I don't know where to begin, so you'll get this story in bits. I want, no.. I NEED, to get this on paper before my memories start to fade and my emotions wane. It's going to be long, so grab something to drink and maybe a few tissues too.
I met Barker nearly two years ago. He's in Keith's Army Reserve unit, the 300th MPAD. Barker was calm, with intermittent periods of silliness and fun. He adored his wife and kids. He had an unforgettable smile. He died last week, along with another Dekalb County officer, Ricky Bryant, responding to a suspicious person call while moonlighting as security guards. When not serving his country in the Army, he served his community as a Dekalb County police officer. Bryant served four years in the Marines, including an Iraqi Freedom tour, prior to joining the police department. Barker has been in the Army Reserve for 12 years, including a tour to Bosnia and another one to Afghanistan.
It's been over a week since I heard the words "Barker was killed last night". I attended the joint memorial service on Wednesday. I saw the coffins, heard the tributes, saw the grieving families, hugged the necks of guys in the unit... yet I still find it unbelievable that he's gone. I cry when I think about how Yolanda must have felt when she found out her husband was dead. I cry even harder knowing that Barker has children who are so young they'll only have fleeting memories of their Dad. I tear up when I describe the sights and sounds of the service, especially hearing final roll call on all of the police radios, and the two helicopters that peeled off of the group, in a pseudo-missing man formation.
I wonder what will be said about me when I'm gone. Barker and Bryant's families had wonderful things to say about them. Things like "dad wasn't around, so Eric became father to me and my other brothers"; "Eric taught us to ALWAYS do the right thing"; "I went with him when he signed up for the police academy, and I asked him if he really wanted to do this. He said, 'I'm a Soldier. Yes, I want to do this.' "; "Eric loved the law. He made two or three felony drug arrests every week. He always had your back on suspicious person calls." Bryant's wife stood in front of that church- a 10,000 seat church- and meekly told everyone that Ricky taught her to be independent and used to ask " 'What are you gonna do when I'm gone, LaToya?'; I just never thought he'd be gone this soon. TOO soon." His cousin, also named LaToya, told Barker's family that she was glad Barker was there with Ricky that night, because Eric was dependable, just like Ricky.
A few things were said during the eulogy that hit home with me, and have provided me with some comfort. First, the Bishop said that he was SO sad when he initially found out that both men had four young children, the oldest of which was 11. Then, he was glad.. because he realized that God didn't let these fine men leave the Earth without "planting their seeds" in the form of their eight children. As tragic as their loss is, it is comforting to know that these honorable, dependable, ethical, dedicated, patriotic men have left behind not one, not two, not three.. but FOUR children. EACH. Eight children, instilled with their father's integrity, morals and ethics- that's quite a legacy. I needed someone to help me see it this way.
The Bishop also reminded us that God took his own son back to Heaven at the age of 33, because he was "done on this earth". Eric and Ricky must have been "done" too, or else he never would have called them home. And then he asked us if we felt that Mary was ready to admit that her son's job on Earth was "done". The answer, of course, is a firm NO! Because we are never ready to lose someone, no matter what God has in mind. We are never truly ready. He went on to say, "Yolanda; LaToya... I know your names. But today, I call you both MARY. You weren't any more ready to give up your husbands than Mary was ready to give up her son... yet you did. I call you MARY." I cried. I cried a lot in those few hours.
There were two solo's during the service. A woman sang "Amazing Grace", and a man sang a song I've never heard before, but I wish I could hear it again. The theme of the song was "I couldn't have done it without you, Lord". The verses contained phrases about bad things happening in our lives, and how the Lord was there to carry me through. I think about that song a lot. It's like the "Footprints" poem, when it says "How come when things were really bad, there was only one set of footprints- you left me alone. And the Lord replied, "No. I didn't leave you- I was carrying you." I forget that a lot. I think we all do. Most of the messes I get myself into I've created myself, so I feel alone... but I need to remember that no matter what, the Lord is there and will carry me through.
When we left the church, the 1,000-plus police officers and military members were standing at attention, watching as the caskets were loaded into the vehicles while a lone bagpiper played "Amazing Grace". And then... the call went out on the radios. "Officer Eric C. Barker... Officer Ricky Bryant...this is your final watch. Over and out." There was more to it- they called out their badge numbers, which I don't know, but the message was clear: they were "done". A low drone filled the air, and seconds later, a group of sheriff's department helicopters flew overheard. As soon as they were over the funeral procession, two helicopters left formation and flew off into the distance, together, yet alone. Again, I cried.
The service was aimed toward their police service, which made us feel their military service was discounted. There was a private service the day before, which I missed, in which Captain Baucom presented Yolanda with the flag from Barker's coffin in true military fashion. In the end, I guess it doesn't really matter whether or not the public service focused on their police service or their military service- the memorial service honored the MEN, the HUSBANDS, the FATHERS, the PUBLIC SERVANTS, and the FRIENDS we lost last week. The 300th knows his military record, and we will grieve, and we will honor, that record. So will his wife and family.
Today I read an eulogy delivered by Lt. Col. Rod Coffey
on January 22, honoring the lives of 6 of his men, plus their Iraqi interpreter, who were killed in Iraq on January 9. Fitting, I think, considering that this eulogy was delivered half way around the world on the same day of Barker's private military memorial service. LTC Coffey had a lot of things to say about the loss of these 7 men, much of which could be easily applied to Barker. They were lured into an ambush, much like Barker and Bryant, where they were killed.
Coffey said, "I do not know where such men come from, except to say they are the kind of men who have made America great and will continue to preserve it. The act of going in first, the act of willingly doing your duty in a dangerous environment, is by its very nature an act of heroic self-sacrifice for the sake of others. These men we honor today had that spirit of self-sacrifice and devotion to duty to an awe-inspiring degree
." (emphasis mine) The same could be said of Barker and Bryant.
He went on to say, "If the enemy comes out to fight he will be met with a disciplined lethal ferocity he has never before endured. If he plays the sly game of intimidating, beheading and torturing the innocent people of Iraq when he thinks we’re not looking he will be met with a cunning, a sophistication and a relentlessness that will lead to his utter defeat.
This is my promise to you as your commander and from all of us to our honored dead."
This is also our promise to Barker- you were not killed while deployed as these men were, but you were killed needlessly, ruthlessly, and heartlessly by men who have no regard for the laws of our nation. They were killed by men who are not men; they were cowards, afraid of being caught and arrested. We will see justice. We will see to it that your families are cared for. We will see to it that the men who took you before WE thought you were "done" are punished to the fullest extent of the law. I know this, because I saw the passion in the Chief's face, and I heard the conviction in his voice.
No worries, Barker. Your watch is over. Your tour is over. You are "done". We, however, are not "done", and we'll finish up the fight, and jobs, you've left for us.