In late summer of 2012 when Charlie Company, 1-504th, came home from Muqor, Afghanistan, I met Christian Sannicolas’ mom, Deanna Howard, who had flown in from Anaheim to welcome her son’s platoon mates home. I hugged her, and she cried. Many people strive their entire lives for an accomplishment as meaningful as Christian’s, I said. As a soldier, I did not feel sorry for him, only for the hole his passing was leaving in the lives of Deanna’s family and Christian’s friends.
“I agree,” Deanna replied, “but I also mourn the loss of his dreams.”
His dreams. What does a young paratrooper dream of? What were the dreams of Christian Sannicolas? Christian had told his mother that he was enlisting to belong to something greater than himself. “Mom, I could die walking across the street and have nothing to show for my life, contributing nothing back.”
Deanna was a single parent, and Christian knew on his own that he needed male guidance to become the man he wanted to be. He believed the army could provide that. “He wasn’t going to sit back and be a victim,” Deanna said. “He sought out guidance.”
Christian was her social butterfly and always made sure that his friends knew he cared about them. To his army friends, “Saint” was a guy who would literally give you the food off his plate or take your twenty-four-hour weekend guard duty at the last moment. Christian’s immediate dreams included going to Ranger School, and later becoming a combat medic. “He knew he was going to have to take life,” said Deanna. “As a medic, he would be able to give life back to be in balance.”
When Delta Company walked off the plane at Fort Bragg later that August, Staff Sgt. Nicholas Fredsti’s mother Sherrie and sister Sarah were there to welcome home the men who had fought and bled with their beloved Nick. Sarah and Nick had been best friends. When his two best friends Dayton and Nixon were killed, Nick made Sarah promise that if he was killed, she would do everything she could to talk to the guys and make sure that they all knew that she was there for them no matter what. That’s what she was doing. That’s what his mother, Sherrie, was doing. I took a photograph of Sarah and her mother at Green Ramp, the main aircraft terminal for paratrooper use at Fort Bragg. They honored Nick with their courage. They honor us all. I hope that I always remember that.
To the mothers who grieve while others are celebrating this Mother’s Day, know that when your sons and daughters made the ultimate sacrifice, we understand that you did too. They are not forgotten, and neither are you.
Note about the Author: Michael J. MacLeod is a former US Army paratrooper who served with the 82nd Airborne Division from 2008-2013 as a combat correspondent. He is one of the most published military journalists of the last decade and has won dozens of journalism awards including the Army’s 2012 Military Journalist of the Year. For his work during deployment, MacLeod was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, an award normally reserved for soldiers of much higher rank.
You can read his full book here: