Bonnie Eddy’s son, Coltin, did not tell his mom that he was in the thick of battle when the young Marine went nose-to-nose with Islamic State fighters in Mosul in 2017.

“He didn’t want me to worry,” Eddy said.

Ronda Russell-Gunn does not know what her son, Cody, does on Army missions.

He is a special operations staff sergeant and says little about his work.

Both Rock County moms are looking forward to brighter holidays this year because their only sons recently returned from Iraq.

For Eddy, it will be her son’s last deployment.

“My son, Coltin, will become a veteran in December,” she said. “He’s coming home for good.”

But Russell-Gunn is among parents who still have children serving in war zones around the world and who still go to bed worried about their safety when they are deployed.

Since the height of the U.S. ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of parents in her shoes has shrunk considerably.

But some 5,000 U.S. troops are still deployed in Iraq and more than 12,000 in Afghanistan.

Subdued holiday

The first time Russell-Gunn’s son, Cody, went to Iraq was in 2009 for a year.

“Family and friends were nervous,” Russell-Gunn said. “... We were still very much at war, and even if your soldier comes back physically in one piece, you still worry about what he has encountered and if it will change him. He still doesn’t say much about what happened.”

Cody’s second deployment to Iraq was the day after Christmas 2018.

“I couldn’t see him last year because, for weeks before a deployment, he has to mentally prepare for it,” Russell-Gunn said. “He’s never out of Army mode as he gets closer to deployment.”

She wanted to be joyful on Christmas but found it difficult knowing her son was leaving for Iraq the next day.

This year, she might see Cody but doesn’t know yet if it will happen.

His third deployment will be to Afghanistan.

Since age 4, Cody has told his mom that he was going into the Army.

“It really didn’t hit me until I had to say goodbye to him 10 years ago,” Russell-Gunn said. “He’s my only child, so I placed him in God’s hands. I know if anything happens to him, it is exactly what he wanted to be doing.”

Since 2008, she has hung the American flag on her town of Beloit home above a sign that reads: “Home of a soldier.”

Veterans Day, which is Monday, is extremely meaningful to Russell-Gunn.

“I get teary-eyed every time I see a soldier in uniform,” she said. “I know the sacrifice they and their families give.”

Uncertainty remains

Until last week, Eddy never knew when her son would return overseas.

“After the Marines go on a deployment, they come home again for a while to decompress,” Eddy said. “I’ve never been to Mosul. I’ve never seen war. My son has seen things I never will see.”

Coltin’s second and most recent deployment was to Baghdad for seven months.

“I would ask him how things were there, and he would say ‘Quiet,’” Eddy said. “But it is never quiet. There is always something going on.”

Shortly after Coltin returned to the United States, protests erupted across Iraq.

“America doesn’t realize what these young men and women go through,” she said. “Some have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) when they come home. There are lots of suicides. It’s not a pretty picture.”

Eddy of Beloit coped with the uncertainty of her 22-year-old son’s deployment by praying.

“My faith in God is what gets me through,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights. Being able to talk to my church family keeps me sane. They all know he was in the hotspots, so we all prayed for him. We pray for all his brothers and sisters in arms.”

Eddy wants residents not to forget U.S. troops and their service.

“The only time our military comes to the forefront is if there is direct fighting going on,” Eddy said, “or if someone is killed.”

When she learned that Coltin will be coming home in December, Eddy said: “It is the best thing in the world that I could ever have.”

Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

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