Saturday, February 23, 2013

12 Years and Counting....

Twelve years ago today I walked down a aisle in a cute little chapel in Nashville. With one tear of joy, I said I do and I became Mrs. Allen.

I still joke with Chaz all the time about being in breach of contract. Sure there's in sickness and in health, til death do us part but there's no IED clause. I did go back and double check. (For those who don't know me, I am totally kidding here).

When we were cleaning out the garage a few weeks ago, we found a picture of us from 1999. We laughed about the kids in that picture. Back then Chaz had just been promoted to PFC and I was in my Junior year of college. To think what we have been through in just 12 years just blows my mind. I would not change one thing. There are still some days I cannot believe how blessed we are.

Today we have to do the normal parenting things. One of us is taking one kid to a birthday party. The other one is taking the other kid to softball tryouts. Tonight we are giving the kids to grannie and going out to the Grand Ole Opry to see a friend of ours perform there. There's nothing better than being home to celebrate this day. And there's nothing better than being with great people to celebrate our day together!!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Tiaras Make It All Better....

One the best things that has resulted from Chaz's injuries are the bonds our family has now. We have really gotten to know our children. We can just look at them and see that things are brewing. Deryn is ten and is going into that pre-teen stuff right now. Which is not fun at all. The past few days you could tell things were just bothering her. Everything made her mad. Deryn is like Chaz in the way she can let things go, but recently she has not been able to do that.

Last night Chaz took Ryann to her dance class. When Deryn came home from the neighbor's house, she sat in the recliner with me and we watched a little Dance Moms. (Seriously that show is so ridiculous, how can you not watch it? And to top it off those little girls are excellent dancers.) All the sudden, Deryn gets up and grabs the tiaras Nana sent the girls for Valentine's Day. She put one on my head and one on hers. She said, "Don't tiaras just make it all better?" I said yes and then said that I was fine before the tiara. She put her head down and then started to open up to me.

Deryn confessed that she misses our dog Arf, who passed away within a week of us coming home for good. She told me how sad she was for her friend who just had her grandfather pass away. She tole me that she was sad she picked out the wrong bat for softball and I promised to get her another one. Then what was really bothering her came out. She doesn't like the way people look at her Dad here in Clarksville. She said she sees the people. Some look at Dad like he's a hero, some feel sorry for him and some just are stupid. She confessed to me how she always knew which ones were soldiers. She said they have this look of fear when they look at Dad. She said she actually misses Maryland because people looked at her Dad the right way.

I asked, "What is the right way?" She said to look at him as a hero or just as a guy who has cool robot legs. Or they can look at him as just a guy. She went on to tell me she was worried about the soldiers who looked at Chaz with fear. She said that they have to be so afraid and they go anyway. She said what bothered her was the solider who looked at Chaz was just totally weirded out by it. She then went on to tell me how she wanted to mess with him, but knew it wasn't the right time. She said he needed to laugh. She then wanted to know why he did he look at Chaz that way.

I had to have the talk of how we cannot control how people react. Daddy is different in the eyes of the average person. Those who know and love him know that he is not different at all besides the fact he has different legs. Then I realized Deryn has joined Chaz and I in wanting to leave Clarksville. Chaz is an in your face reminder of what could happen. That can be taken in several different ways, but the reactions that are seen on faces when reality strikes make you want to run away and hide. So in other words, our new house can't be built fast enough. ;)

In all seriousness, this is our life and the stares are part of it. Deryn knows that we have to deal with whatever comes our way. The stares are just a part of the journey. We have to just suck it up and push through. However she is correct on one thing....."tiaras do make it all better."

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Moving Home....

Now that enough time has passed and I can be more objective I am going to tell the story of when we went to move home for good. Oh and it's a good one......

When the Army first gave Chaz a retirement date of January 9, we laughed at it. You see no one in the Army does any real work until mid-January. We knew that we would not be able to see everyone we had to see and be out of DC by then. You see no one came back to work until January 7. So someone thought we could get Chaz out of the Army in 48 hours. (Once again this is one of those automated things that people really don't think about. They get a date through it on the form and pass it down.) We brought this to WTB command's attention and Chaz's 10 day extension was granted without any problems. We knew we could get everything done within that time frame.

