Friday, March 30, 2012

End of March Update!

We've had a great week hanging out with my sister and her family. I have come to realize I have become a pretty good DC tour guide. Chaz and I still had to attend some meetings and appointments, but we managed to sneak in a lot of fun!!

Sunday we went to brunch with the Yellow Ribbon Fund and then went to the Smithsonian of Air and Space. Monday Chaz and I had to hang at the hospital all day thanks to meetings, appointments and classes. So we had family chill out day that evening. Tuesday Chaz went to check on his new legs and I caught up on work. That evening we divided up. Our great friend Laura came to watch our girls and my sister's youngest boy. Chaz took my sister's hubby and oldest son to the Motion Picture Association's premier of Wrath of the Titans. My sister and I joined several other wounded warriors and caregivers at the Armed Forces Foundation Gala. We got to meet Ron White and Adam from Man vs Food. Our table was filled with lots of smiles and laughs all night.

Wednesday Representative Scott Desjarlais' staff met us and gave us a great tour of Congress. We then went and had lunch at the roof top cafeteria in the Madison building of the Library of Congress. We had to get back so I could take the cuties to their Medal day at gymnastics. After dinner, I took my sister and her hubby on the night time tour of DC. Chaz and the girls have already done it and my nephews just wanted to hang back and play. Chaz had been at the hospital all day so he was fine with just hanging out with the kids.

Thursday we had to say good-bye and get back to normal. Chaz and I had lunch with CSM Schroeder ad MSGT Barnes from the 101st. We came home and I went to caregiver's night out put on by the Yellow Ribbon Fund. I always love Caregiver's night out. I just love hanging with my fellow caregivers. I am blessed to know so many great women and I love sharing resources and stories with them.

The best part of this week was when Chaz got his new legs!!! I think they look like something straight out of Robocob. But I absolutely love seeing him stand up and walk around at any time. He seemed to be able to get up more easily with these and seemed to walk a little better too. Chaz's prosthetic adviser thinks that after the surgeries these legs will be the perfect fit for Chaz. So far he really likes them. Once we return from TN, Chaz will have the first of two surgeries to have his bones cut back. Let me explain for those new to this world....

When you limbs are amputated, sometimes your bones continue to grow. This is what is going on with Chaz's legs. The bones in both of Chaz's legs have grown to the point that they will have to be cut back. We want to do the surgeries soon before the pain gets any worse. He says the pain is there but totally manageable so we are going to TN for a few weeks and then he'll have the first surgery when we return. He has chosen to do one at a time rather than both legs at the same time. But he is still doing awesome and these surgeries put him closer to being on those legs more often.

So long story short we're doing great and getting ready for a trip home!! Next week will be crazy, but it will be a great crazy!!

Friday, March 23, 2012

My Thoughts on Bales

Sgt Bales should be a name you are all familiar with now. But just in case you aren't, he is the Army service member accused of killing 17 civilians in Afghanistan. You can google a ton of stories about him or you can simply flip on any news channel and you'll hear more about him. I thought I'd share my thoughts.

My heart shatters for this fellow Army family. There's no doubt in my mind his wife was absolutely clueless that this was going to happen. I read the graceful and eloquent statement she wrote the other day. As I read it, I could picture her sobbing again and again at the computer while writing it. I cannot imagine how long it took for her to write that statement. I am sure that by now her eyes are so red and puffy that no amount of makeup will hide it. I know that's how I would be. I cannot imagine wearing the shoes she is wearing right now. I can only imagine the thoughts that are racing through her mind. Then to think of their precious little children who are so young they have no idea what is going on. I think she is incredibly strong and courageous for writing that statement and her words were so perfect. To me, she is a great example of a true Army wife.

As for Sgt Bales, we can speculate all we want, but we have to remember you are innocent until proven guilty, not the opposite. I am not saying what he did was right. We all know it was atrocity. But once you go beyond the headlines, you can see the factors that might have pushed him to that breaking point. I will be totally honest and tell you I am shocked this hasn't happened before. I'll also tell you that parts of me fear that my husband or his battle buddies could have also been pushed to that point. Let me explain why.

We have been at war for over 10 years. We ask our troops to come home for a year, then deploy for a year. Just about the time they get settled we tell them to get ready to go again. Year on, year off is what we say all the time. But then you say, "But wait I read in the paper our troops were going to be home for longer stays." Well let me let you in on this one, Chaz and his guys deployed June 16, 2010. He was injured January 22, 2011. His guys came home in April 2011. They redeploy next month. That's right the men who served with Chaz, who saved his life, who came home April 2011 are getting back on a plane April 2012. So what was that you read in the paper the other day?!

Take a minute and think about that. You spend a year being shot at, not having proper supplies and food. The brothers and sisters who are with you everyday are being killed right in front of you. You have friends get injured right next to you and you pray that you got them out in time so you can see them when you get back home. Then you only have minutes to think and pray for these friends because you've been tasked out for another mission and you have to get your head in the game. You are in a place where the people really don't want you there and they are confused to why you are there. According to my hubby and his friends there are no such thing as civilians where they were. I have been told more than once and from multiple sources that women and children were armed too. Then you finally get to leave that place to go be with people you love only to find out you are different. Some people can accept you and some can't. What if the ones you were counting on the most to love and accept you don't? What if your wife moved on without you?! What if your children looked at you like you were a total stranger? What if you go home only to find out that everything you thought was fine isn't and you only have a year to fix it? But really you don't have a year because you have to go to this school or this training. Then to add to that you have deployed so much that now you just feel like a pawn in a chess match. You feel like you are not a person, you feel expendable. Then you find out that the government who keeps sending you to all these places plans to cut your benefits from as many angles as possible. This is happening to many of our millions of people serving in the military everyday.

