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
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?