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.
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
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
“He also said something that will live with me
forever; he told me he learned to love from us,” continued
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,
“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.
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.
drove to the cemetery every week to spend time with him and
have conversations with him and tell him I love him,” Ken
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
“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
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.
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.
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
“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
“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
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