Archive for February, 2011


“Some day, I hope you get the chance to live like you were dyin.”

Army Sgt. Joe Urzua had always been touched by this Tim McGraw song but never knew how deeply it would speak to his life.

The Army Animal Care Specialist first heard the song when he was stationed in Korea. “I was going through a divorce and I had lost my father. The song inspired me to go for it and never give up.”

Yesterday in San Antonio, Urzua got to meet McGraw and tell him personally how the song had inspired him (see picture). McGraw was in town to help promote Outback Steakhouse’s Thanks 4 Giving campaign to support the troops and Operation Homefront.

And McGraw got to hear the rest of the story…

Urzua told McGraw and the group of about 30 people in attendance that he found out about seven months ago that he has a severe form of brain cancer – Type 4 glioblastoma. He said that it is terminal.

His attitude is obviously influenced by the song. “I’m not dead yet and I’m not gonna give up because things are rough.”

He came to Operation Homefront recently because of his illness. The Army PCSed him to San Antonio so he could get the treatment he needed. “That was a good thing but in some ways it set us up for a lot of hardships,” he said. Urzua said they had just bought a house in South Dakota where he was stationed at Ellsworth because they anticipated being there a long time. Then they had to move. The house hasn’t sold, it hasn’t rented and they aren’t there to take care of it.

“Right now, we’re two months behind on our mortgage because my wife had to quit her job to take care of me, our housing allowance was affected with the move and we are only living on my income.”

The Urzua family is moving into the Operation Homefront Village to get back on their feet financially. But living there means more than just financial assistance for the family. “Everyone has been so supportive since I came to the Operation Homefront Village. They understand what I’m going through and they care.”

Someone else who showed how much he cared was Tim McGraw. “I got my picture taken with Mr. McGraw. As I was walking away, he stopped me and looked me in the eye and asked what type of cancer I had, how long I’d had it and where I was getting treatment.”

McGraw lost his father to cancer several years ago. Urzua said, “I could tell he knew a lot about cancer and that he was interested in me.”

The song, “Live Like You Were Dyin,” addresses both the pain and the freedom of knowing that no day is guaranteed to anyone. Urzua understands this. McGraw understands this. And yesterday, because of it, they made a special connection.

To be a part of Outback Steakhouse promotion to help Operation Homefront, go to any Outback restaurant and order off their special Red, White and Bloomin’ Menu between now and April 5.

Update: Urzua eventually lost his battle to cancer but his spirit continues to inspire us. One of the things we love most as we look back on this story is the picture of Urzua meeting Tim McGraw. We love that his wife, standing next to a country music superstar, is looking with such love at her courageous husband, instead of the celebrity standing next to her.

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Matt Keil and his wife connected in their desire to become parents.

Who wouldn’t want to be a movie star? They are rich and beautiful and their pictures are everywhere. Go to any grocery line and you see their perfection gracing the covers of many magazines.

If I made millions, I could probably look pretty good. I’d get facials, manicures, pedicures and my hairstyle would rock! But it wouldn’t stop there. I can guarantee I’d splurge a little. I’d hire someone to do my house-cleaning, my laundry, and my grocery shopping. I might even spend $695 on a pair of Louboutins.

On Sunday, I watched a Grammy’s award show full of designer gowns, diamond jewelry, and sparkly shoes on the red carpet. And, just like everyone else, I was starstruck. I mean, seriously, who could not be dazzled by Nicole Kidman’s Jean Paul Gaultier gown?

About halfway through though, I don’t know, something struck me as odd. Maybe it’s just me but do we really need to see stars spending who knows how much to arrive in an egg? Are we so starved for something new that we are no longer moved by something real?

Contrast these “beautiful” people from the movies with a humble and handsome man named Matt Keil. He’s a wounded warrior…hit by a sniper during a tour in Iraq. Now he’s a quadriplegic who has only partial use of one arm. And he and his wife had a simple desire to be parents.

You won’t see him on the red carpet. He probably won’t be on a show viewed by millions. But a TV station in Colorado, 9NEWS, did follow this couple through the process of starting a family. And they became pregnant with triplets.

