Mariko Kage is a relieved mother. Her son, Mikoto Yoshida, 25, a First Lieutenant in the US Marine Corp, and has just returned safely from a stint in Afghanistan.
Yoshida, who lives in San Diego, will remain in the US until October of 2011 when he will deploy back to Afghanistan. His position as a forward observer means he goes and surveys everything that is happening, usually at the front line. This includes surveying the area for potential danger, targeting where the enemy is and assessing strategies that need to be taken.
It is a dangerous job and Yoshida has been wounded. Last May, the second month into his deployment, he was in a convoy when a bomb exploded nearby. Yoshida was thrown out of the vehicle and suffered a concussion.
The Military did not inform Kage until five days after the accident, saying they needed to go through an assessment and testing before contacting her. Thankfully, Yoshida fully recovered and was back on duty a few days later.
Speaking as a mother with a child in a combat zone, Kage said that when her son first made the decision to go into the Naval Academy, she had her own struggles to try and understand why. Kage, an environmentalist and peace activist, says she doesn't understand the war: she doesn't have a TV, she stays away from the media and she avoids newspapers, so it is very hard for her to understand what is going on.
"It does feel a little other worldly," Kage said. "He's very disciplined, and he's very committed and he's such a sensitive and considerate, responsible, wonderful son so I trust him 100 per cent that he is making his choices for what he feels is what he wants to do."
Kage remembers when her son first decided to go into the military and she asked him "Why did you choose to do that. He responded that the US has to have a military force and why not him?"
"Also he said to me that he wanted to be physically, mentally and emotionally challenged. He wanted to experience maximum challenge," said Kage.
Kage feels that her son, who is of Japanese heritage, may have a bit of Samurai in him. "Maybe it is something he is carrying on in his own way," she said.
Kage recently talked to Yoshida and knows he is totally committed to the Marine Corp. "When he first went to Afghanistan, I had a numbing reaction - almost disassociated. I didn't understand this, but he is going anyways and I don't know what to make of it. I would go through periods of time where I was sad and worried and scared," said Kage.
But Kage recalled something from her Japanese grandmother's Buddhist teaching where she talked about her ancestors and guardian spirits looking over people. "Your ancestors become your guardian spirits," Kage said. "So I remember writing to him and saying remember that your ancestors are there to protect you and to watch over you, and that they love you and also to remember that there is mother earth to support you. That is our source of life and that you are suspended between mother earth and what it gives us and the protection that we get from the ancestors. I feel like I wanted to protect him in that bubble."
"I'm proud of him and I want to respect him for the life choices he makes - even though I don't understand it."
Kage speaks with pride of Yoshida's humanitarian work he is also doing in Afghanistan. In the past month his troop has been in the most dangerous section of the country spending time building schools, walls and roads. Although there are things he will not tell his mother, he did speak of the poor conditions the local people live in. Yoshida said that the health conditions of the people were very poor and there was no running water, shoes, medical or dental care.
While having problems visualizing her son in a combat zone, Kage can visualize him in this humanitarian position.
Kage's parents are also peace activists and very strongly anti-military. Her mother has said she will not display a picture of her grandson in his uniform. Kage said although she doesn't understand her son's decision, "He's such and incredible human being so I trust him that he's onto something. He's definitely there for others around him, he's a leader and very disciplined."
"I just pray for his safety and for his mental and emotional health. I will be there 100 per cent to support him and make sure that he knows that we care about him and love him."
Kage said that when she found out that Yoshida was first going away she and her sons prepared all kinds of things: pictures and letters and sent him care packages. "One night I just sat and wrote him a seven page letter about everything that I was doing that day. So he could visualize what the day was like for me and the boys," said Kage. " But then there was a period of time when I would just be numb and I couldn't even write. It was almost like part of me was cut off, not knowing what to make of my son being so far away in a war zone."
"I think I am still adjusting."
Kage said this interview was the first time she has had the opportunity to speak about her son and would like to connect with other families with similar experiences to hear what it is like for them. "There might be somebody else out there who hasn't had a chance to share."