Nothing Is What I Thought It Would Be: A Reservist Wife’s Perspective

Diana Hume, pictured here with her dog Otto, volunteered to begin a series of posts on the AW2 Blog to share her lessons learned with other spouses.

By Diana Hume, Reservist Spouse Blogger

Editor’s Note: Diana Hume is a new feature blogger for AW2. She’ll be sharing her experiences as the wife of a severely wounded reservist. She hopes her blog will help other reservist spouses, as well as inspire and educate others about the unique challenges they face.  

When was it again that I signed the contract? This has been a recurring question that I have come to accept and stopped asking myself because I signed the contract 18 years ago when I married an amazing man, the love of my life. Our story, however, began 24 years ago. We met January 1987 while attending college north of Dallas. He was handsome, still is, challenging, outgoing, inspirational, and mysterious. We had so much fun together and within time I learned that part of the mystery was that he was a Staff Sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserves.

In the early stages of our relationship, I learned that he had already been serving for six years. For him it was a way of life, but for me the idea of a “reservist” was as foreign to me as another language. I am not from a military family and Dallas is not a military city. I quickly understood that he drilled once a month by making the trek from Dallas to Oklahoma City per his commitment to the Corps and his country. This all changed when Desert Storm hit.

At this point we weren’t even truly dating yet, we were great friends. With that said, he called one night to share the news that he received orders to go to Kuwait in support of Dessert Storm. We all remember how that war went. First the air strikes, then the Americans threw a few rounds of ammo and just as quickly as they arrived, they were home. It was a blip on the radar compared to what we are experiencing today particularly since practically everyone came home.

Before I knew it, he was back home as quickly has he had left. By now, our relationship had grown and we decided to officially become a couple. Our official courtship was short because we already knew so much about each other. So, a little over five years after we met I signed the contract, our Marriage License in the great state of Texas.

At this point in our marriage we were both full of dreams and plans for our future, much like the future of other civilian couples since in fact, we were a civilian couple. That is the community we lived in and identified with. Our lives were growing and were centered around starting careers and building a family together. We both were working hard to make smart life choices alongside our civilian friends.  Our life, so I thought, was our own. We could work and live where we wanted. After all, I was not a military wife, never had a military I.D., and had yet to set foot on a base.

With many years of hard work, both of our careers grew and so did our family. I was at a point where I had an upper level management role within a company I loved working for while my Soldier pursued his path to become an electrical engineer for a great company in North Texas. At the same time, he was still doing his monthly drill obligations, annual training and making the drive to the drill center. In fact, his monthly drills had also become my monthly “me” time!  We had it in our routine like clockwork.

Years of living the normal American life became my life, our life. Again, I still did not see myself as a military spouse. I had yet to meet someone who self identified as one. Don’t get me wrong, by this time I had met other reserve spouses, but they were like me. They had careers, kids, and many had not been on a base. We were like peas in a pod.  We would talk about our kids and careers and life none of which related to the military up to that point. We would meet annually at the formal birthday balls which were usually held in a hotel ballroom close to the drill center. Each time it was a night away from home and was like a mini-vacation where we could interact with other Reservist families.

Time passed and life was still moving along. After about six years into our marriage in 2000, he made a decision to transfer to the Army Reserves because of the available Warrant Officer opportunities. Even at this point, there were little changes affecting me minus the fact that his drill center would change to a more reasonable 3 ½ hour drive from home. We didn’t have to move and I didn’t have to leave my great career. Life was normal and as far as I was concerned, I wasn’t a military spouse, or so I thought.

The next year our world and specifically our nation were rocked. September 11, 2001. Need I say more? What I didn’t know was how much my own world was about to change. Yet, life kept moving along.

December 2002, we moved into a new beautiful home that we had built, located in a great neighborhood with great schools. Both of us were excited about this new stepping stone in our life. We both had careers and were involved in the community. Kids sports were entering our world and our oldest started kindergarten the next year and our youngest was now 18 months old. After a month of adjusting to our new surroundings and routine, orders came. He was being mobilized to Ft. Hood GSU for the next two years. The news wasn’t great, but it was something we could work through. The plan was that he would get home as often as he could.

I continued to work and take care of the kids, but it didn’t take me long to realize that I was now a single parent. For me, holding it all together was quickly different than my neighbors whose husbands traveled frequently. I never had a break. Work demands changed and I realized my role as a spouse was changing. My love, life partner, support was gone. I lived and planned without him.

