When young men and women enlist to serve their country the effects of their decision seem not to extend beyond the stress and anxieties, and the pride and the gratitude that their families, their friends and their fellow service members hold. Dad has often commented how so many Americans go about their lives a safe distance from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike when he served in WWII, there is no rationing of raw products, or food. In many non-military communities few may even know a soldier. It is easy to compartmentalize the wars, to safely put them aside. On most given days, the wars don’t appear on front pages of our local newspapers. Rarely is there a mention on the nightly news. The wars are as remote as the snow capped peaks of Hindu Kush.
Lost is the impact a young soldier’s life may have on one citizen. How could one have such an influence? Sure there are those who find themselves engaged in battle throwing themselves into peril for buddies, for unit, for God and for country. Take Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, who was a 22-year-old Army specialist when he raced head-on into an enemy ambush to save the lives of two American soldiers during a deadly fire fight. The humble hero received The Medal of Honor. On the flip side there is Army intelligence expert Bradley Manning, 22, who boasted he downloaded hundreds of thousands of documents which were then posted on Wiki Leaks. Two men. Two soldiers. Both received media attention for their actions. One man made me proud. One man caused disappointment.
Then there was Aracely Gonzalez-O’Malley (1979-2010). Aracely Gonzalez-O’Malley, 31, passed away on Thursday October 21, 2010 in Homburg, German. She was born February 19, 1979 in Brawley, California. I never had the honor to know her.
Aracely served with the U.S. Army as a Communications Staff Sergeant for eight years. She had served in deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa. She enjoyed music, photography, scrapbooking, dancing and San Diego Chargers Football.
One person. One solider. This list hardly defines who she was or who she became to me.
What follows is from Face Book's the Military Wall Of Honor posted on Monday, November 1, 2010 at 10:23pm
Aracely loved her husband, Ryan, and her family very much, but made a career in the military assigned to the 307th Integrated Theater Signal Battalion, 311th Signal Command based at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, to fulfill her wish to serve her country and protect those who weren’t able to protect themselves. Aracely not only left behind her husband, Ryan P. O'Malley; but her children, Sidney, Riley and Sean; parents, Armando and Juanita Gonzalez; brothers, Santiago and Armando Gonzalez; and sisters, Lizbeth and Paulette Gonzalez.
On April 11, 2010, Aracely posted on her MySpace page that she was getting back her pre-pregnancy body and was very happy about it, but was also hoping that she could keep her shape through their vacation. Life was good for her and her family. Her name was announced on the Staff Sergeant promotion list on April 30th. She was deployed to Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan in July of this year.
On July 27th Aracely posted on her MySpace page “that her unit was in an area where they were living in tents, and the showers for the soldiers are trailer showers which do not always have water. The power being used for the tents are 110. They were able to drop off their laundry and pick it up when it was done. The amenities that we so often take for granted were minimal. They had refrigerators with freezers, but no microwaves, and she was representing the Battalion as the BOSS representative.” Her last post was the 24th of September. Her last day as the BOSS representative was the next day.
During support of Operation Enduring Freedom, in a non-combat related incident, Aracely was injured on October 12th. She was flown to Homburg, Germany, for treatment. She was receiving treatment for several days, but on October 22nd, Aracely’s battle ended.
Her husband, brother, and family members were devastated. Friends, family members, and patriots have posted their heartfelt sympathies and memories of Aracely on numerous sites. Some mention that her smile and laugh was always contagious, and she had a wonderful sense of humor. Others state how full of life she was and that she will forever remain a Hero in their hearts and minds. SSgt Aracely Gonzalez O’Malley will never be forgotten.
The Patriot Guard Riders attended the memorials and services. California Governor Schwartzenegger ordered the flags on all the State buildings to be flown at half-staff in SSgt O’Malley’s honor and issued a message of sympathy to her family in her hometown of Brawley.
Aracely gave the ultimate sacrifice for the betterment of others with bravery and without hesitation. She leaves behind many family members, friends, and fellow soldiers who will forever miss her. Salute SSgt O’Malley.
So why does any of this matter?
SSgt O’Malley received two packages from my sister, Jennifer. Jennifer has been sending packages to soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq for years. Jennifer quietly clipped coupons to buy packages of cookies, puzzles, bottles of shampoo, and numerous other items. She stored a huge supply of "things" for them. She even cut crossword puzzles out of the newspaper. When she collected a half dozen or so boxes full of "stuff", she'd mail them off to foreign lands to unknown soldiers. Nothing send was of huge value, but everything became priceless to those on the receiving end. (Don't I know when I received similar packages when I was in the Peace Corps.)
Jennifer always knew she could lose one of her soldiers, but that never deterred. Each package was her way to say thank you. To let them know that they were not forgotten. That they were appreciated for their duty. She never lost any soldier, until this week.
SSgt O’Malley wrote two letters to my sister, thank you notes for the packages she received. Jennifer read each word trying to imagine the conditions in which it was written. And like the letters from all her soldiers she saved every precious piece of paper.
In early October, Jennifer sent another package to Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan, bound for SSgt O’Malley’s unit. On Tuesday when she came home she found the package sitting on her front porch. She knew something was wrong.
History remembers the causes, and its wars, but it is the individual who remembers the pain. She wept. And I cried too when I heard of my sister’s loss.
One could argue our grief is tiny compared to the sorrow that the Gonzalez-OMalley families suffer. But that misses the point. As a soldier, SSgt O’Malley’s life reached beyond the circle of her family, friends and fellow soldiers. Her life, dedicated to serve those who daily enjoy their freedom, also reached far beyond her what might be considered a circle of influence.
Many times have I caught a member of the Armed Forces off guard when I extend my appreciation. Whether in the airport, grocery store, the mall or the YMCA their response is the same. A huge smile, a firm handshake, and a humble "you’re welcome." I wonder if they teach that polite humbleness in basic training. We part and they vanish or paths don't cross ever again. They continue their lives. Of the hundreds of thousands that serve many return home, safely.
Not so for SSgt Aracely Gonzalez-O’Malley. I won’t forget how she touched a patriot when she said thank you. No SSgt O’Malley, thank you.