I don't know Sgt Bales, nor his motivating factors, but after sitting silently and watching all this happen to people I truly love over a decade now, I know what some of those factors might have been. I have seen what war does to people first hand and it can be heart braking. We have to really look at the statistics here. We are asking less than one percent of our population to sacrifice again and again. We are asking too much of our troops and their families. I'll say it, we are abusing them. How can we not expect our troops to snap?!

I feel we all can agree Sgt Bales should not have done what he did, if he did in fact do it. But maybe his actions will finally bring to light the sacrifices that are going on in military homes everywhere. Perhaps his actions will encourage a very necessary dialog to really begin. One thing is for sure and I say this with total conviction the America people must support our troops. So let's show them our support and ask our government to take care of them and their families. Let's help our families get the help they need so we can prevent any further atrocities from happening.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ignorance Is Bliss....

One thing I have learned on this journey is sometimes ignorance is bliss. When Chaz was facing his longest and hardest surgery, I had to ask the surgeons to continue the conversation out in the hall with me. I saw that Chaz was panicking listening to all the details. I would panic too if you stood there and told me you were putting me under and cutting this and that and putting it here and it was going to take 10 hours. So we went into the hall way and talked more. When I went back in, Chaz was a lot more relaxed. I wasn't though, I had just learned everything. I had to leave his room again so I could take a minute and digest all the details of what all they were doing to Chaz the next day. When I returned, he asked me to just tell him what he needed to know and I did. The surgery took over 10 hours and all turned out very well. But we learned from that event sometimes ignorance is bliss.

As I've gone down this road, I have learned so much. The one thing I have learned is my gut has been right nine out of ten times. But when I get proof my gut is right I wish I could just go back to where I didn't know things. I know we've all had those moments. It's those moment when you just want to put your fingers in your ears and say "La-la-la" so you don't hear it. Well we've had several of those since January 22.

We all know I love my happy bubble and I like to stay in there. I don't like seeing the bad in people. I like to think everyone wants to help our soldiers. I don't like finding out anyone has ulterior motives. We have people at the hospital who claim to be there to help out families, but truth be told they are only looking for a promotion. We have non-profits that want to help but really they are being blocked by the non-profits who are not being so honest. To me this is heart breaking. It is so tragic to only have a few people who can ruin things for so many great people. I guess it really only takes one apple to spoil the bunch.

I have to say we have some amazing people at the hospital who are overprotective of our warriors and our families. But no matter how hard they work, some of our warriors will fall through the cracks. When we come across these cases it is heartbreaking. I wish I could do more for these awesome helpers besides just thank them and pat them on the back. These individuals work so hard because they want to help our families heal and succeed. I am just so happy to know the names and faces of some of the amazing Americans that want to see our heroes succeed.

Of course I would love to go back to January 21, 2011, and tell Chaz to not step on that IED. I would love to have my life as I knew it back. I would love to go back to being ignorant about so many things that now I know so much about. But I think God wants to me learn a lot more. I think God wants me out of my happy bubble for at least a few moments. I think he wants me to learn so much so I can strengthen my internal fighter. I really hope I am right with this gut feeling too!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Missing Moments....

Last Sunday was just one of those days. One of those days where you miss what you had. But it was also one of those days where I was reminded of how blessed we truly are.

Chaz was walking around in his legs and then walked up to give me a hug. I couldn't help myself, I cried. I miss standing hugs. I miss just being to have my hubby standing at any time and me snuggle into him. I miss him sneaking up on me to scare me. I miss walking and holding hands. I think you have to take time to acknowledge you miss those things. I think speaking those things helps you take ownership of them and helps you deal with them.

But at this same moment, our sweet oldest child said, "Mom, why are you crying?!" I told her that sometimes things make you so happy that cry sometimes. Then I told her that I miss things and told her standing up and holding Daddy was one of them. So then Deryn and Ryann both began listing what they missed. We had to take a minute and we talked about both the good and the bad. The verdict is still out on if we really miss Chaz scaring us all the time. ;)

But then once again our wise 9 year old said, but I do like that Daddy gives us rides everywhere now. Then she made me laugh so hard when she said, "We get some really great parking spots now." Ryann really misses piggy back rides. But we had to remind her that even if Daddy still had his legs, piggy back rides would more than likely not be happening because she has grown so much.

I guess we're doing something right because our cuties led me back to my happy bubble. Chaz and I even told them how proud we are that they led the happy way home. I guess it's just further proof that maybe we are doing something right around here.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Hearts of Others....

When your soldier is injured you have every right to choose how to share your journey, if you choose to share it at all. Let me tell you there is absolutely no right way to share your journey. I have just followed my gut during the whole journey. I have confessed that I don't have all the answers, I just let God lead me.

In the first few weeks following January 22, 2011, I refused all media. I did not want to talk to anyone, which I bet you can totally understand. But when Demetria came up with the Team Allen idea it was the right idea at the right time. Her idea allowed me to share what was going on with us when and how we wanted to. As time passed we were able to share what we were learning in addition to our journey to healing. I love learning so I love that we have been able to share our lessons with others who are on this road or are following behind us.

