Monday, December 31, 2012

Where to give....

It's the end of the year and many people are looking for some tax deductions. I just wanted to share with you a list of great non-profits who have truly helped us on our journey. These are in NO particular order. I am simply going to list them out and give you a website to examine.

If we had a surplus of funds, I would just divide it evenly among them. I told one of my tax clients the other day that the market is not yielding any really good returns, but I have a list of non-profits who are! ;)

Yellow Ribbon Fund

Fisher House Foundation

Aleethia Foundation

101st Association

Helping A Hero

Help Our Military Heroes

Our Military Kids

Veterans Airlift Command

Operation Second Chance

Operation Ward 57

So please consider our friends your friends and put your dollars where they will make a difference!! As a tax professional, I would rather see your dollars go here then to the IRS on April 15th! ;)


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Trying to Understand

From my friend Torrey Shannon's facebook post yesterday, "Words of advice: If your loved one is a wounded warrior, or even someone who has been deployed multiple times and not severely injured, PLEASE be respectful of them when they politely decline your holiday invitations! They are not trying to ruin your holiday or hurt your feelings. You may have had a 'tradition' to have your son-in-law or daughter come to every holiday meal, but things have changed dramatically in their lives when it comes to being around crowds and noise. Don't berate them. Don't tease them. Don't get your panties in a wad. Just respect their answer and let them create their own holiday memories. It may not include don't make it about you. Thank you!"

I just love Torrey. She and I have never met in person, but we are kindred spirits for sure. (And somewhere in the Army and VA someone just freaked out! Yes, we have found each other. You have been warned. Ha ha!! ) I shared her comment on my own facebook page because I know too many families, including my own who have dealt with this.  I just wanted to expand on this a little and use our family as an example. 

We turn down a lot of invites and let me tell you why. First, we are tired! You cannot imagine how exhausting it is to heal our wounded. Our family loves days of nothing. We do not get very many, Chaz's days are still filled appointments and recently he has added more because he has flipped to the VA side of this journey. We cherish our little family and as much as we want to share ourselves with so many, we also have to find time to do nothing. 

You have to remember we are juggling appointments, meetings, homeschool, events and now I have a beyond full time job (that I love). And I am still running a tax company. We are busy, busy, busy. I miss the days where I could just sit on the phone and chat with my girlfriends. Please know I am not complaining, we love our life, it's just very well organized. ;)

Our girls need us more than you think you do and I have no problems letting people know that. Cutie number one and cutie number two are the top priority for Chaz and I. Everyone else just needs to get in line, sorry, but that is how we feel. Some people really don't like that I put the girls and Chaz first, but my give-a-damn broke almost two years ago. I have learned some really hard lessons about trying to please people. I learned a long time ago I cannot make everyone happy, so I'll just focus on the three that I know the best and whose smiles and laughs fill my heart.

Second there's the physical. In our situation, you can all see Chaz's legs are missing. What you can't see is that his arm is fused in a 93 degree angle. You cannot imagine what limitations that causes for him. When we have the adapted van, life is easier for us. When we are in TN with my vehicle or in a rental that day a new level of difficulty and that arm tends to get in our way. I had no idea how useful an elbow was until Chaz lost his. Try to lock your elbow and scratch your back, or adjust the collar on your shirt, or just drink or eat something. Now pretend you don't have legs and try to get around with a fused arm. It is really hard. Now here's a good dose of reality, Chaz is only ONE of hundreds of service members with these types of injuries.

One time the girls asked Chaz what is it like to walk with his prosthetic legs. He had them pull their feet up to their butts and walk on their knees. They both commented on how much it hurts. We have talked to many people who have assured us that it will get easier for him, but it's so easy to forget that we not even two years into this journey. Chaz is just not ready to be on his legs all the time and that means he needs to be in his wheelchair. The world is not very "cripple-friendly" as Chaz puts it. So you can invite us to whatever it is, but can Chaz get in? Does he have access to a bathroom? Can he easily get out in case of an emergency? 

Nothing is worse than inviting us somewhere only to realize that you did not plan ahead. We had that happen recently. I hate seeing that people have the best of intentions, but then their feelings get hurt because they assumed rather than ask what Chaz's needs are. Our world is very unique and some people have a hard time understanding what Chaz needs.

That leads to my third point, the mental. Chaz has done remarkably well with his post-tramatic stress (PTS) from his injury. We began dealing with PTS after Iraq in 2005-06. We are not pros at dealing with PTS, but I know his triggers better than he does. His physical limitations add into his PTS, but he handles it all like a rockstar. So many are so angry, but Chaz would not change a thing. He gets around very well, but the world is not designed for wheelchairs and that limitation adds to his frustrations. I think having the unconditional love and acceptance from the girls and I has really helped Chaz heal.

When we go places and meet strangers you just never know what they'll say. I have had one person tell me, "I've seen his pictures on Facebook. He's getting fat and you need to get that under control." We have had people just come right out and ask if we can have kids, which is their politest way of asking if Chaz has a genital injury. You seriously wouldn't believe the things people have said to us and to other families. We have some great stories to tell. My favorite was the random guy who sat down and wanted to talk about Chaz's PTS. Hello random stranger, yes let me divulge all my intimate secrets to you. 

What makes us laugh is people think kids asking us questions bothers us. We actually welcome the kids' questions. Kids are smarter than you think. We are pros at explaining all of this to kids. We've had a lot of practice. Chaz and I love kids and we love teaching them about adversity. I wish more adults handled out situation like the kids do. 

So back to Torrey's statement. Please try to understand that healing a family is not simply and easy. These guys don't just come home. It is long, drawn out process and sometimes is beyond exhausting. We ask too much of our military families. We ask them to go to war and deal with it. Then we ask them to just do this and that and we don't think about their feelings. I am talking about my family before injury. 

Now after injury, I'll just tell you flat out, it ain't about you, so stop trying to make it that way. Listen to the family and don't read into it. It's not that we don't want you in our lives. Some of us just want a little peace and quiet. Some of us are creating our own memories. Some of us haven't had Daddies at home for a long time or like in our case two years in a row. So please just listen and accept us and wish us a Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 17, 2012

That Monday

Monday has come. Just like you, I have talked to many people about the tragedy that occurred on Friday. I cannot make anymore sense of it then anyone else. This is a time in life that I call a faith tester. This is the time that you can ask why, but you have to hold onto your faith and know there will be answer. I know how incredibly difficult that is, but I know God is trying to show us something. I just won't pretend that I have the answers.

Our Ryann is 7 and every time I look at her all I can think is what kind of Monster could look at the face of a child and slaughter them? Much less how could a person do this multiple times? What monster could crush the dreams of so many with reckless disregard?

I love being around children. They fill my heart with such hope and love. My brain simply cannot understand why this would happen. So I have stopped asking.

As soon as the location flashed across the screen, I knew our friends from Help Our Military Heroes (who have become like family) were somehow involved. Yes I was right. One of their family members had children in that school. The kids ages 4 and 7 and made it out alive. My stomach fell when I read my text message. I know those children are safe, but what they went through is unimaginable.

I told my mom, and Demetria and I talked about walking into our high school the Monday after our three friends had been killed in a car wreck. I remember vividly walking into the classrooms I shared with them. I remembered I had to leave the classroom because I could not take it. I missed them so much and I was so angry that they had to leave us so soon. Now fast forward 18 years and I cannot comprehend how it would feel to walk into that school and have that feeling multiplied times nine. I cannot think about what it would be like to walk back into a place where your life was in so much jeopardy. I simply cannot imagine what the people of Connecticut are going through right now.

But here's what I can do. I will not get to know the person behind all of this. He had a motive and I believe it was to be remembered. I am so sorry, but I will not remember him. I will not even learn his name, no matter how many times the news shares it with us. Instead I will remember those beautiful children. I will remember the teachers, staff and principal who define the word hero by their courageous actions.

