This is a repost of a blog post from April 2008 as a part of a Best of 2008 series:
Moon over Yusufiyah - Part II:
As I left you in my last post, I was gazing at a moon rising over my home in the early morning hours of August 16, 2005 and thinking of my boy, SGT Mike Stokely as he was stationed at FOB Richardson in Yusufiyah, south of Baghdad . Just a few hours later, my world was to be turned upside down as I received notice that he had died from wounds sustained from a road side bomb (IED) while on dismounted patrol. In the earliest of moments of that day, and the 18 months
since, I have had to make a daily decision to live life as fully and happily as possible. I owe my boy to do that, but it is not easy. Some days, grief has a strong pull, and a downward spiral can too easily start.
Romans 8:28 is a bible verse I have clung to and the promise therein that God will work good from all things. Such has made it possible on the worst of days to keep trying to live that full and happy life my boy would expect of me. Some five or so months after Mike died, I came across a blog written by Kat in Georgia, "YIKES". She said nice things about Mike, mentioning she lived in his high school hometown where he is buried (Loganville). Mike lived there with his mom graduating from Loganville High; I live about an hour and half away in Sharpsburg, which was where Mike visited often on weekends, holidays, summers and lived with me full-time the year before he died.
Kat was just getting started in the blogging world, and I wrote and thanked her for the kind words. We soon struck up a friendship and introduced each other by cyber space to our respective families. She is married to Jeff, who also blogs and is known as Papabear. They are to say the least, remarkable people. Kat works as an administrative assistant full time and Jeff is a stay at home dad who volunteers day in and day out as a volunteer special needs child advocate in the County School System. Kat is outgoing, talkative, zany at times, while Jeff
is so soft spoken and deliberate, he almost fades into the background. Kat is a vibrant, get it done, work without ceasing supporter of our troops. Just to name a few of the accomplishments - countless dozens of cookies baked and shipped to combat zones; adopting so many soldiers that just the postage alone must be bankrupting them; organizing and ram roding the collection of 20,000 Christmas Cards sent to troops in combat theaters just a month ago; and this past week, while suffering from pneumonia, getting 5,000 Valentines Cards sent to Iraq . She likewise writes soldiers at Walter Reed and is a Patriot Guard Member, always showing up with coffee, doughnuts and biscuits for the morning missions. Did I mention she is a daily volunteer with Soldiers Angels? As if that were not enough, Kat goes to college at night.
Kat and Jeff have four children ranging in ages from a couple years old to a soon to be high schooler - two boys, two girls. They are a family of modest financial means, but seem to always find a way to do so much for so many when most of us would have let the cost blind us from helping in such a way. They are selfless and sacrifice in a way that is akin to Jesus parable of the Widow's Mite. Honestly, I think they must do without many necessities most days to give
so much to our troops.
They complain not, and have yet to find a soldier they didn't love to support. The families of fallen soldiers are dear to their heart. Certainly, they have done much for the Stokely family, including a scrap book of emails and letters and pictures from Mike's friends as well as strangers from around the world. They go as a family to put flowers on Mike's grave and this past summer, while the Loganville area suffered through a terrible drought, Kat lugged gallon jugs
of water to keep alive the new sod I planted on Mike's grave.
They make ends meet somehow, living in a small, cramped house trailer, which they rented for these past three years. They dreamed of getting a house - their first house. Room for the kids to stretch out, a bigger kitchen to bake cookies, and more room to collect, sort, and mail cards. A back yard for the two smaller ones, and a real neighborhood that the older ones could safely move about. But that takes money for a down payment and once in, the first year is a
juggle to meet payments, keep up maintenance, and buy the things you need for a bigger place.
Kat and Jeff heard about a TV show called HOMETEAM, hosted by Troy McClain of the Apprentice/Donald Trump reality show fame. This tv show is about finding a deserving individual or family and helping them get in their first home. The HOMETEAM buys the house, arranges an affordable mortgage, pays a 10% down payment and first year mortgage payment /taxes, completely furnishes the home with everything needed to move in and live. Here is the good part.
The HOMETEAM buys an existing house, takes the friends the listed on the application, and uses their labor, along with local contractors and suppliers to remodel the home inside and out. And yes, you guessed it - Kat and Jeff got selected, but they didn't know it till after all the work was done. A whole community and many in cyberspace kept the secret as the four day work project came together in a fury of activity. The HOMETEAM and friends do all of this
from Thursday to Sunday.
I got to be a part of this surprise for Jeff and Kat, working with HOMETEAM so many others to this home a reality for Kat and Jeff. There was hard work with many good friends, some I knew, and some I met for the first time. The good friends from Patriot Guard Riders (which Kat has also joined and supports) came to help, and were the bait to lure Kat and Jeff to the new home for the surprise today. Emails and calls from around the country asking for reports and helping
to keep the secret "secret".
Today/Sunday, at about 1:00 local, the happiest of shrieks and yells ever heard came to our ears as Kat, Jeff and the four kids drove up to the house being led by the Patriot Guard Riders (the ruse was the PG was filming a documentary, and Jeff and Kat even had a cameraman in their car). But, the ruse became a fantastic surprise as Jeff, Kat and the kids saw the HOMETEAM motor home and film crew there at this house and realized they had been selected to receive
No longer will this family of six live in cramped quarters. They now have a fully remodeled home and yard, newly furnished - the only thing "old" that they will have to bring is their tooth brush, clothing and personal effects. The HOMETEAM sponsor also gave them a check for $2,000 and their church The Orchard gave them a cash collection from that morning - $850 cash. Many others brought house warming gifts, and the Mayor and a city councilman who worked on the house gave them the key to the city. Kat also got two of her secret wishes granted - a flag pole and new computer. The Patriot Guard riders presented her with an
organization flag and it now proudly waves just under the red white and blue, lights shining at night.
Cameras rolling captured it all, and even the production crew and host were crying with joy. You want to see the goodness of America and community - watch the show the end of February (check the HOMETEAM web site for details when it will air in your local area).
As we all stood at the flagpole after the surprise was pulled off, Kat embraced me and through her tears, Jeff at our side, said "we can't possibly deserve this" to which I replied "you have done so much for so many, it is your turn to receive."
Tonight, as I look for the moon coming over the trees, I will think of my boy, Yusufiyah, and a closeness we had. Never will I forget his selfless sacrifice. I didn't have a choice in whether he lived that night, or died. But, I do get to make a choice at accepting the blessing of good things that God has brought out of his death, including the chance to get to know Kat and Jeff. These past few days, the blessing to me was giving back to someone else. Romans 8:28 blessing is what I call Kat and Jeff being in my life, and so many others, including many of you in cyberspace. I stopped on the way home and saw my boy, and told him his sacrifice has brought many unexpected blessing to our lives.
The Moon over Yusufiyah has connected again.
proud dad SGT Mike Stokely
KIA 8/16/05 near Yusufiyah
US Army E Troop 108 CAV 48th BDE GAARNG