Thursday, September 29, 2011

How to Make a Wounded Warrior's Family Mad....

Want to know how to make wounded warrior families mad, ignore us! News flash, we are not going away. You can't make us disappear. Our kids exist so deal with it! You can't just have our soldiers, we come as a package. The Allens are buy one, get three free! It's a great deal!

I got to witness this stupidity so many times when Chaz was an in-patient that I lost count. One of my favorites was when this Command Sargent Major (CSM) came in and put the back of his chair straight in fron of my face and sat down with his back to me. Then he began talking finances with Chaz. Here's Chaz level of finances, do I have cash in my wallet, ok I'm good. He doesn't care about the rest.

After 9-11 I took complete control of our money. You know why, my hubby doesn't have time to deal with it. He needed to concentrate on his job and his soldiers. To help him be the best soldier possible I learned everything I could about how to help us succeed and meet our goals. Every six months, we reevaluate our goals together to see if we are on track. Trust me the man has everything he could ever want. But we have the same goal, we want to fully retire at 65 (maybe earlier) because we want to be able to enjoy our grandkids. We want those years to be about us so we are preparing for that. For those of you who don't know I won the FINRA Military Spouse Fellowship in October of last year to get my financial counselors certification. Obviously I put it on hold in January. I am really good with money. We have debt free except for the house and car (which has 0% interest) for almost 10 years. Because of our planning we have been able to live like no one else, thank you Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman.

Back to my story, this CSM puts his chair to block me off. I looked at his wife and said that I needed to run to the PX to get Chaz a drink. Really I just needed to leave the room so I didn't pop this guy in the back of the head! I thought he was having a soldier to soldier talk with Chaz so I was trying to be respectful. His wife was really nice and we had a delightful conversation. We got back and Chaz had this look on his face of please save me. Then Chaz says, "My wife knows all about our money." The CSM then starts firing questions at me in a contemptuous sarcastic tone. Finally I just broke it down, "Sir, we really appreciate what you are doing, but we are in the top 3% of Americans when it comes to finances." Then came the do you have an emergency fund, life insurance beyond the SGLI (Army life insurance), etc, etc (someone just read Dave's book). I then informed him that I run my own tax and financial advice company and that I had just won my fellowship. He looked so butt hurt that I giggled on the inside. I also informed him I too had read Dave Ramsey's book and that I also was a big fan. I said "You know what sir, you need to pop in and talk to some of the other soldiers here. You have a lot of knowledge and these guys need it." He then said, "Well I can't force advice on them." We wished us well and left.

Here's an insider's secret in the US Army we work as a team. My friends and I handle everything that we can so our soldiers can be mission focused. Our soldiers depend on us. We are their everything. When they are hurt, they want involved in everything you can't just cut us out like we don't matter.

Weeks ago I was in Executive Services (they plan most of our outside activities and do a great job by the way) looking activities for us to do as a family. I walked in on one of the people saying, "Look here our warriors are not just PR opportunities for you. They have families and if you can't include their families because you have more non-injured versus injured in your picture. You have a good day." And he hung up on them. He was a little upset. He said that it makes him mad to get calls from organizations and businesses who only want the soldier or the soldier and one other person. He said, "Like I am going to tell a soldier you can only take one person. You can't take your kids. Yeah right." He said he had gotten a bunch of call that day and it was for PR stuff so people can have a picture showing they support the soldiers. He said to me that it's great you support our guys but you have to support their family too. It's a package deal here. I laughed and said I am so glad you get that because so many people don't.

Obviously the medical injuries are about the soldier. But they will heal better and faster if they have an awesome support crew to help cheer them on. I have seen this first hand. The soldiers with a weak support team or not one at all take longer to heal. They have to get over the depression as well as the anger, injuries, infections and on and on. I can tell you Chaz is doing so well because of the support of our families. I truly believe our girls have been the biggest push for both of us in all of this. We look at them and want to make this as easy as possible for them. We think about them when it comes to all of our decisions. We constantly ask each other, what's best for the girls. You cannot imagine how hard it was to leave them in TN again and again, but we knew it was for the best. I think Chaz and I have made a lot of very smart decisions. I think we are pretty good at this parenting stuff. Our kids seem pretty happy and everyone loves them. I think our love and happiness shines through them and people see that (or at least I hope they do).

I can't tell you how many opportunities we have turned down because the girls could not be included. I can't tell you how many times I have asked, what exactly am I supposed to do with them? You act like they are so horrible. Children are our future, how we treat them sets the tone for the rest of their lives. If we act like they are a burden they will believe this and other issues will arise from it. Our girls are anything but a burden. Do they get on my nerves sometimes, heck ya, but so does Chaz and anyone else after a while. But I wouldn't change my life for anything. Our girls are our blessings that remind us how great life is. If you can't see how children are such a huge blessings in our lives, then I don't have time for you.

Reality is we have to heal the family as we heal the soldier. The funny thing is the Army realizes this. Yes people, the Army gets it! From day one our girls were on their radar and the Army has offered a lot of resources to help heal our girls as well as Chaz and myself. I was very impressed with this. Sometimes you meet an idiot or two (actually this number is pretty high, I stopped counting a long time ago) who has to be reminded of that, which of course I am kind enough to do that for them. But the Army is trying to heal the family with the soldier (if you let them) if someone tells you otherwise, it's because they are resisting the help (trust me, I've seen this too). I am very proud of how the Army has set their system up. Sure it has a few kinks, but I can only imagine how many kinks existed prior to Chaz's injuries. How many families had to raise hell for our families to get what we have now? I only hope they know how much Chaz and I appreciate their sacrifices and their voices.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My Big Mouth....

I have always said that if you are going to complain about it, then go figure out how to fix it. I also say all the time don't come to me with problems unless you have at least one possible solution for it. And then there's the old saying, you catch more flies with honey then you do with vinegar. I always refer to these ideas before I go on attack. This NMA (Non-medical attendant) thing is a big problem. How can you tell us to be here and put so much pressure on us to do everything and then belittle us?

Our inpatient stay was awesome. We have a great care team, but the administration when you go to out-patient is a mess. First you have to discharge before 3 pm, if not you have to stay an extra day in the hospital. Oh and on Day 1 you have to meet with all of your doctors, then go to admin and get that straightened out and discharge before 3 to go to WTB to begin all your paperwork and have your first briefing with WTB. You find out that day you have to take your soldier on a scavenger hunt for 40 something signatures. There are no sticks of gum nor anything fun on that hunt. Most of the signatures are pointless. I had to take Chaz to Tricare to validate he has insurance, then to finance to check on his pay, make sure his life insurance was up to date, see the social worker (twice), sit through briefings for him and then for me and so many more. You cannot in-process into the WTB until you have all of these signatures. They want it as soon as possible and oh by the way your soldier still has to get to all of his appointments on time. God Bless you if your soldier has a bad day. Oh and FYI the WTB will call you everyday to see where you are on your scavenger hunt list, every single day until you get it turned into them. Don't worry that you are now fully responsible for your soldier and there's no nurse to help you. You agreed to be their Non-Medical Attendant and even though you didn't sign any type of contract you verbally agreed to be mistreated by the US Army. It doesn't matter you just took on a huge responsibility with no medical background, you are now held accountable to the US Army. So deal with it! This is the attitude you are given. I was thanked by one Colonel from the WTB, one time for agreeing to take on this huge responibility. Everyone else has this "Oh your the NMA, good now do this attitude." This one Colonel said, "I don't know how you guys do it. It's a lot to take on. I appreciate you helping us heal our wounded." 

My favorite thing was when the when girls came for a visit. This Captain came up to me and told me I had to return to a briefing at 1pm. I said that I was sorry that I would be taking my hubby to go get our girls that day. He said "Well we're tracking you." I immediately replied, "Does that work for you?! Really?! Well, welcome to the club, the IRS and FBI have been tracking me for years. I run my own tax company. I'm used to being tracked. You're just new to the ball game. If "you're tracking me" is all you've got then please enjoy your day." By the look on his face I don't think he liked that comment. I found out later he used that line again and again. Dude needs a new line.

Chaz and I got all his stuff turned as soon as possible. Then we were greeted by a guy who tried to tell me I would have Chaz at formation three times a week. I broke into laughter. I said, "Hmm, have you stepped on an IED?" He says, "No." I said, "Are you a recent amputee who was just discharged from the hospital?" He says, "No." I said, "Well until you go through what my husband is going through you don't get to demand crap." He then reminds me that he was Chaz's squad leader and that Chaz is still a soldier and that there's accountability. (Let me assure you this guy does not like me anymore either.). I said, "Did you really just inform me of what a squad leader does? Really? Did you see my husband was a squad leader? He did your job and could probably do your job better right now even in the state he's in. I am not questioning accountability. I am simply asking for common sense to be used here." Guess who won that argument?