I searched for an article that did not mention the gunman's name, but told us more about the lives he took from us. I ask that you too refuse to learn his name and instead learn about those he took from us.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Loving My Job

It's public knowledge that I have been helping other wounded warrior families long before now. However I never imagined I could help so many more by simply saying yes to a job with the Yellow Ribbon Fund. Since September, I have helped more people than I ever imagined I could and I just got started. I have come to realize everyone should feel this great about their employer. What's so funny is I never thought I'd have a boss again?! I was content just running my little tax company. But as you all know my life was changed a little bit almost two years ago.

My family first learned about YRF from Stephen Colbert. He partnered with Ben and Jerry's a long time ago to create his American Cone Dream ice cream and proceeds from the sales of that ice cream go directly to YRF. By the way that ice cream is delicious and I happily purchased it to support YRF before they touched our lives.

YRF was one of first non-profits that came into our lives during this journey. They blessed us with a rental car while Chaz was an in-patient. We were so thankful to have that car. I was able to go get groceries to cook Chaz some meals. I was able to get those fruitistas from Taco Bell for Chaz and a few other guys. We were able to get out of the hospital whenever we wanted. That car was such a blessing to us and for so many more families. Did you know that YRF has put wounded warrior family members in over 1800 cars this year? Isn't that amazing? I didn't even know that until I started working for them.

I had no idea a job could be such a blessing. I have enjoyed filing tax returns for people for over a decade. I have enjoyed being called their "easy button" and I plan to continue that job as well. I am just so thankful that I have such an amazing job that enables me to pay what we have been blessed with so far forward.I have been able to connect so many people to YRF. I have been able to take the talents of others and help them find a way to help our wounded and their families. Yesterday was a great example of how I can connect the talents of others to bless so many more. I have created so many smiles and laughs and I am loving every minute of it. I sleep so very well at night now knowing that I am a small part of a great team. Together the 9 of us are changing lives. We are supported by an excellent Board of Directors who truly value our service and then we are backed by donors who know they are investing very wisely in YRF. Together we are planting little seeds of happiness all over the wounded warrior community and it's just terrific. I am just so thankful to be a part of such a great team! 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

An Amazingly Great Day!

Every once in a while a day happens that just goes so perfect that you just can't help but think did that just happen? I had one of those days today. First let me tell the story of how it came to be.

While on our cruise to Bermuda, I met this wonderful lady in the line at Starbucks. (Proof that Starbucks makes the best things happen.) Marirosa had seen our family around the boat and we just started chatting. I found out that she was a Navy spouse, a photographer and she lived in the DC area. She offered to take pictures of our family and we exchanged cards and agreed to stay in touch.

Fast forward a few weeks and we decide to have a day of sessions for wounded warriors and their families. I proceeded with securing the location and filing all the paperwork with the hospital. Marirosa contacted a few of her friends to see if they would like to help. Poof, the Navy said yes, Fisher House said yes and Marirosa had three other friends to join her. All we needed to do was sign the families up.

Fast forward a few more weeks and I am hosting our first cooking lesson with Admiral Winnefeld's culinary team. We decide to have them come back and host another cooking lesson the same day as the photos. Once again paperwork is filed and we're all set.

Fast forward and I put out the email to get the families signed up. Then I am informed that it's Army/Navy weekend. Then I find out that the hospital has a trip planned for the game, a trip to Vegas and one for Breckenridge. I remained optimistic and we stuck with our original plans. Well that hope and optimism paid off big time today.

We all showed up at 9 this morning. The chefs went to the kitchen and the photographers set up in the living room. My family dropped me off and went to grab breakfast at McDonald's. By the time they came back we were all set up and ready to go.

Our first family showed up early and we got the ball rolling. Over 20 families showed up to have their pictures taken by our four lovely ladies. Here's a quick pic I grabbed of them so I could show the faces of the incredible professionals who donated their time and services and USB drives to our wounded warriors and their families today.

Each family had a little mini-session and received a USB drive with five pics on them. This way the families could go home and upload the pictures at their leisure. Then they can create their Christmas cards or maybe even just give grandma a updated picture for her brag book. How great was it that these ladies gave our wounded warriors and their families their time and talent today?

Now in the kitchen, three of Admiral Winnefeld's culinary team were cooking up some Paella. Once again these guys showed up to share their talent with our wounded warriors and their families. The families love the cooking lessons. Now only are these lessons quick and easy, but the food at the end is simply amazing. Here are the guys showing off their delicious masterpiece.

I just love hanging out with these three. They always have the greatest stories to share. They really love their jobs and they really love giving back to our wounded warriors and their families. You cannot imagine how awesome their Paella was. I give it four stars.
Thanks to some great teamwork over twenty wounded warrior families were treated to free professional pictures and a delicious lunch today. To add another level of this awesomeness, Admiral Winnefeld and his amazing wife Mary stopped by just to hang out with the families and say hi. They are always such a delight to be around at any time.

The entire day went so incredibly smooth. There were smiles every where. There were very happy bellies everywhere. I still can't believe how great the day turned out. I want to thank all the people mentioned above for helping me pull off such a great day today. I also want to thank Becky, the Manager of the Fisher Houses at Bethesda, for letting us all invade today!! I guess this is all proof that when amazing people come together to share their time and talents with others great days are created!!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Recovering Warrior Task Force

Weeks ago I was chosen to speak on a panel in front of the Recovering Warrior Task Force. Of course I said yes. I couldn't resist the chance to throw my two cents into their pot. Yesterday was the big day. It was myself, another caregiver and two wounded warriors on the panel.

Yesterday we were mostly asked about the IDES (Integrated Disability Evaluation System) process. So what is that?! Well a few years ago someone realized that rather than having you transition out of the Army and then enter the VA system you should do it together. I completely agree. The process is a great idea, but the problem is the system is supposed to be (check the first word) integrated. So the military is supposed to be communicating with the VA and VA to the military. This is not really happening. The whole reason the system was created was to help our military get on with their lives a little faster, instead IDES is future proof of the one way communication system the military has in place.

It was interesting seeing the faces of the crowd as we spoke. Some were thrilled and a few mouths dropped open as we spoke, but the nice thing was the four of us had their complete attention and they listened. Yes you read that correctly, they listened. Being listened to was a very nice change for us.

Our statements were the pretty much same. You enter the IDES process. You are sent to your VA appointments and are threatened to not miss them or you will start all over. Then you wait. Then your narrative summary comes in. You are told you have 7 days to go over the 30-something pages and turn them back in. (Heaven forbid, if you find errors). You turn that back in and wait for your findings. Then those magically come in and you are called and told to come in and sign those (once again within a few days or you are told you will have to start the process all over again). Then you wait for all of this to go back to the Army and wait for more magic phone calls. Then all of the sudden someone gives you a list of everything you only have weeks to do. They tell you to get on it. Then as you visit the people to get it all done you are informed again and again that you can't do this or that until you have a DD214 (official retirement paperwork). You do not get a DD214 until you retire. So you are stuck. Once again we are hurrying up to wait. Go Army!

Chaz and I have done everything we can without that DD214. I pointed out that my problem with the IDES system is this. Last year we had to help them find Chaz's medical records because they were lost in the merger. Thanks to high level help, they were found quickly. Then we had to prove Chaz had legs when he entered the Army in 1998. Let's ignore that he has deployed multiple times. Let's ignore all the other physicals he has had along the way. Let's ignore the battlefield reports that disclose all that happened to him. Let's ignore the evacuation orders, medical records and all of the above. We could not begin Chaz's VA appointments until they had his initial entry physical from June 1998 proving he did not have pre-existing conditions. 

Fast forward to this year. Last week we had to get our marriage license and the girls birth certificates and bring those in to prove that we are married and the girls are Chaz's. Let's not acknowledge that I have military ID stating my effective date is 23FEB01 (It's written like that). Let's not acknowledge that we had to provide all those certificates to the DEERS system in 2001, 2002 and 2005. No we have to bring it all in. Thank goodness I have the girls birth certificates and I have a friend who has a key to our home and could get me the marriage certificate. By the way you get no notice that you'll need these items. I am not kidding. People do not understand that we are displaced from home and we're not going to be carrying around our marriage certificate. So those coming behind me, go home at Christmas and grab all your documentation so be ready for the MEB/IDES process.