I did all I could to keep life normal, but it was no longer normal. I wasn’t like my civilian friends anymore. I didn’t have a group I identified with. With the change to the Army Reserve, I had never met any of the other spouses or even knew their names because we were all scattered across Texas. Now, we all know Texas is its own country – it is big. So, my new world became an abstract blob with a lot of acronyms.

Before 2003 was over, and after struggling to hold it all together, I made the choice to resign from my career so I could be a full time parent. I realized I never saw our children, and wasn’t fully sure I actually knew them because of the demands of my job. This was the right choice for our family, but it was also a new challenge and brought some obstacles I never thought I would have to deal with.

January 2005 came and we had survived. He was home. Back to his career, back to normal, the new normal. Up to this point I had still not met another self identified reserve spouse, ever. Remember, we were scattered. However, I did finally have a military ID and had been on a base.

Our new normal lasted for about a year. I learned he had volunteered to serve in Iraq without consulting me.  Needless to say, I was not thrilled with that piece of information, but I understood serving was part of who he is. He was to run the ammunition supply point (ASP) at Q-West for all of northwest Iraq.  This was a day I have embedded in my memory. I was truly scared and I knew that our new normal was going away. This was probably the day I first began to understand what it truly meant to be a reserve spouse. It was, and still is a tough day for me to swallow.

What many civilians don’t understand is that for reserves, they begin getting battle ready while still at home (battle ready was a term I had to learn – again never received a manual!) For us, he was being cross leveled from Ft. Hood, TX to a unit out of Billings, MT, which was deployed from Ft. McCoy, WI. Remember, we live in North Dallas. Now I really knew no one in the unit, I was totally alone.

From January 2006 until June, he was coming and going to training while working on getting the unit ready to go. With one foot in the Army and one foot still in his civilian career, there was no time for me. It was at this point that I began my transition from my previous normal to an even more challenging one. A normal where I had to learn what a reserve spouse is supposed to do–keep it all together. Nevertheless, June came fast. The day the kids and I took him to the airport for his departure to Ft. McCoy, WI was traumatic. My heart hurt, tears fell down my cheeks, and I tried so hard to remain together and strong.  

Since then, so much more than I ever thought has happened. Our new normal is so far from normal. Our children are now 12 and 9 compared to when they were 4 and 18 months when we received our first set of orders. It’s been a ride. All the missed birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, births and deaths. The stress on our family, our relationship, and careers… these issues were only part of the struggle we dealt with. And when he did come home early from Iraq, it wasn’t to me or the family –it was to Walter Reed where he stayed for two years after being med-evaced out of Iraq. It was just last year when he was finally home in Texas. The rebuilding has finally begun and we are being introduced to our new normal

The road for someone married to a reservist is nothing I thought it would be. Although I may have been blind to the true significance of what our Reserve and National Guard Soldiers truly do to protect our freedom, I still have learned a ton and want to share. Looking back, I was a young spouse to an incredible man, but I truly had no concept of what I signed up for. It’s never explained or truly discussed with us. It’s not like we receive our orders for training. It has been a ride and I wouldn’t change one thing about it because I have learned so much. Nevertheless, life is still happening and I can still look back and realize that time combined with much personal growth has shown me the true meaning of who I am. I am a proud spouse of an Army Reserve soldier. And I say that with all my heart.

I have recently realized that part of my new normal is to share my knowledge and experience. My road of learning what a reserve and wounded warrior spouse is has inspired me to help make the road a little easier for other wounded warrior spouses. This entry is just an eagle’s point of view and an introduction to my story. I invite you to return and share more detail on specific topics. Know you are not alone, we are not alone. I am here to listen, answer questions and help. This is part of my new normal.

Embracing Change

By Gail Moore, WTC Stratcom

To change something is to make the form, nature, content, or future course of something different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone.

When I came to work at AW2 in May 2006 as a Marketing Specialist, I really had no idea what to expect. At that time there were approximately 800 AW2 Soldiers, 15 Advocates (then known by the tongue twisting Soldier Family Management Specialist or SFMS moniker), and a support staff of about 10 other civilians and military. My first year at AW2 there was a lot of change. AW2 conducted two Symposiums and The Washington Post published its story on warrior care at Walter Read.

Change was the watchword of the day. It was as if we were building an airplane as we were taking off down the runway! In one year the AW2 population and staff more than doubled in size, and the Army was on course to completely alter the landscape of warrior care and transition. As a new employee of AW2 it was exciting, exhilarating, and more than a bit scary. From the Strategic Communications (Stratcom) view, it was completely overwhelming.

