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It’s an Army Week!

It was an amazing weekend. I spent Friday and Saturday at the Army 10 Miler expo, working at the Code of Support Booth – and met some awesome people. Two wonderful ladies from Illinois representing Operation Support Our Troops America – got some rubbed off glory since they have had The Lt. Dan Band come and play at a concert they sponsored… sigh…Gary Sinise! Talked to  many members of our military community, who have been stationed in so many places, met civilians who want to support military families – and a few who were really pissy when we wouldn’t let them have any candy unless they signed the pledge – one even threw the candy back in the bowl and stomped off!  Silly woman.

But Sunday – the day of the 10 miler was a great day.  it was sunny and brisk, and thousands of people thronged the parking lots at the Pentagon. The music was loud, the announcer even more so  I usually go to this with my husband, getting there at oh dark 30 min. cold, watching everyone stretching and doing all the incomprehensible things that runners do before a race.  he called me this time just as the first few runners began to cross the finish line. Watching the wounded coming across in those racing chairs, was as always inspiring.

I’ll be at AUSA for the next couple of days. I’m hoping that the presentations concerning families won’t be the same thing that I’ve heard for the last three years.  We hear promises,we hear of new programs, we are told that we will have our concerns heard.  I continue to hope that even with the budget cuts that we know are going to be coming down, the powers that be will realize that our families need help.   Last Friday was the 10th anniversary of the start of the Afghan war. We know how tired we are, we know that our families are stressed and stretched.

KSF

Today I watched the hail and farewell for Adm. and Mrs. Mullen. The speeches were wonderful with sincere heartfelt appreciation. The Admiral showed everyone the love and respect he holds for Deborah, as well as his boys. He read his wife’s letter to the rest of us; the milspouses for whom Deborah Mullen has worked, advocated, and been a friend to.

“Nothing can be more trying at times than life in the military — the deployments, the stress, the uncertainty and the fear,” the admiral read. “But then, nothing born from ease and comfort can ever foster the pride and the resilience that military families exude every day. It has been my honor — my deep honor — to be a military spouse and a Navy wife, and to know so many others who wait and worry and work so hard.”

Mullen concluded the message from his wife, “Thank you for your quiet sacrifice and for empowering me to represent your concerns. It has been the greatest privilege. I will miss the life and I will miss all of you.”

It is no secret, at least from anyone who has read anything I have written about Deb Mullen, that I am a great admirer of hers. Let’s be frank, I’m a huge huge fan.

A couple of years ago, I was volunteering at a Congressional Military Family Caucus event and my post was at the desk where the nametags had been set out. Other Senior Spouses had come to the caucus, with advisors and aides trailing along behind. A woman approached the desk, and in a quiet voice let me know that the staff had misspelled her name. I looked up at a lady, with no entourage, who I recognized immediately. After we corrected her name, she sat at my table, we began to discuss with the other members of the group various aspects of military family life. At this function, only first names were used. The ideas came fast and serious, and criticism of senior military members was free-flowing. “Deborah” had to leave for a family engagement, and after she left some of the other table members were wishing she could have stayed. One point I asked didn’t any of you know who she was? No one else seemed to and were in shock when I told him who she was; Deborah Mullen. She was easy to talk to, had great ideas, and wasn’t shy about giving them.

Today I watched as the Admiral and Mrs. Mullen held hands as they were “piped ashore”. We in the military spouse community are going to miss her, are going to miss both of them. I always felt that caring for military families was more to them than just a subject for speeches. Her gentleness and compassion were brought up over and over today. She may have been gentle, but the lady is no pushover. I remember her standing in front of a huge conference and asking how do you think you can help military spouse suicides when you aren’t even counting them. She didn’t overtly “ wear the rank” but her quiet authority was undeniable. I have read of her gentleness and kindness to the families of the fallen and wounded, and the care that she takes, e-mailing and writing to many of the family members.  As Sec. Panetta said she has been at the forefront of issues, especially the special challenges of military children, she is a “powerful voice of military families”.  While none of us begrudge her a quiet retirement, I can only hope she will continue to give us the benefit of her knowledge and compassion.  In her words – we will miss her.