Let me acknowledge that I get it. People abuse the system. But we have more than enough documentation as well as the Army's system to prove who we are that all this extra hassle can be eliminated. If we are going to make the system work we have to examine all aspects of it. We don't need to reinvent the wheel here. We need to stop our one way communication and chuck the egos.

Here was one of my points to the panel. The IRS handles all of the entire United States. They communicate with all of the servers of the tax preparers across the country. They communicate with all of the banks in the country. They communicate with the Social Security Administration. They communicate with the 50 states to help with collect back child support and student loan debts. So explain to me why we can't make a system work for the less than 1% of our citizens who serve our country. You can say what you want about the IRS. I have been dealing with them as long as I have the Army and their system is way more efficient and the IRS is dealing with a many more people. Just a thought to roll around in your head.

Most issues involving the IRS are resolved in 6-8 weeks. The IDES process will take us about 396 days to complete. We are on our tenth month. So the end is near.

The best part about yesterday is that finally people are listening. People are trying to help our warriors. I can only hope my big mouth helped a little. I can assure you this will not be the last blog on the RWTF.

Monday, December 3, 2012

30 Day Recap

Here's a recap of my 30 days of thankful!!!!

Day 1: I am thankful for medical technology. I have witnessed miracles and have had the honor to walk with them and I am so thankful for that.

Day 2: I am thankful for Sisterhood!!! From my only sister, Janice to my friends who are like sisters to my Kappa Delta sisters to my Army wife sister-friends and to my WW sister-friends. If it wasn't for all of them I would have never survived the days after January 22, 2011

Day 3: I am thankful for the Angels who walk among us. God can truly put some amazing people on your path. You never know when they will bless you. Thank you to all the angels out there who have blessed our lives.

Day 4: Today I am thankful for the top military leadership officials who truly care for our military families. You think they all sit in their offices and don't care about our families, but trust me some of them care way more than you'll ever know!!! I am so thankful to have the true open door relationships I have with them! 

Day 5:  Today I am thankful for education. I would not be who I am if God had not blessed me with amazing teachers. I want to thank the teachers who blessed my brain and accepted the challenge of dealing with my stubbornness!

K-Mrs Walker, 1st-Mrs Simmons, 2nd-Mrs Templeton, 3rd-Mrs Cathcart, 4th-Mrs Britton, 5th-Mrs Spray, 6th-Mrs Newman & Mr Dunlap, 7th and beyond-Mr Collins, Dr Greer, Mrs Greathouse, Mrs Hitchcock, Ms Clark, Mr Smith, Ms Collette, Mrs Dunham, Dr Conroy, Dr Schoenbachler, Dr Bradshaw, Col Vaughan, Dr. Oetinger, thank you for investing in me!!!! 

Day 6: Today I am thankful for democracy!! I don't care how you vote, just please pray, vote, then pray again today!!!

Too many have sacrificed for your privilege and right to vote. Make sure you use it!! 

Day 7: Today I am thankful for the blessing of forgiveness. I am thankful that I know I can mess up and those who truly love me will accept me for my flaws. I am thankful that I am also able to extend the same gift to them.

We are all human and we will all fail at some time. It's those who will accept us when we mess up who truly define love and friendship!

Day 8: Today I am thankful for transportation. Today we are heading San Antonio to attend the Fisher House Gala. Saturday we will be heading to OK to celebrate Veteran's Day with Chaz's family and hometown.

I am thankful we have the ability to get on planes and arrive at these places to fellowship with amazing people.

Day 9:  Today I am so thankful for the strangers who have become life long friends. So many new people have entered our lives since January 22, 2011. I still get emotional thinking about how blessed we are that God put them on our path

Day 10: Today I am so thankful Fisher House allowed us to speak on behalf of the wounded warrior families last night!! Nothing was better than having other WW families thank us for sharing "our" story!!

We are all one military healing together. It is our story and I am proud to share it!!!

Day 11: Today I am thankful for all the Veterans who have so unselfishly served our country. I am thankful that I am blessed to know real heroes and that I can tell them thank you for serving our country everyday!!

Day 12: Today I am thankful for the Facebook!! Without Facebook Chaz and I would not have been able to share this amazing journey with so many people!!!

Day 13: Today I am thankful for music. Music heals the soul. Music expresses things that we might not have the words for. Music has filled my soul and I love to share it as much as I can!

Day 14:  Today I am thankful to have my little family with me as I begin my 34th year of life!! I am also thankful for all the little freebies you get on your birthday! Starbucks and Redbox here I come!!! ;)

Day 15: I am thankful for the little joys of life that make me so happy. I am thankful for the laughter of our children any time of the day. I am thankful a great cup of Tazo chai in the morning, Starbucks and tacos from taco casa. I am thankful for friends who raid my home when they find out I am cooking one of their favorite things and for friends whose kids call me "Aunt Jessica" or call me "my second mom" because we are so close. I am thankful for a great book that makes me cry and for my husband's smile that makes any moment better.

Day 16: Today I am thankful that God blesses us with amazing people on our path. I am thankful to have them in the boat rowing through the storm with me. I don't know how I'd get through the storm without them by my side.

Day 17: Today I am thankful for Pinterest. Sounds trivial, I know, but thanks to this site I have found so many amazing ideas. It's amazing and I am very thankful for it.

Day 18: On this day in 1994, three of our high school friends were taken to Heaven way too soon. I am so thankful that God allowed me cross paths with Ryan, Dean and Melissa. I have a permanent imprint on my heart from meeting them and am so thankful I can share so many great memories of them.

I am so thankful God allowed us to keep our other three friends who were also in the vehicle. My friend Emily was severely injured and she taught us what a true fighter is. She, like Chaz and our wounded warriors, are living proof of God's amazing miracles. I am so blessed to still have her in my life.

I'll never ever forget November 18, 1994, but I am thankful for the lessons God taught us about how to truly appreciate life at a young age.  

I ask that you please lift up the families of not only my 6 friends involved in this tragedy, but all of those, like myself and Demetria, who were forever touched by the events of this day.

I have another trivial one, but I think if you are thankful for the little things, then the big things become even more important!

Day 19: I am thankful for my iPhone!! It is my personal assistant. It sure comes in handy a lot!!!

Day 20: I am thankful for my job with the Yellow Ribbon Fund!! I work with a fantastic team of people and we are changing lives! Woot-woot!!

Day 21: I am thankful for keeping my bar low with the military. It makes disappointments so much easier!! Now if I could teach this to my fellow WW Families!

Day 22: I am thankful for a second Thanksgiving in a row with my little family together!!! This is a new thing to us!

Day 23: Today I am thankful I just realized that this time next month I'll be baking up a storm in my kitchen and getting ready for Santa to come again!!!!

Day 24: Today I am thankful for seasons. I just love watching God's work!

Day 25: I am thankful for great books. There's nothing better then sitting down and escaping by allowing someone's writing take you on a new adventure!

Day 26: I am thankful for great girlfriends who let me whine and complain and don't judge me!!!

Day 27: I am thankful for finally learning that it's ok to say "No." I might hurt someone's feelings, but at the end of the day I know I have put my little family first and that's what matters.

Day 28: Today I am thankful for people who do their jobs for the right reasons. I love working with people who aren't in it for the money. I love being among those who are in it for the smiles and results and who get the big picture.

Day 29: I am so thankful to wake up some mornings and feel so blessed that my head might explode! I am so tired from this crazy week, but it has already been filled with awesome!!!!

Day 30: I am thankful for all the unique opportunities we have been blessed with! We get to go to very cool places and meet very cool people. Tonight we had a date night at the Australian Embassy. It was so much fun!!! We are so thankful for fun nights like tonight!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Assembly Line

Let me begin this by saying the Army has been very good to our family. I am very thankful for  everything they have done for us. However recently I sat back and really observed some more of the big picture.

The Army works on the assembly line model. This model works great for basic training, AIT and everything else in the Army, but the assembly line cannot work for warrior care. I think this is the hardest concept for service members to understand. The assembly line works for everything else. Why can't it work for warrior care? The answer, every single soldier is now different. Upon injury they are no longer the standard GI Joe, we have got to accept this fact.

