CHICAGO – Elvira Sosa never saw herself as a military mother. No one in her family, or her husband Pedro’s family, had ever served in uniform.
So when her middle son, Robert Sosa, told her he had enlisted in the Army four years ago, she didn’t believe him at first. Then, her older son, Oscar Sosa, decided to join his brother in the service. Most recently, her daughter, Rosemary Sosa, enlisted in the National Guard.
Even the baby of the family, 7-year-old Adrian, has announced he wants to be a soldier like his brothers and sister.
Elvira said she copes with the threat of her children being in harm’s way by spending a lot of time in prayer. A parishioner at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Chicago, the mother of five works the night shift at a Keebler plant and uses her dinner break to pray the rosary.
During the day, she cares for the two children of her oldest daughter, Laura. “People say, ‘How do you do it? I would be a nervous wreck,’“ said Elvira, seated in an easy chair flanked by military portraits. “I am a nervous wreck, but I have my faith.”
Robert, who was 19 when he enlisted, now is 23 and home after completing his active service. His unit spent a year stationed in Iraq, patrolling the streets of Sadr City in Baghdad.
“It had its ups and downs,” he said in an interview with Catholic New World, Chicago’s archdiocesan newspaper, in his parents’ living room. “It was an experience dealing with the people out there.”
He was just returning from his overseas deployment when his older brother, Oscar, finished basic training. Oscar, now 27, enlisted two and a half years ago, while his brother was stationed in Iraq.
He is now stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y., after completing a 15-month stint in a region south of Baghdad called the “Triangle of Death,” where he was a radio-telephone operator and an ammunition bearer in a weapons squad.
“I was going to sign up after high school,” Oscar said while home on leave. “My parents convinced me not to, to try school. I signed up when I was 24.”
When he did, he went with his parents’ reluctant blessing. “I never said, ‘Don’t do it,’“ Elvira said. “Because what if I did, and then things went wrong, and they said, ‘If only you’d let me join the military.’ It’s a bad time to do it, but you never know what’s going to happen.”
While her sons were in Iraq, Elvira said, she refused to watch the news on TV. But she did communicate regularly with both young men via a webcam, a camera connected to their computers.
“I would just leave the computer on, and whenever they buzzed, I’d go running,” she said. “I’d always ask them if they remembered to bless themselves before they went out.”
She also sent along holy cards, medals and rosaries, gifts from the extended family.
They apparently had an effect, because Oscar said he was never scared. “I knew if I died I was going to heaven,” he said.
Elvira had her own religious dream, shortly after Robert was deployed, in which she felt herself being hugged by someone behind her. When the embrace ended, “I felt an enormous weight come off my shoulders,” she said. In her dream, she asked Rosemary who it was that hugged her.
“She said, ‘Look, it’s the pope (John Paul II, who had died).’ I have a great devotion to Pope John Paul,” she said.
Daughter Rosemary left for basic training in February. She’s doing OK, according to her mother. “She knew what she was getting into,” Elvira said.
Oscar is due to be discharged Sept. 11 of this year, but both he and Robert will remain eligible to be called up as part of the Army Reserve.
Now out of the service for nearly a year, Robert has found it difficult to adjust to life as a civilian, with no one telling him when to get up, when to work out or what to do. He hopes to start taking college classes soon, and get a job.
That’s one area where the local church could offer more support, Elvira said. “If maybe someone from the parish could call, just to see how he’s doing, it would help,” she said.