Advertisement

Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at tampabay.com/coronavirus. Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

No escaping worry about a Ranger

It had been too long since she'd heard from her son.

Cecelia Solomon knew 1{ years ago when Bucky enlisted in the Army there would be weeks at a time when he would be unable to call home. She understood the reality of unknown missions in dangerous places.

She had feared for Bucky when he wrestled at Central High, particularly after a tonsillectomy during the two-time state qualifier's junior season sapped his energy and threw off his thinking on the mat.

But nothing could prepare her for the news in April that a U.S. Army Ranger, deployed to the same war zone out of the same installation at the same time as Bucky, had been killed during a firefight near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

After hearing of former NFL player Pat Tillman's death, Cecelia placed a panicked phone call to her husband, Alan.

"I said it wasn't the same company as (Bucky)," Alan said. "He was fairly close from what he said, but he didn't give me any details on it.

"But he wasn't there."

+ + +

Hey what have you been up 2? Cant tell u what i have been doing and u know that so HAHA but u can at least message me back some time!!!! Hope u and best buddy have a good day and weekend. Love u mom.

_ an e-mail from Bucky to his mother

For a mother, particularly one whose 19-year-old Ranger son has served two tours in Afghanistan, there is no escape from the worry.

"You worry every minute of every second of every day," Cecelia said. "Even if it's not being said by you, it's just constantly there."

Reprieves never last long enough. A 5- to 10-minute phone call. A 24-hour Thanksgiving visit. A rare 16-day stay for Christmas and New Year's.

"You keep waiting for him to come in at night or out of his room," Alan said. "You know he's not there, but you expect it anyway."

The Solomons understand and support Bucky's decision to enlist. But fear and apprehension set in shortly after he left for basic training July 2, 2003 in Fort Benning, Ga.

The distance proved especially difficult to circumvent because the couple spent so much time with their son when Bucky was growing up. He played all the sports his father coached _ wrestling, golf, even track and field, where he took up pole vaulting.

In his absence, the couple turned back to sports for consolation. To fill the time they might have spent with Bucky, Alan and Cecelia bought Devil Rays season tickets.

"We kind of adopted a whole other group of boys, you could say," Cecelia said.

Three or four months pass between visits, sometimes as many as five. Bucky is encouraged to call home weekly so his parents know he is alive. But missions often keep him out of touch for weeks, and he cannot tell his family where he is, what he's doing or when he'll be home for fear of endangering his company.

The first time Bucky called from Afghanistan, he said, "Mom, remember those pictures from Mars? That's what it looks like here." Cecelia then heard someone pull away the phone. Moments later, Bucky got back on. "I've said too much," he said.

"I just call to see how they're doing, and that's it," Bucky said during his recent trip home. "They know I'm working."

When she cannot communicate by phone, Cecelia sends e-mails or care packages. But conversations seldom go beyond, "Hi, Mom. I'm okay. I'm getting food. I'm getting sleep."

Bucky's parents keep their eyes and ears open for any news about their son. Cecelia finds herself watching Frontline and scanning the newspaper for datelines.

She doesn't mind the secrecy, as long as she can talk with her son.

"The No. 1 thing is to hear his voice," Cecelia said, "to know he's okay."

+ + +

It's not hot where I am at all. In fact it is colder at night then anywhere I have been and very VERY windy in places. Like I said before I don't know when I can get on a computer. Love you mom!!

Bucky

+ + +

Bucky, who was given the name Alan but wound up with his grandfather's nickname, had numerous options when he graduated from Central in 2003. An honor roll student and all-county wrestler, he had his pick of schools for athletics, academics or both.

But he wasn't interested in sitting in classrooms.

"A lot of people coming out of high school aren't ready for college, they need some time to grow up," Bucky said. "I just don't think I would have taken school as seriously."

Athletic, aggressive and addicted to weight training, Bucky knew he would one day enter a field that pushed him physically.

He began considering a career in the military when he attended the J. Robinson Wrestling Camp as a sophomore. As Robinson, an ex-Ranger, spoke to the campers about Ranger School, Bucky grew enamored of the idea.

"I've never taken the easy road on things," he said. "It's always got to be challenges or it's not interesting."

Bucky took up the challenge of wrestling at 3{ when his father, a longtime coach and official, took him to tournaments. But without local clubs to polish his skills, older wrestlers began to pass him by. Bucky's frustration peaked as an eighth-grader, when he entered a tournament with especially high hopes and returned empty-handed.

"I don't ever want to come back from a tournament without a medal again," Bucky told his father.

With one or two exceptions, he didn't, consistently earning medals after dedicating himself to the sport and opening himself to his father's instruction.

Bucky's success continued in high school, where he had a 152-26 record and qualified for the state meet twice, placing fourth at 103 pounds as a sophomore.

After a 37-7 season as a freshman, Bucky won more than 40 matches and came within a controversial call of advancing to the state final as a sophomore. Slowed by the tonsillectomy, he slipped to 27-10 the following year before bouncing back to go 46-5 and return to state as a senior, placing sixth at 112 pounds.

"He had great self-discipline, and he was extremely strong-willed," Alan said. "That's what came into problems between the two of us. He was strong-willed, and if he decided he didn't like a certain move, that was it. He'd usually practice something he thought was better, and in a lot of cases that paid off."

Bucky's hunger for physical contact eventually steered him toward the military.

It's also in his blood.

A grandfather fought in World War II, an uncle in Vietnam. One of his great grandfathers spent 18 years in the Army after being brought to the United States from Russia at age 2.

