What Do We Lose When We Lose A Soldier?

Thursday, November 10th 2011, 9:10 am
By: News On 6

As of Thursday, 14 soldiers from the 45th have been killed in Afghanistan since the end of July, in the longest war in American history.

What do we lose when we lose a soldier? We lose someone we depended on, someone we miss terribly, someone we loved.

The gentle blush of autumn has finally come, as we knew it would. Extinguishing that cauldron of summer-just-past, when it seemed the news of fallen soldiers came at us in almost daily doses, in stabs to our collective hearts.

In small towns across Oklahoma, in the quiet of this season, changing, reminding us that time moves on, something's missing. A father's guiding hand; a brother's gentle laugh; a daughter's moxey.

They told us not to worry. They'd be home soon enough. Believing that with all their hearts, in Sapulpa, Kayci and Kylie Owen were gathering a box of birthday surprises to send their father, Kirk, on that day in early August.

That day, two men in uniform walked up the driveway of the little house on Freedom Street and changed three lives completely and forever.

"My father-in-law just turned and saw them coming up the driveway and said ‘Tiff you have two soldiers coming up your driveway,' and my heart sank and I froze, and I told him ‘I can't answer that,'" said Kirk's wife Tiffany Owen.

"I liked to make him happy, make him smile," said Kayci Owen. "sometimes when I'd just smile, he would."

It doesn't take much to melt a Daddy's heart. And Kirk Owen's never stood a chance against 12-year old Kayci and 15-year old Kylie.

"I would ask tons of questions and he'd always know the answers," Kayci said.

"I think of his smile. That big, cheesy, grin and it's a good thing," Kylie said.

Kirk Owen didn't smile much, at least for pictures. But they like to imagine he's smiling on them, the ones who mattered most.

This team of four that has suddenly become three. Left to wonder of those final moments that made it so.

"He wasn't scared, he wasn't concerned," Tiffany said.

But his daughter's are left to struggle with why the bomb buried by a coward in the middle of a dirt road, on the other side of the world, had to explode just as the most important man in their life passed by.

"I would have rather, I mean, not would have rather, I wouldn't want him to be dead at all, but I would have rather it be somebody standing in his face than 3 miles away pushing a button," Kylie said.

Some questions have no answers. Some answers never satisfy.

"Evil tried to win. And there was no stopping it, there's nothing we could have done and that there's a reason for everything and we may not know it now, but eventually, there'll be peace with all of it," Kylie said.

Until that day, they do their best. Life has to go on. One foot in front of the other, they say... those who aren't going through it, but mean well just the same.

And so the flag goes up out front each day. And at Sapulpa Middle and High Schools, the girls find friends and smiles and a chance to be 12 and 15 again. Terror and politics and age-old hatreds have no place here.

Kirk loved to hear Kayci play her clarinet. So for him, she works very hard to keep first chair. He liked watching women's basketball on TV, and sharing pointers with Kylie. It's why she wants to play in college, maybe for Tennessee.

And for now, why the Lady Chieftains are like her other sisters, around them, she doesn't have to pretend she's not hurting.

What is the world missing without Kirk in it? "So much stuff," Tiffany said.

It's in the quiet times of the day when it comes flooding back.

"And sometimes I just wonder what he's doing and wish that I can talk to him and find out," Kayci said.

When he's with them again.

"When I talk to him it's not like a conversation, it's just sitting in silence, just feeling that he's there helps a lot," Kylie said.

Surrounded by his medals and his uniforms, between the walls they filled with promise and hope and hung with pictures to prove it.

Before he fades further from them, before they forget the warmth of his hugs, and the sweetness of his kisses and the love that encircled them all, inside the little house on Freedom Street.

"He's not telling me anything, he's just giving me his smile, smiling at me which lets me know everything's gonna be OK, and that he's in heaven, and we will be together again someday," Tiffany said.

Tiffany and the girls will be there when the 45th returns for its end of deployment ceremony, whenever that is.

Until they're home safe, she says, things won't be settled for her. And it's then, she says, she may allow herself to turn inward, and wonder why her husband couldn't be among them.

Staff Sergeant Kirk Owen is now a permanent part of Sapulpa Junior High School. His picture was placed in the school's Wall of Fame. The display is meant to offer inspiration to other students.