MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. – When his son Adam deployed to Iraq, Ken Estep did what any parent would ... he feared for his son's safety and lived for the moment he returned home.
Then several months into Adam's deployment he was jolted by a knock at the door from an Army Casualty Notification Officer, with the dreaded news he hoped would never come ... His son was dead.
On April 29, 2004, in Baghdad, Adam was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade while on patrol with his unit, assigned to 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, 1st Cavalry, Division, Fort Hood, Texas. Adam was only 23 and had had been married to his wife Damara for only two months.
This life-changing event turned Ken into a Gold Star parent, someone who has lost a child to war, which he spoke about at the 63rd Regional Support Command's Gold Star Family Day, Sept. 26, 2015 at the headquarters building.
Ken Estep (right), reflects as he is greeted by Maj. Gen. Nickolas Tooliatos (back to camera), commanding general, 63rd Regional Support Command, following Estep's speech at the 63rd RSC's Gold Star Family Day, Sept. 26, 2015 at the headquarters building. Estep, whose son Adam was killed in Baghdad, April 29, 2004, is a Gold Star parent who is heavily involved in community affairs which help keep the memory of his son and other fallen Soldiers alive.(U.S. Army photo by Rosario Urquieta)
Ken, a resident of Campbell, California and also an Army veteran, talked about his son's path into the military after finishing high school.
“I gave Adam three option when he graduated high school- take six months to find a job, go to college or join the service,” said Ken. “He chose to join the service and be an infantryman. I asked him why he chose that job after scoring so highly on the ASVAB [Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery]. He said he wanted to blow things up.”
Ken said his son had a never give up attitude and even though he found elements of basic training difficult, his resolve saw him through.
“He did 17 weeks and refused to quit ... he was thin like me and had to learn to conserve his energy and strength,” said Ken. “He graduated with honor.”
Adam was stationed at Fort Hood upon completing Advanced Individual Training and visited his parents in California frequently. On one of these trips Adam told his father he had been stopgapped by the Army and was being sent to Iraq, despite only having three months before getting out.
“I told him he was a Soldier and had made a commitment, so put a smile on your face and go do your job,” said Ken. “I'm happy to say that smile never left his face. I hear that from everyone I talk to.”
“He also said something that will live with me forever; he told me he learned to love from us,” continued Ken.
Adam also surprised his parents by getting married shortly before his deployment in Feb., 2004, starting a journey for his parents, one that never ends, said Ken.
“We got a call from our son on April 28. It was a great opportunity to say we love you and stay strong,” said Ken. “Then we got a knock on the door on April 29, which began an amazing journey.”
The next two weeks were a blur said Ken, with a feeling of numbness which failed to reside, the family helped by the Casualty Assistance Officer through the difficult period.
“He helped us with everything that needed to be done, to bond with the family and be recognized by the community, which was unique because I'd never considered myself part of it,” Ken said. “But here people were reaching out ... everyone wanted to understand our story.”
The hardest part was the funeral and laying his son to rest, which as a father provided a sobering feeling during the aftermath, Ken added.
“My youngest son was crushed ... his brother who had been a part of his whole life was gone. His mother who resided in a nursing home couldn't be there to do the things a mom would normally do and put herself in this bubble for many years dealing with the pain.”
Ken said during his life he had four stepfathers and forgot each one easily, but he didn't want to forget his son the same way.
“I drove to the cemetery every week to spend time with him and have conversations with him and tell him I love him,” Ken explained.
As a Gold Star Family, Ken said they think of their son every day and he remains a part of their lives, even to his daughter, who they adopted after Adam's death.
“To her Adam is a part of her life, he always has been. She hears the stories we tell, she sees his picture in the entranceway every day. She helps to keep him remembered.”
So do events like this organized by the 63rd RSC, said Ken.
“At these events I try to help remind our communities there was a service given, a sacrifice made,” he said. “We support local foundations and built a memorial in the city of Campbell where people can honor the fallen.”
“We've also created a scholarship in Adam's name, so returning Soldiers can get a scholarship in the Bay Area in affordable colleges.”
Ken said there's also a special place for Gold Star Mothers, who bear the biggest brunt over the loss of their children, including Adam's own mothers- his stepmother and natural mother.
“They never recovered ... there's a part of them that's always there caring. A Gold Star Mother is a very special person,” Ken explained. “I cherish knowing each and every one of you.”
Ken said he is thankful for a nation who cares and remembers those who served and made the ultimate sacrifice.
“I want to thank you for listening to my story and Adam's story,' said Ken. “We are a Gold Star Family and truly humbled you remember us.”
Echoing his words was Maj. Gen. Nickolas Tooliatos, commanding general, 63rd RSC, who said hearing Ken's story was inspiring and a reminder of how difficult the loss of any Soldier is.
“Soldiers take the loss of life very hard,” said Tooliatos. “When you go down to the company level of 120 Soldiers or so, who lived and breathed and ate with that Soldier, it's an incredible emotional event.”
At the family level however, it's a black hole which can never be filled, said Tooliatos.
“We have a vacancy in our hearts for your loss here and we will never forget you,” he said to the Gold Star parents in attendance.
Tooliatos said the 63rd RSC will continue to hold events like this to ensure the memories of the Soldiers remain to their families and the community.
“Here at the 63rd we will always remember ... we honor you and thank you for your service and dedication,” Tooliatos concluded.
By U.S. Army Alun Thomas, Public Affairs Specialist
Provided through DVIDS
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