Authors: Susan Leigh Carlton
19026 Northcanyon St
Tomball, TX 77377
Loving An Airborne Ranger
Susan Leigh Carlton
Copyright © 2013 Susan Leigh Carlton
Susan Leigh Carlton
The morning sun was shining through the gaps between slats in the drawn blinds.
Lisa could see the dust floating in the air around the room. There was
plenty of dust since construction had started on the property in back of Lisa and Matt Turner’s home just outside Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The only sounds came from her eighteen month old boy playing with his puppy.
Keeping the dust in check was an ongoing task for Lisa. She had to dust every day. If she didn’t, Kyle would be constantly sneezing. The pert and perky Lisa was only 5’ 4”, a height her now deployed husband, Matt called vertically challenged. Part jokingly and part practicality, he had purchased a small three step stepladder to enable her to reach those things normally beyond her grasp.
She was now standing on the top step trying to dust the ceiling fan with her Swiffer dusting tool. Kyle was on the floor happily playing with their golden retriever puppy, Gunner. The puppy had been named by Kyle’s Night Stalker father.
The TV was on and she didn’t hear the car stop in front of her home. The doorbell chimed; as she went to answer it, she removed the scarf she was using to keep the dust out of her long, blond hair and tossed it on the chair.
When she opened the door, she saw the olive drab Army staff car in front of her home. At the door was Emily Laughner, the wife of Matt’s squadron commander, a chaplain and an Army captain, both in uniform. It was an Army notification team.
“No, no, no, oh God no, not Matt!
Not Matt! It can’t be Matt. His tour is over in three weeks. He promised he would come home. Her face turned pale and it appeared she might faint.” Mrs. Laughner moved quickly to her side, with one arm across her shoulder and the other on her elbow, she guided Lisa toward the floral print sofa. Sensing his mother was upset, Kyle began to cry. Lisa leaned over and picked Kyle up and let herself be led to the sofa. Sitting down, and holding him close, she began humming a lullaby to console Kyle.
The army captain began to speak. “Mrs. Turner, there was an incident in Kabul yesterday. Matt’s Cobra was shot down with an RPG. There were no survivors. His body along with that of his co-pilot was retrieved. I’m very sorry for your loss.”
The chaplain spoke trying to find the words that would help soothe the pain of this young woman’s loss. As usual, at such a time, the words were ineffective. Lisa was inconsolable. Rocking back and forth, continuing to hold on tightly to Kyle, she kept saying, “There’s some mistake, he can’t be dead. He promised to come back. He can’t be dead.”
Mrs. Laughner said, “The RPG completely destroyed the helicopter. He died heroically, trying to protect his Little Bird and the soldiers on the ground. Your husband was a brave man. He’s gone and now you have to think of the little one. He needs you now more than ever.
“Chaplain, Captain, I’ll stay with Lisa for a while. Why don’t you return to the squadron?”
* * *
Lisa and Matt grew up together. Neither dated anyone else during high school and college. They were from a small community called Dime Box just near College Station, Texas. Both graduated from Texas A&M in College Station, where Matt had been in the Corps of Cadets. It is a natural progression from the Corps of Cadets to the Army with a commission as 2
Lieutenant. They were married after graduation. Matt was assigned to helicopter training at Fort Rucker, where Lisa joined him.
After successfully completing basic flight training, and advanced combat training, Matt was assigned to the 101
Airborne Cavalry at Fort Campbell, Kentucky where Lisa joined him. His unit was deployed to Afghanistan, with the deployment tour scheduled to be completed in just two weeks. Now Lisa would have the heart wrenching task of telling their families Matt wouldn’t be coming home, not in two weeks…Not coming home at all.
She dreaded calling Matt’s parents, more than she did calling hers but it had to be done. Putting it off was not going to make it easier.
She punched in the number for the Turners. She let it ring ten times and decided they weren’t home. She called her mother, who answered on the third ring.
She took a deep breath and trying to maintain her self-control she began, “Mom, Matt was shot down and killed yesterday.” There, she said it, admitted to herself her childhood sweetheart, her prom date, the father of her son and her husband would not be coming back.
Then she burst into tears, telling her mother between gulps of air, the notification team had just left and what the team had told her. There may have been other details but she didn’t remember. As with all mothers, hers began saying the comforting words they use when trying to soothe the pain of their hurting, loved one.
Lisa said, “Mom, I tried to call the Turners but there was no answer. Since I was next of kin, the Army won’t be notifying them. Could you and Dad go over and tell them, and also tell them I will call them as soon as I get more details which will probably be coming later today or tomorrow?”
Her mother answered by saying, “The Turners are probably at the store. Dad and I’ll go over and tell them. Lisa, we’ll be coming as soon as we can talk to the Turners. Are you okay? Do you have anyone with you?”