The assembly line model works for battlefield medicine and evacuation. Five years ago Chaz would have died as they were bringing him home to us. Chaz and the warriors around us are proof that the advancements in military medicine are saving lives. Our wounded are proof that military medicine is moving in the right direction. Battlefield medicine and evacuation is where you notice the assembly line varies just a bit. It has too. Every situation is different. Our service members and medical teams have to adapt and overcome. They head into the situation like all the others and then adjust where it is needed. So you can see that to a degree they apply the army's assembly line process to this and it works, but then they adapt and overcome like the rockstars they are. Once our guys are back in the states is when we have to slow the line down for the rest of our service members healing, if not stop the line altogether.

Wait you want me to go against what works? How can the model that it used for everything else not work for this too? Does that mean you think the whole Army is jacked up? Does that mean the Mayans were right? The answers are yes, hang on I'll explain, no and please Lord no. What I want is to slow the assembly line down and think of another way to heal our wounded.I want to make sure every one of our soldiers are getting the attention they need. We can't do that with on an assembly line cranking our guys out at ludicrous speed.

When your solider is an in-patient, their care is specified towards their needs.The assembly line is slow and moves at a tolerable rate. You then get so excited to get to out-patient status and you don't even realize the Army tosses you back on the assembly line. They give you a list of things to do and places to be and papers to fill out. Oh by the way don't forget you now have to go to all your appointments and travel all over campus because Bethesda is laid out like that. The active duty personnel you deal with seem to forget you just discharged from the hospital. They forget you might be having a hard time dealing with your new normal. They forget you might have kids. They forget that you just experienced a huge life altering trauma. To them you are a soldier and this is what you must do. To me you are a soldier with a new assignment, your job is to heal. But here's the thing your healing will be different from all the other soldiers. We have to help you understand that healing is not a competition. You need to let your body heal how it needs to and that is ok.

Our warriors are still active duty service members and should be held fully accountable to the US Army. I'll never disagree with accountability. The Army should know where our soldiers are at all times. They should take the time to make sure our wounded are attending all of their appointments. We should all have a very high interest in the healing of our service members.

What I will always argue for is common sense. (This is where I contradict the assembly line.) Not every wounded soldier is ready to go to college. Not every soldier can spend an entire day filling out paperwork. Not every soldier can sit in a TAPS course for 40 hours a week only to find out months later that they are not teaching vital pieces of the transition to them. Not every soldier is ready to work in the civilian world yet. Not every soldier wants to play adaptive sports. We have got to stop trying to convince them that they must do everything we think they need to do.Then when they don't, we can't make them feel inadequate. And we can't assume they have a controlling wife or mom who won't let them do things. (Yup, happened to us.) We have the ability to make things better, but until we acknowledge what we are doing wrong, we can never make it right.

You might have noticed I haven't really written for a while. The reason is I had too many families weighing my heart down for a bit. We have had some really unfortunate things going on here. When you direct the families to talk to the chain of command only to find out nothing was done for them and they've given up. It leaves me sitting here thinking, did I do enough?!

When you hear person after person call themselves a burden on the Army, you have to take a time out. Truth be told we are burdens. We hold up the assembly line. Our soldiers are no longer able to just pass on down the line and get off at the end. Our soldiers have been wounded and we have to slow the process down to make sure they get everything they need. And because we are slower than the other 95% out there, we are a burden.

I think what hurts me the most is that we, as a nation cannot see that some of the products coming off of the assembly are already damaged. We are so busy moving them through we are missing important details that cause our products to fall apart later. We are not taking the time to help build great foundations for our products. Therefore when they fall apart, the foundation falls apart with it and stands there trying to figure it all out. We are failing these families. We have a great system and have the opportunity to set these heroes up for a lifetime of success, but instead we focus on getting them off the line.

I cannot fix all of this alone, but I can put out my two cents. I can hope to come to the table and talk a few things out with those who have been doing this way longer than me. I can only learn more and hear about what works and what doesn't. I can hope that change is coming for our families. I have been working on many projects for 2013. These projects lead me to believe 2013 will be the year of the military family. I can only hope that I am correct.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Our Second Thanksgiving

Thanks to many years of deployments, many military families don't get many holidays together. I don't remember our family ever having two holidays seasons in a row together int he past 10 years since Deryn arrived. Now that all changes for our little family. Thanks to the path God has laid out for us. We will now always have our holidays together.

I will be honest, the holidays lost their excitement for me because Chaz has always been gone. I remember in 2002, when Chaz was in Korea. Many did not understand why I didn't care about the holidays. My family was so excited and me, well I would have rather just slept in and pretended like it was another day. Chaz had left in July and I gave birth to Deryn in September. I was all alone with our little girl and I hated it.

It was hard to spend that first holiday season without him. 2003 was even harder. Chaz's tour in Korea was extended because war had just broken out in Iraq. So thanks to OIF, Deryn and I had her first two holiday seasons without him back to back. At this point all of my childhood excitement towards the holidays was gone. But I learned the important lesson that holidays are all about being with those you love. If you can't be with them then the season just doesn't feel right. Like any good military wife, I just sucked it up and keep on moving and mailed off my care packages timely.

Since Deryn arrived in this world, we have taken family pictures every holiday season. We usually pull them out every year and look at how our little family has grown. I remember the first time Deryn asked, "Why isn't Daddy in all the pictures?" Of course this is when we have to remind her of every where Daddy has been and why. The cool thing about those pictures is that they tell the story of our family's journey one year at a time. We truly enjoy looking at them every year.

Everyday I marvel in the fact that our family went from a devastating phone call in January 2011 to where we are today. I realized today this is our second Thanksgiving in a row together. I realized there will be no more holiday pictures with Daddy missing from them. But then I realized many of our friends are deployed and that the cycle our family is now out of, they are still very much a part of.

When you are giving thanks today, please remember the families who can't be together today because of their service to our nation. Please remember families like mine who are healing through injuries together. And please remember those today who have an empty chair at their table because God called someone they love home too soon.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Little Recap

I haven't posted in 10 days and here's why.....we've been running around the country. No seriously! We are all so tired, but oh my did we have a great time!! Last week we flew to San Antonio to attend and speak at the Fisher House Gala. Here's photo proof that we were there! ;)

We got to stand on stage and let Sobieski Vodka present the Fisher House Foundation a very nice donation. $250,000 worth of nice. So when you're making your cocktails remember that brand!! They put their profits where it matters. Oh and the men you see standing with us on stage are really great guys. We had a blast chatting with them before and after the event.
Here I am listening to my super hot hubby give his little (like 30 second speech). Notice how awesome he looks standing up. Once again, sorry ladies, he's all mine!! Then I read all the stuff on that paper. ;) Yup I cried again. I can't talk publicly about Fisher House without crying. I know for a fact our family is doing so well because Fisher House was there for us. I know that countless families have been blessed by Fisher House and when I think about all of their awesome, I just can't help it. I get choked up. Military families are so blessed and Chaz, the girls and I are beyond happy to be a part of their awesomeness!! They keep asking us to do things for them, so I guess the feelings of admiration are mutual. ;)
Here we are with the Awesome Ashley!! She does so much for Fisher House and then makes time to babysit and spoil our cuties! We just love her and so many other people on the Foundations' staff. Unfortunately we don't have any pics of us with them at the Gala.

Speaking of cuties, you might be thinking where are they? They were running Nana down to exhaustion. We flew Chaz's mom up to San Antonio to have some grandbaby time together. I don't know who was the most excited to see the other. They had a blast while Chaz and I helped Fisher House. We all had the most amazing time. I am so glad she was able to come up and join us.

Saturday Veterans Airlift Command and the Choctaw Nation flew us to Oklahoma so Chaz could do this. Nana highly enjoyed her plane ride and I highly enjoyed getting my tacos from Taco Casa when we landed!!!

We had a little issue with our room. We walked in to find someone else's luggage. (Whoops!!) It all worked out for us. We were upgraded to a wonderful suite that was as big as out apartment and was ridiculously nice.

Sunday was Veterans' Day and you'll see in the link Chaz's hometown honored him by dedicating a road to him. Unfortunately his Dad was sick and missed all the awesome, but we were able to share that moment with many of Chaz's family and friends. Rep Paul Roan and his wife Betty did an excellent job putting the event together. I had a proud mommy moment. Our cuties lead the Pledge of Allegiance and did an terrific job. 