We realize we are a lot more public than most and we chose this path. We hope that by sharing our journey with others, we will help just one person. If we help just one person on this road then it's all been worth it. Because that one person will help one other person and it will keep going. We'll never know how many people we have helped on this journey, but I know we have helped a few and that means so much to us. We are blessed by our families, friends and communities that love us so much and want us to succeed. We are so thankful that the people who support us so much want to share our journey with others in their lives.

But choosing to be public also comes with some responsibility. You have to know that the many people truly care about your family. They want to see you live happily ever after. It's just not fair to allude to devastating things and then leave people to think the worst. When I see this go on, I automatically think to what are your true intentions?! Is this really about your soldier or is this really about you?! It all goes back to my favorite quote from Margaret Thatcher about watching your thoughts because ultimately it shows your true character. When people post these drama-laced statements it shows me exactly who they are and what their intentions are. To me it's better to say nothing at all then to make a statement and then fall off the grid.

I heard someone once say that fame is like a drug. We all have people in our lives who love the attention. We all know it's always nice to get attention. We all want to feel like we're important. But using someone's illness or injury to make yourself feel better is just not cool at all. Unfortunately we've seen this a few times.

People crack me up. I don't like drama at all, so I don't know why you want to encourage it. I always love it when people say stuff like, "I'm not trying to cause trouble, but..." Yeah whatever follows that but is going to be trouble and we all know it. You told us that in the beginning of your sentence. So if you really don't want to cause trouble, then just keep quiet. That's really the only way to not cause trouble. I don't know your circumstance, but if you keep the drama to a minimum you'll find out your life will get better. Remember when in doubt, leave it out. Or as Thumper said, "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all."

I never understood why there were so many medical drama shows until all this happened to Chaz and now I know why. Hospitals are full of drama. What I also learned is people love their drama. I guess since they are now canceling soap operas people are bored and they have to create their own soap opera. Well this girl says no thank you! I'll stay in my happy bubble. Drama pisses me off, just ask our daughters. I tell them all the time I don't deal with drama queens so let me know when you are over it.

I cut my ties with drama queens quick. When every time I am around you it's drama, drama, drama, I will just move along. When I see your Facebook posts are drama, drama, drama, I hide you so I don't see you or in some cases I delete you. Life is so great and full of fabulous if you take the time to appreciate it. I am all about helping but I have had to cut ties with families who want to fan the fire rather than put it out.

Healing a wounded warrior brings its own load of drama, you totally do not need to add to it. If you choose to be public with your journey please don't add to the drama. And if you choose to be public please do not toy with the emotions of the people who are desperately praying for your success. This road is so very hard, why would you do anything to make it harder?! Why would you want to put people in a tizzy?! I guess I'll just never understand.....

Great Days in a Crazy Week.....

Our crazy week started off with Chaz having food poisoning. So Monday was all about healing Chaz then I spent the rest of the week trying to get caught back up. Somehow even with all this crazy, we managed to get all of our home school work and my work done. It might have been crazy (with all caps) but we had a great and fun week!!

Tuesday I spent the entire day in meetings then got to rush home to accomplish Operation Surprise Heather. Heather's fiancee was injured one month before Chaz. Chris was also with the 101st. He is also an above the knee amputee. Chris and Heather are getting married in one week. I could not have her getting married and not have a bridal shower. So I tricked her into thinking we were planning a caregiver dinner before she went out of town. She helped me plan the whole thing. Her soon-to-be hubby was involved too. I love this first picture I snapped of her. She is calling me evil. This was the exact moment that she realized what I had done. The man in the pic is our concierge here at the apartments. He was in on it too! Aleethia Foundation donated our dinner and Operation Ward 57 donated 2 dozen red velvet cupcakes (Heather's favorite). Thanks to everyone's help, we got to give Heather the bridal shower she deserved. We may not be her family, childhood friends or even her best friends, who were the ones who threw my showers. But we were all drafted into this craziness together and together we make this the best experience we can!

Wednesday we got our home school finished in time to go to gymnastics. From gymnastics we went to pick Chaz up from his class and then we were off to the circus!! We knew we couldn't make it back to the hospital to catch the bus with everyone else so we got our tickets in advance and drove there. I didn't realize it until we got there but we were in one of the suites at the Verizon Center. Just so you know (and can thank them) Sun Trust donated their suite to the hospital so the wounded warrior families could enjoy the circus!!! Here are some of my favorite pics from Wednesday! 

Thursday was spent with the girls and I sleeping in and recovering from our late night and me catching up on emails and such. We got our home school done and then had some cooking fun! We made blueberry muffins and then shared them with our neighbors and friends. Then it was March Madness time for Mommy!! I don't do professional sports, but I do love NCAA basketball, so yes I am having a lot of fun right now. As of yesterday, I was 13/16 on my brackets but I have not updated yet! 

Friday is test day so we got up and got our tests done while Chaz was at the hospital doing his PT. Then Chaz returned and we were off to the hospital. I went to the main building and he took the girls swimming. I met my friend Laura in the lobby and we went to find the Smith family. My Uncle Tommy from Chattanooga had shared their story with me and I knew I needed to welcome our fellow Tennesseans to the WW Club. I love meeting with all of the families, but you know I am partial to 101st, TN, KY and OK families. In regards to the Smith family, what a great family!! I know that will not be my last time visiting with them. Andrew is like Chaz, he is blessed by all these great people who love him so much. They will do very well and I hope that we can help them along this journey.