“Mom, it has been less than an hour since I found out. Matt’s boss’s wife is here and I’m sure there will be more as soon as the word gets out. The Night Stalker’s Wives Association will be here. You don’t need to rush. It will be four days or so before any services. Kyle and I’ll be okay.”
“Nonsense. You need your mother at a time like this. We’ll be there.”
“Okay Mom. Thank you and I love you and dad so much. Please be careful driving. I don’t want anything happening to you. Mom, the doorbell just rang. I need to answer it.”
Mrs. Laughner said, “I have the door, Lisa. It’ll be some of our people, I’m sure. I lit the tree.”
Authors note: The Night Stalker’s Wives have what they call a calling tree. The squadron commander’s wife notified two people and each of them notified others. Notification was efficient and rapid.
The front door opened and a tall, broad shouldered man with a military haircut walked in and up to Lisa. He took Lisa in his arms and said, “Lisa, I’m so sorry. Matt was truly one of the good guys, and a good friend. If there’s anything I can do, let me know.”
“Thank you Chuck.
Mom and Dad will be here tomorrow, but I appreciate your coming over.”
had lived in the house next door, prior to Matt and Lisa moving into on Post Housing. He was a member of a Rapid Response Group (RRG) attached to Matt’s squadron. As an RRG team member, many of his missions involved parachute jumps into hot zones. He and Matt had been on several missions together, though not in the same chopper since Matt flew in a two man Cobra, while the jumpers flew in Chinooks. Matt had told Lisa Chuck was a warrior and was awarded a Purple Heart for wounds received along with a Bronze Star with two clusters for valor.
His wife filed for divorce during his last deployment, saying she could no longer cope with the repeated separations and the stress of knowing her husband was in constant danger. She said she needed a more settled life
, so he returned to an empty house that was no longer a home. He lost himself in his work, volunteering for one hazardous mission after another. Lisa only saw him in passing after his divorce.
He walked over to Mrs. Laughner and out of Lisa’s hearing asked if she had any details. She said, “No, all I know is his Cobra was hit by an RPG and exploded outside Kabul.”
“Please let me know if there is anything I can do.”
“I will, Captain. Thank you.”
Wives from the Night Stalkers continued to drop in through the afternoon and early morning. Many of them brought casseroles or other types of covered dishes. There would be no need for cooking for several days to come. One of the wives Lisa knew by sight came sat by her and reintroduced herself, “I’m Cindy and I’m chairwoman for the wives group. First, let me tell you how sorry I am for your loss. My husband was shot down just last year. One thing you need to know. You and your son will never want for anything. Our organization takes great pride in taking care of our own. We will help with the paperwork and make sure you understand all of the benefits you have coming. If you remarry, that’s different things change but not for your son. There is even assistance when he is ready for college. If you need anything
, contact us and we will take care of it.”
The next day, Lisa was contacted by the Department of the Army. She was given the time and date Matt’s body would arrive in Dover, and then transported to Lisa’s choice of mortuary. Lisa selected a mortuary in Clarksville, Tennessee and informed the Army. On arrival, funeral services would be arranged by the Fort Campbell chaplain’s office with all of the appropriate honor guards set.
The day of the services was rainy with a forecast of thunderstorms, some of which could be heavy and contain hail. It was as if Matt was protesting what had happened to him. A blue shelter was arranged to protect those attending from the elements.
Matt’s family, the Turners, drove their own car following Lisa’s family, the Barrett’s to Fort Campbell. They were gathered under the covering when the Army Honor Guard unloaded the casket from the hearse.
There were many Army personnel in attendance, as would be expected in an Army town. The Post Chaplain conducted the services. At Lisa’s request, the hymn,
was played. A bugler played Taps. Two sergeants from the honor guard folded the flag in the familiar tri-fold with only the blue showing. One of the sergeants presented the flag to the widow and thanked her for her husband’s service on “behalf of a grateful nation.”
Lisa carrying Kyle, walked to the grave stood silently then placed a single rose atop coffin. She turned and walked away. Her father draped his arm on her shoulder as she leaned heavily against him. Her mother tried to take Kyle but he would have no part of it.
The officers and men from the 101st Airborne Cavalry filed past the casket at a slow pace, each stopping briefly and saluting to pay his last respects. A rifle salute was also fired.
Many of the attendees came by the Turner’s home for a few minutes to offer their condolences and to assure the widow they were there if she needed them.
The Next Day
Lisa’s mother and sister sat with her in the family room. “What are you going to do, Lisa?”
“I don’t understand what you mean Mother.”
“Are you going to move
back home now? I think you should. We can help with Kyle until you get settled.”
“Mom, all of my friends are here. I’m going to stay here. We are well taken care of. I won’t have to work or anything and there is a tremendous support group here for the fallen warrior’s families.”