Then poof it was yesterday morning and time to leave. We enjoyed our super short stay and hung out with Chaz's friends and family as much as possible. I had to get back because I have a meeting this morning, one event tomorrow, an event Friday and another on Sunday. Sometimes being a grown up stinks. But today is my 34th birthday so I am going to go to my meeting, which happens to be with 3 incredible women that I admire beyond words, then I am getting my free Starbucks and free Redbox and doing as little as possible for the rest of the day!!!!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Operation Ward 57

To add to my list of great non-profits who have helped us during our journey, next up on the chronological order list is Operation Ward 57. We were quickly introduced to them at the original Walter Reed. Ward 57 was known as the amputee ward at WRAMC. Chaz was moved to 57 on January 27th and we were there until May 2, 2011. Then we got to return to the ward in June of that year for another 10 day stay.

Not too many years ago, a few people visited Ward 57 and saw the need to do more. Their mission is simple, they just want to help our wounded. Help from Operation Ward 57 comes in so many ways and Op57 sets no limits in how to help our heroes. I remember having Katie and Laura knock on our door and bring us a Ledo's pizza when Chaz was in-patient. I will never forget our Luau with them. It was way too much fun.

Unfortunately when we merged hospitals and Op 57 had to start all over again. I was happy to help them navigate through the crazy. They are back on their original mission. Their volunteers are on the 4th floor of Bethesda passing out shirts, cupcakes and smiles.

While waiting to get them into the hospital, we worked together to create outings for the families. We were able to have experiences like these thanks to Brittney and her email skills! These are just a few!

Operation Ward 57 is one of the little non-profits who puts their donations to work. They are true to their mission statement. I was honored to run the ATM for them. I am honored to be a part of the Op57 family/alumni. They have made a lasting impact on our lives and we are thankful for them.

Now as an employee of the Yellow Ribbon Fund, my ties with Op 57 have become more important. Together we are creating awesome events for the caregivers. Together we are creating an amazing Thanksgiving Day Dinner for our wounded and their families who are not able to go home for the holiday. These partnerships are crucial, because together we can do even more! It takes team work to make the dream work!!

To learn more about them, please visit their website at and please like their facebook page.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

101st Association

I decided that to add to my 30 days of Random Kindness, I want to tell you more about the non-profits and their awesome staff who have entered our life since Chaz's injury. I am going to go in order of how they entered our life since January 22, 2011. I think that is the only fair way to do it. I don't know if I have 30, but I have a nice list of amazing non-profits and you need to know more about them all. My little family has been able to travel down this road to the new normal thanks to all of them. So it's my turn to brag on them a little!!

First up is the 101st Association. These guys entered our lives the day we arrived on WRAMC's Ward 57 which was January 27th, 2011. I'll never forget meeting Bob Seitz and Dick Winters. They were just amazing. They wanted me to know they were here in the area and they wanted to help. We let Chaz rest and they took me out in the hall to learn all about us. Little did I know that when they said they wanted to help us, they weren't kidding.

Throughout this journey Bob and Dick have kept up with everything from birthdays to travel arrangements to the girls homeschool to helping Chaz get his dress uniform. I just talked to Dick on the phone last week and saw Bob at the hospital yesterday. I know they will be a part of our healing for a very long time and I am very proud of the relationship we have with them.

Before Hero Miles came into my life, the 101st Association offered to pay for all of my plane tickets back and forth. When we went to head home to Clarksville, CSM St Louis of the HQ chapter helped us get the ramp for the front door so Chaz could get in and out of the house. He told me what he needed from WRAMC and helped me get the forms. He was even there to supervise the construction. And St Louis was there when we landed. I got a call from Dick the morning after our homecoming because he saw us on the news and was so excited about it.

We are by far not the only family that receives these personal touches. No, the 101st Association treats all of our families this way. They know our soldiers and all their family members by first name. They are not just taking care of our wounded. No, they take care of any soldier who served with the 101st. During one of our trips home, Chaz became a Lifetime Member of the 101st Association and he is proud to have his card in his wallet.

The 101st Association is not only able to help the families, but they also help the Commanding General of the 101st. Our CG can focus on doing his job because he knows the 101st Association has his back and is helping him and all his soldiers complete their mission. This is so very important to our Army. Chaz and I are proud of his service with the 101st and we are proud to be a part of the 101st Association. Want to learn more about them? Visit today!!!

30 Days of Random Thankfulness

It's that time of the year again!!! It's time for 30 days of random thankfulness. For the next 30 days, we will think of ways to surprise people with random acts of kindness. In addition we will think of new things to be thankful for each day. Now I have a rule to add to this. I say God, family and our military have to be left off the list. I think you should look past these three. Before you cringe, I feel you should give thanks everyday to God, your family and our military. For these 30 days you should look for things you don't think to be thankful everyday. We all get so caught up in life that we forget to be thankful and rather than just giving thanks on Thanksgiving, make this the month of giving thanks.

We had a lot of fun with this last year. Remember little things count. You don't have to spend a lot of money on this. Your random kindness could be helping someone carry their groceries or maybe you put a few quarters in someone's meter to extend their parking. or are great websites that you can consult to get great ideas.

Have a lot of fun with this and most importantly be thankful!!!!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Helping A Hero

It has seriously taken me this long to wrap my head around what is going on in our lives right now. To be honest, I am still in shock. Not even two years ago, someone called me and wanted to know where I was going to be because my husband wasn't stable and the Army might have to come notify me of his passing. Now we are moving into the longest phase of our family's healing and a group of strangers has stepped up to help us create a home to finish our healing.

I am still having a hard time comprehending what is going on. My biggest stress is now being taking care of by a group of strangers?! My Mom, Dad and sister can tell you about how I walked around the home we own now and tried to figure out how I could adjust it to help Chaz get around when he came home. I have been talking about Chaz's long term needs since the moment he was hurt. I remember someone telling me that we'd deal with it. I then snapped at them and said I had to have something to think about because I had to kill three hours between updates. I have been planning and saving since January 22 to figure it all out. And now this group has come into our lives to help us.

These amazing Americans want to help us build a house that not only suits our needs but will also be built to suit our family. We're not getting this cookie cutter house, no we are involved all the way. We're picking the lot, the builder, the colors, materials, etc. It really is a dream come true. Our girls are so excited right now that they will drive us crazy soon. Between the upcoming trip to Texas and Oklahoma, the holidays, moving to TN for good and the new house, they are seriously bouncing off the walls.

You know what? They deserve all of this excitement. Our cuties have been so brave and they have been through so much, it's time for a big dose of excitement. Chaz is right up there with them. Me, I'm still in shock. I just can't believe the end of this chapter is near. 2013 will be our year to move on. The Army told us we'd be here for 2-4 years. I hoped and prayed we'd be on that 2 year side but settled for the longer term. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best is the lesson the Army has taught me. I guess because of all of this I have to see it to believe it. I am not trying to be a Debbie Downer, I've just dealt with the military way too much. ;)

I think the hardest part of all of this is trying to understand this amazing group of strangers who have entered our lives. Our week in Houston was outstanding. We met many of the people involved with Helping A Hero. All of them care so much for our wounded warriors and their families. (Yes I said families too). On this journey it's been hard to find organizations who understand we are healing families. Many see the soldier's missing pieces and ignorantly miss that we are healing together. Helping A Hero cares about where our cuties go to school. They care about them being as happy as their Dad. They care that Chaz and I both plan to run a business from our new home. They are invested in healing the family with the warrior and that is the most important piece of healing our warriors. They want to help us succeed. They don't know us, but they understand our level of service and sacrifice. Helping us build a home is their way of paying it forward. It is simply amazing!!!

Last Wednesday Chaz and I attended the Gala. Before the event kicked off, Helping A Hero had already raised $2.5 million dollars to help build homes for our wounded. Do you know how many houses they can build with that?! A LOT!!!! That's how many. This was before one event. We watched thousands of additional dollars accumulate during the auction. It was so amazing to be a part of all of this.

