It was a phone call from her son’s friend that first tipped Lynn Romans off that not all was right in her son Darren’s world. The friend, a female soldier home on leave who she had never talked to before, called her out of the blue. The soldier said she was just calling to say hello. Lynn knew something was wrong.
“What had happened was that she had already heard the news and she was calling me, but she could tell from my voice that I didn’t know,” Lynn said.
It was September, 2003 and Lynn’s son, Sgt. Darrin Potter, 24, was deployed to Iraq with his Kentucky National Guard military police unit. After coming under fire, his vehicle had flipped sending them careening into a swift moving canal. Darrin was swept away and drowned. Sgt. Andrew Baddick, a soldier in the 82nd Airborne Division, was also drowned during Darrin’s search and rescue operation.
“He was just a very likable guy, very witty, very intelligent, very personable, never met a stranger. All through his life at parent-teacher conferences we’d always hear ‘Darren talks to much,’” Lynn said. “I’m sure every mother says this about her son – but he had a lot of friends. He was very outgoing, very easy going.”
Darrin had joined the Guard in 1997 as a bridge to later joining the local police department where he planned to become an officer as soon as he turned 21, the youngest age for police recruits. By the time he was able to join the force as an officer in early 2012, he had already deployed to Bosnia on a peace keeping mission.
He was the first Kentucky National Guardsman to be killed in the wars on terror, and the units didn’t yet have their own casualty notification teams in place. With the wars still fairly new, not all the notification systems and rules that we rely on today had been put in place. And because Lynn and Darrin’s father were divorced, two notification teams were sent from Fort Knox, Kentucky.
His father’s team arrived first. When Lynn hung up with the soldier, she called him to see if he had heard from Darrin recently. He sounded unwell – as if he was congested.
“When his dad had answered the phone I could tell something was wrong -- he sounded very congested,” she said. “I said ‘are you ok? He said ‘Lynn, he’s gone.’ And I said ‘what do you mean?’ And he said ‘Lynn, Darrin is dead.’”
Not long after that, Lynn’s notification team arrived at the Red Cross office in Louisville where she worked – and still works now as their state program specialist. She stood in a conference room with her coworker while they read their script. She noticed how shiny their shoes were, she said, and how badly the carpet needed to be cleaned.
“To this day I still remember that,” she said.
Since Darrin’s death, Lynn has moved into a new role at the Red Cross – their local military program manager, linking the Red Cross and its many military assistance offerings to the state’s two majors Army bases and National Guard units.
She’s also attended dozens of military memorials, including ones for almost all of the Kentucky National Guardsmen who have been killed since her son’s death.
“After his death it tried to make a point to attend all the National Guard funerals in the state just because that was very important to me to reach out to those families,” she said. “They laugh and they call me a professional mourner – I just don’t mind going. It’s important to me that we reach out to the other families, especially the mothers, and let them know that they are not alone.”
Lynn said she spends every Memorial Day honoring her son and the other fallen – usually with a service at his graveside. Sharing his story, she said, and taking time to remember who he was and why he fought is important.
“These really are the best we have. These are the cream of the crop. Most of them are parents, soccer coaches, teachers – the young people that we are losing really are the best we have to offer,” she said. “It’s important to share Darrin’s story because it’s important that we continue to remember these young people.”