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 HelpingAHero.org 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 HelpingAHero.org 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.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Going Back...

Today I will go back to the 3rd floor of Bldg 62. I am going there today to meet with a member of the Surgeon General's staff and a few families to get a real dialog started so we can work together and solve problems for these families. We won't fix everything today, but we'll at least get started. Great things are going to happen. I just know it!

The 3rd floor is where WTB resides. I have not been there since July. I am going to tell you the story that pushed me to deciding I would not go there unless it was really important. In July, I made the decision to cut the toxic things out of my life and WTB was one of those cuts. I realized I was wasting my life there so I just stopped going and I started working with the non-profits. I have been so much happy since I made that switch.

First let me clarify the Army is Chaz's career. It's not mine. There's a very good reason I did not join the military and this journey has proven that I am not a good soldier. I am great team player, but I am so not a soldier. I love my husband with all my heart and I support him in his career, but I have always stayed out of it. He signed up, I did not. My job is to support him. I can support him without being drowned in stupid.

I feel like I was drafted into the Army once he was injured. I had to step up and be his voice. There's no telling what would have happened if I didn't. Slowly but surely I got to back off and get things back to the way they always have been. I stepped back from being Chaz's voice and stepped up for others. I speak Army policy and regulation very well. I am a little different because I also speak common sense. I guess you could say I am multilingual. :)

At the end of June there was a power outage that lasted into the 4th of July. I am sure you read about it in the news. Well the girls were in TN, thank goodness. Chaz and I just made the best out of the situation. A week without power in the summer's heat is not fun, but it could have been worse. Chaz at one point told me he was proud of me for not complaining. I told him I couldn't complain. I knew he had endured hotter temperatures in Iraq and Afghanistan. I also knew he was enduring hotter temperatures now because of his amputations. So I would sweat and keep my mouth shut.

That Saturday morning when the power went out, I emailed our chain of command. I didn't and still don't have our squad leaders information. I wanted them to know about the status of the 30 families here in our building. About an hour later our squad leader called to check on us. Chaz asked him where could we get an extension cord and a fan. We had one outlet that worked and the building told us to plug fans in. The squad leader says, "I don't know, we don't have them here. You'll have to look it up." So how exactly were we supposed to do that with one outlet of power?! I asked Chaz to ask him where is the closest Home Depot or Lowes. The squad leader told Chaz that he had no idea and that we'd have to look that up too. Instead Chaz and I took our friend up on her offer and went and stayed with her. She invited several other families to join us as well. Eventually Chaz and I did just drive around and we found a home depot. We took our cords and fans back to our apartment to make it tolerable.

Instead of joining us at our friends' parents' house, many families chose to wait on the Army. By the time people in charge began reacting, the hotels were either all booked or were charging a ridiculous rate. Late that evening the Army started sending families an hour away to Aberdeen Proving Ground. One family was told to get on a bus and that they were being taken to a hotel. They thought it was in close proximity. No, it was over an hour away. The families were all put up in rooms there. Only one was ADA compliant so the warriors all shared a key to use the bathroom there. Could it have been worse, absolutely? But what this showed me was there was a lack of an emergency plan.

Do you know how many people came to help the families evacuate? 1, yes 1 person from WTB came to help evacuate 30 families in our building. Our neighbor, a fellow wounded warrior and his friend, who was visiting on leave, went door to door trying to check on the families while the 1 person from WTB sat in the lobby and waited.

The families that went to Aberdeen stayed there for almost a week. The WTB cancelled all of their medical appointments while they were there. I found it interesting that they all were contacting me for updates. I was told by more than one family that they had no idea what was going on. Finally July 4th, the power came back on and we all moved forward. We emptied our fridge and freezers of the spoiled groceries and tried to get caught up. I had a lot of fun that week. I got to sit for the IRS RTRP exam on top of all of this.

The Tuesday following the power outage, I went to a NMA meeting. I stated that we had survived that emergency and now was the perfect time to plan for the next one. History shows us the best time to plan for the next emergency was on the heals of the one that just occurred. I was snipped at and told that I "needed to have more compassion for the private lives of the (WTB) squad leaders." What did I say back?! "Why, you don't have any for mine?" That was it, that pushed me over the edge. I left the 3rd floor and I have yet to return.