About six months into my first year I realized that change was the core of what AW2 was about. How could we help wounded Soldiers, Veterans, and Families transform their lives and transition to a better life, if we could not embrace the changes that were going on around us? I decided to embrace change and work to transform how AW2 communicated with Soldiers, Veterans, and Families and to help the Army and the general public better understand AW2.

The transformation of AW2 Stratcom which took place over the next three years would not have been possible without the backing of Army leadership, the hard work of Army Civilians, military, contractors, and especially AW2 Advocates. More importantly we could not have accomplished all that we did without the input and direction of AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families. Your input from Symposiums, surveys, interviews, and phone calls formed the basis for all that we do in Stratcom today.

Working at AW2 has been the most soul satisfying and rewarding thing I have ever done in my professional life. As I move to a new position with the Army’s Chief of Public Affairs office, I want to thank all of the wonderful Soldiers, Families, Veterans, and AW2 Staff whom it has been my honor and privilege to work with and get to know. Your stories are truly inspiring, and they have made me realize that embracing change is always a good thing.

MP to Business Owner: Wounded Veteran Makes the Move

By Alan Morales, WTC Stratcom

Last Tuesday, I had the pleasure to interview CPT (Ret.) Dawn Halfaker, an Army wounded warrior and self-made business woman, who recently presented at the National Veterans Business Conference in Las Vegas. As a right-shoulder amputee, CPT. Halfaker has made many strides during her post-deployment transition and continues to prove that with the right attitude, success is inevitable.

Q: What was your MOS?

A: I was a Military Police Officer stationed in Korea during 2002-2003 and in Iraq during 2004.

Q: Can you tell me about your injury and your initial treatment?

A: I was hit with a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) that went through my right shoulder, resulting in a right arm amputation at the shoulder. In addition to the arm injury, I had a collapsed lung, shrapnel wounds, and several broken bones.

Back in the U.S., I was treated at Walter Reed. The treatment I received there was nothing but phenomenal particularly given the seriousness of my injuries. I wouldn’t have wanted to be at any other place to be quite honest.  All the staff and clinicians were extremely professional, but more importantly they were dedicated to ensuring that I achieved a full recovery.

Q: After your initial recovery, did you deal with any adaptive technology or therapies?

A: I learned how to use a prosthetic device called a myoelectric arm. I was essentially re-hacked physically and learned to do a lot of different things with my left hand as I was originally right-handed. Even from the simplest of tasks such as writing to more complicated tasks such as zipping a zipper or buttoning a shirt now had to be done with my sole left hand/arm.

Q: What has been your experience with the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2)? Can you describe your relationship with your AW2 Advocate?

A: Right away, I was contacted by my AW2 Advocate, Simona Jackson. At the time, AW2 was still a relatively new program, still working out many of the issues any new program would have to overcome. Even so, my AW2 Advocate immediately made contact with me and was by my side the whole time, coming for in-person meetings at the hospital, and taking the time to actually get to know me as a person. Based on these conversations, she was able to assess my needs and do everything and anything to help.

Where she provided me a great deal of support was during my transition from Walter Reed to the VA medical center in DC. She ensured that the transition went as smoothly as possible. When we were confronted with challenges, she was there to work through them and be my advocate. She also provided me a lot of different opportunities to interface with other Wounded Warriors through social events and events where wounded warriors were being honored. These types of interactions assisted me during my treatment and transition – It just made things easier. Now, five years later, I still get calls from her on a monthly basis calling me just to make sure that I am OK.

Q: Can you talk about a specific problem where your Advocate was vital to its resolution?

A: After my amputation, the doctors and I quickly realized that wearing a prosthetic was extremely difficult due to the location of my amputation. Because of this unique medical issue, I was undergoing unique procedures that were not normally covered by the military and certainly procedures that the VA did not offer. As a result, I was having trouble getting these services during my transition. Luckily, Ms. Jackson did everything she could to ensure that I was able to get the medical care and attention that I needed even though it was something the VA hadn’t dealt with before. I wouldn’t have been able to get the treatment I needed if it weren’t for her.

Q: You own a small consulting business. How did you transition from a military police officer to a small business owner?

A: As I transitioned out of the Military, it was really hard for me and it was hard to accept a medical retirement all together. I found as I looked around, that I wanted to stay connected with the Military and continue to build my skills. Given this desire, I decided that I wanted to continue my service by starting my own business. In 2006, I started a consulting company/national security firm, as a service disabled/Veteran-owned business. In fact, this week I am in Las Vegas representing my business at the National Veterans Business Conference.