Their story is one of happiness and heartache. Tracy, Keil’s wife said they lost one of the babies, a boy, who had no heartbeat. “It just really messed with my mind. I just really thought ‘this will be smooth because of everything we’ve been through’ so I wasn’t expecting that.” Theirs is a picture of the hard life wrapped in strong love and patient persistence. The other two children were born prematurely and are now safely home with their parents after a lengthy hospital stay…much like the one their father endured on his road to recovery.

This man is not your classic movie star but I think people like him should get more of the spotlight. After all, tenacity, faith and overcoming difficult circumstances are the stuff movies are made of. Occasionally stories like these rise to the surface for the nation to be inspired…but not nearly enough.

Maybe I’m maturing. Maybe I’m out of touch. But I’d rather see these kinds of role models on the red carpet any day.

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For a second, there was a sliver of good news. The number of suicides in the Marine Corps and among active-duty Army soldiers dipped slightly in 2010.Suicides among National Guard reservists increased in 2010.

Then, came the astonishingly bad news: the number of suicides among National Guard troops doubled in the same time period. Even more perplexing, the deaths were among soldiers who were inactive. In most cases, they drilled with their military unit only once a month and did not deploy to combat zones.

My neighbors all had the same first reaction – what? These men had no combat stress. They saw no death and destruction. They suffered no life changing injuries. They were home while our husbands missed birthdays, births and most of their families’ daily lives.

“If you think you know the one thing that causes people to commit suicide, please let us know,” Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli told the Army Times. “Because we don’t know what it is.”

Chiarelli said he didn’t think it related to job status as 85 percent of reservists and more than half of the men who committed suicide had jobs.

Did their relationships and family ties wither with each day’s uncertain future?

Were they overcome with fear as they saw their brothers in arms return from the front with injuries and memories too horrible for most of us to even imagine?

Some of these issues may have been haunting them with no one to talk to. Chiarelli said some reservists report for duty only one weekend a month. He thought one reason the suicide rate is higher among part-time soldiers might be because they have less regular contact with their commanders and less access to suicide prevention programs,

It is impossible to know what drove these warriors to take their own lives. What is possible is to try to reach out and pull those back from the brink who may be near the same fate.

Active duty soldiers and family members are well-versed in suicide signs and prevention thanks to recent campaigns by the Department of Defense. There are marriage retreats and counseling. There are substance-abuse treatment programs and teams of chaplains ready for the call.

In National Guard units, soldiers may live hours from the closest chaplain or base. They often live nowhere near other soldiers in their unit. They may live near no one who understands their fears or the duty they face.

Oprah hosted a show recently that highlighted the struggles of military families. Many families, she said, live among a population that has a disconnection from the war – they personally know no one who serves. Oprah hosted families, journalists and First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her “wake up” call to the nation to help military families.

Obama told the talk show host that military families’ struggles often go undetected because they shoulder the burden themselves.

The First Lady said she was astounded by some of the stories she heard and the pressures these families face when she began to meet military spouses during her husband’s candidacy for the presidency.

All Americans, not just those who have a rank attached to their family name, should learn the warning signs of suicide. America’s warriors, not just those who have been to the front lines, face a lot of stress. It is up to the people they protect to recognize when they might need help, and get it for them.

For military members and their families, help can be reached through the TRICARE Assistance Program, or TRIAP. The program is accessible by computer 24 hours a day, every day. Sessions are not reported to commanders or listed in medical records. Counseling is available through online videoconferencing. Therapists can offer support for stress management, relationship issues and self-esteem.

For help accessing TRIAP, or for more information about coping with stress and anxiety, visit www.tricare.mil/triap or contact your regional TRICARE contractor: TRICARE Regions www.tricare.mil/contactus, TRICARE West Region, 1-888-TRIWEST; TRICARE North Region, 1-877-TRICARE; TRICARE South Region 1-800-444-5445

To learn more about suicide prevention for U.S. troops, visit http://www.hooah4health.com/mind/suicideprev

Need help now? Call the National Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)

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