has always been my biggest supporter. Today she is one of the first people I call for the good, the bad, and the ugly news. I would never have made it through my own war if it wasn’t for her so I wanted to share with you all a piece of why she is my hero.


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