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Archive for the ‘Wounded Warriors’ Category

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.

 

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It’s the Fourth of July weekend – a steamy hot weekend here in DC. I’m trying to get into a holiday mood, and since Chief is here for a pass, and we have buffalo ribs in the fridge for a barbeque, you wouldn’t think it would be that hard, would you?

Except this is the last pass (we think) before he rotates out. Except that thanks to someone who really didn’t think about it it, he has to fly back tomorrow afternoon, no fireworks attending, no Fourth of July picnics – just a hug goodbye at the airport.
I wrote a piece for a new group I’m writing for that is a civilian site (although I’m glad to see some comments from vets and Blue Star moms and dads). I was trying to explain the empty chair syndrome, the “family” day that often isn’t. Hope I get some folks thinking!

To you my few and faithful readers, I wish you a happy Fourth of July celebration, replete with too much food (red white and blue tortilla chips anyone?) a dazzling fireworks display – like the one in the picture here – it’s one of Chief’s from last year – and good friends to celebrate with.  Take a couple minutes to remember the ones celebrating in Kabul, Kandahar and FOBS everywhere (hey, Patrick!, hey Mike) , on Balad, in Baghdad and Camp Slayer, in Kuwait (Yo, Steve S!) or in the Dakotas fighting the water or in Arizona/New Mexico fighting fires; and the ones fighting their own battles at Walter Reed or San Antonio (Hey Ollie).  And especially remember the ones sitting home wishing they were together (Hey, Kat, Britt)

KESF

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Earlier this week I attended the ground breaking for the USO  Wounded Warrior and Family Center in Fort Belvoir, Va. that was also a kickoff for the public portion of Operation Enduring Care, the largest program the USO has taken on since 1941.

General Richard Myers (Ret)  told us that this wasn’t the USO of our fathers, the USO that only ran the airport centers or gave out magazines in the hospitals.  Now, don’t get me wrong, the USO still runs the airport centers, and a couple of weeks ago I was very happy that they still do…  It’s a quiet safe place, where you can get a cup of coffee, a bottle of water, and in some places a sandwich and cookies, without being charged anything at all.  A comfortable chair, a place to catch a nap, a welcoming smile and a feeling that you are safe and welcome.

Safe and welcome – that’s the idea behind this new center.  After seeing Walter Reed’s Ward 57 and 58 for myself; I know even more that a quiet place that isn’t medical, that doesn’t have doctors and nurses, with IVs and buttons and buzzers; that doesn’t have the smell of disinfectant and old coffee; is necessary.

Everyone at the groundbreaking talked about healing; the healing power of love; that this would be a place of healing; that the healing was not just of the body, but of the spirit; the healing was not just of the servicemember, but also of the spouse, the parents, the children and other family members.

The speakers included General Dempsey who remembered his introduction to the USO many years ago as young Lt. Dempsey at the Frankfurt Airport (noticing a theme?); Sloan Gibson, the CEO of the USO who talked about lifting the spirit, and uniting America in support of troops.  He called it the National Community of Care, to show true support – not just flag, parades and picnics –  “support the troops” needs to be more than a slogan.

The center will have a family kitchen, play center, recreation area, business center, meditation gardens designed to help the wounded achieve what is called complete healing.

One of the speakers looked very familiar, but I couldn’t figure out where I had seen that smiling Marine Master Sgt with the prosthetic leg.  Until he smiled at me and said it was good to see me again, and how had I done with my final exam!  MSgt William Gibson aka Spanky and I had met one rainy day at the Northern Virginia Community College location where we took exams.  I had noticed his prosthesis, his High and Tight and asked him if he’d been to Walter Reed.  This was about 3 days after my friend’s husband had lost his leg below the knee in Afghanistan and I had a bazillion questions for him.  He was very kind and talked to me for quite a while – we talked about what the soldier needs (well, he said Marine, cause that’s how he rolls) and we talked about what the families need.  The needs are not the same, but must mesh if the family is to hold together.  During his remarks at the groundbreaking, he talked about the young families, the young spouse who comes to the side of the wounded warrior and puts the family’s life on hold; may leave the children with a parent or a good friend to spend days and weeks at the bedside, dealing with doctors and bureaucrats and pain and terror, some of them are in their late teens or early 20s.  And I smiled, because that’s what we talked about that rainy day.  As he said, this center will help our service members reintegrate, and even more importantly (according to Spanky ) the family members, those that give up everything to rush to the bedside will have a place to plan, to reintegrate and figure out what is next for their family.

This place, this haven away from the hospital, away from military life  will be a safe and comfortable place for our warriors and their families.  The USO and their partners are making a huge difference in the lives of our military families.  I can’t wait to see the dozers and the concrete trucks pulling up to that site, and the walls going up.

*thanks to Gen. Myers..

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