After our visit with the Smiths, Laura and I went to Executive Services to get some cupcakes!! I contacted Operation Ward 57 a few weeks ago and asked if we could bring some smiles to the inpatients for St Patrick's Day. They were all for it so they got us some Georgetown Cupcakes!! We loaded this tall cart and wheeled a bunch of cupcakes down the halls of the hospital. Here's a peek inside one of those pink boxes!

We met so many great families yesterday. Some of which truly touched my heart and almost made me cry. You could see how thankful they were and that always warms my heart. Several families also have facebook pages and it was really fun to connect faces to pages! We all giggled about it. Who would have ever thought facebook could bless so many lives?! I am so glad we set the cupcakes up. I really needed to refill my own heart yesterday! It had been a very hard week and I needed a recharge of happy! Mine was a little low. So many thanks to Operation Ward 57 for helping me overflow my heart again! I just love spreading those smiles around. 

We finished at the hospital with just enough time for me to get back and get change for dinner. Chaz and the girls were already back and ready, but I was running behind (no surprise here at all, remember I am a Kappa Delta, we tend to have that problem sometimes). So I rushed to get ready and our friends Hannah and David joined us to go to the New Zealand Embassy for dinner. This was another incredible dinner put together by Aleethia Foundation. When we arrived one of the people from the Embassy asked our girls if they wanted to join the children of the Embassy staff. We didn't see our girls again until dinner was over. Our girls had a blast and Chaz and I had a great dinner with grown-ups. Unplanned date night, woot-woot!! 

Our girls were super excited that they got to meet the New Zealand Ambassador. They were beyond excited when he shook their hands like he did Chaz's and gave them the same coin. You know you're an Army brat when you are excited about collecting coins! 

Right now Chaz and the girls are still asleep and I am blogging, then I am getting to work! We are joining the Yellow Ribbon Fund and many other Wounded Warrior families to go see the Lorax later today. And yes I already have my green on!! I hope you all had a great weekend and Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Monday, March 12, 2012

An Interesting Monday.....

Poor Chaz went to the ER in the middle of the night last night with what they think was food poisoning. After an IV with 2 full bags of fluids and some additional meds, he has stopped vomiting and is now resting very comfortably in our bed. However, this event has reminded me of a few things.

This is another moment that reminds us how thankful we are for Help Our Military Heroes giving Chaz the van. Chaz was able to drive himself there and back without any difficulties. Chaz made the decision to go ahead and go to the ER very early on in his sickness because he knew it was going to get worse. He is as stubborn as I am. I drove myself to the ER once as my face was swelling up from an allergic reaction. Chaz and I don't do ambulances unless it is absolutely necessary. We also don't want to bother anyone. So we will suck it up and just deal with it. He insisted that we let the girls sleep and he go by himself. I was going to wake up a friend to watch the girls, but just like I would, he insisted that the girls and I stay put and he go alone.

Thank goodness he went ahead because he said he got a lot worse once he got to the hospital. Chaz and I knew if he waited too long I would not be able to lift him alone and we'd have to call for help and wake the girls. He was at the hospital during the worst of it and they were able to treat him accordingly. He did get dehydrated, which they said can happen more quickly now. So I am thinking great, now I can add that to the list of worries too now. Yeah, me!! Thank goodness it was a minor case and he was proactive. And thank goodness it's all over!

This is one of those moments that I highly dislike. I'll say it again the best decisions are usually the hardest to make! I wanted to be with him and the girls at the same time, but that just wasn't the best for the girls.They did not need to be at the hospital watching Daddy get sick and hooked up to an IV and me stressed out. I know we made the right decision, but I wanted to be with him and help him, but I also needed to be here for the girls. We didn't want them to wake up and panic that we were gone and they woke up to our friend. We are very conscious about their fears and emotions. We still have some abandonment issues to work through which is very common with military children. We have created a nice safe place for our girls, but we have to keep it safe and keep the trauma and drama to a minimum. So in emergency situations we have to stop and assess them as adequately as possible.

This has definitely been an interesting Monday! But it seems the worst is over and my loves are all together so I can take care of them. Oh the joys of the life of a wounded warrior wife!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

If Not Me, Then Who?!

Months ago the path Chaz and I are on led us to 10 year old Luke Sliwinski. He's this adorable young man who is also a Young Marine. His hero, 1st LT Travis Manion, was killed April 27, 2007. Since this tragic loss of life occurred, this amazing young man has been not only sharing the story of Travis but also the stories of other service members who have inspired him. One of his new heroes happens to be my number one hero, bet you can guess who that is. I have always thought Luke was an amazing patriotic spirit that everyone needs to know. Luke's hero was known for saying "If not me, then who?" Travis was referring to his service in the Marines. 1st LT Manion felt if he didn't fight who would?! It wasn't until yesterday that I realized how much little cutie Luke has inspired me.

I have been working with several non-profits, officers (Navy & Army), friends and the list goes on and on to do so many things for the other wounded families. Don't worry details will come out once we're done. I don't want to jinx myself. Everything is going so well right now. Last time I was working on something I got too excited and told (what turned out to be) the wrong person and he almost ruined it. So I learned my lesson and mum is the word except for those I am working with.