Let me get this straight, I am supposed to have more compassion for people who get to make this place their home, while my family and countless other families are forced to live here thanks to the tragic consequences of war?! Explain that to me again.

I called my mom that next day and cried to her. I just don't understand why you want to fake it until you make it when lives are at stake. Our amputees dehydrate rapidly. The higher that amputation the harder it is on them. They are on narcotics which also adds to dehydration. Heat rises and some of them are on the 14th floor. They had no water and no power and some of them have no legs. Why don't you want to make sure these families have what they need in case of an emergency? 99% of us are not from the DC/MD/VA area. We don't know where to go in case of an emergency. The WTB is their life line to help and that life line took them to Aberdeen and left them. Chaz and I are older and we know what to do. Some of these guys have never dealt with any of this and they don't know what to do.

I sent an email that week to a General's wife who has become a great friend to us. I told her I didn't really miss Ft Campbell until that meeting. I told her about when Chaz deployed to Iraq. Deryn was 3 and Ryann was just an infant. A really bad storm came through and blew down our 6ft fence panels. Rear Detachment called to check on me and the girls. I told them about my fence and they sent 3 guys to help me. But here I'm away from my family, my friends, my network, my everything. I am starting over in a huge city. My husband is a double amputee. We have a massive power outage. My  new friends and the maintenance workers of the building are the ones who help me.

I'm in a building with 30 wounded warrior families. All of which have a member of their household who is disabled in some capacity and then send 1 person to help. Thank goodness Chaz has prosthetic legs because the elevators were out. The maintenance crew helped me get his chair up and down the stairs when we were coming and going. So what about those families who haven't made new friends yet? What about the ones who are intimidated by the big city we've been thrust into? We all sucked it up and made the best out of it. We helped each other through it. That's what we did. But we can prepare for the next time and pray there isn't one.

The lesson I learned from that event is really only us cripples can take care of each other. (Before you get offended by that statement, Chaz was the one who stated it.) Why is this?! Because the people "helping" us hear us, but don't listen. They are too busy telling us what we need. Could the power outage have been worse? Of course, but what it showed us is we need an emergency plan to fall back on for when this happens again. It showed us we have a gap in service to these families. So I tried to go to the WTB for help and was told to have more compassion for the WTB's squad leaders. I am having more compassion for them. I reached out and contacted the non-profits. In the case this happens again I'll be able to sleep knowing the families have a life line they can count on.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Reflections on a conversation

Chaz and I had the best conversation the other day. I just have to share it. We were reflecting on his 14 years of service what all we have learned. We were discussing his various assignments.Then we switched gears and talked about the WTB and the in and outs.

WTB is the Warrior Transition Brigade. Their role in the Army is to help wounded soldiers either return to active duty or retire out of the Army. They are supposed to help you through the transition which ever path you decide to take. What we have experienced has been anything but helpful. What we have experienced is nothing but hassle. Chaz wanted to stay in the Army until he had interactions with the WTB. Now Chaz is retiring.

I would love to have soldiers fill out a survey to see why they are retiring rather than staying in. For our family, the hassle is not worth staying in the Army. Even though the Army has been great to us, we have decided to close this chapter and move on with our lives. Our experience with WTB has shown us why we want to leave the Army.

At a normal duty station like Ft Campbell, I only went to post to go to the commissary or for family organization day and things like that. Here you are involved with you soldier 24/7. You are your soldier's advocate, nurse, appointment book, legal aide, and so much more. As you can see, it is the total opposite at this assignment. The only thing that this PCS has in common with the other assignments is the paper it is printed on and the way it's worded on that paper.

I have been with Chaz for all but nine months of his military career and I have never seen anything like the leadership (or really lack of) at WTB. The right hand does not know what the left is doing. Their break down in communication is truly unreal. If WTB was a business in the civilian world, they would have already closed up shop and been ran out of town.

