Infrequently updated blog of thoughts and feelings whenever I have time to sit down and write. It seems as though I have less and less time to sit down and write these days. That's why this page is static most of the time.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Last November, my second cousin, Jimmy Folkes, was killed in Iraq. He was buried in Arnett, Oklahoma, a few yards from the graves of my grandfather and grandmother, my cousin, my uncle, another second cousin, and... Well, you know how these small towns can be. Everyone around knows everyone else and most of them are relatives in one way or another. My grandmother’s two sisters all lived within walking distance of each other in Arnett, the county seat of Ellis County, Oklahoma. Aunt Estelle lived up one block from grandma and Aunt Edna lived down the street around the corner and a block over the other direction. Jimmy Sr. was Aunt Edna’s son and lived in Amarillo, the "big city" 17 miles north of the small town where I grew up. I think Jimmy Jr. was one of two sons in that branch of the family. I probably only met him a few times over the years, though, despite our proximity growing up in the Texas panhandle. I had several other cousins in the area that I saw a lot more often growing up.

Anyway, even though I didn’t know Jimmy all that well, this is the first time that the war in Iraq has touched me in a personal way. I’ve been fighting it from before it ever began, marching through San Francisco with the Libertarian Party and thousands of other people before the invasion, voting in on-line polls to gauge public opinion on the matter, signing every anti-war petition, resolution and declaration I’ve come across, and engaged in voluminous email flamewars over this topic. And still, nothing I could do seemed to have any effect at all. Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and more than two thousand American soldiers have died in a spectacularly bloody failure of simple common sense and good judgment, including now, my second cousin, Sgt. Jimmy Folkes.

My niece, Elizabeth Sarmiento, and her uncertain future have been constant sources of stress for Pam and I ever since she joined the Army a few years ago after losing custody of her infant daughter. We have heard from her only sporadically over the years, but she kept us informed of what she was doing and how things were going. She seemed excited, dedicated and committed to the Army and enjoyed her work immensely. She became a maintenance mechanic for Apache, Huey and Blackhawk Helicopters, and was eventually promoted to crew chief. She and her crew flew frequent Medi-vac missions for the local hospitals around Ft. Polk, Louisiana, and did search and rescue operations, since there weren’t any equivalent local resources in that part of the state to perform those tasks. Things sure would have been different, though no less interesting, if she had remained in Louisiana during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. But such was not to be. Liz was transferred out of Louisiana and back to Hawaii last summer, months before Katrina made landfall. She said there was nothing to worry about, she only had one more year left to serve, and her new skills were in far greater demand at domestic bases than they would be in Iraq. For some reason, though, the Army needs more soldiers in Hawaii, Iraq and Afghanistan than could ever be put to use in New Orleans or Biloxi.

But everyone knows how many helicopters we’ve lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, how many we are flying on a daily basis in both countries, and how necessary it is to keep these machines continuously operational in some of the most extreme environmental conditions you can imagine. Of course there is very likely a strong demand for Liz and her skills in a place as dangerous as Bagdad or Mosul, or Falujah. She wasn’t fooling me for a minute with her assurances that they weren’t likely to deploy her to Iraq. I was terrified for her. I was afraid she would die.

And then I got the news about Jimmy just after Thanksgiving from my sister, who drove along with the whole family to Arnett for the funeral. The Rev. Fred Phelps, she told me, had made noises about driving his church congregation all the way from Kansas to Amarillo to demonstrate at the funeral. Something about the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and how it permits gays to serve in the armed forces and was somehow against God’s law and guaranteed us punishment in the middle east. It sounds like the typical fundamentalist bullshit I’ve come to loathe all my life, having grown up with this nonsense force-fed to me as a child, but it had nothing at all to do with Jimmy. Unless he was gay. I don’t honestly know and it doesn’t really matter to me. As I said, we weren’t close and I haven’t seen him since I was a kid. My sister said she’d saved the newspaper clippings about it and would send them to me, but so far I haven’t received them.