Yesterday I was talking to another wounded warrior about us doing the Army Ten Miler together. He was talking about how much he wanted to run it. I told him I did too. I shared with him my personal health issues. I have some (what could be) very serious health issues, but I try to manage them so I can stay on my A game. I do not let these things get in my way at all, ask my doctors. They used to yell at me, but now just shake their heads and laugh at me. So this warrior and I agreed that if I could do it, he could and he could do it, I could. So he and I are training for it. Our WW friend and I are thinking that we can keep the same pace and still finish it.  Chaz is going to hand bike it so he'll be at the finish line waiting for us to cross. Yes my hubby is a little proud of me for committing to the Army Ten Miler. I have never done anything like this.

A high ranking officer, who happened to be listening in looked at me and said, "Are you serious?" and I said yes. She then said, "Why are you fighting and working so hard for these families? You could get really sick." I told her that I have been in ICU before and every gray hair on my mother's head is more than likely caused by my health issues. But I refuse to be controlled by an illness or handicap. Then I told her that life is too short and too awesome to sit on the side lines. Then I finished with, "If not me, then who?!"

In our conversation, I told her these families are too tired to fight. To be honest why are they fighting?! Why are we fighting for their wounded warriors to be treated the way they deserve to be treated. I have heard stories that have made me cry and have shattered my heart. I am working to make it better because the families don't know where to start and they are too tired to get involved. I truly feel if I don't speak up and fight who will?! These families are in crisis and they need help now. Not when it's convenient.

Our average wounded warrior is male, in his early 20s, double amputee, married to his high school sweetheart and has at least one child under the age of 3. My biggest concern in my early twenties was what to wear to the next sorority function. I cannot imagine being a parent at their age and then healing a wounded warrior at the same time. So if you ask me the families deserve as many easy buttons as possible. They just started their lives and now those lives have been turned upside down. They are in what seems like purgatory sometimes just trying to move on and put their fragile lives together. Statistics show that when these average families assimilate back into main stream culture they inevitably get divorced and currently we have 18 veterans a day committing suicide. We can do better.

So what can we do about it? Well I think that it's time we champion the caregivers who are at the bedside with the warrior. I know I have written about my happy bubble before. Well I had another happy bubble moment the other day. When Chaz was an inpatient I lost count on how many times I was not even acknowledged when visitors came into the room. Several guests did not even ask, "Are you his wife?" Several times they would come in and not even look at me. Now this was NOT the medical staff. The medical staff kept me involved in every part of Chaz's care. These visitors were politicians, Army personnel, even celebrities.

Our caregivers are Moms, Dads, wives, girlfriends etc. We give up everything to be here with our wounded warrior. Many of them lose their jobs, their homes, friends (and the very long list goes on and on) just to be here to help a warrior heal. Now imagine if you gave up everything to be by someone's side and visitors came into their room and didn't even look at you. It would make Chaz mad and once he rudely said, "Um you forgot to say hi to my wife of over 10 years." I found out that all the caregivers in my circle have several stories of this occurring. To me this is total crap. I get it, you are here to see the warriors, but the caregivers are just as important. You can take two seconds to acknowledge them. The saying "If not me, then who?" applies not only to the soldier but also to the caregivers. If we don't give up everything to be here, then who will help our warriors get back to their new normal. There are too many wounded and not enough hands to help. If we don't sacrifice for them, I can assure you that 18 per day will go way up.

We need to really start championing these caregivers. They need to know that we all know that the wounded warriors cannot make it without them. Think about it if you are at work and your boss comes by and says keep up the good work, you're going to keep up the good work and perhaps work even harder to get additional praise, right?! The same theory applies here except it's a little different. These caregivers need to be patted on the back. The warriors are discharged to us. We have to take care of their PICC lines, open wounds, medications, some have colostomy bags, severe TBI and PTSD and the list goes on forever. These caregivers need to be reminded that they are important too. Too many feel like no one ever cares that they are even here. They have been put in the military industrial complex and are not dealing first hand with the aftermath of war. This burden is one of the heaviest burdens to carry. I have been told that other caregivers have been told, "Well you married into this?!" Here's my reply to that, I sure did and I am damn proud of my hubby and his service and sacrifice. Our families need your support, not your stupidity. If you can, please keep your ignorant comments like that to yourself. Just because we "married into this" doesn't mean we don't deserve a pat on the back or two to help make this road just a little easier.

One caregiver told me that one of her family members said that judging by her pictures on facebook her life as a wounded warrior wife doesn't look that bad. I have to ask what pictures do you want to see?! Do you want to see what they look like when we first get them from Germany? Or do you want to see them right after a surgery? Or do you want to see us at our best?! We share our favorite pictures with you. Those extremely specials moments that we get to treasure for a few minutes. We share them with you because we want you to see the high points of this crazy journey, not the lows.

You should feel honored you are our friend on facebook and that you get front row access to this journey. You should excited to see us smile. It should warm your heart. For some families that might be their first smile or their first happy stress free moment in a very long time. How incredibly selfish and jealous are you? I still can't believe some of the truly ignorant things people say. But I know that it comes from jealously. And seriously you are jealous?! You are jealous because you don't know how you would handle all of this. Let me tell you how you handle this. You handle it one day at a time just like any other tragic event that life throws at you.

