Archive for July, 2011

(By Allison Perkins) Last week, President Obama admitted to little Emma Lester that he didn’t know where his daughters were at that very moment. Six-year-old Emma, daughter of a wounded warrior, thought that was unbelievable. And she told the president so.

“You don’t know where your kids are?” she exclaimed as the president smiled and moved down the line of wounded warrior families.

Emma, her four siblings and her parents, Michelle and Army Sgt. First Class Corey Lester are residents of the Operation Homefront Village in Bethesda, Md. (pictured here left to right: Corey, John [on Corey’s lap], Madison, Gracie, Emma, Michelle, and Jackson [on Michelle’s lap]) . Corey is undergoing treatment for severe injuries he suffered while stationed in Cuba.

The family visited the White House recently as part of a special tour for Wounded Warriors. They expected to see the grand paintings and beautiful libraries. They expected to be awed by the chandeliers and furnishings. But a visit from President Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden, was a surprise.

Michelle said they were preparing to take a group photo when her husband noticed that all the smartphones carried by nearby White House officials began to buzz at the same time. Moments later, the president was walking through the door.

He hugged Emma and her sister. He thanked Michelle and Corey for their service.

The president held and cuddled the Lester’s youngest son, 4-month-old Jackson, and easily fielded the questions from Emma. But surely, she won him over with her home state love.

Obama asked Emma where she was from. When she told him Kansas, he told her briefly how his mother and grandmother grew up there as well.

Emma and her sister, Madison, 10, also had a chance to play with the president’s pup, Bo. Both girls said they loved his collar, which featured an American flag.

After presenting each family with a presidential coin, the president apologized for the briefness of the moment and headed back to work.

That night at home, Madison told her mom she was going to write everything down so she’d never forget it.

She wrote that her favorite room was the library, not because of the thousands of books it held, but because of the secret passageway hidden behind the mirror. She noted the pretty flowers outside and the warmth of the president’s hug. Today, she wrote, was the best day of her life.

Emma, asked her big sister to write down her notes as well. Her favorite room was the one that featured “all the pictures of the pretty first ladies,” she dictated as Madison wrote. And her favorite moment, was meeting the president.

“They wanted to get it all down so they wouldn’t forget,” Michelle said. “I doubt they ever will though. None of us will.”

The best day ever. Indeed.

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When Brothers Fall

(By Allison Perkins) When Matt Coolidge fought with the Marines in Kuwait during the Gulf War, his friends were killed, IEDs exploded around him, images of death and destruction were burned into his mind.  But that was 20 years ago and PTSD was rarely recognized and certainly not treated.

When doctors did not know what to do for him, music saved him. Coolidge was crammed in a foxhole, thinking about a service he had just attended for several fallen Marines, when the lyrics struck. As he sat, the song formed in his mind, and the stress of combat retreated, even if just for a moment.

Today, that song, “When Brothers Fall,” has become an anthem at funerals for military members and civil servants around the world. Coolidge’s grandfather, a World War II corpsman, has spent thousands of hours and dollars distributing 10,000 copies of the song to military families in six countries.

For Coolidge, it marked the beginning of his own battle with PTSD. After returning from the war, Coolidge was having daily night terrors, sleep walking, issues with claustrophobia and extreme anxiety attacks. His wife called the VA crisis hotline when she feared his life was in danger.

Doctors prescribed heavy medication to keep the demons at bay. “The medication makes you numb,” he said. “I felt like a walking zombie.” After three years of using medications that brought his songwriting to a halt, Coolidge had enough.

Coolidge began a wellness regimen of alternative therapies such as meditation and less medication. And, slowly, Coolidge regained control of his life.

Then, the music returned. “It started pouring back in and the feeling was back. I was laughing and crying again,” Coolidge said. “It was like being back in the old days before all that commotion in my life. There was that excitement again.”

Now, Coolidge is following his passion and writing music. He carries a tape recorder everywhere he goes. He recites lyrics, he hums the tune. When he returns home, he puts the song together. To date, he has written over 400 songs with many more in progress.

Coolidge also learned that he doesn’t want to be someone he is not, just to sell the records. So he writes honest music, about people he knows and the life he lives. “A big part of the recovery is accepting what it is you have to live with and living with it,” he said.

In that simple statement, he has found a way to live the life he wants.

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