Before we went home to Tennessee for Christmas, Chaz went around and did everything on the insanely long, but understandably so checklist. He really only needed one signature from housing to get out of there and we needed to make and provide them with our exit plan. Before we left the plan was to take as much on the plane as we could. Thanks to Veterans Airlift Command we were able to do that. Next we would drive my vehicle back up on January 2 so then we could drive everything back. Once we arrived back in DC we would mail a bunch of stuff home. Lastly bring up our friends to help us drive back. The plan seemed great and we were told by the WTB we would get postage for our mailing and this was all no big deal.

Now we decided months prior to save Chaz's final retirement move for when we move into the new house. It seemed like a waste of a move to us to move our personal effects from the apartment in Maryland to our home in Tennessee. It made more sense to save that move and move our things from the old house to the new house. The only things we had in Maryland were things like clothes and personal effects. (Please note we were being quite smart and responsible here.)

We arrive in DC on January 2 and began packing and that's when everything began going down hill. We were told by this person that we had to paint the walls and clean the carpet in order to be cleared from our apartment. Then they also told us that we had to completely vacate the apartment in order for it to be cleared. So Chaz was being told to put us in a hotel so they could inspect the apartment and we would stay in said hotel until it was time to leave. Of course the hotel was on our dime and they couldn't give us an inspection date. And if we didn't want to paint the apartment or clean the carpets that was fine but it would cost us $250-600 to have it done and it was our responsibility to do so. But if you lived on the base, you simply moved out and left your keys with someone.

Next we find out that Chaz is being denied postage because he "no longer has the prospect of longevity with the US Army." You can safely assume this is where I lost it. So yes I took a picture of my husband in his wheelchair painting the walls and I sent it to some people high in the food chain who care a lot about our soldiers and their welfare. I also have pictures of my husband cleaning the apartment. Well the picture gets to the people who care and those people made the people who are supposed to care call us to ask questions about what was going on. I was assured we would get postage, that we didn't have to paint the walls and that we'd have help moving. This was during the weekend by the way.

Monday morning we had a visit from a Platoon Sargent, who had never spoken more than three words to me, and only a few more to Chaz. Yes you can assume he was not happy and tried to scold my hubby like a 2 year old because "he jumped chain of command." I stopped him and told him to point his finger at my face. He tried so very hard to make me understand this is how the Army works. We had a very nice chat about policies, laws, regulations and tenants-in-common relationships. He tried to school me on the barracks policies, but was stuck when I pointed out the oxymorons that he himself was running himself around in. Then asked him "How many times have you moved yourself?" He answered. Then I asked, "How many times did you move your family without your legs?" He just looked at me. There's really not a lot you can say to that, huh? It is beyond time for the people who are supposed to help to stop and think about what this is all like. We are not charity cases, but we do need a little help and compassion every once in a while.

The LT Colonel who retired Chaz came in after this Sargent. We really like the Colonel, he gets it. He asked what we needed and we told him. He brought the housing people with him and they gave Chaz the last signature he needed so he could officially get out of the Army. When everyone left we were told that all would be handled. Let me fill you in on that one.

We were still denied postage. So I contacted Wounded Warrior Project to see about a U-Haul (they have a partnership with them), but I was informed I had to give them two weeks notice. Of course I wish I had two weeks notice, so no help there. Operation Ward 57 stepped up to cover the U-Hual, but we ended up not using it. The Navy ended up helping us with our goods.  The Navy took our items that we were going to ship home and put it in storage. Once we use our retirement move they will send all of those goods to the new house. Yes I teared up at this great news. And I couldn't make eye contact with the Platoon Sargent when he said he knew about that option the entire time (Um, hello, and you didn't share this why?). WTB was supposed to send people to help us load our cars. But when that day came only that awesome Colonel and someone else's squad leader were the only ones who showed up. But we got it done and I am so glad it was that Colonel who came. I don't really know that squad leader, but he was helpful to us and I appreciate him helping us. We were able to knock it out in just a few hours. About the time we finished the cars, the movers came for the storage. Our friends came to help with the final cleaning and moving. Our friends arrived from the airport and we were able to drive out just after lunch time. It all worked out in the end, but could have been a lot smoother. I again want to point out that so many have come before us. That fact breaks my heart.

In short we moved out of DC thanks to the Navy, a great Colonel and a few non-profits and a lot of great friends who truly care. People ask me why do our veterans feel deposed of? Well when someone tells you that you are denied something because you "no longer have the prospect of longevity with the US Army" how are you supposed to feel? This move home was the first time Chaz showed any true frustration with the Army. All he wanted to do was help his family and when he asked for help he was denied. After this situation, I heard my husband say, "I guess you really are a second class citizen once you retire." It truly hurts my heart that any veteran would feel this way and it broke my heart a little to here my favorite veteran actually say that.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Can We Talk about It Now?