What was the most amazing part?! I will never forget standing up in front of the stage with my rock star hubby and with the other 30 wounded warrior families and looking out at the crowd. Our families received a standing ovation and to be able to connect with all of those families and Helping A Hero staff at that moment will stay with me for a lifetime. I made a few new friends during our week in Houston and thanks to that moment I know we are forever bonded.

Helping A Hero is not only building homes they are changing lives. I have never doubted the greatness of God or his people. But seeing it all play out in front of you is simply humbling. As I was telling my mom about our adventures in Houston and as I am writing this I can't keep the tears under control. Our family feels so incredibly blessed. I have shed so many happy tears I have lost count. For those of us who have been on this journey from the beginning, get your tissues ready because a tsunami of happy tears will be shed within the next year. God is so great and I cannot express enough how thankful we are to be so blessed!!!

If you are a wounded warrior family or if you know one or if you just want to learn more about Helping A Hero, please visit today!!! I would love to be in Houston next year welcoming more families to the HAH family. I can tell you right now our journey with HAH will not end once we get the keys to our home. ;)

To the Helping A Hero staff, thank you so much for welcoming our family into your family. You have blessed us so very much and the words "thank you" are not enough. We are so grateful for you and what you are doing for the wounded and their families. God Bless each and every one of you and we can't wait to get you all to Tennessee so you can have a little fun with us in "the other T state."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Beyond Awesome News!!!! Very Exciting Update!!!

Greetings from Houston TX!!!!!

I can finally share our beyond awesome news with you all. Chaz is being awarded a fully adapted home from Helping A Hero!!!!!!!!!!!! We've been in Houston all week learning about this awesome non-profit and what it does for our nation's heroes. We were chosen a few months ago to be one of the 30 recipients to receive a home in 2013!!!!! Can you tell I am beyond excited?! (FYI A longer blog about all of this later. I just had to get some of this out before I moved on with another busy day.)

This week we have been in meetings and sharing meals with the board of directors and the amazing, incomparable Meredith Iler. We have learned so much and are beyond excited to move forward with our next chapter which leads me to our next announcement........

After many long talks Chaz and I have decided to settle our family in McMinnville, Tennessee. We did not make this decision lightly. We actually cussed and discussed it for a very long time. I know some people will cheer and some will be quite upset by reading this. Please know that Chaz and I have decided this is what is best for the girls and our family.

Why McMinnville?! Because it is where I grew up. My sister and her family are there. I have several great friends there. Tennessee's VA system is awesome and the Murfreesboro VA is less than an hour away. We have a very long list of why. We made a lot of lists when making this decision.

However, my grandmother said it all during a recent phone call. She is the one who made the decision concrete for us. She has had 9 children and I respect her so much. She said her wish for us was for us to find the piece and quiet.

I think McMinnville will serve as a nice retreat for all of us. We want to hear crickets chirp at night. We want community support. We are very confident that we are making the right decision. We hope you will all support us in this huge life changing decision.

2013 will be the year we begin the lost chapter of our healing. We are really excited about it and we hope you are too. Want to learn more about Helping A Hero? Please visit today!!!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Insane Weekend....

Friday Chaz learned he had shingles. Saturday I woke up to a husband with a super swollen face. It looked like I took him out back and beat him. I knew it was an allergic reaction and insisted he take Benadryl. His throat wasn't tight and his tongue wasn't swollen so I knew we were ok. I drugged him up and left for the airport to pick up my mom, Demetria and Ray. Mom flew in to watch the girls while Chaz and I are in Houston. De and Ray came in for the Army Ten Miler.

I had no traffic in DC until I got to the downtown area. Then I discovered cop after cop with the area blocked off for an event downtown. After 45 minutes of trying to get to the airport, I realized I was not getting there. A police officer confirmed that thought. De let me know they landed and I called and told them to just grab the metro because I couldn't get to them. I had to turn around and go back, which was a good thing because I was worried about Chaz. I felt horrible about making them ride the Metro, but thankful for a plan B.

I got to Chaz to discover my first course of treatment didn't work the way I wanted it to. So I text then called my BFF whose also a NP (Nurse Practitioner), by the way everyone should have one of those. She told me I was on the right path and we discussed what to do and I drugged him up. By the time everyone arrived at our apartment Chaz was out for the count. This was about a ten minute span. I had a feeling our weekend plans were about to be axed, but I wanted to let him decide.

Hours passed and I enjoyed our company while Chaz slept. I kept checking on him. I could see his lip was going down but not everything. I woke him up and we argued about him going to the ER. Finally just before 4 I won and he went. Ray took him so they could have some bromance time and I could pack. I also had to notify the persons hosting our events that we couldn't attend. After a good chat we decided we'd scrap everything but the Army Ten Miler (for me) and the trip to Houston.

Chaz came back from the ER a new man. He looked awesome. He even said he was about 90%. Slowly but surely he's learning I know a few things, not everything, just a few things. I've had so many allergic reactions that I have become quite the expert.

Once he got settled in for the night. He told me that he was very upset about the Army Ten Miler. He also told me he was upset he caused me to miss my events. I told him that I stopped getting upset about missing things back in January 2011. He just laughed. He said, "I guess you've gotten used to all this." I said, "What planning only to cancel last minute? Yup, I'm a pro." I told him I needed him in Houston and at the Fisher House MCM Dinner on Saturday. He agreed. He told me he was most upset about not seeing me cross the ATM finish line for the first time. Then I was told it just means I have to do it again.

De and I woke up Sunday to jump on the Metro and join over 30,000 people at the Army Ten Miler. It was awesome watching the sun rise over the Pentagon. I'll confess I hurt all over this morning, but the experience was worth it. (ATM blog coming later). Chaz and I are in Houston (more details later on this too). The girls are being spoiled rotten with Gee in DC. It was an exhausting weekend, but Monday is here and it's time to get to work!!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Refresher Course

One thing I did not need was a refresher course on warrior care. This week has been another busy, action packed week. Next week will be as well. I guess God needed to remind me that I am an excellent multi-tasker.

Thursday night I looked at Chaz and I just knew something was wrong. I took his temperature and yep he had a fever. It was low grade but still a fever. In the middle of the night I woke up to check on him and I could tell it was higher. I woke him up and gave me more meds and water. We both fell back asleep. I woke up to get ready for my meeting. Chaz felt warm but not as warm as the middle of the night. Once again that low grade fever was back. I gave him more meds and water. We agreed that I should go on and go to my meeting. He had me look at his side and I noticed a rash that made my alarms go off. I told him to call his nurse case manager and get in and be seen.

I get to my meeting and he texts to tell me that the Warrior Clinic told his NCM that everyone has that right now and he should just wait it out. Well the mommy gut kicked in. I noticed Chaz had a weird looking rash on his side. Everyone else might have flu like symptoms and a fever, but that rash was weird. He wrote it off as "I slept on that side too long and it's the sheets leaving an imprint." When I got that text I flipped and text back you are never sick. You have a pocket of fluid in your back. Dr Gordon said if you have a fever and/or flu like symptoms to get in immediately. Get your ass to the hospital or I am going to take you there. I text a neighbor and had her come down and watch the girls until I could get back. Chaz said he felt more than fine enough to take himself to the hospital. Once again this is where I say thanks again to HOMH for Chaz's van. He was able to take himself to the hospital.

He got to the hospital and found a familiar face who he knew also had common sense at the clinic and showed her the rash and reminded her of the pocket of fluid. Tests were ran, x-rays were done. The pocket of fluid was exactly the same as the last time it was looked at, but the rash that I worried about was, wait for it......shingles. Yup, Chaz has shingles.

I went to the ATM (Army Ten Miler) expo to get all of our stuff for the race tomorrow. You can imagine how excited I was to learn what the diagnosis was. I also suggested he remind them that he was told to "wait it out." Thank goodness I don't take no for an answer. It's been a while since I had to put on my fight for medical care for Chaz hat, but I jumped right back into that role.