Chaz and I realized during our conversation that the bottom line is there is no formal education or training for the WTB. We send our Army personnel to schools for everything. We have the NCO Academy, Captain's course, drill, zapper, airborne, and on and on. We don't do this for WTB, yet their position is completely outside the lines of any typical duty and warrants specialized training. There is absolutely nothing normal about the WTB assignment and we need to address that. How can we expect them to succeed if we are setting them up for failure? It seems people are literally tossed into the WTB and then are told go figure it out. Then they fail horribly and we wag our fingers and yell at them for failing.

Our wounded are assigned to WTB because they have been injured to the point that they cannot be a part of the normal line units or do their normal jobs. The first responsibility of our wounded is to heal from the wounds of war. So it's not appropriate to expect them to attention formations on a regular basis. No, I am not kidding. Chaz discharged from the hospital May 2, 2011. His Platoon Sgt told me Chaz would be at formation three times a week or he'd have an article 15. He then told me it was my responsibility to get Chaz to the appointments because I was his NMA and I was also expected to attend, because they paid me to be here. I told him that Chaz would be going to all medical appointments deemed necessary by medical staff. Then I told him when he had his medical license and showed me the benefit of these mandatory formations on Chaz's health then I'd make sure he was there. Guess how many formations Chaz has attended? It's a low number.

It is an insult to require our wounded to in-process into the WTB. The weeks following discharge I took Chaz around the hospital to obtain over 30 signatures. This was in addition to PT, OT and all other appointments he had. Let me reiterate he had just left the hospital. Sometimes we were in appointments for 6 hours a day, but we were expected to obtain those signatures within two weeks of discharge.

I have learned since the merger they only require 30 signatures of the wounded warrior. So at least someone decided the over 30 was just too much. I'm glad that just 30 was a more appropriate number. What are these signatures for? Are you ready? Our soldiers have to get signatures from their squad leader, the mail room, the pay dept, to validate their life insurance policy, Tricare and a few other signatures. In other words, your wounded soldier leaves the hospital and then they are bogged down with paperwork. Then months later they get bogged down with the VA process. (More about that later.)

Speaking of paperwork, did you know if our soldiers want to go on an event provided by the hospital they have to turn in a permission form? I refuse to sign up for an event through the hospital right now. Even though I love the Warrior Family events staff, because they are all wonderful. Chaz is 33 years old and I don't feel he needs to obtain anyone's permission to go on any hospital approved event. We are not making the soldiers sign out to go out to dinner and drink on their own so why are we making them sign a form to attend an event coordinated through the hospital? At least if they go on these events the hospital staff is with them. Why are we filling out permission forms? So the WTB can know where we're going. Yes they have pulled people off of events. To me it's a way of them controlling who goes where and when. 97% of our warriors do not need this level of supervision. I feel these forms are emasculating to our soldiers and I will not ask Chaz to do it. I simply create my own "events" and avoid the additional paperwork.

My lord they just fought in a war, they are here alive, let them go have some fun. The hospital sponsored events are well planned out and transportation is even provided to and from. These events usually involve non-profits who simply want to thank our soldiers for their service and sacrifice. But because our wounded don't want to fill out any more paperwork participation in the events is on the decline. This is not good. We want the families to go and get out. We want them to enjoy their lives. Instead our families feel like everyone wants them to just go to their room. They feel like damaged rejects.

The majority of the persons running the WTB are active duty national guard. I love the national guard and appreciate their service as much as any other component of the military. However in my opinion, the National Guard does not need to be assigned to the WTB period. We need to send them else where. They could be much more useful in other assignments in the Army. Yes they might be Active Duty but these soldiers do not recognize and understand the life of the regular active duty Army. The ones here really do not understand the active duty who have deployed again and again. They don't understand that wives like myself who handle everything on the home front because that's what we've done again and again. That misunderstanding leads to further complications and other issues like resentment. Many of the WTB members at WRNMMC have never even deployed which really complicates things and yields even more resentment. The National Guard have been activated for this WTB assignment. But if you've never deployed or even been a part of a major army division how can you possibly relate to what the families are going through?

I also have issues with all ranks answering to a squad leader. That is just inappropriate and even humiliating and fosters more resentment and hinders healing. These men have been emasculated enough they've lost limbs. They fear they've lost everything they've ever known and earned. Their independence has been stripped from them. To me making them fall under a rank beneath them in protocol is unacceptable. Some of these men, like Chaz were leading teams into war and have saved lives and now because they were injured we treat them like they are incompetent and make them answer to squad leaders who have never led anything. 