These types of events are fantastic venues that bring in industry heavy weights in the Federal Government and other small disabled/Veteran-owned businesses to network and find opportunities to do business together. The conference is in its sixth year running and has been a great forum to promote the continued growth of Veteran-owned businesses and provide a support network to Veterans returning from the current war to pursue their own employment or start their new business.

Q: Given your success as a business woman, what advice can you give to other wounded warriors?

A: Get involved. It is important to have an impact by working with different organizations that support wounded warriors. In general, surrounding yourself with a good network and people, who understand what you are going through is critical for recovery. Secondly, try and figure out how you can leverage what you did in the Military and look for ways to continue supporting the mission. If you are interested and considering starting your own business or get back in the workforce, this type of mentality is crucial. The ultimate message is regardless of what happens to anyone, there is definitely the ability to succeed. It is important to really look at what you have versus dwelling on what you don’t have and with that right attitude, anyone can be successful.

If you would like to share your story with the AW2 Blog, feel free to drop-us a line by e-mailing us your information at AW2Stratcomm@conus.army.mil.

Welcome LTC (P) Greg Gadson, New AW2 Director

By BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

I’m proud to welcome LTC (P) Greg Gadson as the new Director of the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2).

LTC (P) Greg Gadson talks with LTG Eric B. Schoomaker, The Surgeon General/Commander, U.S. Army Medical Command and BG Gary Cheek, Commanding General, Warrior Transition Command.

I served with LTC Gadson twice in Afghanistan, where he was my XO and later my Operations Officer.  He also commanded a new Artillery Battalion during the surge in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2007—getting everyone back alive.  He is a strong leader who understands the important mission of AW2, as well as the Soldiers, Veterans, and Families it supports.

LTC (P) Gadson lost both his legs above the knee and sustained severe damage to his right arm due to an IED explosion in Iraq in 2007.  This officer remained committed to serving in this U.S. Army, and continued on active duty after his recovery.  Like many wounded warriors, LTC (P) Gadson knows that his injury is just one chapter in his story—his focus is on what’s next. 

I am confident that LTC (P) Gadson will be a great leader for AW2.  He’s a leader who will continue to focus on providing personalized support to severely wounded Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families—support that will foster their independence and help them transition to a productive life post-injury.

I also congratulate COL Jim Rice on his three years of leadership at AW2.  He led with confidence and a strong commitment to providing the very best support to AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families.  He will now serve as the Chief, Health Service Support Directorate on the Joint Staff.  In this role he will coordinate medical support for all the services to combatant commanders around the world.

It’s All About the People

By COL Jim Rice, AW2 Director

AW2 Advocate Kathreyn Harris and AW2 Operations Management Specialist Scott Burdsall at AW2 Annual Training.

AW2 Advocate Kathreyn Harris and AW2 Operations Management Specialist Scott Burdsall at AW2 Annual Training.

You can feel the energy. Well, probably a more accurate statement is that you can hear the energy. Literally.

Year round, 200 people work all hours of the day, any day of the week, on any number of issues. While their work varies, their commitment never waivers and their mission remains focused. They provide local support for severely wounded, injured, and ill Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families. In local communities around the globe, these staff fulfill the Army’s promise of Warrior Care. Alone, they change lives. Combined, they are a force to be reckoned with—and this week, they’re all together in Dallas, Texas, for the Army Wounded Warrior Program’s Annual Training.

As I walk through the hotel, the staff’s passion is not only audible in the questions they ask and the lessons learned that they share, but it’s physical. You can see the joy when someone talks about their Soldier’s success or the agony over a Veteran’s set back. For these 200, it’s all personal. As it should be.

During this week, the entire AW2 staff will train together to ensure we’re the best we can be for our wounded warriors—they deserve nothing less.

As I talk to AW2 staff, I’m reminded of the power of people. How one peson can help an amputee continue on active duty. How one Veteran can inspire another. How one phone call can save a life. How one story can motivate a volunteer. How one company can provide a new career path.

Today during our general session, I looked at a room full of “ones” and was struck by the cumulative impact each “one” had on the lives of more than 6,000 wounded warriors. This group, AW2, is changing futures. Now that’s energizing.

