September 2010 Column Winner

Combat troop pullout doesn’t ease parent’s pain

Andy Reiger, The Norman Transcript

PURCELL — The flashing lights on the police car were out of place on John Scripsick’s farm north of Purcell. He was getting the fields ready for the winter wheat crop. Immediately, he knew why the lawmen were there. Hours earlier, he had popped straight up in bed at 1:30 a.m. with the kind of helpless feeling only a parent can know. They were there about Cpl. Brian Joseph Scripsick, USMC, forever 22.

“They can’t find Bin Laden, but they can find me way out in the middle of a wheat field,” Scripsick joked. John and Jan Scripsick’s youngest son was killed in action at Albu Hyatt, north of Baghdad, Iraq.

Pauls Valley High School Class of 2004. Safety and wide receiver on the football team. Wrestler. Pretty good shortstop. Sometimes leadoff hitter. Liked to hunt and fish, play sports and joke around.

Monday, it’ll be three years since Brian’s death. A suicide bomber in a pickup truck broke out of line at a checkpoint and gunned his truck towards Brian’s armored vehicle. The four soldiers never had a chance.

Just like he was three years ago to the day, Scripsick will get his land ready for the winter crop. On the tractor, in his truck, watching television or listening to the radio, it occupies his every waking moment.

“It’s virtually changed my life,” he said over a late lunch last week. “It’s on my mind every minute of every day, trying to find out why my son died in Iraq.”

He listened to President Obama’s speech Tuesday and the announcement of the official end of the seven-year U.S. combat mission in Iraq. Two months before mid-term elections, Mr. Obama reminded us this was the fulfillment of a campaign promise to bring the troops home. More than 4,400 U.S. troops died there. Another 50,000 non-combat forces remain.

“It was totally absurd. We’re going to turn a page and put it behind us. Those pages have my son’s blood on them. These kids are dead and it doesn’t matter any more?” he said.

U.S. troops pulled out ahead of schedule. They left in the middle of the night, ostensibly not to call attention to their leaving. Columns of vehicles crossed the border into Kuwait

“No thank you’s. No parades. Let’s just look forward. It’s just absurd,” Scripsick said.

Brian wanted to teach and coach. College baseball was a possibility. Some small schools took a look. Eventually, he figured he’d farm like his dad. He’d worked on the farm since he was big enough to straddle a tractor.

The Marine recruiter called several times a week until Brian agreed to join just after his 19th birthday. He had second thoughts, but had given the recruiter his word. That meant something to him.

Brian had been in Iraq about seven months. He called home on his 22nd birthday. He was tired. They’d been pulling 20-hour shifts and were moving around often. John decided to work 20-hours straight, too, to empathize with what his son was going through. Only John’s weather was 100 degrees versus 120 degrees in Iraq.

John saw the brief report of the blast on CNN that morning. It couldn’t have been Brian. He was south of Baghdad and the suicide bomber hit north of the city. Three weeks later, he’d have been home. His Marine buddies drove all night to get to the funeral.

The war, in Scripsick’s mind, is about oil and keeping defense contractors rich. He’s watched commodities pricing all his life and can quote the price of oil before the war and after.

“Do you think we’d be over there if they had millions of bushels of carrots growing under those fields?”

He keeps up with other families who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Unlike other wars, the burden this time is not shared equally throughout society.

“If George Bush and Dick Cheney were held accountable and made to tell the truth, then maybe my son died for something. Otherwise, he’s just another dead kid.”

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