We have had eight squad leaders in eighteen months. Yes, for my active duty friends that was 8, you read that correct. Chaz has taught six of them how to do their job and fill out paperwork. One even begged him to come in and help them all with the paperwork because they didn't know how to do it. So humor me, how did they get to put on an E-6? Recently our squad leader decided to sit on Chaz's leave forms that we faxed from TN. We faxed it in because we knew you are supposed to give them 14 days notice. This guy sits on Chaz's form until we return then he tells the Platoon Sargent that Chaz just turned it. Platoon Sargent calls Chaz and says um I'm denying this leave because you didn't turn it in on time. Chaz flipped. Then someone from WTB has the audacity to say we were lying about faxing it in. Bottom line is Chaz has use or lose leave that had to be used by October 1. In addition he had over 70 days of leave accumulated. So tell me again why we can't use 6 days of leave?! 

We need to educate the WTB that they are here to help heroes heal. This is nothing like a normal line unit. I truly wish they would stop calling it a "line unit" (that's the Infantry wife coming out). We have to acknowledge the differences and really train them. They need to know this is unlike any other assignment they will ever receive. They need to know that the Army is asking them to take care of our wounded. They need to see it as an honor to help these heroes heal. These guys may have been injured, but they are still whole and they are freaking amazing!!! I am inspired by them everyday. I cannot believe the man I am married too. Chaz has not let any part of his injury get in his way. The WTB should look at these guys for inspiration and we should want them to stay in the Army. If we retained them, we could build an even better Army. Our wounded could teach a lot of valuable lessons to others if given the opportunity. But no instead we make them sign permission forms to leave the hospital to have a little fun. We give them grief when they want to take leave, even through their medical staff have no reasons to deny it. We they need help we rely on each other to help, because the WTB is conveniently unavailable.

They need to know the caregivers are an extremely valuable part of the team. The caregivers can provide them with an insight that could truly make a difference in the healing and success of our wounded. Most importantly the WTB needs to be humbled and realize that war does not discriminate and that their next deployment could land them in a wheelchair. Because of that simple fact they need to treat the warriors with the golden rule of treating others how you would like to be treated. You may think this is common sense, but let me assure you I would not be talking about it if it was going on currently.

Most importantly we need to treat positions at WTB as an honor. We need to treat our WTB with the same respect we give the world class surgeons who are operating on our guys. The WTB is just as important, but they have to step up. Sure they might not be operating on our warriors, but their support and help during this transition is just as valuable. They may not be saving lives in an operating room, but they can save lives by helping the families heal. They need to get involved with the soldiers and get to know them and their families. They need to be a part of the team. I'll put money on the table that our current squad leader could not identify the girls and I if we were in a line up with the other families. They need to be at the MATC encouraging the warriors. They need to join us for lunch every once in a while. They need to be on the team. We could really use their help and support.  Maybe, just maybe if we build a strong foundation for these warriors, maybe we could stop losing 18 veterans per day to suicide.

We need to foster a reciprocal relationship between the WTB and the families. We need to work together, not avoid each other. Respect is earned and I can tell you right now that the WTB does not have any respect from this lady. The WTB does not have any respect from any of the families that we know. We have never witnessed such ineffectual leadership. We truly have a case of the blind leading the blind. We need clear concise policies and procedures for each aspect of the WTB. We owe it to those assigned to WTB as well as the wounded. We must do better. It is time to put the hours in and not run out at 1530 because you want to beat traffic.

If you are an active duty solider you are on call 24/7, sorry but it is a part of the job. I cannot tell you how many federal holidays Chaz did not get to take off. I can't tell you how many 24 hour staff duty shifts he has pulled. Then let's talk about deployments. Hello he missed Deryn being born in 2002. We ask a lot of our soldiers, but it seems we do not hold the WTB to the same bar. But the WTB asks so much of the wounded. They put so many headaches and hassles out there and it's time to wake up. They are doing an extremely important job and they need to wake up and realize how valuable they can be.

