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Archive for December, 2010

Army Spec. Richard New broke his leg in three places during basic training. After six months of therapy, he was back to running and ready to move on with his military career. He thought he had the worst of the injury behind him.

The New Family

Army Spec. Richard New, his wife Susan and daughter Zoe, will be new residents at the Operation Homefront Village in Bethesda, MD.

He was wrong.

Just a few months later, during hand-to-hand combat training, Richard suffered several deep scratches and developed a staph infection. He was hospitalized. Doctors told his wife, Susan, that his life was in jeopardy. They operated and removed some of the tissue from his arm and drained much of the swollen limb. Richard was out of mortal danger, but his body would never be the same.

The infection caused nerve damage in his arm. Susan said even the most gentle breeze against his skin caused Richard to fall to the ground in pain. The family was moved to Fort Meade where Richard started a new job and began treatments at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

During a procedure to inject painkillers into his spine, Susan said something went very wrong. The injection caused nerve damage to his back. Again, Richard returned to duty, but every day he battled extreme pain.

In March of 2009, Richard tripped outside his home and fell on his already injured arm. The fall paralyzed the limb. He could no longer do his job or anything else with his right arm.

Now, away from his job, and in excruciating pain, Richard began displaying symptoms of severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Doctors admitted him for several weeks to treat him for the condition.

With each new injury, life for the New family became increasingly stressful. When Richard was moved to Maryland, Susan was eight months pregnant and had to leave her job. Once it was obvious he would have to leave the military, the pair moved into an RV park with their now 2-year-old daughter, Zoe, to save money. Their trailer was only 22 feet long.

The family thought the living situation would be temporary. Six months passed as they prepared for life outside the military. They realized they did not have enough money to move into an apartment. And to make matters worse, the chill in the trailer caused Richard’s arm to throb with pain. They wondered if there was any chance of getting ahead.

With relief, they have found there is hope.

Recently, this struggling family received some good news. Operation Homefront has given the family a home out of the cold at the new Operation Homefront Village in Bethesda, MD. It’s a comfortable place they can call home and live for free as they prepare for life after the military.

When they move in on Dec. 23, there will be a Christmas tree waiting in their new living room. It will be the first tree little Zoe has ever had. Now, there will be plenty of room for her to play and Richard will have a place to heal that is warm. “We are beyond thrilled,” Susan said. “It’s going to be a magical Christmas for us.

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Where are you?

With a single glance, I can see that one of my closest friends is spending his Friday night at a sushi bar in Las Vegas; that a fellow Army wife just left the zoo with her children and that another is on a much needed date with her husband at a hip new bistro in Raleigh, N.C.

This impromptu reunion is made possible through Facebook. They didn’t post their locations in their status. Instead they “checked in” to the location so everyone can see where they currently, physically are.

I love Facebook. I feel like I can catch up with all my friends in an instant. The problem is, I’m not the only one who might be checking in on them.

The Facebook application, Places, allows you to check in to a location through your mobile device. Your smiling face then appears on everyone’s wall with your current location.

It’s totally cool if you want to share stats on a great new restaurant with your pals. It could be dangerous if the wrong person is keeping track of your whereabouts. Now, it does feel a little hyper vigilant and maybe a bit overprotective to declare that this app is going to lead to abductions, stalking and certain death and destruction.

But the Department of Defense thinks enough of the new technology to warn military members and their families that enemies could eventually make it work to their advantage. Tracking a single soldier could lead to finding the whole unit. Could finding the whole unit, and maybe their families, lead to the enemy placing them all squarely in their crosshairs?

At this point, it’s uncertain. But the idea of better safe than sorry certainly comes to mind. My husband’s unit, and many others across the country, has asked family members to set their Places settings to private.

If you’d like to do the same, follow the directions listed at the following websites with writers who are much more tech savvy than I.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/20/disable-facebook-places_n_689111.html

http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/handle-facebook-places-security-settings/

http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=143211525726379

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There is a little girl in my church who carries a single doll with her everywhere she goes. It’s faded. It’s fraying along the edges. It’s easy to tell it was hand-sewn, but it was made with more love than the most expensive toy in the world.

It’s a plain, white lumpy doll with a photo of her daddy in his Army uniform ironed across the front. She hugs daddy during service. She leaves daddy waiting on the playground while she hops and jumps with the other kids. Occasionally, she drops daddy on the ground when the cookies are passed out during Sunday school.

But in this small way, even while daddy is deployed thousands of miles away, she can have him with her.

Most military kids these days have a daddy (or mommy) doll tucked away somewhere, even if they won’t admit it to their friends. Being a military kid can be tough and having this doll, even if he or she is only made of cotton, can ease the pain of a rough day. And military kids have a lot of rough days.

