I’m sorry your child did not come home to you: An apology from a Marine Corps Officer

Elizabeth Stephens

Portrait of Captain Elizabeth Okoreeh-Baah of VMM-263 ARTIST: Staff Sergeant Kristopher J. Battles, USMCR MEDIUM: Oil on Linen THEME: No Worse Enemy

In Week 5 of “Writing to Find Your Voice,” students write an apology. To anyone, for anything. This apology comes from Elizabeth Stephens, who describes herself as a “Ghanaian American steward, mentor, advocate, and mother from Memphis, Tennessee.”

I retired from the United States Marine Corps in June 2015 after completing three successful combat deployments to Iraq,” Stephens writes. “I have a history of firsts: The first black female to graduate the Naval Academy and be selected as a Fleet Naval Aviator in the Marine Corps; to pilot the CH-46E; to become tactical aircraft commander. The first woman to fly the MV-22 Osprey.

Stephens was awarded an Individual Air-Medal for exceptional bravery, flight, and leadership skills while leading the only two aircraft flying for a period of eight hours with less than 200-foot ceilings at night, with no ground reference, over hostile territory. Her bravery ensured the success of the first democratic elections in Iraq’s history.

She is also a mom. “I have three beautiful daughters: Deena, Bailey, and Samantha,” says Stephens. “We enjoy hiking, music, technology, music, piloting airplanes, hovercraft, and cars, aquaponics, and anything outdoors.”

This piece by Stephens is for mothers—and fathers—everywhere.

I’m sorry your child did not come home to you: An apology from a Marine Corps Officer

The relationship with the parents of our Marines is a tenuous one. We are responsible for our Marines’ mission, their wellbeing, their very survival.

The parents of our Marines trust us as caretakers for their children. We are their surrogates. They also believe that the love that we have for these Marines will and must equate to familial love, and to the way a family member would make decisions when these Marines’ lives are in danger.

In the movies and literature, a mother has superhuman strength when children are in danger. Parents are known to jump in front of cars, disarm threats, and sacrifice their bodies, their minds, and their lives to save their children.

In our fairytales and fantasy, this familial love is the “Truth” and as such, the one thing that will always win the day, defeat the dragon, unlock the labyrinth to save the world of magic, and bring the hero who deploys the shields of defense and the sword of justice.

As a leader of Marines, I have this responsibility. My Marines are not only my brothers and sisters, but also my children. I am both their manager and their leader. Not their birth parent. But as their steward, I must share this with you as you, their true parents, deserve to know.

I have served my God, Country, and Marines for a lifetime. During that lifetime, I have cared deeply for my Marines and treated them as the most valuable assets in our United States arsenal. My Marines were and will always be my family. I believe in my responsibility to them, and as such, I have a responsibility to their families when they do not return home.

To the parents: My heart and soul have been enriched by your gift to the service. Your sons and daughters have made me the person that I am. They have driven the dedication, the intensity, and the perseverance from which my children, my community, and my world now benefit.

I have seen your child shed their greatest fears. Cpl XX gave her life to protect and serve. She was exhausted, battered and beaten, but mustered the spirit and strength to draw the line in that sand. She stood up to the insurmountable enemy and said, “Not on my watch.” She pushed through the anger, the confusion, and the fog to say, “Evil shall not stand.”

She embraced her inner strength, refused to be silenced, and made the hardest choice at all times, because it was the right thing to do. She exemplified the very core of her heroism.

She was a Badass.

While I cannot bring her home to you as the person you sent to me, I can tell you that her impact, your sacrifice, and the lives of those who are able to live their lives to the fullest because of her sacrifice is not only immeasurable, but also incredible.

She truly exemplified the type of role model, leader, and hero that I will forever tell my children and the world about. I am truly affected by the life and the essence of her and her soul. While I know that you would prefer to have her living and laughing and loving with you now, I can assure you that her light and the spirit will never be forgotten.

The Mighty Marines of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263, Al Taqquadum Iraq, 2004.

The Mighty Marines of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263, Al Taqquadum Iraq, 2004.


Instructor in the Master's in Public Leadership program

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