This wasn’t the piece I was going to write. I had a piece full of milestones and thoughtful phrases; reminiscences and remembrances. But when I hear political speeches about the costs and know that these people are talking about just the  dollar signs: when I see the politicians with their flag pins in their lapels grinning and shaking hands with men and women in uniform on their websites, but see their voting records when they cut funding for veterans programs and quibble about paying for mental health care for the families, all of those thoughtful phrases become meaningless and fly out the window.

With the upcoming first decade anniversary of 9/11, I’ve been asked how has my life, how has our life as a family changed since that day 10 years ago, what has been the cost since that day to my family. I can talk about the multiple deployments, sending my son to Iraq and my husband to Iraq and now Afghanistan; I can talk about the toll that has been taken on the families of my small military community. I can write about the wonderful friendships I have made, both the online and in person that would not have been possible without the need to construct a community of our own, in the midst of growing apathy in the civilian world. I can praise the wonderful groups that have sprung up and evolved, to help troops, veterans, and their families.

But Wednesday afternoon while I was speaking as a guest on a radio show, a woman who I know only online, a woman who is the best friend of my good friend, opened the door to two soldiers in ACUs.  They told her that her husband, who is an EOD specialist (explosives and ordnance demolition) had been wounded. The world as she knew it came to a halt as they told her he lost both legs, one below and one above the knee.

As her online community absorbed the news, we did what we always do; we rallied around her. Another friend  M, with whom I sat while her husband lay in the bed at the now closed Walter Reed, immediately sent her a list of suggestions, hints, knowledge to help her get through this.  I watched M as she negotiated the days and weeks after doctors amputated one of her husband’ s legs and the multiple surgeries on the other leg; I watched a young woman with strength, grace, and grit be her husband’s caregiver, negotiate the corridors and bureaucracy of a military hospital, all while keeping her small children calm and holding her family together.

For all of us, 9/11 changed the world. For the military community the world turned upside down. For my friends and for the families of the thousands upon thousands of wounded in hospitals across the country, the world will never be the same. All the money, all the time, all the families in crisis, all the anger and pain; for me the cost is reflected in the faces of those families.

After the chest thumping and flag-waving, the grim face television announcers, the poignant stories on the news and documentaries about that day and the aftermath are over, the reality will live on. The reality of men and women learning how to walk again, or dealing with wounds none of us can see; the truth of the lives of their families, who adapt to their new reality and go on, somehow keep going on. We go on while the politicians talk, the flags wave, and the ambulances roll up to Bethesda/Walter Reed.  That is the cost.

 

I’ve been writing over at care2.com for a little while: I wrote a piece on the TIME Magazine “New Greatest Generation”. When my mother called to find out if we have survived the latest little natural disaster – Irene- she mentioned that she had seen my name in her TIME Magazine! I thought she was kidding but then I got a copy and voila!

I won’t deny that I am absolutely delighted with this.  But even more, I am so excited that someone is actually reading what I’m writing.  After many years of blogging and writing in the small military blog world – it is wonderful to know that others are actually listening!  This Quote is actually from my friend Tammy Jacobson – wish I could tell TIME that I didn’t come up with it.

That is how long the audience at a recent Nationals game acknowledged the wounded from Walter Reed that were in the audience, according to the Washington Post.  Sixty three seconds.   One whole minute.   That is the extent of the “thanks of a grateful nation.:  “thanks for your service”  in the grocery store, which usually embarrasses the service member; or the ubiquitous yellow ribbon magnet on the back of the car  and poof, that’s probably the extent of the troop support that the military sees in this time of budget cuts and unemployment.

Troops often question why more have not answered the call to duty and why their sacrifices are so poorly understood by the people they serve.

For most Americans, the wars remain an abstraction,then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said last year. “A distant, unpleasant series of news items that does not affect them personally.”