All I know is that Jimmy had already served 10 years in the Army and was committed to a military career. Well, he got it, but not with the kind of early retirement plan most of us anticipate. Unfortunately, this is all too often the most frequently used retirement alternative in the military.

So you cannot imagine my joy when we received the following telephone call and email message from Liz today:

Dear Aunt Pam,

Hello, sorry it's been so long, but I've been busy getting out of the military and with the custody hearings. Let me back track and fill you in on what's been going on with me. Well I got stationed out here in Hawaii in May of 2005. Upon my arrival, I hired a lawyer and since then I've been flying back and forth to Maui from O'ahu for court hearings to get full custody of Tehani. It's not over yet but it's looking promising. I've also been Honorably discharged from the military due to parenthood. Parenthood--meaning that I would have no one to watch Tehani while I was in Iraq. You see, I was scheduled to go to Iraq in June of 2006, so upon knowledge of this I made a big fuss, ending result I was allowed to favorably be dismissed from all obligations to the Army. I'm super happy about that! I've been officially out of the Army since December 29, 2005. Fortunately, I've been in long enough to keep my college fund and my GI bill which entitles me to receive monies worth 3 years of college. To top it all off I have my life back!!! It's an amazing feeling of freedom.

Well I'm going to go now, but please write me back and let me know if you got those pictures and let me know how you’re doing.

Love you lots,

You have no idea how happy I am to know that Liz won’t be shipped off to Iraq to die and leave her daughter an orphan or left in the custody of an idiot father (I’ve met Peter, Liz’s ex-husband, so I know what I’m talking about).

But this doesn’t mean I won’t stop fighting against this insane war. If anything, it has galvanized me to be even more vigorous in opposing the effort.

My second cousin lost his life last year for no reason at all. I almost lost my beautiful niece because she is bright and young and naive and thought the government would take care of her because she signed away all her rights to serve the country. I can't wait to see her again, and to finally meet her daughter, who I only know through pictures sent in Christmas cards and twice-a-year email messages.

I want to know her in a way I never knew Jimmy Folkes. I want to know who she is before she dies. I want to know who she is before I die. I want her to know who I am before I die. With any luck, that will finally happen now. Keep in touch, and I may post some photos of these folks so you will know who I'm talking about here.


At 2:51 AM, Anonymous Starchild said...

Hey Terry,

Thanks for the thoughts, and thanks for including a good word about prostitutes to balance your linguistic contribution. 8) I have to admit that I always do a slight mental wince whenever I see terms like "prostitute," "whore," "promiscuous," "slut," etc., used negatively, even when it's criticizing politicians who well deserve it. Of course I must point out that some prostitutes are keen on reclaiming the word "whore," and that its use is quite synonymous with the term "prostitute," both positively and negatively, so it may be a bit late to redefine them as meaning very separate things. However I do understand the appeal of the term "click whore." It's just the kind of catchy term the media loves. I guess my choice of terms for the phenomenon would be "spambots", but that's probably not original.

By the way, I enjoy a good martini too -- gin, not vodka. Never dug vodka too much, although I'll drink it if the mood strikes and there's nothing around that I like better. Something I haven't tried but I think might taste good is putting lots of little chunks of green olive in the drink, rather than just one whole one.

And since I expect you'll be reading this, let me just say thanks again for organizing the East Bay Libertarian Party's whitewater rafting trip this past Memorial Day weekend. It was beautiful up there, and even my friend Olga told me she had a good time on the trip (aside from the time she spent clinging for dear life to the raft!) and was sorry we missed the BBQ on Saturday.

Yours in liberty,
<<< starchild >>>

P.S. - Sorry to hear about your second cousin, even if you didn't really know him, but glad your niece made it out OK.

At 11:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Glad to hear your niece escaped the Army unscathed. I remember marching in the anti-Iraq War parade with you and the other San Francisco Libertarians. Keep fighting the good fight.

In Liberty,
Sandy Pierre


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