The problem we have here is the WTB is staffed with some very ignorant people. Some of them treat our soldiers as if they are shamming out, when reality is they are the ones shamming out. They are trying to avoid being deployed. We fought to get the rockstars we now have. We have a great squad leader and great nurse case manager. But we didn't get them from the start. I fought and won the fight to get them. I ticked off quite a few people too. The WTB is designed on the basis that all soldiers who are injured are 18-19 years old, their wives are the same age, that we are all complete idiots. Which is tragic. The WTB treats the majority of these guys like there's nothing wrong with them, which can be a good or bad thing, in this case it's bad. If the guys don't have visible injuries then they treat them like they are making it up regardless f the medical documentation. If they have visible injuries, they forget to take into account the battles these guys are facing daily. They treat them as if they as still on a line unit. I think the WTB should totally be set up as a line unit, but you cannot treat your wounded as line soldiers.

Well I lost it and opened my big fat mouth last week when they told me my NMA orders were being cancelled since Chaz is now assigned to Walter Reed and not the 101st and that I could go home. I said, "I am staying no matter what you say." The guy says "Well of course you are, you have to, you are his wife." I then said, "Who takes care of the guys who don't have wives or who's wives leave and they are assigned here?" He looked at me like I had two heads. Whatever you do, do not be shocked when you say something that involves complex (or even simple) thoughts. The looks you get are hilarious. The guy says, "We take care of our soldiers." I said, "Yeah I bet because you've taken such great care of my husband." He didn't like that either and turned away. I questioned Chaz's awesome squad leader about it. He said, "It's the policy and my hands are tied. If anyone could change the policy it would be you. They will not listen to your husband or any of us. But I have a feeling they will listen to you." So I sat on it for a day and then I blogged about it. Then I sent some emails expressing my disdain to some very awesome people in my email roster. That was on Thursday. Monday Chaz got a call from his squad leader, who was laughing. He told Chaz to tell me the NMA orders are now on a case by case, month by month basis. Chaz got off the phone and told me and we both began laughing!

I have never ever been afraid to speak up. I will never be afraid. They can't take away my birthday, so bring it! God gave me a big mouth and a pretty good brain and I will put these qualities to use. Unfortunately so many people are scared of the Army. They just do what they are told. Well I can follow orders, but I will not be told to go home because I don't have NMA orders. Chaz is the love of my life and the father of my children. I am not going anywhere! I will fight for the others who cannot speak out. I will fight to protect their families as well. It is time to see that this war effects so many people. It is not just about the soldier. It is a package deal. the soldier cannot heal without support and love. Chaz's primary support comes from family and his secondary support comes from his care team, the Army and the community.

I can't tell you how many Moms, Dads, siblings, girlfriends, friends, etc have quit their jobs to be here with their soldiers. When you are on orders to be here, you get $71 per day. That allowance really helps the families out with their expenses. If you are going to give us the enormous responsibility to care for the wounded with no formal medical training and hold us responsible for everything then the least you can do is continue that allowance. I have talked to so many families I have lost count. The ones I know and spend time with are not here to profit from their soldiers injuries. They are here out of love. Those that are here for the wrong reasons leave very quickly because they can't hack it! We are not looking for awards and pats on the back. Oh wait, I do expect a pat from my hubby, but I get that from him when he smiles and laughs with me, so I'm good. Some of these families need that money to be able to afford to stay here. That is their only steam of income because they dropped everything in their to be here. And let me tell you, you don't get your life back anytime soon.

The best thing about our situations are these incredible non-profits who are here to help. They see what the soldiers need and pick up where the Army can't. We are so blessed to have so many people who care so much for our families. The trait the I have that I am the most thankful for is my optimism. I can look at anything and find the positive. In this situation, my positive is that I raised a little cane and was able to help out countless families. I can also remind them of all of the awesome non-profits that are there to help. Most importantly I can share with them that there is hope. Some days it's hard to see but it's there.

The US Army has been very good to our family over the course of 13 years. Individuals sometimes have not been, but I will not blame the Army for the actions of individuals. The WTB is a great idea it just needs a lot time and work to make it better. My only problem is they are listening to the wrong people. They think they know what the guys need, but they are not asking the guys nor their families. The WTB is totally different from the rest of the Army because the have to deal with the families. Normally in the Army you just deal with your soldiers and occasionally the families. Instead here, we are in your face everyday, so you have to deal with us. Luckily our people like me because they know I am here to support and heal my hubby. They know I have no problems calling BS on them and they know I am ready to fight when I see an injustice. I can only hope that after our time here, we are able to leave a great impact for the families that follow. The saddest part is I know so many families will be following.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Hope is a beautiful thing...

Two months ago, someone sent me the contact information to the Derek McConnell family. Just like every other family. I reached out to them to see if I could help in any way. I tried to answer every question as fast as possible in order to help them as much as possible. I have seriously been trying to meet them for weeks, but four of those weeks took my family to TN and that made it a little harder. Timing was not on our side until yesterday.

After rewarding the girls with a trip to Target yesterday, we returned to Bethesda and I had warned Chaz that if I did nothing else that day I was meeting this family. I wanted to give hugs and meet them instead of just chatting back and forth. I am so glad I made that goal for the day. What a great family! Siobhan and Krystina just feel like family. (We only met Derek as he drove by us after surgery.) Maybe it's because we know what the other is going through, I don't know, but I can tell you our families will be in touch from now on. I know we will all be great for each other.

Since we have begun this journey all I have ever wanted to do was reach out to others and say, it will be ok. Sometimes I get to do that and sometimes my hand gets smacked. This week I have had both happen I am so glad that I got my hand smacked first and met this awesome family second. Let me tell you what the difference is, it's anger and hope. You cannot heal until to deal with the anger and look for the hope. You have to lift your head up and see God's plan. You have to know in your heart you are suffering for a reason. You have to know you are not a victim, you are a victor. God will lead you through when you are ready. You will be lost if you continue to allow the anger to take you over. You have to deal with the anger head on instead of ignoring it.

The anger doesn't magically go away. The anger pops up every time you turn around. I wish the anger would go away, but I fear it only becomes manageable. I am still angry, and I will be for a very long time. I have damn good reasons to be angry. But I will not let that anger rule my life. If you let anger rule then you will be useless. You are controlled by a hateful emotion that will only lead you down the wrong road. I will not allow that to happen. I will not damn my family. I will look for every spark of hope I can find and I will multiple it to remind me what is important.

Life is so absolutely beautiful if you let it be. If you will look you find so many awesome people out there who have the same passion you have and want the same thing. If you let them help your family and help lift you up and celebrate life with you then this road becomes so much easier. God brings them straight to you. But you have to open your heart up and let them in.

We have been criticized that we are allowing people to use us to further their agendas. It has been said we are using our situation to get what ever we can out of it. If you truly think that then you are letting the anger and even your jealousy rule. We are just healing through hope. It truly is that simple.

If you look at the Team Allen page, you'll see we frequently post about the various non-profits out there. These non-profits are ran by amazing people who want to help all of our families heal. We are not the first family to receive from these organizations, we just liked to brag on them for what they are doing for our soldiers. If we don't talk about them, then you may never hear about them and that would truly be tragic. These amazing people need to be talked about and more importantly thanked for everything they do. If you'll go to their websites you'll see we are not the only family receiving their blessings. You'll see these people are so amazing and we are so blessed to know them. We are blessed that we can share their stories of caring with others.

Some of the things we have done are truly unique and I am so proud we've been able to do them. I can't explain why or how we get these opportunities. They seriously just keep popping up. God keeps dropping these incredible people into our little family's life and it is just incredible. I think people see that Chaz and I are truly happy (it's not an act, we're not that good at acting). They think that we are pretty cool (which I have to agree). They talk to us and see that we don't want anything from anyone, except to share our story of hope. Our hope is the spark that attracts people to us. Chaz and I are so thankful that he is still here with us. We are excited to continue living our lives together. People see us for who we are and then they want to hang out and sometimes even help us. You know what, that's ok!

There's nothing wrong with what we're doing. Do not lash out at us because you are not getting all the attention you feel you deserve. You want attention fine, go figure it out on your own time. Lashing out at Chaz and myself will not solve your problems. It might make you feel better for a little bit. But you seriously will not feel better until you look inside of yourself and see what you are truly angry about. Sometimes your jealousy and anger mix together thus causing additional confusion. Maybe you're jealous that we are further down the healing road. You may be jealous because Chaz's injuries aren't as bad as your warrior's. You may be jealous of all the blessings we are receiving. I have a news flash this is not a pissing contest, we are not dogs marking territory. So stop comparing!! If you are jealous, go figure out why and fix it!

My Granddaddy said jealousy is the most useless emotion. He said you'll jealous of someone's beauty, well stop that's how God made them. You're jealous of something they have, go get a job and earn the money to buy it. You're jealous that good fortune has found them, then get out into the world and do lots of good and the blessings will find you too. I have always used this point of reference in my life. I don't get jealous of very much. I have always made my own way. I have always had the drive to go and get it, so jealousy doesn't strike me very often. It did strike me when Chaz was injured. I realized I was jealous of the guys who only lost one leg, or that they lost their legs below the knee, instead of above. I was jealous of the people who could discharge before us. But I realized Chaz had the same problem. You know what, we talked about it every time it came up. We saw it, dealt with it and moved on together. I think that's what you have to do. I don't know how else you can do it. Then we realized there are other families who were jealous of Chaz's injuries and then there are families who are jealous because Chaz made it home. We have lost friends and helped wives heal from their passing. But I did not realize we were something to be jealous of until my friend brought it up. She helped me put it all in perspective to me. We all have things to be jealous of, but we have to focus on what we need to be thankful for instead.