I got back to him and he looked miserable. I have him on a rest and fluids, Tylenol and Motrin rotating schedule. His doctor called while he was asleep and I chatted with her. She was calling to tell me to start the schedule I had already started. She also wanted to know how I knew that he needed to be seen. I told her I've been doing this for a minute. She was very nice. Then she told me that she had no problem with us taking our trip this next week (more info later), but she wasn't thrilled with him doing the ATM. I told her that we'd make the ATM call on Sunday morning. If he is sick and is hurting then we're not going to push it because it's just not worth it. She laughed and said, "Oh good."

So Friday I took a refresher course on warrior care. Looks like I passed and can keep my t-shirt and key chain. Now to spend the day making sure he follows my orders! ;)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Being Drafted

I think the one thing the military always forgets when dealing with the families is the sheer fact none of us asked to be here. We were DRAFTED! We were all living our lives normally and then poof one day we get a phone call that changes it all and we find out we've got to leave home. What we don't find out for months is that we've actually been drafted to heal soldiers from the wounds of war.

When you are dealing with a traumatic injury all you want to do is take your injured service member and take them home. You want to hide them away and protect them from everything and everyone. I know all I wanted to do was bring Chaz home and heal my family. Instead we had to leave our house and lives behind to live in DC to heal him. Do I regret it? Absolutely not. I would give anything to go back to January 21 and warn Chaz, but I can't. I can only move forward with my family.

I have had a traumatic injury. I have had surgeries and I have been in ICU myself. All of which happened before I met Chaz. I don't know what I would have done without my family. After each of those events my family took me home from the hospital to heal, but the military doesn't let you do that. You have to make a temporary home where you are so you can heal your soldier. The military asks us to go against everything that we instinctively know.

There's no way I'd be anywhere but here next to my husband. In my mind, I signed up for this. I agreed to stand next to him in sickness and health, til death do us part. I may not have enlisted in the Army but I did vow to stand by my husband. To me that enlistment is way more important. But what about our soldiers who don't have spouses?

We ask moms, dads, brothers, sisters, uncles, cousins and friends to leave their lives behind to be here and serve our country by healing a soldier wounded by war. They didn't sign up anything. They were going to work and living their lives and then the effects of war struck them in the form of a phone call. The military quickly tells them to pack their bag and get on a plane to come be by the bedside. What they don't tell them is we are asking them to join the team to help heal the warrior. We forget to tell them we are going to ask you to leave everything behind. There's a chance you'll be here 2-4 years. And most importantly this road may be the hardest road you'll ever travel. We ask the caregivers to love these men and women unconditionally and heal all their wounds and help them navigate the system. For some it is too much and they leave. For some they stand fight.

We fail these families because we do not educate them on system they are entering. The majority of the caregivers who are called here to serve have no military experience. They are thrust into all of this and we seriously leave them to sink or swim. We leave them out in the middle of the ocean without a paddle and tell them to figure it out. This journey is exhausting and so very hard.

While you are an in-patient so many people come through and give you their business cards and they tell you to contact them if you need help. What you don't know is if you talk to the wrong person someone is going to yell at you and your soldier for jumping chain of command. The funny thing is the military forgets the average civilian has no idea what chain of command means. They know what their Congressperson is supposed to do for them because they are your elected official. Your family needs help and you're not getting it where are you supposed to turn?!

So we draft these families in to help us and we set them up for failure?! We don't send our soldiers in to battle to fail. No we send them in to win. Shouldn't we apply this same theory to the families we draft to help us win the war at home?

Friday, October 12, 2012

My Favorite Story Regarding WTB

Back in mid-January I was sitting in a meeting with a 2 star General discussing things about policies and the families. I get a call from Chaz's squad leader. I sent it to voicemail and then text him and wrote that I was in a meeting I'll have to get back with you. He text back and said he needed to talk to me immediately. I told him that unless it was life threatening it would have to wait because I was with a General discussing policies. He then text that I needed to keep January 30 wide open for an important event. I said great thanks.

Days later we went to Vail. One day during our trip, I start getting all these texts from other caregivers asking if I am going to the First Lady's event on the 30th. I said that I was not sure. I text the squad leader and asked if he wanted me to keep the 30th open for the First Lady. He said don't worry about it you're not on the list anymore. I text back ok thanks. Not to be rude, but I was in Vail. I would have loved to attend the event, but my family was having a blast in Vail with the Vail Veterans Program. So I let the whole thing go.

We landed in DC on the 28th. I turned my phone on and I had 2 voice mails and emails from the Joining Forces staff asking me to contact them immediately. So I did. I was asked if I was aware of Monday's press conference. I said no. I was then told they were waiting on the hospital to submit their list and they told them to extend the invite to Chaz and I. Joining Forces received the list and we were not on it and they wanted to know why. I told him weeks ago I was told to keep the 30th open, but while in Vail was told never mind. The person from Joining Forces then tells me that the First Lady told him that he needed to contact me immediately and if Chaz and I couldn't come that is one thing, but Mrs Obama wanted to make sure we were invited. We talked for a few minutes and he filled me in. We said that we would attend and then we got off the plane and headed to our apartment in MD.

When I got to my email a few hours later here's the invite I received. Yes I still have it. I simply cut and pasted it here for you to see and read before I tell you about the disaster that follows.

The First Lady of the United States
Michelle Obama
cordially invites you to the U.S. Department of Labor  
on Monday, January 30, 2012 at 9:30 am
for an announcement regarding new rules in support of the caregivers
of our Nation’s wounded, ill and injured service members.

A valid government ID is required for entry.
Parking will not be made available. 
Once we arrived back to our apartment I went and talked with our next door neighbor about the invite I had received. She then told me she feared we were talking about the same event. She was invited to an event at the same place at the same time. However she was told it was a luncheon where Mrs. Obama was recognizing a few of the caregivers for their service and sacrifice. I ask you to revisit that invite now. 9:30am is not when most people eat lunch, just saying. My neighbor and I both agreed that I needed to tell the squad leader. So the next day, Sunday, January 29th, I did. I simply text him that Chaz and I were invited to the Dept of Labor at 9:30am and that he would be missing PT. You won't believe what happened next.  

The squad leader (SL) called Chaz and asked him what was up and Chaz told him. The SL then asked Chaz what he was wearing to the event. Chaz said that we were told it was business causal, so we were going with that. The SL then says how are you getting there. Chaz tells him we have already discussed all of that with the First Lady's staff. The SL then flips out and tells Chaz that if he attends in anything except a full suit or his Army dress uniform that he will be hit with an Article 15. Chaz said fine then I am not going. The SL says fine and hangs up. Then the SL calls back and says is your wife going. Chaz says, "Um well since she was personally invited then yes she will." The SL then tells Chaz that my dress attire will also be inspected and that will be at the hospital at 7am to board the bus with the rest of the families who were actually invited. If I do not comply Chaz will get an Article 15 for my behavior. I told Chaz to give me the phone. I said, "Hey look, here's..." I was cut off my the SL and was told in an overly stern voice, "No you look ma'am you can't just invite yourself to things. We have protocol." I said, "Oh really, I'll forward you the invite now." Which I did and he told Chaz I still have to ride the bus with the others and be inspected before I go. I said fine that I'd play this little game.

Chaz called the White House staffer and told him what was going on. They wanted to make sure I was still attending and Chaz said yes. They apologized to Chaz for the hassle and said Chaz was welcome to come and wanted to make sure that we knew that. Chaz said he had to follow orders and the staffer said he totally understood.

The next morning I got up and put on my most expensive suit and made sure my makeup was the best I could do. I got to the hospital in plenty of time and spent the time catching up with the other families. They all wanted to know why Chaz wasn't going. I told them all we did not have anything to meet the dress code required. (FYI Chaz has never received any type of uniform from WTB, not even PTs. All 8 Squad Leaders have had him fill out a size chart, but nothing has been given to him. We just ordered his full dress uniform for the events we have coming up in the near future.) The other families were upset that Chaz didn't join us, but we still made the best of it. 

When we got there I was greeted by another White House staffer who wanted to know what happened so I told her the story. She was less than thrilled, but we moved on with the press conference and were seated. Just before it began I was pulled from the audience. To be honest, I thought I was pulled away was because I didn't have Chaz with me. Instead I find out it was for this. (Pardon the horrible pic. It's a picture of the official picture I took with my iPhone for my parents and family to see.)