I personally believe if we educated the WTB and set the clear and concise policies then we could help heal these families.You cannot just toss someone into a job and expect them to succeed if they have ineffectual leaders and no training. This is the US Army and I know we can do better. I have 14 years of proof and a kick ass squad leader in my life to prove how awesome our Army really is.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Coming Clean.....

It's been a long time coming, but I am going to let the truth be told in a series of blog posts. We have been bullied, harassed and even investigated by the WTB. I have nothing to hide. I haven't done anything wrong and I am not going to be quiet anymore. I have just been pushing it all away and dealing with other things. The time has come. I feel like I am living a version of the Tell-Tale Heart. I smushed all my stories under the floor boards and knew it was there. Now I am pulling up those boards and I am going to start telling the stories. 

Finding out that I am by far not the only one who has had problems made me realize it's time to start talking. Even though most of it has been focused on me, but Chaz has been told more than once to "get his wife under control." So I am going to start telling the stories that need to be told so you can see how "out of control" I am. The bottom line is very few of us are out of control. The WTB refuses to see smart, intelligent vocal women when they see them. Because we speak up and challenge the system we are labeled as trouble makers, discredited and even blacklisted. Heaven forbid we talk to someone on the outside. Because if you do that you end up in the principal's office and find out what the "open door" policy is really about.

Before we left for the cruise the Surgeon General came to the hospital to talk to the families. Well I was at my Yellow Ribbon Fund event and in addition I was not invited to this meeting. I must admit I am glad I missed it. I have fought for so long and I have made my voice heard. I have reported the complaints of others, but since it only came from me, the complaints were ignored. Well at that meeting many families stood up and spoke the things I have been saying for a very long time. So now the families are getting the attention they need and deserve. I believe the Surgeon General will make great things happen. But I also know she needs to know our stories so she and her staff know where the issues are so they can address them.

Our relationship with the WTB started out great. Chaz had this awesome squad leader. She sometimes would just come and hang out in our room to get to know us better. We did not have a single issue with WTB when we were under her care. But then she received orders to deploy. I remember the day she came to tell us she was leaving. She flat out told us she was not happy with her replacement. She told me I would have to fight for everything. Do you know she deployed to Afghanistan and she still checks on us to this day? That's how amazing she is.

The new squad leader left a business card in Chaz's room one day while he was in surgery. About two weeks later he finally showed up and Chaz was in surgery again. He claimed that every time he came by Chaz was in surgery. (Here's the kicker, he had access to Chaz's file and could know where Chaz was at all times.) He strutted around the room like a rooster. Then he pointed to the calendar I had on the wall so Chaz could keep up with me and the days. It was marked for when I was TN and DC. This Squad Leader looked at it and said, "What is this BS?" I told him what it was. He told me I needed to "quit leaving my husband and get my ass in DC because they pay me to be here." The conversation quickly went down hill. Luckily one of our LNOs was there and witnessed the whole incident. The LNO told me that at one point he was sure I was going to deck the Squad Leader. He told me my hand was in a fist. Yes, the thought did cross my mind.

That conversation was not very productive. The Squad Leader told me if I loved my husband then I would sell our house and pack up and get my ass in DC. He told me I could just pawn off my children on the school system here. He was horrible. He is a sexist, egotistical pig. I have dealt with some truly ignorant people, but this guy is on my list of the worst.

I later found out that he had treated five other 101st families a similar way. One wife had been ill. She had dropped her husband off at the hospital for his appointments and she went back to bed. Her husband was quite self-sufficient at this time. This same squad leader called her and told her to "Get her ass to the hospital because they pay her to be here." When I found her in the hall she looked horrible. She was so sick and needed to be in bed. When we started talking she told me what the Squad Leader had said. I told her she had to stand up to him the next time he tried to do that again. She seriously believed that since she was receiving per diem that meant that she also had to take orders from these people.

Soon I was hearing story after story about this guy. It all came to a head when we were trying to get housing at 1200. He did not do his job and I caught him on it. He also told lies to our Nurse Case Manager and a few other people. So I was encouraged to take advantage of the "open door" policy at WTB. I took our two LNOs with me and I went to see the CSM (Command Sargent Major) to discuss the issues. I was told by the CSM it would be handle and then he wanted to make sure that I wasn't babying Chaz. That topic was totally irrelevant. I guess since I was standing up for my family that meant I was babying Chaz?! Where was Chaz for this conversation? He was in therapy. If I was babying him, would I have left his side?

