Mother, slain soldier shared a special bond

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A U.S. Army carry team transfers the remains of Army Sgt. Michael P. Bartley of Barnhill, Ill., at Dover Air Force Base, Del., Jan. 17, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jason Minto)

Last week, we spoke with Rebecca Isles, the mother of Sgt. Michael P. Bartley, one of two soldiers killed when an  Iraqi soldier they were training with opened fire at Ghuzlani Warrior Training Center.

See this week’s Army Times for the report that Bronze Stars were awarded to three soldiers in Iraq with 1st Cavalry Division’s Alpha Troop, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, 4th Advise and Assist Brigade, for their actions to kill the traitorous Iraqi soldier.

Back at home, the families of the slain soldiers have been left to pick up the pieces of their lives. Spc. Martin J. LaMar, of Sacramento, Calif., leaves behind his wife Josie, a son, four daughters, and two step daughters. He was killed just a few days before he was set to go home.

Bartley grew up an only child, raised mostly by his mother alone.

“We were very intimate, and we would talk about things like this,” said Isles, 40. “He made me promise him I’d be okay.”

Bartley

Isles, a factory worker, said she has gone back to work since her son’s death, because “it’s a lot better than reality.” She said she has a good church, and she has been overwhelmed by the support from her family, the town and beyond.

Isles said Bartley didn’t like to talk about his job in his phone calls home, but their bond was such that she could tell when something was wrong. He called home the Friday before he was killed and said things were good, he was in training with Iraqi soldiers, and that he was in a safe zone.

“That was the last time I talked to him,” Isles said.

In Barnhill, a rural town of 5,000 people, jobs have been scarce, and Bartley’s options were to work at a local factory that makes fuel pumps, or “flip burgers at McDonald’s,” his mother said. He had one job as an assistant basketball coach and another as a janitor at the local elementary school.

He joined the Army “as a way better himself.” Isles said. He joined in 2007, in the summer after he graduated Fairfield High School. As he had in four years playing high school baseball, Bartley excelled in the Army because he was committed, a good listener and remembered instructions well.

He made sergeant in fewer than four years, and his goal was to make “E-7 in seven” years.

“The Army gave him something bigger than Fairfield, Illinois,” Isles said, in tears. “I think my son grew up in the Army. I told him, he went away a little boy and he come back a full-grown man.”

Isles felt a mixture of pride, fear and happiness for her son. When he wanted to reenlist, she told him yes, though she has questioned it since.

“I got a letter that Michael wrote that said, “Mom, I done the right thing,'” she said, in tears. “I can still say I did the right thing telling him to reenlist.”

Isles calls what happened to her son an accident because it is easier for her.

“That’s the okay way for mom to say that her son was killed,” she said. “I know it wasn’t an accident, that an Iraqi soldier carried ammunition in and opened fire with a gun, and beside my son, one was killed and one was wounded, but I say ‘accident’ for my mental state.”

Isles said she is fortunate to be surrounded by her caring family and community. For Bartley’s funeral, 1,200 American flags lined the streets, planted by more than 200 volunteers. More than 1,400 people signed the visitation book at Bartley’s funeral.

As close as the two were, she said that in death, she’s learned something about her son from his friends that she had never known: her son loved to shoot pool.

“I’d never seen him play a game of pool in his life, and that’s all everybody ever talks about, that he’d win, win, win,” she said.

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