The First Lady wanted us there because she wanted to meet us in person. Remember the phone call last November? Well her staff had been trying to get us together since that call and this was their first opportunity that she and I were in DC at the same time since that call. Mrs Obama asked, "Where's Chaz?" I told her that we landed in from Vail and when we told the Army we were going to be here today, they told us Chaz couldn't attended without the proper attire. Unfortunately that was Sunday evening and we had no time to respond. Mrs. Obama looked at her staff and said, "Since when does the US Army have dress codes on my invitations." No one was thrilled at this moment.

I had a delightful conversation with the First Lady about the new FMLA regulations and our families.. Her staff then helped me sneak back into the auditorium so hopefully no one would miss me. Well the other families all thought that I had been pulled because Chaz wasn't there and it looked bad for me to not have him there. I told them that wasn't it at all and we'd discuss it later. 

We all boarded the bus at 730am. It was now 12. No one had been offered any food or water.
Something told me that morning this was going to be another WTB disaster so I packed all the snacks my purse could hold and my platypus bottle. Sure enough I was correct. I fed everyone I could off of the fruit snacks and granola bars that I brought. One of our soldiers who joined us was still an inpatient at that time and you could see he was miserable and needed to leave immediately. We were loaded back on the bus and joked around and made the best out of it. (Which is what Army families do best.)

Once we were in the Cafe eating I told our neighbors what happened. I did not mention what had happened with Mrs Obama the entire bus ride. Now I was texting the hell out of my phone to tell my friends and family because I was excited. But there was no facebook post nor was I talking about the awesomeness that had just happened. I held as much of it in until I was sitting with our two friends in the cafe. The bus ride back was not the time to be boastful. Everyone was hot, hungry, thirsty and miserable. The event that had been sold to them to get them to come was instead a press conference.

Mrs Obama wasn't the only one who noticed Chaz was missing. The Joint Chiefs did too. They also wanted to know where Chaz was. But what upset them the most was the inpatient soldier who looked very uncomfortable. He needed to leave and get water and food. The highest that you could go learned that day that the WTB had committed a complete failure to communicate. It's funny because the White House and Joint Chiefs communicate things very, very well and did so immediately following that event.

The next morning our neighbor was called to the WTB for a piss test. But it wasn't for that at all. They used that as an excuse to bring him in and grill him about my "behavior over the white house event." The SL had gotten he ass chewed by the White House and Joint Chiefs for what he did and was now trying to get in a pissing contest over it. Bottom line is the SL was a drama queen and blew the wrong things out of proportion. Our neighbor was extremely mad. He told the WTB leadership exactly what happened. He then found out that the SL said that while in Vail I was contacting the White House demanding to go to this event. Um hello, it was a press conference not an event. And I'm good, but not that good. I appreciate your faith in me though. It's kind of cool you think I can make those things happen. And most importantly we were in Vail having a great time. I was taking snowboard lessons and enjoying my time there not contacting the White House so I could attend a press conference.

Here's the bottom line truth. I have worked my ass off for other families. I am still continuing to do that. I was so mentally exhausted Wednesday evening I sat down and cried to my BFF. Yesterday I took a mental health day because the gravity of what I am doing weighed me down again. The fight for the wounded never ends and it is freaking exhausting. We don't need over dramatic people causing additional drama. Hello, our guys are missing body parts. We are cleaning up the effects of war, we really don't need anymore drama. And like our neighbor said, if I did harass the White House over a press conference then that's my stupidity and who gives a crap. Pick a better battle.

That SL, I think was number 5, was a great guy, but a horrible listener and took too many things personally. He was super mad that I did not report a play by play to him on everything and everyone I was talking too. (There's another story about that.) He, like many others, didn't like it when I said that it was confidential. I have said again and again, if you do your job to the best of your abilities then you have absolutely nothing to be afraid of.

After WTB grilled our neighbor, who defended me and flipped out on them, Chaz made a trip up there. Chaz laughed off the 2 threats of Article 15s, but this was ridiculous. Chaz was told that he needed to get me under control. Chaz asked them to tell him specific examples of how I am out of control. They were silent. He then told them that they really don't want to see me out of control. Chaz's language was a lot more colorful then this, but I'll keep this PG. ;)

Lastly I was called in to the principal's office. I told them they need to get that SL under control before I ruined his career. (I was a little over the edge at this point.) I told them they had no reason to "investigate" me or threaten my husband and this was the last time we would have this conversation. And threatening Chaz was the final straw. I kindly reminded them what I let them know is my decision and that was the end of the conversation.

For years now I have been on the FBI and IRS radar for what I do for a living. I am totally fine with that. WTB has no reason to investigate me or my actions at anytime. This story is another reminder of the failure to effectively communicate demonstrated by WTB. The families witness this every single day. This story demonstrates how one person can truly perpetuate an unacceptable level of stupid when they really need to be focused on the health and welfare of their soldiers. Please let me know how my personal invite to a White House press conference affects the health and welfare or my hubby, any other soldiers or the WTB?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Funny Things That Happen Out of the Office

Funny things happen when you get out of your office. You find out that sometimes people tell you things to cover their asses. You find out that the system you have so much faith in, might be flawed in a small way that affects many lives. There's one lesson that all leaders need to know. You are only as effective as your weakest link. If you sit in your office how will you ever know who that is and where to help?

How would I describe yesterday's meeting? Productive, would be the best word. I cannot say it was good or bad, I believe there were parts of the conversation that went to each side's tally. I truly feel the group I was honored to be a part of really made their voices heard. I am surrounded by amazing people who are finally being heard and it is awesome.

I am so thankful for this soldier who came to share his story with us. The general might have started the meeting, but this man set the tone. He told us about his service in the Army. He is a Major so he's not just your average wounded warrior. He didn't make it to Major without a lot of sacrifice and hard work. He had our undivided attention. He told us about his battles with his post-traumatic stress and how he reached out for help and has fought the whole way. Then he said the key piece. He said, "Sir I am a Major and this is how I am treated. I can't imagine how the PFC's are treated."

I had to turn my head as the Major was talking. I saw his hands shaking and when he started to tear up, I was over come with emotion. As he talked about he failed suicide and the faces of many of Chaz's soldiers popped into my head. I had to cry because all I could think about was all the faces of all the soldiers Chaz and I know. I closed my eyes and their faces flashed through my head like a scene from a movie. How many of them are having the same issues? That was the thought going through my head.

When he finished talking he excused himself. You could tell by this young man's demeanor, he was an excellent soldier who just needed help. Instead of listening and helping him, the Army was rushing his healing. We have many families dealing with this same issue.

Another solider spoke. I'll be honest I could listen to him talk for hours because he has a British accent and he speaks so eloquently. Our paths have crossed many times. He is another one of our amazing warriors here for treatment. He is also trying to make things better for others. He brought up so many valid points. The most important point he brought up was that the caregivers are under utilized and even devalued. I loved that he pointed out we came here to help one soldier and we end up helping more than we can count. 

The conversation continued for hours. I am still laughing because the General assured us in-processing is going to be handled. Which is one thing I have been begging for. The Marines in-process their soldiers, but we make our wounded do it. I wish I could remember the Captain from the old hospital's name. He said you can never get rid of in-processing this is the Army. I told him that I wasn't saying get rid of it. I was saying let's make it a little easier on them. He was in the "I'm just here to do a job" mode. The wounded have all just discharged and don't need to parade around the hospital getting 30 signatures. He told me I could not make that happen. I remember saying I can't but if we all got together we could. Guess who won that fight? We did.

The families that come behind us will have it a little easier. I know many families before us left their marks on the hospital and they have made it easier for us. Well this graduating class is leaving their marks behind as well. I am so thankful to be friends with so many brilliant caregivers. I know we are united through tragedy and I am so thankful for them all. They are my brothers and sisters on the front lines and am I honored to stand shoulder to shoulder with them.

We worked together yesterday to start talking about things. The leadership that was present was shocked and sometimes horrified about what they learned. I am so glad I went and stayed to listen and give my opinion. Let's pray this is the first step to fixing the problems. I believe great things are going to happen.