AW2 is Not Just a Job to Me, it is My Life

–By Laura Castillo, AW2 Advocate and Spouse–

Castillo Family Camping This month is a difficult time for my family. It’s the second anniversary of when my husband was injured in Iraq. I remember the phone call I received on June 25th as if it were yesterday—when they told me that my husband’s vehicle was hit by an IED. I was 22 years old, and I thanked God that I was still going to be able to hear his voice again.

When he came home, I was so happy. I was glad that the war was over for us; little did I know that my war had just begun. He was strange. He wasn’t the funny outgoing person he used to be. He used to be the life of the house, now he was serious and distanced. I would try to ask what was wrong, but I “never could understand.” When I helped to tie his shoes because he couldn’t move his arm, he would tell me to get off, because he could do it on his own. To me, it seemed that everything I did to help, was wrong. The biggest mistake that I made was taking it seriously.

I began to get angry at him. I felt that he being home was worthless because I had never felt so alone. At night, we used to lay with each other and watch movies, but now I’d watch the movie and fall asleep alone. He would never sleep. He would be up all night and made so much noise. He didn’t want to go out, and I couldn’t stand being in the same house with him.

When my husband deployed, I made my schedule as busy as possible, so that I wouldn’t miss him as much. I was going to school full time and the kids kept me busy. When he came home early, due to an injury, I was unprepared. I tried to do my homework, but we were always fighting over nothing. I didn’t make it any better because I would fight back. I didn’t think that we needed counseling, and I didn’t want to admit that my family was falling apart. I had too much pride. “I was a newlywed, and it couldn’t be that we didn’t want to be with each other anymore!”

One night, I found my husband crying on the stairs. I gave him a hug and asked what I could do to make it better. I didn’t mind carrying his weight, but he just didn’t let me. Another night, I heard a clicking sound while I was sleeping. When I got up my husband was walking around the house with a loaded gun, because he said there were people in my house. The only ones who were there were my children. That’s when I became afraid.

I didn’t know what made him click. I was afraid that we would turn into those men from the war movies. I began to shut down as a defense mechanism and stayed guarded. Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore. I called his Commander and had him removed from the house. He stayed at the barracks while I worked and went to school. I was planning on stabilizing myself so that I could take care of my children. It was worse that I was pregnant. I ended up having complications with my pregnancy and had to have an emergency Cesarean. When I came home, my husband left on leave. It was my breaking point. I felt that my life was over. I was 23 years old with three children and a messed up husband. As soon as I got better, I took my kids and left back home to stay with my mom.

I spent a month at my mom’s house. I felt that my husband was still in Iraq, and they sent back the wrong guy. My husband went back to Fort Riley and noticed that I was gone. It gave him enough time to reflect on our marriage and figure out what he wanted for his life. The MEB/PEB [Medical Evaluation Board/Physical Evaluation Board] process was very stressful. The thought of what life had to offer as a civilian was absolutely frightening. How were we going to provide for the children? My husband asked me to come back home. While I was gone, I thought about going to marriage counseling and seeking help from an outside source.

I can’t put in words the pain that I felt inside myself. It was the most horrible experience of my life. I went back to Fort Riley to give it a shot for the kids. We spent a lot of time at the WTU [Warrior Transition Unit]. We learned of the many activities they had for Wounded Soldiers and their families. We began to take part in these activities, such as canoeing and going to the lake. Our first trip was camping. We spent a weekend camping at the lake. We even took the boat out for a ride and went tubing.

It was the first time in a long time that we had so much fun. Today, I have pictures from that weekend up in my living room because it symbolizes our new beginning. We started going to marriage counseling and going to church. We would pray, and my husband would cry at the altar. He said that he felt weak for crying, but to me it made him more of a man. It had come time to let go.

Shortly after, we received his retirement orders stating that we were leaving in two months. This was so scary. Being that we didn’t have jobs, a place to live, and we didn’t have a clear future. We had barely made it through the storm! This is when I utilized AW2 for help. I spent many days at the SFAC [Soldier Family Assistance Center] talking to AW2 Advocate Patty Walker. I worked on my resume and applied for many positions. The Soldiers at the SFAC would play with my kids while I worked on developing a plan with my Advocate. Patty called AW2 and got me an interview for an AW2 Advocate position. She told me that the rest was up to me. I mean really, “Who wants to work at the Bronx?”

I was interviewed, and I prayed and prayed and prayed. We said our goodbyes to our friends at Fort Riley and relocated to New York. We lived with my in laws for a week. Just when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, an AW2 representative called. “Hello Mrs. Castillo, I would just like you to know that you are hired and I didn’t want for you to go through the weekend without knowing.” I couldn’t thank her enough. When I hung up, I cried and I cried and thanked God for sending me an angel called AW2.

We started looking for apartments and moved in two days before I left for training. While I was at training, I had a great time and learned a lot about AW2, but most importantly I got to know myself again. When I went back home, I quickly got to work and have had such a great experience. AW2 is not just a job to me, it is my life. I owe everything I have accomplished in the past six months to AW2.

So, when I get discouraged I think of being to someone what AW2 has been to me and my family. So, now that June 25th is coming around, I can’t help but to remember that horrible time in our lives, however, it made us stronger and better. I didn’t go to Iraq, but I have fought the war. The strong survived! “Strength is not measured by how many times you fall, but it’s how you get up that counts.”

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