Our caregivers are fighting an enormous war themselves and sometimes they feel all alone. We are attacked all the time. We are dealing with the physical, the mental and the military. Just one of those is enough but we get to go up against all three and then we have our own personal burdens to bare. The feeling that you are drowning comes often when you are on this road.

I am one blessed person. God has blessed me with so many people who constantly lift me up. I have Chaz and our girls, but then I have my awesome family and friends too. I know my little family is doing so well because of all of the support we've had. So how do we share that. Well for Chaz and I we just pay it forward and that is what I am trying to do. I am trying to create ways of championing these caregivers and helping them realize they are so special. They need to know how valuable they are. What can you do?! Go to the facebook pages of the wounded warriors and post a comment to the families telling them you appreciate their sacrifices too. It easy and free. All it will cost you is a few minutes of time. Most importantly pray for these families, we all need it. And don't ever think that you can't make an impact no instead think "If not me, then who?!"

Sunday, March 4, 2012

February Update in March!

I just realized I haven't updated in a while so here goes.....

As of today, Chaz has decided to medically retire from the Army. Chaz has learned that he really likes being a family man. He hasn't had the chance to really enjoy being a Dad until now. He has served our country for almost 14 years now. Our oldest daughter will be 10 in September. Here's a true fact for you, she has not had her Daddy with her for a full year of her life yet. Neither has Ryann, but Deryn has been in existence for 32 months longer. In case you don't know, we were still doing the back and forth stuff this time last year. If we're together a few more months, then we'll finally be together for one consecutive year.

Right now Chaz feels like that it's time to move on to a new chapter in our lives. He is not making his absolute decision until we get all of the facts and options. I bet you all can understand why we would want to know everything we can before making the final decision. So that's where we are today.

They think Chaz is done with all of his VA appointments, but we won't know for sure until we are a little further down the road. For those who don't know, before we can leave Maryland for good, Chaz has to complete the Medical Board process. This includes being evaluated by the VA for their disability rating. As of last week, he doesn't have anymore appointments with the VA. He still has a ton of Army appointments left. We are still waiting to learn what we are doing about his elbow. Also the bones are still growing in his legs and he needs to have them cut back. So we are waiting on that decision as well. In the meantime, it's PT every day and then random appointments are tossed in each week.

Here's a funny story for you. For years, I have told Chaz he needs a hearing aid. He always dismissed me. So last month, he goes to the VA and guess what he needs, oh yeah, that's right a hearing aid. So guess who can't use the "I didn't hear you" excuse much longer?! ;) I really think he'll enjoy hearing again. I don't think he realizes how excited I am for him to really be able to hear again.

Here's the funniest VA story (so far). The VA evaluator asked Chaz, "How many times have you been near explosions and/or fired a gun during your career?" Chaz said he looked at her funny. He then said, "Um, do you know what I do." She says, "Yes Infantry, but I need a number." Chaz said, "How about we go low, like 10,000?" She says, "Are you sure?" Chaz says, "I'm sorry Ma'am, but I lost count. I was a little busy." She said, "So you're telling me you were involved in or with explosions and direct fire 10,000 times." He said, "No that's the minimum." He said she just stared at him. Ahh, our tax dollars at work. I can't tell you how many times I giggle at people who are so clueless as to what our guys actually do. And the ones that really make me laugh are in the medical profession trying to help our warriors heal. Maybe they should do a little background research when they agree to take these jobs. Just saying?!

The girls have really had a lot of fun on our many outings together. They really enjoyed taking Daddy on the Metro for the first time. I let them explain it all to him. They were super proud to be Daddy's teachers.
Thanks to Operation Ward 57, we got to treat the girls to Disney On Ice. As you can see from that big smile, we had a great time! We also enjoyed our monthly horse back riding lessons thanks to Dropping The Reins and the Yellow Ribbon Fund. We also joined other Wounded Warrior families and watched the Secret World of Arriaty thanks to the Yellow Ribbon Fund. The girls are also taking gymnastics lessons once a week thanks to Our Military Kids. We are still homeschooling and had a lot of fun with Dr Suess' birthday. The girls woke up to green eggs and ham. I greeted Chaz and the girls with pancakes on National Pancake Day. We also enjoyed our King Cake for Mardi Gras.

What's going on with me?! Well I have been working, a lot. I've been working on several surprises for caregivers. Two of them are going on this month. Don't worry, you'll hear more later. One thing you all have probably figured out is how much I love surprising people!! So sorry it's all top secret right now. I have also been meeting with important people who care and listen and want to make things better for our wounded families. Changes are happening and I am honored that my opinion matters so much. Once again, more details later.

We are hoping to get back to TN next month, but we do not have dates or anything like that. We are ready for some TN time with our friends back home. We need a TN recharge that's for sure. I seriously could not live here forever. Knowing it's all temporary helps me get through it all!

So there you have it, we are doing great and are just moving right along! We hope you are all too!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Money, Money, Money....

My fellow wounded warrior friends and I have been contacted recently by people asking why would certain people be saying that a soldier has been injured and their family and friends are saying no one is helping them and they even seem to be begging for money. They have said that it seems like we're all being taken care of, but others are saying the opposite. Well there are lots of reasons why people may say that.

When something happens to someone we love, we just act. We don't always take the time to think or to learn about the options first. So they could be saying that because they just don't know what's out there. Basically they are reacting to the panic of the situation and are simply trying to help their loved one without doing the research first. Which is totally understandable if you think about it.