You know how the CSM handled the five families who had problems with the Squad Leader? He transferred them to other squad leaders. But his solution for us was to get us into Battle Company as fast as possible so we'd be out of HQ. That Squad Leader stayed on for months and continued to treat people as badly as he treated us and nothing was done. Finally his term ended and he has left the area. But his damage is done and the ignorance continues.

I will confess thanks to this guy, I put up a wall to the squad leaders. I decided that since I was married to a Squad Leader that if I had problem I would go to him or higher. The Squad Leaders here to me are the opposite of everything I have ever learned about Squad Leaders. Of course being married to one and seeing how it's all supposed to work doesn't help at all.

I confess I hold Squad Leaders up to Chaz's standard. Chaz is a great leader and is a squared away soldier. Not one of these guys could compete with Chaz. How do I know this? I know how Chaz's soldiers view him as a leader. I can hear it in Chaz's voice that these guys at WTB are a hot mess.

Well here's to the beginning of the stories. I hope you enjoy the ones that follow.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Amazing Cruise

Sorry for the delay, I have been swamped. Ok here's our cruise story. Here's our ship the Enchantment of the Seas sitting in the Bermuda water.

Last Friday we packed up and drove to the dock in Baltimore. We were all so very excited. We were greeted by the Royal Caribbean crew and made our way to the boat around 2ish. This is where it gets ugly for a minute. Get through this it gets much better.

Royal Caribbean gives you this SeaPass cards and they are great. They add a picture to them and your credit card info and you only need this card on your cruise. Super smart idea, right?! Well Chaz is still primarily in his wheelchair. He was leading our crew down to the loading ramp. He was carrying his shower bench in his lap, his hands are full because he is using them to wheel himself to the ramp. This red haired female with glasses, who was about 5' 7", large build and was about mid-forties begins yelling at Chaz for his SeaPass. I, of course, have all four of them in my pocket because we just got them and how is Chaz going to hold it and who in their right mind would give them to their 7 and 10 year old. I pick up my pace carrying our carry-on and my laptop bag. By the time I reach Chaz she has yelled at him five times for the SeaPass. Chaz finally states, "Christ lady, hang on." She then yells back at him, "You have to have that SeaPass with you at all times. You watch your language. I want an apology right now or you will not board this ship." (The security guard stood there in horror. He was as shocked as we were.) Chaz says, "Fine, I am sorry I yelled back at you for yelling at me. There happy?" She then yells at me and wags her finger in my face and said, "Everyone needs to keep their own SeaPass on them at all times, no exceptions." At this point I am ready to take her out. The girls were scared of her. I then tried to get us out of there. I asked the guard if there was a more level access point for Chaz. She interrupts and yells at me again, "Ma'am this ramp is fully ADA compliant." That was it. I yelled back, "Did I question if it was ADA? No I asked for a more level access point. He's not only missing his legs he's missing an elbow and injured his shoulder. He does not need to wheel himself up a series of five ramps with that high of a slope. Is that ok with you?" She snaps back and says, "Fine he goes this way and you and your girls go this way." I looked at her and said, "Gees, thank you so much and you have a great day." The security guard took Chaz and apologized to him in route. Then the Royal Caribbean folks helped Chaz the rest of the way to the 4th floor. I was then informed by Deryn that the lady was "really scary and shouldn't have been so mean."