We cannot change our soldiers' injuries. We have to deal with what we are given and celebrate that we still have them with us. This is the whole purpose of Alive Days. We celebrate the day the enemy tried to take them away. We celebrate the fact that we get to keep them. They may be altered and our lives are turned upside down, but the person we love is still here. From that love, you will find hope. I found my hope on January 22nd. First when Chaz survived, second when they saved his arm, third when he was cleared for travel, fourth when I heard his voice for the first time, fifth when he arrived back in the US, sixth when I got on the plane to get to him, seventh when I got to look into his eyes for the first time. I stopped counting after that. I realized that the hope was taken over everything else. I let the hope drown my anger. When that nasty anger bug comes back up I hit it with a big sledgehammer of hope.

This is how I am healing. This is how I am healing my family. I cannot tell you how to heal and I will not attack you for your choices. Everyone is different and we have to figure out what works for us. Searching for and celebrating the hope is what works for our family. But if I do not attack you for your choices, then please don't attack us for ours. I think the those in glass houses shouldn't throw stones saying applies here. You should know we are praying for you. Sadly until you see how God is trying to work in your life you will not be able to heal.

I will not stop reaching out to other families. Yesterday the McConnell family showed me that I should not stop. I will not let the voices of the angry and jealous and sometimes ignorant pull me down. I am a child of the most high God. He is walking with me and he has blessed me with so many angels who may not be with me physically but they are with me spiritually. I feel them guiding me and I know I am making them proud. I will continue sharing the blessings of these non-profits and the great people who keep coming into our lives. I am so proud of our family and I am proud of our journey. I know we are not done yet and I am truly excited to see what's next.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Things that make you go hmm.....

Today I am grateful to celebrate Chaz's 8th month Alive day with an incredible family. Today is the Verra family's one year Alive day. To me the Alive Day is such an important day to celebrate! We wish we didn't have the 22nd in common with them, but if Chaz and Anthony were not injured we might not have ever met. We are so blessed to know this incredible family. We are so thankful that we have been able to heal together!!! Happy Alive Day Verras, I hope you have an incredible day!!!! I know this Sept 22nd will be way better than Sept 22, 2010!

Watch out kids, it's soapbox time!! Or as I have learned it's really time to pull back the curtain and see  the Wizard of Oz. To me this whole experience is so eye opening. I want to educate people on what all we go through so maybe just maybe we can help one (or I hope many more) families. I am only referring to what I know as an Army spouse. I am not sure of the policies and procedures of the other branches (Navy, Marines, Air Force) except for a few things, which I will touch on. My granddaddy always told me if I was going to waste my time complaining about something, then I need to make up for wasted time by trying to fix it. I see something that desperately needs to be fixed!

When your solider is injured the Army invites the primary contact and two other persons (usually the secondary contacts) to come and join them at the military treatment facility to help care for that soldier. So the Army invited me and Chaz's Mom and Dad when he was injured. The casualty affairs office arranges for your first flight and hotel accommodations. You are granted one round trip plane ticket every 60 days. Your hotel room is yours as long as you remain in the area. If you leave you must sign out and back in and request a new room each time. You are also each granted a per diem pay of $71 per day that you are there helping the soldier. This is all awesome, because you need all of this to be taken care of when all of this goes down. Every time I left the area I filled out paperwork to leave and come back. Thank goodness, I am a paperwork friendly person. But please keep in mind the only contract I have ever signed was my DEERS (Defense registration) when I got married. I have signed vouchers for pay, but I have never entered into a contract for service to the Department of Defense nor Army.

All of these initial benefits stay in place while your soldier is still in their initial inpatient stay at their treatment facility. When they discharge, someone must be assigned as their NMA (Non-Medical Attendant) for our situation that was me. So Chaz's parents orders were terminated and if they want to visit Chaz it's on their dime now. (By the way, they live in Oklahoma, so popping by for a visit is not an option and is not cheap). My new orders stated that I was ordered to stay with Chaz in his outpatient housing situation to care for his needs and would continue the $71 per day payment since I was being displaced from my home of record. Once again no type of contract was signed, therefore the Army is allowed to terminate it at any time. I don't normally discuss money, because I feel it is too personal, but I think now I need to speak out and you'll discover why.

As of yesterday, my NMA orders have been cancelled because my soldier has been assigned here to Bethesda. Prior to yesterday he was assigned to Fort Campbell KY and attached to Walter Reed, then Bethesda for medical treatment. There's a big difference between attached and assigned. Yesterday I was informed that now I am just a dependent. I was also informed that technically since he is assigned here, his need for an NMA goes away according to policy because I am listed as his primary dependent I am expected to relocate and take care of him. I have two news flashes first I have been a dependent for military purposes for over ten years. And second Chaz will ALWAYS need an NMA. He is an above the knee double amputee with a fused right arm. His need for me is not going away any time soon. I guess the Army is trying to tell me I can leave now, but then to come back?! So I've been here off and on since January 26th taking care of Chaz, but now that a piece of paper says he's assigned to Bethesda, his needs have instantly changed? Funny, his legs and arm haven't instantly healed or grown back. I'm confused and you know what's even funny so are the people who gave me this information. I cannot get a concrete answer, because no one knows.

Here's my problem with all of this; what about all the parents, siblings and friends who gave up their full time jobs to come take care of a soldier? When their soldiers are assigned they also lose the compensation. I am lucky because I get medical insurance because I was already a dependent, but what about the non-dependents? That's right, they are screwed!

Chaz and I are also lucky we have been debt free (except for the house and car) since we were 23. We have always lived on Chaz's pay only and any income I bring in goes towards our extras. But what about the others? What about the ones who left their full time jobs to care for these soldiers? The Family Medical Leave Act only covers people for so long. I met a mom that ran out of the FMLA option and then lost her job, so now her daughter supports her. Her daughter is only a SPC, that rank is two ranks below Chaz and DC is freaking expensive. There is no cost of living adjustment for living here and no adjustment for her to support her mom.

What did I do with my per diem? All of it, yes, all of it is in the bank collecting interest because we have a house to build. Can our family survive without me collecting that per diem? Oh yes, we can because I never used it anyway. But what about the others?! I am going to be very blunt here. Our government needs to wake up! We did not ask for these soldiers to deploy, we did not want to drop everything we were doing to come take care of these guys. We all came as soon as possible because we support our soldiers out of love! We sacrifice for them because we love them! Our government ordered the soldiers to serve and they did it. Now the families are being asked to clean up the government's messes. Some of these families are having a very, very hard time in so many facets. The psychological effects of all of this is enough to clean up.  The government has put a big burden on our shoulders and the very least they can do is provide caregivers with insurance, compensation and a GS (government service) level or certifications for their resumes if they ever can return to work. I have learned more in the past eight months about the medical field then I ever cared to learn, but I cannot put that on a resume, I can only say I did it. So why not extend certifications to the families so we have something to use later? Why not extend Tricare to any caregiver that must remain to care for an active duty soldier?

Yes there's the new VA Caregiver program. That program is only for caregivers who care for persons in the VA system. Therefore those of us supporting someone on active duty do not qualify. Those of us in my similar situation are stuck with nada!

I am lucky because I was already a dependent going into this. Chaz has received amazing medical care, but the bureaucracy component needs to be reexamined. As we are traveling on this journey I have seen many things that need to be repaired. I know others share my opinions, but they are scared to speak up. Well my give damn, broke a long time ago! So I am calling for our elected officials to advocate for the families who are caring for the soldiers they ordered to war. If you going to create a war, then you are going pay for the effects of that war.

President Eisenhower warned us about creating the military industrial complex. I have news for you all. We have created it, we did not heed his warnings at all. If you are going to create it then you need to accept responsibility for it. The families of our soldiers are our governments responsibility. It is time to rip that band aid off and see the damage you have done and let's try to fix it together. We are all really intelligent people and we have reasonable solutions if you will just listen to us.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Deryn's Unforgettable 9th Birthday!

Let me begin by saying this. Someone made a nasty comment a while ago saying that it we are just trying to see what we can get out of our situation. I want to address that now. We are simply trying to make the best out of a crappy situation. We are not trying to benefit from anything. We are just trying to have a lot of fun. Losing your legs to an IED and healing from it is not very fun, let me assure you. But we are celebrating the fact that Chaz is still with us. The enemy tried to take Chaz from us and they lost that battle and we are laughing in their face and having a ton of fun while we heal. We are blessed that so many people have come into our lives since January 22 and want to help us celebrate too. If you think that for one minute our daughters and I don't deserve to celebrate every part of life and be happy. Or if you think Chaz's injuries are only about Chaz, then I apologize for your stupidity. Healing a wounded warrior involves healing the entire family. We are the biggest and best part of his happily ever after. If you think that having a freaking blast while we're healing is wrong then best wishes to you and please don't follow our journey anymore. 

Now off of my soapbox and on with the story about yesterday.....

Back in July our oldest daughter Deryn realized she'd be in MD/DC for her birthday and not TN. She didn't handle this news very well. But we had her reflect on Ryann's birthday and Daddy's birthday. We flew the girls and our moms up to DC for Ryann's birthday and we had a blast. Daddy's birthday we just chilled out and had a blast. I guess as a 9 year old, it's a little harder. She is in that horrible tween stage. So that afternoon Chaz and I began conjuring up our plan.

Deryn has been a Ace of Cakes fan for a long time. She has always talked about Duff, Mary Alice and Geof and how cool it would be to meet them and their friends. That day it hits me, hey let's shoot them an email. What's the worst they can do not answer the email?! Then just like Duff I put a plan together with some great friends. At first it was a what do you think about this?! Laura Boone steps in and says, "They let Kate and her eight in there and your cuties are way more adorable." Of course I am biased and I think our girls are the best ever, but I am their mom, but I did agree with Laura. So Laura sent an email. We found out yesterday, Laura, our 101st LNO SFC Motes and some other people all email Mary Alice asking for the same thing. Mary Alice said yesterday that she knew we were a special family since she receive multiple emails asking for the same thing.We only asked for a tour and to meet some of the employees, but of course they went above and beyond. Deryn got a cake and some Charm City goodies.

As of today, Deryn wants to be a Chef. I ordered her a Charm City Chef's coat weeks ago and sent it to Laura's house to keep it a secret. My friend April picked us up some books to have autographed and I hid those too. Mary Alice got the crew to autograph all three for us. And don't worry Daddy and Ryann were not left out at all. Our family of four had an absolute freaking blast!!!! If you look at our pics, you can see all the smiles and fun we had. Charm City Cakes is the most laid back, positive work environment I have ever walked into. Everyone is happy to be there and you can tell they love their jobs. There was a ton of laughs and I am so happy we were able to be a part of it. It was so amazing!!

Chaz and I realized yesterday that when Deryn is really excited she is super quiet. We were able to keep it all a surprise. We only told her that her first surprise was in Baltimore and that Miss Laura was in charge of it. She was clueless and I mean clueless. We got there and she missed the sign on the building. Then we went up to the door and Mary Alice stuck her head out and greeted us. Deryn was still confused. I said "Do you remember Mary Alice?!" She still looked confused so I said, "Give Mary Alice red hair." Then the light bulb went on. She smiled really big and we let Mary Alice help us explain. We went in and Deryn was just overwhelmed with happy! Then she got to see her cake and really lit up! She told me later she wanted to dive in right then.

We got to walk around and talk to everyone and see where all the magic is made. We got to share a few stories with each other. Mary Alice informed us Duff was out of town. He was in Iowa, Idaho, it was a state that started with an I, but I forgot. Deryn told us last night that it would have been great to meet Duff. I told her his friends would be rubbing it in that he missed her. She then asked if she could meet him another day, so I guess I have a new mission while we're here in DC/MD. Ryann and Deryn want to go back and work there. They were able to make a few flowers and had a blast doing it. Unfortunately we had to leave and let the Charm City crew get back to work. Mary Alice helped us out to the van and many of the crew followed us out the door. I can safely say Chaz, Laura and I meshed well with that crew. We felt so welcome and just had a freaking blast.

Deryn and Ryann could not wait to tear into that cake. You'll see that in the pics too. I was waiting for Deryn to drop the cake because she ran down the hall with it. But it made it to the table and was immediately cut into. Not very many people know this, but I do not like cake at all. I like cheesecake, brownies and cookies. But I was going to eat some of that cake, hello, it's famous cake! And oh my goodness, I don't understand how they are not all six thousand pounds. That cake is the best cake I have ever had. I promise I am not making that up. That is the first fondant I have had that actually was edible. It tastes like Lucky Charms marshmallows. The icing was not to sweet, not too creamy and the cake was moist and fluffy. It was perfectly scrumptious!!! I had to report back to Mary Alice, since I confessed my anti-cake confession.

We all enjoyed our cake and rested for a few minutes. Then it was time for surprise number four of the day. Number 1 was new shoes and the angry birds game. Number 2 was pancakes. Number 3 was Charm City. Just to catch you up!

In July or August a friend of mine told me to email the White House and ask if we could see a movie in the White House movie theater for Deryn's birthday. While we were in TN I got a call from Darienne, one of Obama's assistants (who is absolutely amazing by the way). She informed me that she got my email and got word of Dolphin Tale premiering at the White House within that same week too. So she suggested that they have it on Deryn's birthday. They agreed and she was so excited she had to call and tell me. I was so excited I teared up. I told her about our Charm City plans and she assured me we'd make it to the White House in plenty of time. And we did!!

We got to drive up into the White House southwestern appointment gate, which our kids thought it was super cool to pull up to the gate and have it open for our van. Best of all this time I got to take in my camera! We parked just outside of the Eisenhower building and walked right in. When we walked in we were greeted by Miss Darienne and shown where to go. We were greeted by the staffers with a dinner of turkey and ham wraps with chips, drinks and cookies. Then we got to go in the auditorium and we saw ALLEN written on four pieces of paper covering four seats in the front row. (Oh yes, I saved them). So we sat down and enjoyed our dinners. We also got to catch up with some great fellow wounded warriors and other staff from the hospital. You'll see that in the pictures as well.

Then the Director of the film Charles Smith got up and introduced the movie. You need to go see this movie. It was great! Of course I am a sucker for true stories. And of course I am a sucker for stories about people with disabilities overcoming their obstacles. Dolphin Tale is a great story that our entire family enjoyed. We'd give it two thumbs up. And yes I had some tears. When they explained the prosthetic in the movie, Ryann, who had been sitting in my lap, whispered in my ear "that's like Daddy."  Then she put her hand on Chaz and I was done! I fought those tears for a minute, but they were coming no matter what. I dried most of them up but Darienne introduced the makers of the film and smiled at me and more tears came out. The director looked at me and smiled. I wasn't the only one, trust me. The film may be about a dolphin, but our families can relate to the trials and errors of prosthetics. We relate to overcoming obstacles and how to keep on going. We relate to how beautiful life is if you choose to see it that way.

Then we got to have a question and answer session with the film makers. We got to get the inside scoop. By the way folks, Winter (the dolphin) stars in her own movie. I thought that was the coolest piece of info. Hanger, the prosthetic company, has been caring for her this entire time for free. When you see the clips at the end, you'll see the real people behind the movie and all her prosthetic fins she went through. They said they stayed as close to the story as possible. Then they brought out shirts and posters for the kids and they autographed them.

Miss Darienne had to add her special touch to Deryn's birthday and brought her a box of goodies. She wished Deryn a happy birthday from the White House and gave her the box. It was filled little cookies and a mini cake for De. The cookies were lemon and the little cake was strawberry. All were covered with a yummy glaze. There's a picture of it on Team Allen too. We got to get in our thank yous, hugs and see you laters in. Then we were off to our car to go home. I am proud to report I found our way home without the GPS. By the time Chaz got it set up I was out of DC and en route to the apartment. Of course that made my night! Getting around here is crazy, but thanks to being lost in Nashville, I can get lost in DC and find my way out. This would be why Chaz doesn't drive in the cities. He hates it!

Yesterday was another reminder of how blessed our little family is. God just keeps bringing these amazingly awesome people into our lives. These people just want to celebrate life with us. We are so thankful for each one of them. It feels like we are a part of this incredibly big family and we are loving every minute of it. Yesterday was another reminder of how great life truly is. I can't imagine a better way to celebrate the day our first child was born.

Many thanks to Laura Boone, from Operation Ward 57, the entire Charm City Cakes staff, and Miss Darienne from the White House for making Deryn's day unforgettable. You are all so amazing and we are so grateful for you all!!!

Sunday, September 18, 2011


I have been asked many times over the course of this week, "What are your plans for a home?" So I thought I would answer a few of those questions.

Where are we now? Currently we are in MD. Chaz is still being seen at Bethesda for his medical treatment. The WTB (Warrior Transition Brigade) has provided us with an apartment in Silver Spring. It is very spacious and is located in a great part of town.

Do we own a home? Yes, we do own a home in Clarksville, TN. We have owned it for 4 years now. Currently my mom, sister and friends are taking care of it while we are gone. Since the WTB gave a free place to live while Chaz is being treated, we are able to continue making our mortgage payments. We need a place to go home to when we go back so we will keep our current home until the new one is built.

What's wrong with our current home? The biggest problem is the stairs. Chaz needs a one story home. When we are home he goes upstairs at the end of the day and stays on that level. Then he comes down at the beginning of the day and stays down stairs for the day. Basically he is stuck on that level, he can get up and down the stairs, but life would be so much easier for him if the stairs were gone. Right now getting up and down those stairs is exhausting for him. He does it, because he wants to be with us all day long. He refuses to sleep on the couch or have me make the dining room into a bedroom for him. He says he "will be with his girls and that's that."

