When a Mom kisses her children goodbye, it’s usually to reassure them all is well. She’s only going away for a little while; it might be a short business trip, a quick run to the market, or a night out with her friends. It’s hard to think about Mom leaving home for a year or more—perhaps never to return—because she’s going off to fight a war in some far-away part of the world. Most of us can don’t even want to imagine it.

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She’s not there for the glory. She’s there fighting for the freedoms and democracy we all enjoy and sometimes take for granted. She’s risking her life to ensure a safe future for her children and those of future generations. She’s putting her life on the line so one day others might live in a world of peace, not war. She represents the world’s women and girls whose voices have been silenced by a patriarchal society. And she’s there so every man, woman and child the world over might one day enjoy the same freedoms that exist for our children.

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In 2011, a young man named Robert Cunningham traveled to Afghanistan as an embedded photographer. His first trip outside the wire was with a Military Police unit from the California National Guard. One of the soldiers in that unit was a young woman named Alicia. She was a hard charger; perpetually happy and equipped with an easy smile and infectious laugh. She came home safely and Cunningham remembers seeing her again:

“A few years later, I met up with Alicia at her home in California. She still possessed all of those traits, but this time she had another title. Instead of ‘soldier,’ it was now ‘mother.’”

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As so often happens with former deployed soldiers, the topic came around to old war stories. Because so many families were still stationed in Afghanistan, these stories came easily. “From pranks pulled on platoon mates, to times in which you just had to laugh at the ignorance or overall stupidity of a situation, we forgot about the tough times, and focused on the good times,” says Cunningham.

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Holding her son, Alicia replied: “While I was in, I would seek out deployments; if I was here, I wanted to be there. I still sometimes want to go back, but with this little guy, my priorities shifted. I still miss it, though.”

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This Mother’s Day, we at BookTrib want to honor those extraordinary women who, for reasons of their own, left their children behind to enter enemy territory. To all the military moms who will not be able to embrace their children and loved ones on this Mother’s Day, we salute you. We thank you for your service to your country, and we prayer you will return home before too long.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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An excerpt from Afghanistan: On the Bounce

By Robert L. Cunningham, with Steven Hartov
All photos by Robert L. Cunningham

Back in the States, a soldier said good-bye to her baby-blue Mustang. It was more than a car; it was an extension of her, how she felt about the world, how she wanted the world to see her. She picked that color and the shape and the feel of it, the way she slid into it and wore it like a lamb-leather glove. It was all about being young and alive, about unbridled exhilaration. Every time she got behind the wheel, it was the first day of summer.

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Now, in Afghanistan, all geared up, drenched in sweat, and waddling like an armadillo under sixty pounds of ceramic and steel, she hustles to her new ride, an MRAP. It’s a mine-resistant, ambush-protected fourteen-ton monster bristling with antennas; dragon-like armor plates; a whining, motor-driven turret with a .50-caliber machine gun; three-inch-thick windows; a gaping maw with iron stairs for teeth; and an all-enveloping cage designed to detonate enemy rockets before they can kill her and everyone else inside.

She marvels at the size of it. The enormous rubber wheels almost tower above her head. It’ll never be pretty, and it’ll never go fast, but it’s the only way to go anywhere and live to see another day.

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If that’s not scary enough, that comfy commercial airplane she once flew in to Disney World is now replaced by another metal phoenix. This one has wings of steel and propellers or spinning rotors that, if she’s not super careful, will take her head off like a guillotine. This snorting, roaring sky dragon is even bigger than the MRPA, armored from its blunt nose to its knife-blade tail. It’s got machine guns jutting from its gills, and when it even thinks it’s in danger, it actually spews balls of fire. It doesn’t matter if it’s nighttime or daytime; it still roars across the country too fast and too low, filled with soldiers as fragile as eggshells, some barely able to keep their chow in their stomachs.

The whole purpose of these warhorses is to deliver her intact from one risky part of the country to an even more dangerous one, so she can survive the trip and face the next mortal danger – combat.