In the weeks following the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, Mary Conboy has been filled with a mix of emotions.
The Roxborough resident is relieved that the eight-year war is over – relieved for the soldiers that returned home and for the families that welcomed them back. But she wasn’t sure the fighting would ever stop.
“I was surprised that they pulled it off,” she said. “I felt like it was never-ending.”
But the news has also left Conboy feeling a bit empty.
Her son Adam died while serving in al-Anbar province in 2006 as the result of friendly fire. Shortly after his death, Conboy launched Operation Bedding, a non-profit that, among other things, sends care packages to soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and, until recently, Iraq.
The organization’s efforts continue, but the change of context stung, with Adam’s death feeling more final than ever.
“Like a deep wound,” said Conboy recently from Operation Bedding’s headquarters on Ridge Avenue.
“I’m very well aware and in tune that he’s dead, but working this for five years and staying active with the military, I still felt a part of it. Now it’s really over. That part of it is really over – mailing to the grounds that he died on.”
Another son heads to war
Conboy will now turn her attention to Afghanistan, where Adam’s younger brother Evan is tentatively scheduled to serve as a U.S. Marine beginning in February.
Last week, she shipped about 500 Christmas stockings packed with snacks, socks, wash clothes and other supplies, along with pillows and blankets.
“There’s always going to be someone away from home,” said Conboy.
Like any parent, Conboy worries about the prospect of Evan heading off to war. He’s 21, the same age Adam was when he was killed. But she respects his decision. It’s something he talked about doing before his big brother ever enlisted.
“I didn’t raise my kids to tell them how to live their life so I was proud of him,” she said. “It was scarier for him I think because he knows how quickly you can die.”
“I didn’t want him to join to even a score. I didn’t want him to join because he felt like he had to replace his brother,” said Conboy.
Continuing her mission
But Conboy doesn’t plan on forgetting about Iraq.
As thousands of U.S. troops settle into their post-combat lives, she plans on focusing more attention on helping to provide support as they make what has proven to be a very difficult transition for many.
Conboy may spend more time working with Big Brothers In-Arms, another organization she helped found that provides returning soldiers – mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan – the opportunity to speak with veterans – many from the Vietnam War – about making the adjustment to civilian life.
The “droves” of soldiers that are now back on U.S. soil and in need of help – emotional or otherwise – frightens her.
“We’re not ready,” said Conboy. “As civilians we tend to go on with our daily life and it’s sort of not our problem, but it is our problem,” she said.
“I’m not going to stop trying to at least get them help.”