Our 2.5 bathrooms do not fit his needs at all. We have a shower bench in the shower for him to slide in and out of. He has to put his legs on to reach the sink to brush his teeth or shave. He truly gets a big workout tying to get to the toliet. The doors are not wide enough for him to wheel in. So I get the shower bench out of the shower and place it so he can slide from the wheelchair to bench then bench to toilet and then back. The girls bathroom is a totally no-go. He can't even get in the door. He can only wheel in halfway in the halfbath that is downstairs. When we have company, he has me distract them or get them outside so he can go to the bathroom or he holds it.

He basically can't do anything in our kitchen without help. The pantry door isn't wide enough for him to wheel into so he has to reach and if he can't get it then he has to yell for one of us. You cannot have the fridge, pantry, oven or dishwasher door open in the kitchen while Chaz is in there because then he can't get through the kitchen. The cabinets are eitehr too high or too low for him. He cannot reach the microwave, stove or sink. He is very stubborn and makes the best our of it, but Lord have mercy if he drops something.

We have dreadful transition pieces going into our kitchen from both directions. Which were hand crafted and I loved them until Chaz fell. The one in the dining room was the cause for Chaz's horrible fall. When he fell there was not enough space for him to flip himself over so I had to help him flip over so he could sit up and get back into his chair.

He cannot wheel out to the back yard right now because of the step down. He can go our front thanks to CSM St Louis contacting the VA and getting a ramp put in. If it wasn't for him we'd probably have thrown down a piece of plywood and make a redneck ramp. Oh yes we were going there, but then St Louis took over.

We cannot park in our garage and enter our house from there because we have steps into the kitchen. The garage is not wide enough to open the doors and have Chaz get around them. We have to stop in front of the garage and let Chaz out. Then I pull the car in and do whatever else needs to be done. There is no way we can park our van in our garage and use the ramp in the van for Chaz. The van will have to sit in the driveway. Which is truely not a big deal. I am a brat I like to park in the garage. I also like to spoil my hubby. (Can you tell?)

This is way more than you want to know, but it is the truth. Our apartment here in MD is way more handicap friendly then our home in TN. Now we need to make a home that will make Chaz feel welcome and at home. He needs to be able to do whatever he wants in his own home, especially go to the freaking bathroom alone, without help and have his privacy. To me he is almost a prisoner in our home. But we are so optimistic we just look at our home as another hiccup on our road to our happily ever after. We love that house, but it no longer fits our needs. It is time to pass those keys to a new family who can love that house like we used to!

What have we done so far? We have applied and been approved for our VA housing grant. We have met with our TN-VA advisor and he is super nice and helpful. We have looked at land online, but we haven't had a chance to do anything else and being in MD is not helping this situation. We put in an application with Home for Our Troops and have yet to hear anything back. We were nominated for an Extreme Home Makeover, but once again haven't heard anything. Either of which would be a freaking outstanding easy button for us!

For those who don't know, I am a tax and financial advisor. So currently I am saving, saving, saving for the house. Chaz's bathroom alone costs $25,000 and that is for the base line requirements from the VA. I haven't even looked at the rest of the requirements yet. If we do not build everything to VA specifications then we will not get the grant which is $64,000. I flew back and forth during tax season to keep earning money for this house. I know it will be expensive. I am just trying to save at least 25% of the down payment. We have some equity in our current home, but I cannot rely on that for funding because I have not done a market analysis yet. I have no idea what profit we could possibly have in that home.

What is our dream? We want to push a freaking easy button!! Seriously I dream that Ty Pennington shows up and blesses us with a perfect home for Chaz. The only problem is we don't want to destroy our home. If we can we would like give our home to another family. I was the PTO President at the girls' school for two years. We have so many families there that could use that home. There's one family that I would love to give those keys to, but I do not know if they still live in the area. I would like to go to our principals and counselours and find out who needs a home. We have many families who could use a back yard to play in and the room to spread out in. I know our school administration would know exactly who we could bless.

We want to remain in Clarksville, but move closer to Nashville. So we will jump school zones. Chaz wants more land and space for our family to grow. Our girls need room to run. If you make our home into a one level on that property then we would not have a yard left. In addtion, it would ruin the property values for the rest of the neighborhood and I could not handle that guilt. The market is bad enough, our fellow homeowners do not need a home that will price them out of the market. We were planning to move before Chaz was injured, now we just have a different reason for moving.

I hope this answers any (and maybe even all) of your questions. If you want to also nominate us for an Extreme Home Makeover, you have our permission. If you see another opportunity that is similar and want to nominate us, go ahead. We truly appreciate every one of you and your support! We are so grateful that you all want us to succeed and that you want to help us push that easy button! THANK YOU!!

Chaz and I both feel like God will lead us. We have applied and now we're leaving it up to God. Whatever our path is he will put us there and guide us through. He has helped us so far and will not be abandoning us anytime soon. He knows our needs and will provide for us. We do ask that you continue that you still pray for our family.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Exciting news....

For once I just don't know where to start! We are so excited!! I don't know how to rank all of these because they are so exciting!!!! So I'll list them as they pop into my head!

We're really excited about Deryn's birthday on Tuesday. We are so ready to hit her with our awesome surprises. Hee, hee, hee!! Check out Team Allen on Tuesday. The first one is at 12pm EST/11am Central and the second one is at 4:30pm EST/3pm Central . Pics will appear shortly after. It's REALLY great, and I mean it!!

We were informed yesterday that it is official we are in the final chapter of all of this!!!! Chaz's X-rays came back and his bones stopped growing! This means no more surgeries on his legs! We were really worried because of his fall in TN, but he's all good!

Yesterday we also found out his last set of legs are on their way!!!!! They will make him 6 foot tall again and he'll have a bendable knee!! Once he gets them adjusted to his comfort he'll walk just like you and I! I am a little sad because they were supposed to be in today, but they didn't make it! :( But they are sure they'll be here tomorrow. Don't worry there will be pics!

The Medical Board has been started and Chaz just has to jump through all of those hoops. This will take awhile. Chaz will remain on Active Duty until all this is done. He'll have to go to a bunch of appointments and wait for the Army and VA boards to meet to decide his disability rating. They think this will take the longest out of all of this. Is anyone surprised?! I'm not!

Chaz still hasn't decided if he is saying on active duty or not. It is really a hard decision for him. I truly don't know which way he'll go. This is how I feel. I just want him to be happy. I don't care if he stays in or gets out. The girls and I will be beside him no matter what. He has to decided what he wants to do. I'd like to see him get his degree, but he can do that either way he goes. We did find out he will be medically retired which means we retain our insurance. That is super important. I have Epstein-Barr (chronic mono version) and both of our girls have asthma. We want to continue their care and not switch up. This is now a non-issue. If he stays in or if he retires we maintain the same level of care. Big relief here for me, but doesn't really help Chaz in his decision making.

Chaz is no longer on narcotics!!!!! He is only taking Tylenol and ibuprofen for his pain!! He will remain on pills for his nervous system, but the Oxy is gone!!!! We will keep his Oxy IR (instant release) for emergencies, but he longer needs the twice daily dose to get through the day.  Woot-woot!!!

He still has to meet with his docs about his arm, but that will not effect any of the above. We should know more about the arm soon. As of today, it will remain fused. Chaz is tired of surgeries and fears he will lose the strength he has by having any more surgeries on his elbow. He has full use of his hand and he is happy with the position of the fusion. Once again this is his decision. I am with him on losing the strength. Also his elbow is in 7 pieces and is almost impossible to put back together. He needs a replacement. But that replacement will have limited range of motion and more than likely would not be able to bear as much weight as he can right now. In addition that replacement will wear out and once it wears out then his arm would have to be fused.

We will still remain in MD for quite a while longer. We still have a lot to do. But we are officially in the final phase!!!!  We will go back to TN for Christmas, but there's a good chance we maybe going home for good, only time will tell. Can you believe Chaz was injured in January and here we are in September and we're in the final phase?! I have the most amazing hubby!!!!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Our first real day at Bethesda & the settling of reality for our Deryn

I am so glad that we left during the transition to the new hospital. That was one of the smartest decisions Chaz and I have made yet. We were able to recharge our internal batteries and get ready for more. I am pleased to admit our first day at Bethesda wasn't nearly as bad as I braced for.

I was ready for a crazy storm. Chaz got up to catch the shuttle for his 9am appointment, but he had been told the wrong departure time so he missed his shuttle. He had to cancel to that appointment and make it for 1:30 instead. So we got the girls up and ready and decided to just shoot to make it there by 11am for Capt Phipps vehicle presentation, stay for lunch and explore the hospital. By the time we were done it would be time for his appointment.

Before we could get out the door, Deryn, our almost 9 year old, had her first melt down of the day. She did not want to go anywhere but back to Tennessee. I told her she had to get dressed and that I was sorry she didn't like the situation. I told her to work on her cursive writing while I ran to the store and got Ryann some medicine for her stuffy nose. Chaz said she was fine and did her work while I was gone. But when I got back he was trying to correct some of her work and she flipped out and lost it.  She wasn't going to be corrected right now. I said fine we'll do it when we get back. I think she was super tired and just didn't want to do anything. I explained to both girls that we were on a new adventure and that only Daddy had seen the new hospital and we needed to go check it out.

