Patrick Sowers was a soldier. And still is a soldier.
He lost two dear friends in Iraq.
He has returned to Texas, all in one piece physically, and is able to resume a normal family life and career.
But he has never forgotten his fellow soldiers.
Patrick has started a charity called Operation Once in A Lifetime. http://operationonceinalifetime.com/
He raises funds to help soldiers in need. Help with plane tickets for a family member that needs to get to a hospital. Money to pay a soldier's family electric bill. Whatever the need is, Patrick works to fill it.
This past weekend, Patrick spent two days standing outside a Walmart in Plano, Texas in the sweltering heat. He was there to raise support for a large group of soldiers soon to return to Ft. Hood.
When soldiers come back after deployment, they are assigned a bed. No linens. No pillowcase. No towels. No toiletries.
So you've risked your life, lived in a shithole, been shot at, rocketed at, IED'd at for 12 to 15 months, and your welcome home is a skinny mattress on a metal bunk.
FRGs (Family Readiness Groups) around the globe have been working on projects like this to ease the cold harshness for the returning soldier by raising funds to buy the things that will make that bunk a little more welcoming.
Patrick parked his pickup in the Walmart parking lot, had simple flyers explaining what he was doing, and just waited for the passing customers to stop and ask.
Patrick reports that many people don't believe it. They can't imagine that this is what a returning soldier comes home to.
Patrick reports that some hear the news, and just walk away.
I went to give Patrick some moral support and to donate some funds from the Unsung Hero Fund. We talked for about 30 minutes.
An older woman walked up and asked what was going on. Patrick explained.
"That just can't be", she said. "That's appalling."
She proceeded to pull out cash and put it into Patrick's large collection jar.
"Yes ma'am", Patrick responded. "It's the truth." He pointed at me and said, "Ma'am, his son was in the Army, ask him."
"Yes, sadly it it true. But the good news is we have good folks like Patrick and you willing to do something about it."
In a moment, the woman's grown daughter walked up. The older woman explained the situation, and the daughter expressed her disbelief. Then she dug for cash and stuffed more in the jar.
"Thank you", said Patrick. And the women walked to their car.
"Patrick, you are a hero", I said. "Let me know what you need. Thanks for standing out here for your fellow men and women. Love you, brother."
And I began to head for my car.
The daughter saw me and stopped me.
"What branch is your son in?"
"Did he get sent to Iraq?"
"Is he still there?"
"No, ma'am. He was killed in Iraq in November 2007."
She broke into tears. She leaned into her car and told her mom.
"Oh, that's just the saddest thing I've ever heard. I am so sorry. Sir, can I give you a hug. I really need to give you a hug."
"No, ma'am that's not necessary, but I appreciate your support."
"No, you don't understand. My son just joined the Air Force. I have been fooling myself that he can't get hurt. I've never met anyone that has lost a son in the military."
We hugged, and we sobbed for a while.
"Ma'am, chances are on your side that he will be alright. No one can promise, but the odds are on his side. Stay strong, you all will be fine."
"Thank you", she said. And she got in her car.
As I made my way to my car, with tears streaming down my cheeks, I prayed and hoped that he will be ok. I hoped I hadn't lied. I hoped I hadn't offered false hope.
For him, his Mom and his Grandmother, I hope he's ok.