"He was highly patriotic," Alan said. "I remember going to parades on Memorial Day. They'd go by with the flag, and he'd snap to attention."

Though his parents offered to pay his way through college, Bucky told his father of his intention to enter the Army early in his senior year.

"He said, "We need to talk,' " Alan said, "and I knew what was coming."

He explained that he'd return with a skill he could put to use at work or build on in college while getting money for an education.

"I was really impressed for somebody early in the 17th year to be thinking that way," Alan said.

Two days later, Bucky brought a recruiting sergeant to the house. Alan listened patiently to what the recruiter had to say, then had something he wanted his son to hear.

"All it takes is one lucky shot," Alan told him, "and your life is over."

+ + +

Hey mama how are you doing?? I am doing just fine like I always say cause it's true! I need to get one of those light up palm trees from skymall for my room in WA!! I think the web site is sky mall or something like that. Can you check it out for me when you have time?? Thanks MOM!!! love you guys and keep it real homie!! lol. p.s. thanks for the pic of the hooters girls "VERY NICE" you did good!!

Bucky

+ + +

A month after graduating from high school, Bucky enlisted at a recruiting center in Brooksville.

"I respect our country," he said. "A lot more people take what we have for granted, and it bothers me they don't understand."

Bucky reported to basic training at Fort Benning. After stops at Airborne School and the Ranger Indoctrination Program, he was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, based at Fort Lewis, Wash.

From there, he twice was deployed to Afghanistan.

"I just did my job," Bucky said. "You just go to work. They tell you to do it, you do it. Do things the best you can."

Bucky enjoys working with state-of-the-art equipment and being surrounded by fellow Type-A personalities.

"Everyone's very aggressive and outgoing and stupid funny," Bucky said. "We just laugh about the dumbest things, like we all quote stuff out of movies. It passes the time."

Travel is another perk. The first time Bucky returned to the states, he phoned his father. "I was in four countries today," he said. "How many have you been in?"

If there is one thing Bucky doesn't like about his work, it's the temperature extremes.

"It's either hot or cold, nothing in the middle," Bucky said. "Cold enough to almost snow and hot enough like 120s-130s. It all depends how high the elevation is and where you're at."

The Solomons noticed a difference in their son the first time he returned home. He'd added 30 pounds to his 5-foot-6, 118-pound frame and was stronger than they'd remembered, especially when they wrestled in the house.

"He's solid," Alan said. "Poke him in the chest, and it's like poking a wall."

Though he had owned stocks and taken care of his finances, Bucky seemed more aware than ever of the value of things. He'd set up an IRA for himself and had become self-reliant.

Most of all, he had become very serious, particularly when it came to the country he was defending.

During his most recent visit, a conversation turned to attitudes toward the war on terror. Bucky told his parents people in America don't realize how lucky they are to have the luxuries and education they enjoy.

"The biggest thing is knowing he's an adult now and no longer a child," Alan said.

+ + +

Hey mom how is your weekend going? I hope that you're feeling better and getting some rest and if not you need to. That's not a suggestion! Anyways it is like 1:30 AM your place or I would call you. Send me some pictures from the storm and anything else you want to. Love you lots mama.

2x combat vet

Bucky

+ + +

Bucky, who now considers Fort Lewis home, spent much of his recent visit playing Yahtzee with his parents and working with Central's wrestlers at practice. He also fit in several skydiving excursions before returning to Ranger School in Fort Benning on Jan. 2.

His parents will not see him again until March, when he is scheduled to graduate. For the next nine weeks, outside contact of any kind is forbidden.

Bucky has 2{ years remaining on his four-year commitment, followed by four years of Reserves. If he stays in the service, he'll probably go into Special Forces. If he gets out, he might contract himself out to handle security for businesses overseas.

No matter what he decides, he said wrestling always will be in his blood.

"You get away from it and you miss it, so you always try to go somewhere and help out and wrestle with someone, just messing around," Bucky said.

For now, his parents continue to wait and worry, as on that harrowing day when news arrived of Tillman's death.

For all the Solomons knew, Bucky could have been fighting by Tillman's side. After all, the two met at Fort Lewis. Alan remembers Bucky being impressed with Tillman's size _ at 5-11, he was 5 inches taller than Bucky.

Their fears were eased when Bucky phoned from Afghanistan three days later.

"It was just a matter of waiting to hear that he was okay," Cecelia said. "Even though we knew he wasn't in Tillman's company, there's still that you just want to hear your son's voice."

It was a reprieve, if only temporary.

ABOUT BUCKY

NICKNAMES: Bucky (given name is Alan), Solo

FAVORITE FOOD: Anything that doesn't eat him first

LEAST FAVORITE FOOD: Healthy stuff

FAVORITE SAYING: "Sua Sponte" (meaning, of one's own accord)

PET PEEVES: People who whine

BEST THING ABOUT BEING 5 FEET 6: You're in the middle of everyone

WORST THING ABOUT BEING 5-6: You're in the middle of everyone

FAVORITE TV SHOW: Aqua Teen Hunger Force on Cartoon Network

FAVORITE MOVIE: Anything funny

MUSIC HE LIKES: Listens to everything

FAVORITE CHILDHOOD MEMORY: Playing with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Turtle Power!)

FAVORITE CHRISTMAS PRESENT: Big yellow pedal car

FAVORITE SPORT: Wrestling

FAVORITE ATHLETE: Tiger Woods

OTHER INTERESTS: Skydiving

_ Compiled by Frank Pastor.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement