Newfoundland mother relieved son released from Iraqi jail
Kay Kennedy, the mother of a former soldier from the Burin Peninsula who was arrested last week by Iraqi Kurdish forces, can rest easy now knowing that her son will return home.
Kennedy told The Southern Gazette on the evening of Dec. 6 that her son Michael Kennedy had been released.
“I got the news a couple of hours ago,” she said in a phone interview from her home in St. Vincent’s.
“He called me and he said, ‘Mom, I’ve been released. I’m good, I’m in good health and I’ll be home for Christmas.’”
She explained that her son, a veteran of the Canadian Forces, who was in Iraq volunteering with Kurdish forces in the fight against ISIL, had been travelling as part of a group when they were arrested.
“The five guys he was travelling with, three Americans and two Germans, their visas were expired,” she explained. “So it was a visa violation, Michael’s visa was not expired. It didn’t expire till January.”
Kennedy explained her son was given an option to go free or stay with the group.
“He turned around and said, the option for me, I am going to stay with my buddies, I am not abandoning them.”
Kennedy said military personnel are a tight-knit bunch of people who stick by one another.
She described how she was feeling when she got the news of her son’s release.
“I felt relief, I was so emotional, it was unbelievable,” she said. “Just to hear his voice, to know he’s fine and to know that he is in good condition.”
She said there have been many sleepless nights since she first got news of her son, “not eating, not sleeping, stressed out,” she said. “Every adjective you can describe it.” Kennedy said that when she first learned her son wanted to go to Iraq, she was uneasy.
“My initial feeling towards it at the beginning was, please you don’t go there,” she said. “I didn’t want him to put his life in danger, because I already have lost a son, Private Kevin Kennedy in 2007, and naturally he’s my only child that’s left, so I tried to discourage him from going.
“But the thing is, he’s a 32-year-old man and there’s only so much you can do. I mean, he got to make up his own mind. … What can you do? He’s got to live his life.”
Kennedy said her son was empathetic for what the people in the region were going through.
“He’s got such a big heart … and when he (was) reading up on what the Kurdish people were going through, and nobody will ever know it or understand it or know it until they experience what the other part of the world is like as opposed to Canada,” she explained. “We are so very fortunate and blessed to be living in such a free, wonderful country.”
She said that when Michael first went there he would say to her, “‘Mom you should see the conditions and see what these people are going through.’”
She added, “He said, ‘Mom, I’m going there to see if I can make a difference in their lives.’”
Kennedy said her son has made many friends with the Kurdish people during his time in Iraq.
“We might think it is all bad, but there are wonderful Kurdish people because through that past eight months I became friends with a few of his buddies who are Kurdish from Sulaimaniya. … There are so many good people among them that need the Western world’s help, they really do, and my son being the guy that he is … he’s got such a good heart and a kind heart and I’m so proud of him.”
Kennedy explained that she was first contacted by officials from the Canadian Embassy updating her on what was going on.
“Not too long after then, Michael made contact.”
Kennedy said there is an overwhelming sense of joy and thankfulness in their home.
“I’m not a religious person by no means, but I mean there’s a greater force than us, so I’m thankful there,” she said “I’m so thankful for so many people reaching out, like our government, media, all my friends, family and just the whole general population right across Canada.”
Asked what her feelings would be if Michael decides to return to Iraq, she said with a laugh, “You ain’t going there buddy. You’re home, you ain’t going back.”
She said that would be her first reaction, but he is free to decide for himself if he will return or not.
Kennedy said the events of the week made her look back on what happened with her youngest son.
“It was almost like, oh my God, don’t tell me, don’t tell me that I’m going to go through this again,” she said.
“Please Lord don’t let me go through this again, because I don’t think I could handle it.”
She said there were many similarities between what happened this week and what happened when she lost her youngest son, Kevin, to a roadside bomb while he was serving in Afghanistan.
“It sort of brought it back,” she said. “When Kevin was in Afghanistan, weeks went by that I had no contact with him, and all of the sudden there’s weeks going by where there no contact with Mike, and I’m thinking to myself, my God don’t let me have to go through the same thing.”
Kennedy said that through it all her biggest concern was the safe release of her son.
“Because he was detained for a week, and if I hadn’t gone to the media and if I hadn’t gotten a hold of Global Affairs, God only knows how long Michael would be detained.”
Kennedy said she is glad she took action when she did and she has no regrets.
“I had to do what I had to do to get my son out of there.”
Kay Kennedy with her son Michael Kennedy.