When tragedy strikes you will get the opportunity to really see who people are. All their defense mechanisms will fall down because they can't hold up their walls and deal with what's going on at the same time. So you'll find out they might be using the soldiers injuries for their own profit. Some are so stricken with grief they become paralyzed and don't know what to do and don't know where to even begin to look for help. And them some people are flat our drama queens and they want your attention and pity. The list of why people will say they are not being taken care of sits in a nice Venn Diagram and is mixed with so many emotions.

We have encountered many people let their anger rule and immediately lash out at our government and blame them for what has happened and sometimes they go off on some super crazy tangents. Some will say that since their soldier was serving our country and protecting our freedoms you should empty your purses and wallets to help them. And they'll say that our soldiers will not receive adequate care and support. Well let me tell you how Chaz and I feel about that.

Chaz knew and chose the risks when he signed his contracts with the Army. I knew the risks and chose to support him by marrying him and standing by him for the past 13 years. I am too selfish to join the Army. I cannot give myself up so freely and be told what to do. But I can support my husband and all his colleagues for their selflessness and courage. I got to tell you, it is pretty freaking sweet to be surrounded by heroes everyday! They inspire me to do more for them. Their stories drive my fight for us to do better for them.

Our soldiers know and accept what they are giving up for their service to our country. Our soldiers do not expect anything from the American people. Our soldiers do not feel entitled. They are proud that they served for us. They are pissed that they got taken out, but they are getting to their new normal one day at a time. The warriors in our circle of friends would be back in the fight right now if you let them, Chaz is one of them. Chaz embodies the Soldiers' Creed, the NCO Creed and all the above. My Chaz is an American soldier, he embodies the spirit of so many soldiers who have gone before him. We knew the risks and we chose to stay in. Chaz signed his "do or die" contract a few years ago. We were in for the 20. Sure the Army has its faults but has been great to our family. We are Army Strong and proud of it.

Obviously the Army cannot take care of every problem we have. There are too many of us and some will slip through the cracks. Yes that sucks and it's not fair and we wish we could solve all of this. Some people choose to slip through the cracks because of their anger. But please remember that's why the non-profits exist. Amazing people saw the need for help and that's why they are doing what they are doing. I am so proud that we have had help from the non-profits. Their help has made our family succeed on our journey. We have not abused the non-profits, but heck yes we have used some of them. We plan to use their help some more this year. Does that make us bad or beggars? No, not at all. These people want to help us and our little family deserves a few easy buttons now and then. What would make us bad is if we abused them and if we didn't share their information so they can help other families like ours.

Some people feel like what the Army and the non-profits are doing is not enough. Maybe it's not, but to Chaz and I it's pretty freaking awesome. Of course I say this as a wounded warrior wife of one year, I can only hope the future is just as great. Chaz's medical care has been outstanding. To me that's all that matters. The VA has ways to help us (vehicle, housing and clothing allowance and etc) and maybe it's not good enough to you, but to us it's great. If Chaz wasn't in the service, what would we do?! Civilians don't have all the things we have access too. (Well normal civilians don't.) Then all these amazing Americans that want to say thank you. Oh my gosh I could write a book on how amazing the support of our country is. Our family has been so blessed and we are not the only family by far. We are just one of the few families that talk so publicly about it. We have tried to use the attention we have received to educate others on what is out there and how they can help other military families. Everyday I share a resource with another family and I am so blessed to be able to do that. Let me explain a few things to possibly help a few more families.
When your service member is injured the person your service member wants the Army to contact will be contacted. This person is listed on the form they should have filled out before they deployed. Then that person can choose to let the Army contact others. When Chaz was hurt I was called first, then I authorized the Army to notify his parents. The thought of me telling them Chaz was hurt was too painful. I had no idea what to say or how to say it so I let the Army do it. You might think that is insensitive, but please remember I had two little girls looking at me and I needed to be an iron lady myself right then. I was going to have to split into two and I knew I would talk to them soon and the Army needed me to do other things for Chaz. I also had to get the arrangements working for what I was doing in TN so I could meet Chaz in DC when he got here.

If your service member is injured severely to a certain degree then you will be authorized to go to Germany (and the Army pays for this). If you need to be there, they will get you there. It may not be as fast as you like, but it will happen. Chaz was severe, but they didn't have a reason to hold him so they sent him to DC which is where I met him (which is both amazing and awesome). When it's time for you to meet your soldier, up to three people can have orders. These three people are given ITO (invitation travel orders) to come be with that service member. This includes a round trip plane ticket and housing accommodations (hotel, Fisher House, something) and $71 per Diem (DC area) for expenses. The Army picks you up from the airport and helps you through the whole process. For Chaz his ITO orders were given to me, his mom and dad.

Once your soldier goes to outpatient status one person is chosen to go on NMA (Non-Medical Attendant) orders. For Chaz that was me. The Army provides you with some type of on post housing. We stayed at Fisher House and then moved to 1200 (a handicap compatible apartment building off campus). This is the way it was done at WRAMC. They had the Malogne House which did not have kitchens. I needed to be able to cook for my family. Now Bethesda has Building 62 which is super nice and is like a 2 bedroom apartment. When you are an injured soldier living in WTB housing you will not lose your housing allowance, which was vital for our family because we still have a mortgage to pay for our house in TN each month.

