Kari Bales Speaks to Supporters

Kari Bales told me she immediately started an email to me that first day she read my letter. She told me that she started and stopped many times, hovering over the “send” button, coming back time and time again to complete her message. She said there were just so many things running through her mind those first few days that it was difficult to know exactly what to say. She knew she would send it someday, when she had the right words.

When she finally did send it, the door opened for us to have a conversation about how I came to write the letter, and how she came to read it. I told her about my mother and I sitting around the kitchen table, crying as we thought about the loneliness, remembering our own experiences of frustration when we didn’t have the information we felt we needed. When I talked about the necessity of dealing with the absence of information in military life, we shared one of those “YES, I TOTALLY GET IT” moments that military spouses often share. Then she explained how a co-worker encouraged her to read the letter, and she described seeing it for the first time through tears.

It was one of the most meaningful exchanges I’ve ever had.

But this isn’t supposed to be my message. It’s hers. So here it is:

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When I read your letter I began shaking and crying. You had so eloquently summed up all of the questions and emotions that I had been feeling since my whole world had been turned upside down. I am not looking at the news very much these days. Instead I read your letter every night before I go to bed and let all of the supportive words and prayers sink in.

I came back to your blog today to read the wonderful sentiments, blessings, and supportive comments that your audience has left. I know that there is a roller coaster ride ahead of me. I am so overwhelmed, appreciative, blessed, soothed, cyber-hugged, supported, loved, cared-for, in awe and thankful for all of the comments that your readers have shared. It was brave of you to write such a letter and all of the readers who chose to reach out are brave as well.

I am taking every day as it comes, enjoying our children and taking deep breaths.

I will continue to come back to your letter everyday, and read all of the comments and soak in the support. Please let everyone know I am feeling their support and understanding. Thank you.

Sincerely, Kari Bales

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The comments for Kari Bales will remain open, and I will keep approving them, as long as you keep writing them.

Sticky Note

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I’m in Olympia today for work on a dreary Northwest day, so I’m blogging from the road. I just want you all to know that I have a message for you – from Kari Bales herself – in response to all of your messages. As soon as I get home tonight, I’ll post it for you!

First Runner-Up

Miguel AlmaguerLast week my “Open Letter to Kari Bales” somehow became the news. I was very aware that Kari Bales was the queen and I was merely standing in as her first runner-up in her absence. But I was happy to do that, and honored to bring military spouses and their silent sacrifice into the momentary spotlight.

However, that honor and excitement turned to worry and dread when Miguel Almaguer and the NBC news crew came into my house for the interview. As the cameraman was making some adjustments I sat watching the crew erect foreign-looking paraphernalia in my kitchen. The lights flipped on and I was suddenly overcome by the enormous weight and responsibility of the words I was about to speak. It’s one thing to dump my soul into a computer processor; it’s another thing entirely to force the words to out of my brain into the lens of a camera, all while looking at a hunky reporter I’ve only watched in sixty-inch high-definition.

The big fuzzy microphone hanging over my head felt like the day I drove away from the hospital with my newborn daughter strapped into her huge car seat, looking like a cashew bundled in green fluff. I couldn’t believe they actually trusted me. I looked up and wondered if they might konk me on the head with the mic if I answered incorrectly.

“Okay, now I’m nervous,” I told Miguel. “Don’t be,” he said. “It’s just like having a conversation. You’ll be great.”

But it didn’t feel like just a conversation. It felt like I was speaking on behalf of military spouses everywhere: all ten million bajillion of them. I may have been First Runner-Up to Kari Bales, but I was suddenly Miss Military Spouse USA. The cameraman fiddled with various items in the background and it gave me a moment to breathe. Just breathe, I told myself. But it still felt more like an asthma attack than breathing.

As Miguel made one last call, my breathing finally slowed and I concentrated on the fact that the cold air rushing into my lungs was coming back out warmer than it had entered. This was evidence that I was still alive. Then, it hit me: this story wasn’t about me. In fact, it wasn’t even about my letter. It was about the national response to my letter. YOUR response to my letter.

Suddenly the weight to perform blew away as I exhaled, and I was amongst all of you. And I was proud of you. I’ve never felt such pride before, not even peering up into the night sky under fireworks on the Fourth of July.  Not even standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier cruising effortlessly under the Golden Gate Bridge. Not even watching sailors stop, one by one, to salute the flag before running down the gangplank to hug and squeeze their children, some of whom they were meeting for the very first time.

And then that pride, that warm air … it made me smile. YOU made me smile. At that moment the producer said, “Lori, look over here!” and she unwittingly captured that moment by snapping this photo:

NBC Nightly News interview

So this is my thank you card to all of you. Think of it as my acceptance speech for being Kari Bales’ first runner-up. Because many of you have said thank you to me in your comments of support for Kari, but I hope what you realize is that by reading, forwarding, tweeting, and writing, you are the ones that made a difference in the life of a military spouse. You are the ones who shaped a national conversation. You are the ones who voted Kari Bales most likely to succeed.