In the last ten years, the role of the military child has changed, drastically. Military kids have always lived a nomadic lifestyle, moving from base to base. Lifelong friendships are rare. They never get to stay in their schools or a favorite activity for very long. But since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, many military children have begun losing their childhoods altogether.

Their mothers and fathers have been deployed, repeatedly. The children have had to take on new rolls in their households: babysitting siblings, cleaning and cooking. The spouse left at home may lean on them emotionally as well. Without their newfound maturity, the household might crumble. And in the worst cases, when daddy or mommy never come home or return severely injured, the children become the caregiver for the adults.

When Willie Banks’ father died, he was only a toddler. Now, at age 10, Willie tries his best to carry out the convictions of his father, an Army major. Willie volunteers at church, school and on the athletic field. When his mother deployed to Iraq, he helped care for his younger sister.

When Brittany Wallace’s father was severely injured in Iraq, she, then age 17, took over as head of the household while her mother tended to his rehabilitation. Brittany played mother to her two younger siblings and helped them with their school work, cleaned the house and made meals – all while keeping up her own grades at school.

Military kids have it tough. But they have also proven to be some of the strongest, brightest kids around. They make new friends. They step up to the challenges and often perform better than some adults who crumble under the same pressures.

That is why Operation Homefront is proud to recognize and honor the strength, courage and achievements of our warriors’ children. This week, Operation Homefront kicks off the third annual Military Child of the Year Award. Both Brittany and Willie were honored in 2009 and 2010, respectively. This year, the contest is open to all branches of the military, including the Coast Guard.

Do you know a military child who shines? Nominate them for Operation Homefront’s 2011 Military Child of the Year Award. For more information, please visit www.operationhomefront.net/mcoy

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I was interviewing Dr. Gary Chapman as a professional writer. I was supposed to maintain a certain degree of distance. But frankly, the internationally known pastor and marriage counselor could have been discussing my life as he talked about the difficulties of military marriages.

First, he addressed the pitfalls of military life that can make marriage difficult.

  • Deployments and training can mean couples legally married for ten years only spent half that amount of time actually living together. Check. Over a seven year span, my husband was deployed  for a total of nearly five years.
  • Holidays are celebrated weeks or months before or after the actual event. Check. Almost every birthday in our house is celebrated long before their turn on the calendar to make sure daddy can attend.
  • Family celebrations are held via webcam and long-distance phone calls. Check. My husband has listened to class plays via cell phone. 

Military marriages are, in a word, different. And it’s difficult to find a non-military counselor who truly understands how to navigate the issues that arise. Chapman seems to get it. He regularly hosts marriage seminars specifically for military couples at bases around the world. When troops return home from Iraq and Afghanistan, one of their stops is often a group session with Chapman.

Marriage is hard. War makes can make it seem almost impossible. Chapman said military couples need a strong foundation to weather these difficulties. That foundation can be almost non-existent for young couples when the wedding, honeymoon and deployment happen in rapid succession.

Without a foundation, and a plan for when that foundation may rattle, military marriages may falter. “That’s the juncture at which many military couples run into conflict,” Chapman said. “If they don’t have a plan for handling conflict, they argue and it ends up with harsh words and someone walking out and slamming the door.”

Suddenly, Chapman said, a minor incident can lead couples to believe they are incompatible. 

Extra stressors, such as deployment, can make difficult communication much more explosive, especially for a young couple that has not had time to adjust to marriage, he said.

Check and check. My husband and I have had that conflict, repeatedly. The door has slammed. Divorce has been discussed. My friends’ and their husbands have had these fights. Their friends have had these fights.

Chapman’s new book, “Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married,” outlines lessons for couples, as well as single people looking toward married life, to strengthen their foundation. “The reality is that every couple has conflict,” Chapman said. “The key is to learn how to solve those conflicts.”

Chapman focuses on teaching couples to listen empathetically and see the situation from their spouse’s perspective. Once couples learn to understand and empathize with each other, they can spend more time solving the problem rather than arguing over it. “Then they can spend their energy looking for a solution rather than spend their energy trying to convince the other person, ‘you’re wrong I’m right’,” he said. “It’s a huge lesson military couples need to learn, and if they learn it, it will make re-entry from deployment easier.”

After ten years of marriage, my husband and I are still learning those lessons. We’ve turned to Chapman’s books for guidance and passed them along to friends as well. The book also has highlights ways to solve differences without arguing, forgiveness and spirituality.

 “I think at least a good half of the book married couples would find very helpful,” Chapman said. “They can start where they are and take positive steps to grow in those areas.”

His earlier work, “The Five Love Languages,” is also popular among military couples as they learn to not only maintain their relationship but help it thrive across long distances.

Military marriages are hard. Chapman gets it. And with his help, many of us are beginning to get it too – and build marriages that are stronger and more enjoyable than ever.  To find out more about Chapman and his upcoming sessions, visit www.fivelovelanguages.com

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