Overall everything was fine at Bethesda. Parking was pretty crappy, but I was ready for that. We got to see Capt Phipps' new training vehicles for the driving-rehab program. Just so you know this program is the only program like its kind in the entire Department of Defense. Capt Phipps is able to to give our warriors here an advantage. She's right here and more than happy to help them succeed. She is the perfect person for this job. She is caring and passionate. Now if we could wake up the DOD network and see how important this program is then she wouldn't be the only one, she would just be the first one! She is giving our soldiers some of their independence back. Her program is extremely important to the healing of our soldiers. We are so blessed to have her on Team Allen. 

We walked around and explored the campus. If you go to the Team Allen pics you'll see my favorite signs of the day. "Here's your sign" is what I thought when I saw them. Although I don't know what they are, I really think there are great reasons for the signs. Chaz and I like to laugh and we had lots of laughs because of these signs and we just had to share.  I hope they make you giggle too.

We went to Building 62, which turns out to be the central office for the Wounded. Everything we need is in that building, except for the medical care. The SFAC (Soldier Family Assistance Center) and WTB (Warrior Transition Brigade) are all in there. Chaz's company is now all on the same floor in the same area and you can easily get to all of them. I like organization, so this was a very good thing for me. On the face of it, it seems a lot better. People did not seem as stressed as they were before we left a month ago. I saw a lot more smiles. Thank goodness!

What I didn't like was there are hardly any handicap buttons for the doors. You know the big squares you push and the doors magically open. We had those everywhere at Walter Reed, now they are scarce. At Walter Reed families like us were everywhere, people hardly even looked at us when we walked by because we were just a part of the crowd. Yesterday we got a ton of "aww, you poor thing " stares, which by the way drives me absolutely freaking crazy! The hospital was very crowded and we were horribly outnumbered. I felt like cattle on the field. You were herded in every direction you went. Due to the construction going on, some elevators were open to construction crews only, hallways were taped up and signs were posted to help with directions. This caused the walking areas to be smaller and more crowded. My assessment is they were totally not ready and the move should have been delayed. I am not thrilled to have our babies and my hubby around so much heavy equipment. Deryn is allergic to dust, so I'm sure that will be an issue later.

Upside is they had staff everywhere to help us with the doors and to direct us. The mood there seems a lot less stressed. People seem a lot more confident. Confidence makes a lot of difference. I am sure that as time passes everything will get easier. We all have to get into our routines and then we'll rock it out. 

The best part of the day was everyone stopping us to welcome us back. My favorite was the delightful lady who works at the front desk of the SFAC. She's a Team Allen supporter and I got a great hug from her. Then of course Capt Phipps and our friends at RideAway, our fellow wounded warriors, executive services and our medical teams. I truly love having people in our lives who are excited to see us succeed. We are so blessed to have so many awesome people in our lives.

We got lunch at Subway, Ryann's favorite, and then got Chaz to his first appointment back at Bethesda. While we were waiting for Daddy we ran down to the Red Cross and got a new game, some videos and art supplies. I found a great book on the food chain so we went back to the waiting room and had a science lesson on the food chain, predators and prey and producers and consumers. In addition we found an article on the oil spill's aftermath in Louisiana, so we talked about the environmental impact it had. We had just finished our lessons when he showed up. So it was perfect timing.

We went home and all crashed for thirty minutes and then we got to our reading comprehension and to correcting Deryn's cursive. Then we got to math. We got all the way through math and then we got a full on meltdown. So we sat and talked about it. She said she didn't want to home school and she didn't want to live in Maryland. She wanted her house and her friends. She wanted to know why couldn't doctors in Tennessee care for her Daddy. I hate to think she held that in all day. I think she got some of it out and then when we got back she let out the rest. The funny thing is Deryn doesn't really remember when Chaz went to Iraq.

Our awesome pediatrician can tell you that was a fun year. Ryann caught almost every funky baby disease possible and then we discovered Deryn's asthma. It was a rough year full of road trips and different doctors. So I sat De down and told her the story. I told her that we love her and her sister so much that Daddy and I (mostly me, because he was deployed) drove everywhere I had to to get her the best care possible. Most importantly we'd do it again and again. But right now it's Daddy's turn. I had to explain that Daddy is in the best place possible to receive care for his injuries. I reminded her that five years ago I drove countless days to get her and her sister the best care possible and now we had to do that for Daddy. I explained that she is a very important part of Daddy getting better and that we can't do it without her. I told her if she wanted to go to public school we would do that, if she thought that could make her happy. I told her we are open to ideas and are ready to listen. I explained to her that being a parent doesn't mean we have all of the answers. I told her Daddy and I are figuring this all out as we go. I also said you have had a lot of really happy days and only a few bad ones, so I think we're doing our jobs pretty well. She agreed and then cried it all out. God Bless her, it's hard to be almost 9. She was much better after that. Then I reminded her we start gymnastics the next day (today) and that her birthday is next week and we have some great surprises in store for her.

I am glad Deryn finally let it all out. All this back and forth is not fun, but it is necessary. I told her that when she was sick five years ago I did not think we'd ever get the answers. She was on so many prescriptions back then and now she only has two and occasionally has a flare up. We have come a long way. I told her that we are going to be through all of this soon but I just don't know how soon. I told her we have to work together to get through it all. In the meantime we are going to have a ton of fun while we're doing it.

We have not forced the girls to talk about any of this, we are just here when they are ready. I sat them down the day after Chaz was hurt and answered all of their questions. I also assured them I would not lie to or hide anything from them. I told them that if they have questions they were to come to me and then Daddy when he was better. I told them it was our job to answer the questions and that they shouldn't go to anyone else but us. You cannot force healing on anyone. You have to let it happen on its own time. We have listened when they want to talk and answered questions when they have had them. We will not lie to our girls, but we will also not inundate them with information. They will let us know what they need and we will be there for the meltdowns as well as the smiles. The battle of being the parents to small children is another fun part of this war. I am just so thankful to have such an awesome battle buddy to help me through this part of the war.

Monday, September 12, 2011

And we're off.....again

Today we head back to Maryland to return Chaz to Bethesda (in case you missed it, Walter Reed merged into Bethesda). As of today I start my longest term away from Tennessee since college. I am just so thankful for all the adventures that lie ahead for us.

I am not making it up, I haven't been away from Tennessee this long since I was in college. Somehow the Army has kept Chaz here at Ft Campbell for all 13 years of his career. Yes I know that's weird, but it's true. Every time he requested to move us somewhere, they would deny it for deployments, except when they took him to Korea and I had to stay behind.

I am not complaining at all. I love Tennessee. My family moved here in 1982 and I've been here ever since, except for college. There are much worse places we could have been sent. Chaz and I wanted to go and travel but evidently the Army had other plans. When this is all said and done we will stay here in Clarksville. We have no reason to leave. We really love it here.

I have dreaded today, but now I am thankful it is here. I am ready to just get there now and move on with this chapter of our healing. This should be one of the final chapters. We are waiting on one last set of legs and the Army to decide what to do with Chaz. He wants to remain on Active Duty. Yes I know, he's my hero too! I am so proud of him for wanting to continue on. I think he will serve as a great example for others and he has a lot to give back. Can you imagine a better role model for these soldiers?

The Army has provided us with a very nice apartment in a very nice city. We have all sorts of things right at our finger tips. I am not crazy about living in a high rise apartment and parking in a parking garage, but things could be so much worse. I have just learned to suck it up and move on. But I do understand why people who live there are in such a grumpy mood all the time. Gees they are right on top of each other, literally. They don't have any space. I am glad we are doing all of this in chunks. I need to come back to our home and have some peace and quiet and space every now and again.

We do not know when we're be back home. However I will be in our home, with our tree for Christmas and I double dog dare the Army or Navy to stop me. I don't ask for much, but I want that for our family. We deserve it and only medical reasons can stop me.

I am ready to get back to DC/MD/VA because I have been working on some very exciting adventures. Our upcoming adventures and surprises mostly involve the girls. Yesterday was hard on Deryn. She doesn't want to leave her friends and who could blame her. She's 9 and this is all very hard to understand. Ryann told her last night, "We had lots of fun last time and Mommy and Daddy will make sure we have more." Deryn looked at me for validation and I assured her that Ryann was correct.

So today we'll rip the band aid off and jump on that plane. I am ready to get our schedule set and figured out and ready to discover what the Army has in store for us. I am also excited to see what other opportunities may come our way. I am also excited to see our new friends who live in that area. It's crazy that one month ago my TN friends and DC/MD/VA friends were in opposite places and now we're switching again. I am just so thankful that we have so many wonderful friends and I bet we'll make even more.

Many thanks again to Veterans Airlift Command for helping our family enjoy our vacation. If you haven't checked them out yet visit and see what they are doing for our wounded warrior families. We are so grateful for this amazing organization.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 years later......

To me it is just crazy that 10 years have flown by. Like every other American I will never forget that day. Four years ago I got to add another reason not to forget today's date.

