A long time ago, I was a U.S. Army Ranger. It was just about the toughest thing I ever did. Honestly, I wasn’t very good; my path ended up taking me to Wall Street, which was a better fit for my skills. But I’m proud to have served my country as best I could, and I remain very impressed with the caliber of people I encountered in the Army then and today.
Violence of Action: The Untold Stories of the 75th Ranger Regiment in the War on Terror, consists of a series of first-person accounts told by Rangers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. I recently met two of the co-authors, Charlie Faint and Marty Skovlund Jr.
Most of the stories were about combat operations, but the story that caught my attention was that of Scoti Springfield Domeji, the mother of Sergeant First Class Kristoffer Domeji, a highly regarded member of the 2nd Ranger Battalion.
Scoti’s account is the story of a Ranger Mom. As a priest and general once told her, “You raised a warrior. Not everyone can raise a warrior.”
Reading this, I immediately recalled the Spartans of Ancient Greece, especially the Spartan mother who told her son, “Come back with your shield, or on it..”
Growing up, Spartan girls ran, wrestled, and trained, just like the boys. As mothers, they expected their sons to fight and win. If they died in battle, that was a cause for celebration, not sorrow, because that was the purpose for which they had been raised. The injured or defeated were not welcomed home.
Spartans are a minority in modern America. Like me, Scoti grew up during the 1970s, a time when soldiers returning from the Vietnam War were treated poorly. We both remember the feelings of tension and divisiveness.
Raising two sons as a single mother, Scoti had to be tough. She recounts how young Kristoffer once got into a fight. The other boy’s father marched up to her, demanding “Who’s this boy’s dad?”
“I am!” she replied.
The fight occurred because she had given Kristoffer permission to “handle” bullies. The rule was, “Do not throw the first punch, but make sure you end it.”
That wasn’t the only rule she enforced. “Start anything you want. If you hate it, don’t whine to quit. Mom’s not negotiable; you will finish your commitment.”
In her story, she explains a little more of her philosophy:
I wanted my sons to learn that failure is success in disguise. I never allowed two sayings in my home: “I don’t know how” and “I can’t.” I taught the boys to say, “I’ll try.” I didn’t care if they failed, but I expected them to try.
When Kristoffer asked permission to enlist, she was reluctant to sign the paperwork. She acknowledges that deep down, she was thinking, “If you’re killed, I’ll feel guilty.” But she did sign, and he enlisted in the Army and volunteered for the Rangers.
Like any mom, she worried. She may have been a “lioness single mom,” as her friends called her. But she recognized that her “cub” had grown into a “full-fledged lion.” Even so, she instinctively yearned to take care of him.
On October 21st at 11: 30 pm, she received unexpected visitors.
“Who’s knocking on my door?” I spoke aloud. My surprise at the sudden banging on my front door near midnight gave way to annoyance. “Probably someone with car trouble. If I ignore the knocking they’ll go away.” The insistent pounding on my door continued for fifteen minutes. I finally walked down my stairs and opened the door. Two tall men in military uniforms stood on my front steps.
He had been killed by an improvised explosive device. There were funerals, ceremonies, and memorials. During these events, Scoti would remind herself, “Be strong. Hold yourself together. My son, a Ranger, would not want me to embarrass him.” Passing three rows of Rangers standing at attention, she told them, “You are all my sons now.”
Ranger Mom or not, she missed her son. “At first, some days I could barely manage breathing. My mind raced, consumed with thoughts of Kristoffer. I wanted my son back to hug, to touch.”
It didn’t help when her three year-old granddaughter asked, “Is Daddy better now?”
Even as time went by, Scoti continued to feel the loss of her son sharply.
I still fly blind trying to navigate turbulent ups-and-downs of mourning. Unpredictable emotional loops, rolls, and spirals send me crashing. I burn with longing for my son to still be alive. I’ve lost all power to reclaim before-my-son-died “normal” or to control after-death’s sting.
The loss did provide her some perspective on life. She stopped worrying about the “shoulds.” She no longer had the energy “to swim against the flow of the unimportant.” She looked around her and wondered why so many people pursue goals that seem to lack significance, why so many spend their lives “running away from difficulties or trying to sprint past them as fast as possible.” She remembers her son as someone who “bolted toward challenging, dangerous situations,” and she continues to believe that “challenges aren’t to be wished away.”
To help manage the physical toll of her grief, Scoti took up CrossFit. “Some days just putting one foot in front of the other feels like I will shatter to pieces,” she admits. “But I soldier on, pushing my limits.”
Sometimes, the emotional pain overwhelms my physical strength. With immense effort, I urge myself forward. Just take one step, one more step.
What could a runner learn from Scoti? Something about the spirit that keeps you moving forward, one step after another, no matter how bad you feel, whether it’s the last quarter mile of a 5k, the last five miles of a 350-mile ultra-marathon, or some challenge or loss in the real world.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Black care rarely sits behind a rider whose pace is fast enough.” In other words, keep moving.
I wonder how those Spartan moms really felt.
Thank you for sharing your story, Scoti.