We met Chaz on the 4th floor and found our room. We were greeted by our stateroom attendant and she was just the sweetest. Her name was Liliana and we all really liked her. She made us feel very welcome and thank goodness because that red haired lady did not start us off on a good foot. We dropped our stuff and went to lunch. By the time we finished lunch it was time for our safety brief, which was super organized. When they finished they let us out and held back the crowd. And we walked in front of the crowd, I lost count of how many people stepped up to thank Chaz for his service and literally pat all four of us on the back. It was very cool and to me God's way of saying forget about that idiot a few hours ago. Here's one of the surprises she left us one night!
We got a big kick out of this one. Liliana had heard us call Ry "stingray." ;)
And for my Mom and sister, yes Dino came along. He needed to get his passport stamped too. And you can see he had a great time. ;) This was the first surprise Liliana left the girls.
Ok back to Friday, after lunch we went exploring and called the grandmas. The girls wanted to tell them all about the boat. Here's Ry taking her turn talking to either Gee or Nana.
I love this picture of Deryn helping her Daddy through the crowd. Once again I really feel sorry for whomever tries to dates Chaz's girls. There's a very tight bond there. ;)
We met this awesome couple from Maryland and chatted with them. Here's our picture from later on in the cruise. They were so great and helpful.
Here are some pics of the inside of the boat.

After sailing for two days we reached the beautiful Bermuda. The locals came to the dock and yelled "Welcome to Bermuda" again and again. It was very sweet of them. Here are the girls checking it out.

And here are the locals welcoming our ship...
Here's us fresh off the boat...
Here's Chaz and the girls checking it all out...
And here's some of beautiful Bermuda.....

As you can see it was absolutely breathtaking. We had such a great time exploring. The locals were so welcoming and we consulted them and what to do and where to go and it paid off. We ended up at a beach that was just some of us from the cruise. It was quiet and wonderful. Bermuda is known for it's pink sand beaches. We bought pink sand at the gift shop and chose a quieter beach. If you look close Deryn is holding a handful of sand with orange in it. So we got the best of both.

The girls loved riding on the opposite side of the road. We also went snorkeling and had hundreds of fish greet us. It was as if we were in an aquarium. It was amazing. Our girls are water babies and here they are having fun with Daddy.

As you can tell by the smiles, we had the greatest time. We just relaxed and had as much fun as we could handle. And yes, the food was awesome. The first night we were there we were given table 191 and had Eduardo and Lucia as our wait staff. They were great and you could tell enjoyed spoiling the girls. The only down side is that there were not a lot of kids there. But the ones who were there are stuck together and they all had a ton of fun.

We want to again say thank you to Operation Second Chance for this fantastic blessing. Family is the best medicine and we are so thankful to know people who feel the same way. Thanks again Cindy and Pauline!!!!

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Going off the grid was amazing!! Last Friday I boarded a boat with my beautiful family. We called Gee and Nana (the grandmas) so the girls could tell them about the boat. Then I flipped my iPhone on airplane mode and shut it off. To make sure I wouldn't be tempted to reconnect to the world, I took the extra effort and put my iPhone into a bag I wouldn't touch until we got back to Baltimore and zipped it shut. Just a warning, this may be the first in a stream of blogs resulting from this trip. Don't day I didn't warn you.

For 6 straight days, the three people I love the most had all of me. No distractions, no phones, no emails, it was just the four of us having uninterrupted fun. It was as close to perfect as one can get.

We let the girls control the trip. We ate when they were hungry. We took them swimming when they wanted to swim. We snuggled them when they wanted to snuggle. We shopped when they wanted to shop. They only thing we made them do was shower and brush their teeth. You know we had to keep some of the rules. ;)

The first night by the pool, gravity caught up to me again. I watched our girls having a blast with their newly found friends. The weight of this journey fell onto my shoulders. But this time was different, this time I was overwhelmed with pride. Chaz and I have rocked this road. I thought back to January 22, 2011. I was so paralyzed with fear. I thought back to the day when I saw Chaz in ICU for the first time. Again I was paralyzed with fear, but I didn't let him or anyone else see that. I can close my eyes right now and paint you such a clear picture of those days. I can hear all the negative voices that have tried to beat us down on this journey. I can see all the obstacles that people threw into our way. They tried to beat us down with their negativity. We laughed in their faces and even kicked a few of their asses. 

Together my rockstar hubby and I held onto each other and our girls. Together we made plans and weathered a horrific storm. Together we stayed faithful to God's path and look at how we've been rewarded. God blessed us with amazing team members to help us get to where we are and my heart is simply overflowing. Thank you again to all of you that have helped us rock this path. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for all of your prayers, cheers, tears, laughs, words and support!!!!