I am a talker. I am not a very good listener. I have truly tried to improve my listening skills over the years, but I know I still need improvement. Chaz tells me I have gotten a lot better. Do you know what made me a better listener? My husband's military career.

The other day we found a picture of us when we first started dating in 1999. It seems like it was only yesterday. I looked at those young faces and realized that Chaz and I have been through so much in our years together. We have healed together through Kosovo, 9/11, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. How are we still sane? We talk through our problems.

Healing a service member wounded by war is incredibly hard. Just like real war you have no notice of when the battles will start. You have to always be on your toes and some days you just want to hide and wait for it to pass over. When healing a warrior you can't hide, you have to put your big girl panties on and get into the suck.

When Chaz came home from Iraq, he was angry. I knew the instant I saw him he was different. I knew war had changed him. The night he returned we stayed up and talked all night long. He was so mad about so many things that had happened over there. He needed me to just let him get it all out. Chaz really didn't get it all out until I read the book about his deployment to Iraq. That book (Black Hearts by Jim Frederick) gave me so many more additional conversation starters. Thanks to Jim's book, I was able to get my hubby to really open up. I know way more about war then I ever wanted to know. The other day at the VA we had to rehash some of that knowledge and it sucks. I want to put all of that in the book and put on the shelf as a reminder of another battle we won together. I don't like talking about Iraq. It flat out pisses me off. Read the book, you'll understand why.

No matter how angry I get about Iraq and what Chaz has been through I have to remember to get it all out. I have to allow myself to get angry. I have to talk about it. I have to be ready to listen to my hubby when he talks about his deployments. I have to help him get it out. I have to remember to let my girls talk to me about their fears. They have seen Daddy get angry. They have seen me help him calm down. Then we have talked about it.

We don't hide our post traumatic stress. We put it out on the table. We are real with our girls. We are real on their level. We help them understand what is going on. We talk about our anger. We talk about their fears.Why? Because they sometimes they are scared and angry too. We talk about it so we can help them heal. We are honest with our girls, because we want them to be honest with us.

I now have to ask our nation why are we not talking about post traumatic stress and our veterans? It seems that we can talk about everything in our country but mental illness. The other day the VA released the updated numbers. We are losing 1 active duty service member and 22 veterans every day to suicide. That's 23 heroes per day or 8395 per year. Did you see that on the news? I didn't. And I only found the story on a few online media sources. You know why that makes me so angry? The people who serve our country deserve better. The have served and protected us and we can't even talk about how to help them? No, instead we include PTSD in a story line on a TV show or lifetime movie and scare the crap out of people.

Here's more news for you very few of our veterans are violent towards others, but it will be that minority that will stick in your memory. The updated numbers from the VA proved that our veterans are more likely to hurt themselves than to hurt others. I believe every service member who has deployed has some degree of post traumatic stress. I'll even argue every family member of a service member who has deployed has secondary post traumatic stress. Guess what, less than 1% of our nation serves our country. Should you be scared of them? Heck no! They are freaking amazing.

Take a second and think about leaving your home to be stuck somewhere that is like nothing you have ever seen. Then think about being shot at by people you don't know. Oh and those people left bombs in the ground to get you that way too. Then think about bonding with people only to watch them suffer and bleed in front of you thanks to those bullets and bombs. You spend months of your life in this situation. Not just once, but multiple times. You finally get to go home to a family that has changed and kept on moving. Your own kids don't recognize you. Your wife doesn't understand you. If you were hurt, the people who are supposed to help you transition make you feel broken and worthless and now you question was your service worth it. The news is tired of your story so they just stop talking about what you and your brothers and sisters in arms have done. You reach out for support, but you have to wait months for an appointment to be seen and you don't know what else to do.

This is the short version of a story shared by many of our veterans. I have seen what the VA is trying to do. They are really trying to help our veterans. Yes this is the VA's problem, but it's also the American people's problem. These men and women served for us. They sacrificed for us. We owe it to them to start talking. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a nation to heal a service member wounded by war. I plead with you to start the conversation. I do not have the answers on how to solve this problem, but I can tell you ignoring it is definitely not going to make it go away.