Now what does the Army ask you to do to receive your $71 per day. They ask you to go to the SFAC (Solider Family Assistance Center) and sign in once a week. Then every 15 days you fill out a travel voucher to have your per Diem funds directly deposited into your account. Since these funds fall under the scope of a disability payment they are non-taxable to you. Why do you have to sign in and do the paperwork? Because we have had people who just showed up every 15 days to collect money and they were not here helping the soldier. Oh yes, yes that has happened.

Please also remember our soldiers are being paid their regular pay the entire time. While they are in-patient their pay is still considered combat zone qualified since their injuries were obtain in combat. In other words their pay is tax exempt. Then when they go out-patient they still get the same pays the only difference is they are taxable.

You can see the beginning is fairly well taken care of. Then as you progress in your healing there are a ton of non-profits that help pay for flights, food, bill assistance, hotels and lodging, etc. In the case that your regular pay is not enough to meet your families' needs. This list of non-profits is a very nice long list and these amazing Americans are just waiting to help our families. We have been blessed to help them help others. We are proud to know some of them personally and happily help tell others about them. Here's our list to google. Fisher House (housing), Hero Miles (plane tickets for the family travel to the soldier), Veterans Airlift Command (WW travel), Yellow Ribbon Fund (rental cars for caregivers, hotel stays for visiting families), Help Our Military Heroes (adapted vans), Operation Ward 57, Operation Second Chance & Operation Homefront (these last 3 do all sorts of stuff) and this is my short list.

Here's my golden rule on dealing with other injured families. Go with your gut!! If you think something is fishy with a family, then it probably is. We have had to back away from helping some families. We have tried to help them, but the help was never good enough. They wanted what they wanted immediately their way. Well where I come from, you don't look a gift horse in the mouth. Just let me find out that you've bad mouthed a non-profit because you are a brat. We will have words to share, I promise you. Not all non-profits are a good fit with all families, that doesn't mean you need to bash them. Non-profits are ran by amazing people who just want to help. It may not be your way or exactly what you want, but the fact they sacrifice their time and resources for your family is commendable and you should be thankful for what you are given. Running a non-profit is not an easy task and we should appreciate what these folks are doing for us.

I have said time and time again don't give to Chaz and our family, give to one of the many non-profits listed on Team Allen. Chaz and I got this, that's why we are trying to pay it forward. We are where we are thanks to those who helped us get here. We are further down the road and now the help needs to go to the families who just started on this path. Just so you know the non-profits are very easy to contact and are so happy to help. All you have to do is ask your LNO, Squad Leader or SFAC person who come to check on your soldier everyday. If you can ask for money on facebook, then you can ask these people who you see everyday what options are available for your family.

Have we had a fundraiser? Yes. Do we have t-shirts and stickers that say Team Allen on them? Yes. But Chaz and I never asked for any of it. Our friends did it for us. They wanted to make sure we had everything we needed for us and our girls. Does that make us horrible people? Absolutely not. Does having a fundraiser for your soldier make you a horrible person? Absolutely not. Our community wanted us to know how much they supported our family and that is amazing. If your community wants to do that for your soldier, then do it! We don't know what the future holds, but to get there we need to know people are there to support our families.

The community support has helped Chaz so much in his healing. We're really lucky because we've got the communities from where we each grew up, plus where we currently leave. So we've got support coming from many directions. I've said it once and I will say it again. It takes a village to educate a child, it takes a nation to heal a soldier. Chaz and I didn't know what to say about the t-shirts. We were so humbled that anyone would even have that idea. We think it's so cool that anyone wanted to do it. Chaz (and every other soldier we know) doesn't think he's a hero, he'll tell you he was just doing his job. So they feel so honored when you recognize them for their service and sacrifice.

With all that said, please be aware there are some people out there who are trying to take advantage of this situation. They are some people using their soldiers to make money for themselves. Yes we have seen this many, many times. Nothing is worse then watching this happen to a soldier. The soldier usually has no knowledge or absolutely no control over it. JAG tries to get in and intervene, but sometimes there's nothing they can do. So if you have doubts about someone's intentions then ask what non-profit can you donate to in their name and go that route. The non-profit will make sure the soldiers gets it if they need it. This helps put the power in the soldiers' hands.

Here's another belief that Chaz and I have. You cannot solve money problems with money. You solve money problems with education. What I mean is why do you have the money problems in the first place? Let's get to the root cause and fix that rather than tossing money at the "problem." We donate to non-profits, but not to individuals. For individuals we do other things. We might cook a meal, watch their kids or something along these lines, thus saving the individual money. In the case of the injured families, we share our resources with them in hopes of fixing their problems. If the non-profits feel they need financial assistance then let the non-profits help. That is what they are there for.

The journey to the new normal is an extremely hard road to navigate, but support for our families is a must. The message I want to get across with this blog post is that support doesn't come with a price tag. Telling me you are praying for our family means just as much to us as a check that is written or a gift that is given. Please don't let someone guilt or bully you into parting with your money. Should you be compelled to help our troops? Damn straight you should! Every American should! These wounded warriors are amazing and they deserve our prayers and support for the sacrifices they have made. But there are so many ways to help support our troops and they don't all involve your purse or wallet. You can share the facebook pages of the non-profits with your facebook friends. You can share the stories of our families with others so that encourages them to pray for our families. If you want to help raise money then you can have your own fundraiser for one of the non-profits. Mostly importantly let your gut lead you. If you listen God is telling you the right thing to do. Listen to that voice and you won't go wrong.