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The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

A mother’s heart

Mother, Ellie Appleby, and son, Alex Colafrancesco (middle), reunite alongside his brother, Nicholas Colafrancesco, at the Sacramento International Airport on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022 at 11am after his 1-year deployment in Syria with the Army National Guard. Photo courtesy of Renee Colafrancesco

“Hey mom, just want to let you know I’m going to be deployed to a combat zone” are the scariest words for a military mom to hear.

Many years earlier, on a seemingly ordinary day, my 2-year old son, Alex, strolled up to me sporting a green hard hat and toddler-sized camouflage clothing, and exclaimed proudly, “Look mom, I’m going to be an Army man when I grow up!” 

For just a moment, a piece of my heart sank, understanding that this very well could be a premonition of my son’s future.

I have always supported our U.S. troops 100 percent. I celebrate alongside them when they win and cry alongside them when they lose. My grandfather served in the U.S. Army in World War II and my father served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, so it wasn’t the notion of my son being in the military that made my heart sink slightly, but the fear that I would not be able to protect him. 

A mom’s job is pretty straightforward: to love, protect and provide for their children (And I have five of them). But once Alex turned 18 and moved up to Montana for college, everything changed. While there, he signed up for the Montana Army National Guard and quickly passed his infantry test at boot camp with a broken toe and all. 

Not long after, Alex was sent with many of his fellow National Guardsmen to Inauguration Day in 2021 at the U.S. Capitol. During the pandemic, he filled in as a temporary prison guard at the Montana Deer Lodge Prison, and after that, spent part of a summer fighting forest fires in the Montana wilderness alongside others in the National Guard. 

All of these were tests of inner strength for a mother that cares deeply for her son, praying that each act of heroism achieved would be accompanied with a safe return. 

The ultimate test was the day Alex announced in 2021 that his unit, the Montanata National Guard from A Company 1-163rd CAB were being ordered to deploy for a year to Syria. 

Syria is a dangerous country because of the presence of the Islamic State group, an extremist militant organization. Currently, Syria is an active combat zone and I was overcome with worry and fear for my son’s protection at hearing his news. 

I cried in the shower — and then put myself together for my other children still living at home. I had to be strong for them. 

As the news spread about my son’s deployment, everyone praised his bravery and ambition, and I felt that too, but fear and worry of how dangerous the mission could be were at the forefront of my thoughts. 

Praying became a daily ritual for the safety of my son and for the other men and women that worked alongside him as they were sent off to serve their country. I joined online groups for military moms and found they had the same worries and concerns for their own children. I was relieved to know I wasn’t alone.

I sent care packages, and had family and friends contribute as well. I even found a local church group that could send him care packages too. It was all I could do to help. I had to trust that the military would take care of the rest.

I learned that only 900 U.S. American troops are stationed in Syria at any given time, and their main objectives are to maintain a military presence and keep the Islamic State group at bay. I also learned from my son that there was a humanitarian crisis there as well. 

Alex would communicate with me through an app that encrypted his messages, but he couldn’t tell me much since it could jeopardize the mission. To know he was alive and well was all the assurance I needed.  

Alex would send me links to short news updates on where the conflict was happening, which helped me understand the messiness of the conflict in Syria and gave me a window into the civilians who are suffering because of it. This became a way for me to understand the intensity of the situation my son was in, along with the other 900 troops.

My son helped me to learn that there are so many unfortunate civilians forced to be a part of a war because of the geographic circumstances of their birth. It gave me empathy for them and their situation, and made me wish for peace for their nation.

As the months passed, the days felt longer and longer as an ISIS resurgence was brewing in Syria. Alex reassured me he would be home one day soon. “Don’t worry, Mom” he would say, “we were trained for this.”

And when it seemed Alex’s deployment would never end, just like that, his platoon boarded a plane out of Syria in October while a second plane unboarded fresh American ground troops to replace them.

Finally, my son’s deployment was coming to an end. My heart ached for the mothers whose children would replace mine, knowing the long road of uncertainty they would embark on for the next several months. 

It has been well over a year now since I have hugged my son. He missed everyday life, including holidays, birthdays, a wedding and meeting his cousin’s new baby, Meadow. 

Relief has replaced the worry I have had for so long as I anxiously waited for Alex’s return and met him at the airport on the eve of this Veterans Day. 

My family and I didn’t bring banners or balloons to greet him, we just brought ourselves and that was all that was needed. Nothing said more than welcome home then the cries of joy and long embarrassment at the airport. 

Ellie Appleby wraps arm around her son, Alex Colafrancesco, after arriving at Sacramento International Airport on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022 at 11am after his 1-year deployment in Syria with the Army National Guard.  Photo courtesy of Renee Colafrancesco 

This Veterans Day, I tearfully thank all the mothers who sacrifice their worries, hearts and children so that our country can be free. And this day is even more special to me this year because I finally have my own son home — now a veteran himself at the young age of 22. 

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