Distant unpleasant series of news items .  Those news items are not distant to me.  One of those news items was my friend M’s husband who lost his lower leg to an IED in Afghanistan; one of those news items was the KIA notification of  two young men from another friend’s unit; a few years ago, nine of those news items were those of the young men whose funerals I attended.

Those news items make me run to the map I have up to figure out how far that incident, that action may have been from where my husband is currently stationed. That gut check is common to all of us who are in deployment mode.

I was talking to a civilian friend about the article while we cleaned the cages at the cat shelter and she said something that gave me pause at first.  She asked why I was so surprised by the article, by the seeming lack of compassion by civilians.  My initial reaction was “Are you kidding?” We are AT WAR;  people are DYING and being WOUNDED!  But as she reminded me, the attention span of most people is the latest tweet they read, or the 30 second headline news “story”.

We’ve all heard about compassion fatigue, the news is always bad and we become immune to it, we can look at the pictures of dying children or wounded soldiers without flinching.  But thank goodness, there are still people who will change the channel when the ASPCA commercials come on, who weep when they see the pictures of children in refugee camps and send money to charities; these are the men and women who volunteer at the local VA hospital, the USO and pack care packages for Operation Gratitude.

In this same article, a great deal of print space is devoted to the latest commercial from Budweiser devoted to a returning servicemember  – now I have a HUGE problem with this.   I detest this type of “reunion porn” and what I see as exploitation, knee jerk reaction used for monetary gain.  The person who wrote this commercial came up with the idea after witnessing a reunion in an airport. Here’s a little fact that  almost surprised me.

Five days after President Obama announced his plan to pull 30,000 U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, Byrne had no idea how many troops the United States had in the country and little sense of Obama’s plan to reduce their numbers. He acknowledged that he did not know much about the war

Did not know much about the war. And that, THAT  I don’t understand.  When your country is at war, when the military forces that wear YOUR country’s uniform are coming home in caskets, or on stretchers and swamping the hospitals; when the Army’s suicide rate is climbing every month;  or if your attention is glued to the budget battles when the cost of these wars has to be added to the budget,   how do you not “know much” about  one of the two wars your country is currently engaged in.  But you’ll feel free to use that story to sell lousy beer.

The final part of this piece in the Post is the most heartbreaking  A wounded soldier who has gone back to college, who is seeing this disconnection first hand.  A meeting held by a group of veterans in the school”  was designed to give students who knew little of the military or the wars a sense of what life was like for deployed service members. It provoked a genuine exchange,  more than 10 seconds, more than 60 seconds, more than 63 seconds, between the former service members and the student body.”  The reactions of the students  are mystifying to me .

I don’t think I realized that the soldiers over there were in that much danger, said [a student], who like many students was opposed to the war.  I didn’t understand the magnitude of risks that they were taking.

A young person who is at an institution like Georgetown didn’t understand, didn’t realize? This is a smart person, an educated person.   Obviously, more education is necessary ; obviously more understanding is needed of the reality of 10 years of war.

You may not agree with war, you may not agree with why we are fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, but isn’t it important to know, learn, understand?

what irks me about asthma

xposted at Moms Clean AirForce

When I hear someone say, yeah, the kid wheezes a little but he’s ok; sometimes she can’t catch her breath, but she’ll be fine; when someone tries to minimize the harm that asthma can cause – it irks me.  It REALLY irks me.

When I hear a power plant try to minimize the harm that their emissions do; when they dismiss various scientists, including those that conducted a study that scientifically estimates “the contribution of environmental pollutants to the incidence, prevalence, mortality, and costs of pediatric disease in American children. [They] examined four categories of illness: lead poisoning, asthma, cancer, and neurobehavioral disorders. “ [1]  What they found was alarming, “ Total annual costs are estimated to be $54.9 billion (range $48.8-64.8 billion): $43.4 billion for lead poisoning, $2.0 billion for asthma, $0.3 billion for childhood cancer, and $9.2 billion for neurobehavioral disorders.”

