When the mail came one day about two weeks ago, my husband dropped magazines, some ad papers, and two packages at my feet. I reached down to pick one of the packages up, thinking they were some quilting supplies I had ordered. But, as I lifted one of them off the floor it was obviously a book. The second package was addressed to Aaron.
I had been contacted several months earlier by a marine who had met Aaron in 2009. Reece Lodder was having trouble getting hold of Aaron, so, he reached out to me. He was trying to obtain permission for the use of some photos and quotes for a book that he was helping to edit and research. I sent a text to Aaron and he did not object. Over the next couple of months, Reece and I exchanged several emails as I continued to give permission on Aaron’s behalf. But, he never reveled the title or content of this book, which I found admix that pile of magazines and advertisements.
The book I held in my hands was THE MIRROR TEST, by J. Kael Weston. When I opened the cover I found a note on the title page:
Thank you for writing your book and for your help in support of this one. Families like yours make this nation great.
Kael Weston (See page 438) OP Mend Ch.
I had no idea that he had been in touch with UCLA Operation Mend. I was flipping through pages, wondering what was on page 438, and eager to read the chapter he had dedicated to the organization that had done so much for Aaron. I read through the pages where Kael had interviewed Ron and Dana Katz. Then, I was overwhelmed, speechless, I literally stopped breathing for a moment, when I came to the paragraph that started, Diana Mankin Phelps, Aaron’s mother…My name in this book…what an honor. I’m humbled… On the designated page, he mentioned my book, A Mother’s Side of War, along with a couple of quotes from me. The last sentence in this paragraph told that I also maintain a blog, this blog, Writing To Heal
J. Kael Weston represented the United States for more than ten years as a State Department official. He received one of their highest awards, the Secretary of State’s Medal of Heroism, that acknowledged his multi-year work in Fallujah with Marines.
The first sentence in the Preface reads; ” I first met Marine Corporal Aaron Mankin in Fallujah in early 2005, just before he lost most of his face in the Iraq War.” You can see how this book grabbed my attention. He goes on to describe Aaron as, “professional in bearing, with cobalt eyes, square jaw, high-and-tight haircut, showed maturity and possessed an eloquence that belied his youthful age.” Aaron’s story of injury and healing is just one thread throughout this book about war and resilience. But it is so much more, as the author turns the mirror on our nation, on our policies and directives, how we look at our country, and how others see us.
THE MIRROR TEST is something that you may have heard Aaron talk about in his interviews and speeches. How he willingly ignored the mirror in his hospital room for weeks, not wanting to see the truth of his injuries. And after the tears, after the anger, after his realization that who he is on the inside had not been changed, and finally with acceptance as he embraced that figure in the mirror – Aaron passed THE MIRROR TEST.
Kael spent seven years on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. He landed in Baghdad in 2003 and was embedded with the marines by 2004 in Fallujah. This book is important, essential, for us to understand the other sides of war. The side of the civilians who lived in a country devastated by war, the side of Iraq’s political advisors to us, the side of Iraq’s military who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our service men and women, the side of those who were given-assigned-the task of rebuilding a nation and her communities, and the side that describes the emotional toll on all, are just a few of the reasons why this book is one that had to be written. And must be read!
THE MIRROR TEST – J. KAEL WESTON
Release Date-May 24, 2016