To view the final result of that NBC Nightly News interview about you, my readers, go here:

NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, “Silent Rank” by Miguel Almaguer ~ March 23, 2012

If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you knew I would do something ridiculous. Well I’m not going to disappoint you by failing to self-report here as I always do. As Miguel laid his cell phone down on the table, I saw a picture of him under some spotlights looking somewhat like a ring-master taming a lion. Before I knew what was happening, I blurted out, “is that you - at the circus?”

Really? The circus? The circus, Lori? Uhhh. Hide your face. The CIRCUS!?

I smiled stupidly pretending not to notice how dumb I was. He chuckled, and I immediately recognized what appeared to be the White House in the background. The circus spotlights were actually floodlights on a big green lawn. The lion’s whip was a fat cord attached to a camera crew, trailing from his microphone. I cursed my lost glasses but kept smiling. He graciously answered, “No, but it’s a lot like a circus sometimes, I’ll give you that.”

Gah. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Circus. Jeesh.

This leads me to my conclusion, because no acceptance speech would be complete without a gratuitous thankyou to Carol Costello of CNN,  Miguel Almaguer of NBCJesse Ellison of Newsweek/The Daily Beast , and all of their editors and producers working behind the scenes for chosing to cover this issue and bring the positive and human side of this story into the forefront. On behalf of my readers – on behalf of military spouses – thank you so much.

And now we return to our regularly scheduled program …

An Open Letter to Kari Bales, Wife of Soldier Accused of 16 Afghan Deaths

writingUpdate: for those who have asked, here is the website for contributions to the Bales Family.  BALES LEGAL DEFENSE FUND

Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales is now sitting in a holding cell on US soil awaiting a visit from his lawyers after being named as the soldier suspected of shooting 16 Afghan civilians. His name was released Friday, and with it a frenzy of media speculation about his four tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, failed or botched PTSD diagnoses, the undue pressures that may have been created by his financial woes and professional difficulties, and allegations that he has had run-ins with the law that reveal a challenge with anger management. Neighbors and fellow soldiers describe him as heroic and exemplary and demand that these allegations, if true, are a complete aberration from the man they know.

And yet in all this flurry and speculation, the only person I can think of is Karilyn Bales, his wife of seven years.

I combed through internet pages looking for the blog that Ms. Bales reportedly wrote, in an effort to get a picture of her military life experience. I was horrified to come across a comment from a poster identified only as “Afghanistan” in response to a comment Kari Bales made on an unrelated website. The comment said “It is strange to see a wife of a person who killed 16 innocent people, including 9 children, posted here… I hope justice serves well and he burns in hell.” Similar sentiments were easy to find in the comments on every major news story reporting the emerging details. And it sickened me. I thought about what her life on base must be like in these days. And I cried.

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Dear Kari,

I can’t imagine the thud you felt in your heart and the ice that coursed in your veins when you heard a knock and saw a uniform standing at your front door. I can’t fully imagine the fear and the shock and the way that you couldn’t breathe as you thought about what this visit could possibly be about. Was probably about.

And then, the relief in your stomach that quickly turned to sickness when the shock wore off that your husband was alive, only to be told that something terrible had happened for which your husband was the primary suspect. Something very very horrible that you could never understand or imagine your husband, the father of your own children, embarking into the early morning hours to accomplish. I can’t imagine the questions that flooded your brain like a rush of moving water, threatening to drown you and offering no relief for a gasp of air.

What exactly happened? Has he been injured? Where is he now? Is he safe? When can I talk to him? When can I see him? Why can’t I see him? Am I in trouble? Is there anyone I can call? Is there anything I can say? Anything I can’t say? How do you know it’s really true? Do I hire an attorney … how much will that cost? Where will I get the money? Is he even getting a military paycheck now?

And I can only imagine what you felt as you stared blankly at the officer who arrived without any answers to give.

I can’t imagine the stress you were under when you were told that you needed to pack up your things and move onto the base for your own protection, a protection that meant you would be safe from the media but surrounded by people who stared and judged you. And I can’t imagine how that stress turned into shooting pain as you heard a baby down the hallway …

What will I tell the kids when they ask whether daddy is coming home? If they convict him, will he ever see them again? How will I explain what’s happening when people ask me questions in front of them? Will the media know before they do? How will I ever explain it to them if it’s true? How will I ever explain it if it’s not true and I don’t do everything in my power to prove it?

And when I thought of my own husband and my own children, and how devastating it would be, I sat at my own dinner table with my mother, another military wife, and we cried for you tonight, thinking about how alone and isolated you must feel right now …

Why is this happening? How could this happen … Was there something I didn’t see? What was in that last phone call, that last email, that I missed? Should I have begged him to stay home? Would it have made a difference? Why did they send him back again? Will they want to question me? Can I talk to anyone before I’m questioned? Did it even happen that way? Who can I talk to? Who can I trust? Who can hold me and cry with me and tell me that this is all just a bad dream?

Where will we go? What will we do? How long will this take? Who is going to take care of me? Of us?!

I just can’t imagine.

But Kari, in the absence of information, I can still offer you this: I want you to know that I don’t condemn you for being married to a man who has been accused, even though there will be venomous vipers spewing their hatred toward your entire family. I know that no matter what, it isn’t you. I know that there is nothing you could have done to prevent what happened. And I know you are hurting.

I’m praying for you. All of you.

Love,

Lori Volkman

VOTY Reader