On an unusually cold August morning, my husband, Joe and I arrived early to the Chelmsford American Legion for a campaign breakfast he was hosting for local veterans and military families. I recognized the cars of Joe’s campaign staff in the parking lot and one I did not. It could only be Mark’s.
It’s been nearly a decade since Joe went to Iraq. He’s told me few stories of his time there. Mostly the good stuff or the close calls, like how he stayed on patrol for 48 hours straight just so he could watch the Red Sox in the ALCS or the day he found the first pedal-push IED on the side of the road and no one was harmed. We don’t really talk about why he was awarded the Bronze Star. He only says, “It was a very bad day.”
As a wife and as someone who didn’t put their skin in the game after 9/11, it’s not my right to rip that Band-Aid off even though I want to know what he’s been through.
Mark was a staff sergeant who served under Joe’s command. They met in Kuwait as very young men, just before they were deployed to Baghdad. As Mark put it, “I thought he was another new Lieutenant. Someone I was going to have to deal with as a young sergeant.” They came from the same state, but basically different worlds. Mark grew up in Quincy and bypassed college for the Army, Joe grew up in Concord and had a newly minted degree from Harvard. They may have never become friends if, after 9/11, they hadn’t both felt the call to give back to the country that had given them so much. Over the course of the next 18 months they would fight side by side and become brothers.
Almost a decade has passed since they returned home from Iraq. In that time, Joe has married, entered law school, and seen another deployment to Afghanistan, but still hadn’t seen Mark. The dark days in Iraq followed Mark home and led him down a very tough road during his transition from the battlefield to Quincy. And despite many attempts to reconnect through the White Pages and mutual friends, he and Joe lost touch. But on Saturday, in a cold Legion Hall, Mark was there in a suit with an Army pin on his lapel and a warm embrace waiting for Joe.
I’d say Mark is probably 6’2” and Joe is 5’7” on a good day. As soon as Joe entered the room, Mark scooped up his former Lieutenant and gave him the kind of hug you can feel just looking on. He proudly introduced Joe to his Dad and told him that this was the happiest he’d been in months.
As the room filled up Mark became more and more nervous about what he would say to introduce Joe to the room. When Mark took the podium it was clear that he was speaking from his heart. “It’s interesting my father always asks me, ‘How’d you guys get outta there? How’d you get home?’” He pointed to Joe and said, “Dad, that man right there. His leadership. Plain and simple. I don’t know if I’d be here if it wasn’t for him.”
Mark continued to speak about Joe’s ability to be both a leader and team builder. He said, “I’ve seen the things he’s done for soldiers. In the military, sometimes you do 24-hour shifts, 48-hour shifts. And after those shifts you’re called upon to do extra details…to fill sandbags. And that’s a sergeant’s job, but I’d always look over my shoulder and there’s Joseph Kearns Goodwin getting his hands dirty with the fellas. That went a long way with me.”
Mark’s comments didn’t surprise me, as I’m sure they wouldn’t surprise anyone who knows Joe. He is loyal, dedicated and compassionate. He has the unique leadership experience we need in a State Senator and in government.
After Joe and I were on to the next campaign event, he received a text. It was from Mark saying, “After my dad and I stopped crying on the way home, we both realized that this was the best day ever.”
This is what Joe’s campaign means to people like Mark all over this district, people who have lost their seat at the table. They know that Joe will be a voice to fight for their needs instead of their own egos and reelections.
I urge you join me and veterans across the Third Middlesex District in voting for Joe Kearns Goodwin on Thursday, Sept. 6.