Ten years ago, Chaz and I had only been married for a few months. So I was just getting to know the military system. I also had taken a job as a manager at a Sonic here in Clarksville. Ten years ago no one here in Clarksville wanted a college education military spouse. I was a liability. They would not sink time and money into someone who might move away.

Ten years ago I woke up with a horrible sinus infection. So I made an appointment to go to the doctor after I sent Chaz off to work. I knew I needed help. As I write this, I am wondering if my allergies and sinuses are trying to recreate that same infection. I got moving and got ready to go and my sister calls to tell me someone crashed a plane into a building. I immediate thought oh those poor families what a horrible accident. Then I went on about my business to get to the doctor.

Ten years ago, I got in my car to go to post and as I got towards post I got into stand still traffic. I was rocking out to a CD and just thought, hmm, I wonder what's going on. I sat there rocking out for a few minutes. Then a solider got out of his car and I rolled down the window. He asked if I was listening to a CD and I said yes. He then said you need to turn on the radio we're at war. I looked at him and said excuse me. At that very same moment Little Birds (little attack helicopters) popped into the air. I turned on the radio and got caught up. That plane that I thought was an accident was intentional?! I immediately went to the thought of who the heck would do that?! How stupid are you to fly a plan into a building?! Then they hit the pentagon and fear really took over me. Chaz was on post and of course the phones were blacked out. Chaz's guys were second on the list to be called up if war broke out. Well here it was, so what was going to happen. Oh my goodness we have another Pearl Harbor, was my exact thought.

The Army sent people out to redirect traffic. If you were active duty or lived on post you got onto post, if not, you were out of there. You better have proof that you live on post too. You were not going for a commissary run anytime soon let me assure you. So I went to work. I was scheduled to work that day. When I walked in, everyone got quiet. I was the only infantry wife, and they all knew what was going on. I was fairly good friends with my boss at the time and I decompressed and cried to him. I then sucked it up and got to work.

When I got off work, I went to our apartment and waited. Chaz came in after dark for his TA-50 (everything the Army issues you for deployments). He told me what they knew, which was very little. He said we're up next if they call. If you don't hear from me for more than 48 hours I am gone. I will call as much as possible, just don't worry. (Yeah right, don't worry). And then he was gone.

We got very lucky that his guys didn't get called to leave. Instead they were ordered to protect Ft Campbell. Chaz's platoon got to cover the middle school. It was crazy that his duty station was the middle school. I can still remember all the constantino (totally misspelled) wire everywhere. I remember the first time I drove on post. I had a military ID card, but I had to have the car searched and answer a ton of questions before I could go see Chaz. I took tons of dinners, snacks and food to those guys over the course of the next few months. Just before Christmas, it calmed down a little and I got to have my hubby back a little bit more.

It's crazy to look back and see how the Army has changed so much. It's a totally different Army. Some of it is great and some of it is unrealistic. (I think that's a separate blog.)

Ten years later, my family has a direct and visible result from that catalyst. My Muslim friend was scared to come talk to me. She thought we would be mad at her because of Chaz's injuries. I am so thankful that a big hug and some reassuring words made her understand that we do not blame her, nor anyone of her religion for Chaz's injuries. Chaz was injured by someone who didn't want him and his soldiers there. More than likely it was a male who was a farm owner. We'll never know who it was. But we have peace knowing that God will take care of us and the persons who hurt our family and friends as well. Chaz and I do not blame anyone. Here's how we feel. If another country tried to invade our country and change our lives we'd all fight and plant bombs to protect our families. That is what is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. They do not want to change and they are going to resist us. You cannot blame them for wanting to keep everything the same. The way they have lived has worked for so long. Why should they change? Why should we force them? We are the invaders and we are trying to change their lives and they don't want the change and truly don't understand it.

I still believe Chaz was injured for a purpose. I made my peace with it January 22nd. I grieved for his physical changes that day and knew God would give me the strength to carry on and that He would see us through and I haven't been wrong yet.

Fours years ago, 9-11 took on a additional meaning in our lives. My friend, Kristy lost her husband Dave in a helicopter accident that day. We have had the privilege to watch her and her boys heal and grow as Dave smiles down upon them. She has served as an example to me of hope and courage. Please also remember this family today as well.

I know it is hard to forgive the actions of 9/11, but you have to. God will help you, if you let him. You have to let it go. You cannot move on without forgiving. To err is human, to forgive is divine. To me the forgiveness is easy, but I will never forget, none of us will. Those men truly believed what they were doing was acceptable. To me they were brainwashed and truly were not capable of independent thought. We cannot go back and erase it so we must move forward.

Joel Osteen once said "If you notice your rear view mirror is very small in comparison to the windshield in front of you." To me this shows you should always be conscious of what's behind you, but to focus more on what's in front of you. Always remember those families, but carry on and don't let the enemy win. They win is you don't forgive them. They win if you are still afraid. They win if you allow them any control. The enemy is just like that playground bully. Once you stand up they will not challenge you again. Stand up! Live you life! Life is so great if you forgive and extinguish that fear. This is the only life we have, live everyday to the fullest and defeat that enemy by doing so. The Allen family will not let them win and neither should you.

We will always remember 9/11. God Bless those people in the buildings. God Bless the men and women who ran into the fire and the rubble to save them. God Bless their families. God Bless them all. I pray the Lord lifts them up and heals them like his is healing our family.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Let me explain something....

Our family has had some amazing opportunities to meet some truly amazing Americans. Some of these people have political affiliations. Let me stress this now, Chaz and I are not endorsing anyone, nor any party. We are so happy that our politicians are just being great Americans and just want to support our family and our fellow soldiers by inviting us all to enjoy some amazing experiences.

First let me explain that I am a fence rider. I agree with parts of both parties, which is why I think the party system should just go away. I do not participate in primaries, because I will not register with a party just to vote. To me its an unnecessary label that is now irrelevant. To me if you're called to serve, you're called to serve. It is your job to do what you are elected to do. If you need to know which way to vote, then you need to ask your constituents not your political party. We vote for you to vote for us. If you are in doubt, tell your staffers to start making phone calls and find out what you are supposed to do.

Let me explain that we are all Americans. I do not care which party you are a member of as long as you support my husband and his fellow soldiers. One day, just like other events in our country's past, the truth will come out and we'll find out why we're in these wars. I know God has a plan and one day we'll find out all of the details. I don't know why Chaz had to leave us so many times. I don't know why he had to find that IED and change our lives forever. But I have faith in God's plan and He will see us through. In my heart, he went to do his job and he was trying to help bring peace and hope to volatile countries. I am fully aware of what infantry soldiers do, but I like to make it sound a lot better for our children. So for our girls Daddy is a soldier and soldiers help make the world a better place. I like to keep them innocent as long as possible, call me over protective, I don't care. So if you are a Democrat or Republican or Independent and invite us to a super cool event, that is a once in a lifetime experience we'll be there.

Look at Senator Jack Reed from Rhode Island. I don't even know what party he is with. That man met us and invited us on a private tour of the Capitol and for lunch in the Senate dining room. We cannot vote for him, he has nothing to gain from doing what he did for us. He sincerely just wants to make sure our soldiers are taken care of. Senator Reed is a great American. He is an elected leader who is trying to serve his voters, but also reaches out to all Americans. His reasoning is simple, he cares and wants you to know he cares.

We have heard a lot of comments about our family meeting Obama. Let me tell you how we stand. That is our President. Our country elected him, therefore we will give him the respect he deserves as the leader of our nation. I'll tell you flat out we disagree with some of his opinions, but he has every right to them just like we have our right to ours. Bottom line is, if the President invites to an event you are going to go because he is our President and he invited you and that's pretty freaking cool. You may disagree with his political stance, but the man is a human and an American and is entitled to his opinion, just like you are entitled to yours.

True story: Chaz and I did not like either Obama or McCain for President, but those were our choices in the last election. We always take the girls with us to vote so they will grow up to be responsible Americans and go participate in and uphold the right that people fought and died for us to have. So the day before the election Chaz and I decided the only way to vote was to cancel each other out. So we flipped a coin I got McCain and he got Obama. We each took the girls and voted the way of the coin. Deryn questioned it. So it became a great teaching tool. It was our way of voicing our disdain for our choices for our leaders, but we still participated in the Democratic process. I knew that who ever got elected would be stalemated by Congress for the next four years so to us it didn't matter. Funny how my prediction came true.

I truly feel sorry for the office of the President. I was the PTO President for two years. It was very difficult to keep everyone happy. I was constanly making someone mad because I did things differently. I saw first hand how apathetic our citizens are. I had a rough time rallying people to come help clean up the campus and to help volunteer for events. I still live in that happy bubble where everyone helps in the community. I had to have it popped to see that the majority of people just want their kids in school and they won't spare the time to come read to a child or volunteer for Field Day. When reality set in it was very hard. I was just the PTO President of hundreds of students, teachers, staff and parents. I can only imagine the pressure and stress the President must carry. Gees look at our Presidents. Look at them when they go into office and then as the years pass. They are under so much stress and it is visible. Think about all the decisions they have to make. I love the movie the American President for that exact reason. That movie demonstrates that the President is still a human being and we need to remember that.