That’s all numbers, all money…  the true cost  – Children.  The children who are unable to run and play, who take medications to be able to breathe, to be able to function normally in a regular school day.  The true cost was discussed on the recent Mom’s Clean Air Force call about asthma in Latino kids,  when we heard the heartbreaking story of a young girl who died as a result of an asthma attack.  One of the topics we talked about was how schools deal with kids who need to carry their inhalers, and I was heartened to hear that in every State it is now law that children over a certain age must carry and self administer their inhalers.  Here is a link to the CDC’s page on Asthma in Schools, that has links to each State’s rules (some require letters from doctors and/or parents

For my Military Readers – do you know what the rules are in DoDD schools?

The American Lung Association has a program – the “Asthma-Friendly Schools Initiative” that you can use with your community and school, to work together to make schools more welcoming to children that suffer from asthma.

For those of us who don’t have kids with asthma, why should we worry?  There are so many other things for us to worry about with our kids (or in my case, my grandchild).. school bullying, or grades, or how awful the school lunch is, or how well she’s getting along in school…. Why? Well, if we are going to be crass about this, if the almighty dollar is what it takes for some to get involved or make a change – ok, here’s a few money reasons.

Because every kid with asthma, is an adult with asthma who will need medical care.  Because the majority of kids with asthma, are children in poverty, who need medical care that is subsidized in some way.  Because those kids with asthma have parents who need to leave their jobs to take them to the doctor, to care for them when they have an attack; to stay home with them.

I’d prefer to believe that most of us want to cut down on the incidence of asthma in kids, because we don’t want to see a child struggling to breathe, we don’t want to see a child relegated to the sidelines because they had an attack.  That’s what my friend Bette calls the Pollyanna in me..

Knowing that the more polluted our air is, the harder it is for kids to breathe; and knowing that some companies put their profits ahead of these kids – is absolutely infuriating!  So what do we do about it?  We make sure the EPA isn’t gutted of its ability to  safeguard the air we breathe.

Mom’s Clean Air Force is trying to make sure that all of us are heard in this ongoing debate.  One voice is great, but putting that voice together with lots of other voices – make a huge difference.  Because our elected representatives pay attention to LOUD noises! So lets join together – lets make our voices heard!


[1] Landrigan PJ, Schechter CB, Lipton JM, Fahs MC, Schwartz J 2002. Environmental Pollutants and Disease in American Children: Estimates of Morbidity, Mortality, and Costs for Lead Poisoning, Asthma, Cancer, and Developmental Disabilities. Environ Health Perspect 110:721-728. doi:10.1289/ehp.02110721

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For those of us in the military community, we are used to seeing the pictures – those stern faced young men and women in uniform posed in front of a flag, the ones that are released by DoD or the Guard Bureau when the names of the fallen are released.  We think – how young.  Or – what a sweet face.    And we mourn.  We look at the same picture on our own walls, and send a silent “thank you” that it wasn’t our child, wasn’t our husband or wife.

The pictures that hurt even more are those that are attached to the heartbreaking stories that we read from the family members.  A little boy wrote a letter to CNN about his daddy, who was the pilot of the Chinook that was shot down last Saturday.  He wanted us all to know his dad, because all everyone was talking about were the SEALS on that flight; he wanted us to know that he loved his dad, and was proud of him.

The picture that Braydon Nichols sent was one that so many of us could have on our walls, a bunch of guys in uniform sitting together… his daddy is the one on the far left.

What many civilians don’t understand – we usually already have the picture picked out.  After all, during deployment many spouses admit they have planned their spouse’s funeral – the music, the pictures… We hope we never need to use it, never need to put that plan into motion.  And when we see those other pictures, we say “that could be us”.  That could be our family.

For Braydon, for the other sons and daughters, for the wives, mothers, sisters, fathers, brothers, aunts and uncles of those who died, we can only send our condolences and our heartfelt thanks for their service.   There have been 19 other casualties since August 1st.  To their families, we send our gratitude and condolences.

We’ll look at those pictures, we’ll think of those families.  Every day.  Because to us, they are family.  Because to us, they remind us of ourselves.

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