Our Presidents oversee so many more people than I ever will. America you need to realize the President is ineffective if our Congress doesn't do their jobs. I agree with Starbucks' CEO. He is withholding all donations to political factions until Congress gets off their butts and start working. Remember Bush didn't send us to war, Congress did it. The President didn't mess with your taxes, Congress did it. The President cannot pass laws, Congress does. Our founding fathers set it up that way. The power is in our Congress, but most Americans don't know that because we don't really teach government anymore. They see the President and point and blame them. Now does the President do most of the talking, well of course. We elect them to do so. The President's office may pass ideas onto Congress but if Congress sits on them then your leader is ineffective. It is time to wake up and see how your country works. It is not controlled by one man, it is in your hands if you'll stand up and care. Your ancestors fought and died for what you have today, so stand up and speak out and celebrate it.

Let me explain that you must remember politicians and celebrities are just people. They are people just like you and I. Some of them just have some really cool jobs. Chaz and I have a really simple rule for who we let in our lives. Here it is, treat us the way we treat you and we'll get along fine. We have friends who are Democrats, Republicans, Athesists, Muslims, homosexual and every religion, skin, hair and eye color and almost every nationality out there. We love them all. We may not agree with their choices, but they love and support our family. They lift us up when we need it and we'd do the same for them. The greatest thing about our country is that we all come from different backgrounds, but we're all Americans. Regardless of our opinions as long as we should just be there for each other.

Let me explain we do not believe in quid pro quo which is Latin for "what for what." We do not do things for you and expect you to do for us. We don't have time to keep tally marks to make sure we're even. We don't care. You need us to watch your kids so you can go somewhere, sure. Maybe one day you can watch ours, maybe not. You do not "owe" us. When Chaz was hurt I was told I needed to get after writing my thank you cards. One day I will, but I am fairly sure Emily Post doesn't have an entry on thank you card time for when your hubby loses legs via an IED. Heck when you get married, you get a year. I'll get to them one day. But this one time when it was brought up I finally responded by saying I am not sitting on my ass eating bon-bons, I am a little busy so the cards will have to wait. If your friends or whomever gives anything to our family right now and are expecting a thank you card anytime soon, then please don't give to us.

Most people see our politicians as being full of quid pro quos. Our experience with them has been a lot different. I am happy that we can show our girls that all these people on TV are people, real people. We are able to explain to them that opinions are everywhere and you are entitled to them. But at the end of the day we are all people just trying to do what we think is right. We can disagree but we can still come together and keep our lives great.

We like to pay things forward, we expect nothing. We hope that when we do for others they will then pay that forward to someone else some how. We are currently just enjoying the blessings God is giving us so we can bring lots of positive to our girls while healing and dealing with a kind of crappy situation. We want to heal as a family and not have them resent us or anyone else for this situation. By leading as an example for them, we can hopefully take the quid pro quos out of their lives and show them how amazing life in our country and the world is.

Let me also explain that we are not looking for a handout or hand up, we are not desitute, our lives have just been changed a little. If you want to help us great, we are thankful for all forms of help! But if you are trying to control us then you need to move on. Our lives are currently being control by the US Army and that's enough! I was blessed with a really big mouth and you do not need to speak for me, nor for my hubby. You cannot and will not use us to further your agenda. I am famous for saying "I am Switzerland" which is my way of saying I am neutral leave me out of it. We just want to enjoy life and have fun while we're healing, we do not need your restrictions, demands and expectations right now.

So let me explain that while we are on this journey we will seize every exciting opportunity possible that God puts in front of us. If it offends you that we go to the White House or to Congress or for anywhere for that matter, then please do not follow our family. We are celebrating the joys of what God is bringing to us and are trying to minimize the drama. Please see our journey for what it is. We are healing and having a lot of fun enjoying our blessings tha keep appreaing. Please do not read into it. We are not out for attention, political nor financial gain, or any of that silliness. We are just having fun enjoying once in a lifetime experiences. We are just trying to heal and trying to have a lot of fun as we are on our road to our new normal. All we want is from you it that you pray and think of our families and our fellow soldiers. We hope that we can bring you a smile or two as you watch us heal. Thank you all for your support!!!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Finally a September Post

I know, I know it's been forever, but I have a lot of really great excuses. I'll fill you on them and perhaps get a little forgiveness. It has been a non-stop crazy train of action (bad and good) in the Allen household.

The last time I wrote was August 30. It was such a sad day. We lost two bright lights in our community. The ripples were felt all over our town. August 31, I went to the funeral home to see our babysitter, Katie and check on her because I knew how bad she was hurting from the loss of her best friend. I did not go inside that morning, because I did not know Amy like I did Katie and funeral homes are my kryptonite. I knew I had to go back that evening and twice in one day is too much for anyone. I gave Katie some treats and a gigantic hug and then had to come home. I got to do the second yucky thing of the day, I had to say see-ya to my friend and her daughter, who has been our youngest's best friend since they were 2 years old.

I was dreading that moment, but at least we were home in TN for one more sleepover. Julia, Ry's little friend, broke my heart when she yelled at her mom, "I don't want to leave." I had to come back inside and grab the treasure box so we could bribe her into the car. It was great timing because I was able to runaway from the tears for a minute. And then they were gone to Georgia for their Daddy's next assignment. We'll see them again I am sure, but it's always hard to say see you later when you just don't know when later is.

That was behind me and I had to take care of some clients and take another tax class. Not sure if you are tracking, but I own and operate my own tax preparation business. This is my 10th year of preparing and 3rd year running my own company. I used to work for H&R Block, but my ethics compelled me to walk away from them. Over the course of this past week I have taken 10 classes, taken a 150 question final and don't even want to know how many practice tax returns. I am pleased to report I made a 95% and am now caught up on my CEUs (continuing education units) for the IRS. I am trying to get my Chartered Tax Professional license which will prepare me for the Enrolled Agent Exam with the IRS later on. Somehow with flying back and forth caring for Chaz and the girls I still completed 120 tax returns. While I have been home on leave, I've completed a few amendments, a non-profit return and an audit. You might think I'm crazy but I have a house to build. Momma's got to keep that money coming in! ;)

That Wednesday evening I had to go back to the funeral home and see my friend, Jane (who was the girls' principal) and give our condolences on the loss of her son. My friend, Angela, and I stood in line for over an hour just to see her. We decided it was officially the worst ride we have ever waited to get on. So many tears, so much sadness, I had to keep cracking jokes so I wouldn't transport myself back to 1994 and relive my own personal tragedies. I kept talking with the teenagers behind us. I was trying to keep one of them from passing out. God Bless her, she kept forgetting to breathe. So I kept reminding her. Then I got to Jane. I was so happy to see her smile at me (we've both kind of had a crappy year, you know). She told me that she was so happy to see me and that she had been worried about my family. Then she told me a funny story and we both started laughing. You can only imagine the looks we got. But she started it, and I am so glad it was me that got to make her laugh. It was my honor to put a smile on her face as we were sitting next to her baby boy who was in his coffin and was to be buried the next day. I will never forget that moment.

I hoped that with the first of the month coming in all good news would come with it. Unfortunately, I was wrong. We had our first fall. Bad news, it was a pretty bad one. Chaz's wheels on his chair hit the transition of the kitchen/dining room and his wheelchair dumped him out onto the floor. He hit knees (where they would be) first and since his right arm is fused, he only had his left to help brace himself. Gravity won and he did a face plant onto the tile floor in the kitchen. I (followed by our two cuties) immediately ran to his side. I helped him get flipped around and sat back up and I immediately gave him pain meds and warned him not to argue. Then I lifted him back into his chair. Let me tell you that guy is not light at all. But we picked up and moved on.

Just so you know he was not being careless or wreckless at all. I watched the whole thing go down. It was a freak accident. The front wheels turned sideways and hit that transition and he was propelled forward. The good news is we got the first one over with and now we have a real attack plan. Let's hope we can keep the accidents to a minimum, but we know there will be accidents, it's called life after all. Somewhere in the visit to TN, Chaz ran over my left foot. But according to the Dr I saw (who I call Doogie Howser) it isn't broken because I can walk on it. Yes, I am going to get a second opinion before we go back to MD. But it's another example of the accidents that go on in our world now.

Next up is the bad news crazy train, my best friend's grandfather dies. She has also had a rough year and this was another punch to the gut. She lives in KY and I can't get to her right now so I have been worried to death about her. I finally got to talk to her the other day and I feel a lot better now.

I wake up everyday telling myself its going to get better because I know it will. With every joy, there is sorrow and with every sorrow, there is joy. We have been so blessed and those blessings are still coming. We are just in a period of crazy sadness, hence the reference to the Crazy Train.

In the midst of all of this, The Crazy Train has also brought us joy too. We have been able to see some friends and hang out and catch up with them and that has been the best part of this trip. We are all sad that we have to leave TN on Monday. But we are also excited to go back to MD/DC/VA. We have amazing people there helping us plan some more amazing adventures. Time will fly by (like it already has) and we'll be back soon. Hopefully the Army will let us get on with our lives soon and we'll get back and start building our house and moving on with our new normal.