Working Together Makes a Difference

BG Gary Cheek, WTC Commander

I had an opportunity yesterday to present the Army’s warrior care story to a dozen Veteran service organizations (VSOs) such as the Paralyzed Veterans of America. I was the guest of Dr. Michael Kilpatrick of Force Health Protection. Although I covered the nuts and bolts of how the Warrior Transition Command and Army Wounded Warrior Program operate, it’s hard to truly summarize what we do and the impact we have on helping wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers move forward.

I think the key to what we have done is that we understand that every Soldier we work with is a unique individual with distinct challenges—and so we created a uniform system with flexibility. We exist to help Soldiers chart their own path forward to a rich future and provide assistance in their following of a Comprehensive Transition Plan based on their goals.

In my discussions with the VSOs, I emphasized that this is a team effort between the Soldier, WTC, MEDCOM, VA, VSOs, and other organizations such as the USOC Paralympics. I also demonstrated what our team effort can accomplish by sharing the inspiring stories of a few of our Soldiers who have continued to serve after injury, including CPT Scott Smiley, who is blind. Knowing we’ve made a difference validates everyone’s hard work and commitment.

AW2 Weekly Digest 09/21-09/25

  • SFC Mark Allen and his Family, featured in the Star-Banner, in an article about SFC Allen being in the polytrauma unit of the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Tampa and his Family’s appreciation for all the support that they have received.
  • AW2 Soldiers and Veterans SGT Robert Brown, SGT Christopher A. Burrell, SSG Kenneth Butler, and retired SSG Bradley Gruetzner, featured in Stars and Stripes, returned to the places where they were wounded in Iraq under Operation Proper Exit, a program that aims to speed their recovery and close a painful chapter in their lives.
  • AW2 mother Linda Cope, featured in The News Herald, is the organizer of the “Warrior Beach Retreat,” that brought approximately 40 wounded Soldiers and their Families to Panama City Beach as part of her scheduled retreat.
  • AW2 Veteran Shawn Graves, featured on KXLY-TV, spent a week with 20 other men wounded in combat at the Pinelow Retreat Center in Deer Lake, WA.
  • AW2 was featured in a PRNewswire release that featured AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, Families, and staff, and discussed the program and the AW2 Community Support Network.

The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the United States Department of Defense of the linked web sites, or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) sites, the United States Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations.

Pray for a Mile

By Emily Oehler, AW2 Stratcom

I am not a runner. I have never been a runner. I will never be a runner. Runners cut through air and across distance gracefully. Runners are gazelles in fancy techno shoes. Me, I pound the pavement – literally, all my pounds hit the road slowly, painfully, slowly, gasping, slowly, drenched, slowly. I am more of a religious jogger … I constantly pray for a flatter road, less humidity, time to go faster, the torture to stop, an easier way to get into shape, and occasionally, that one day, I could be a gazelle rather than a Clydesdale.

Somehow, I got roped into “running” the Army 10 Miler. It seemed like a good motivator for holding me to some kind of training schedule. But just to be safe, I got a coach – someone to ensure this Clydesdale stayed on course.

First I got up to 30 minutes. Then 45 minutes. Then hill repeats. Then, the dreaded “long runs.” Six miles? I gave my coach the scrunchie face. Six miles? He offered helpful hints like gel packs, jelly beans, water, stretching, what to download to listen to, nutrition, and rest. Although nice to know, none of it made 6 miles sound any better. I knew I just had to suck it up and do it. One step and then another. Over and over and over and over again.

I hit the road and tried a new approach. Whenever I got whiney, I thought about an AW2 Soldier, Veteran or Family member that I’ve met over the past 2 years. I would think about their story – a few have shared with me the details of the day they were injured…

One soldier was pulled from a vehicle and laid on the ground so others could be rescued – she became surrounded by locals (who turned about to be friendly) but at the time she feared she’d be kidnapped by them and beheaded

One soldier saved another’s life and in doing so became soaked in diesel fuel and eventually caught on fire and now has third degree burns on 30% of his body

One soldier was thrown from his turret, impaled when he landed and then shot multiple times – he has hundreds of tiny shrapnel pieces still inside him

When my legs got tired, I would think about the injuries they have worked through – and continue to. They couldn’t choose to stop or they would not walk or talk again. One mile I looked at my manicured hands and thought of several burned Soldiers who have lost fingers or the use of them.

When the boredom set in, I thought about the Families. The wife who took care of the other burn patients who were single while her husband spent a year in the hospital. The mom, who after 4 years of providing constant care to her paraplegic son, was able to take her first trip as he can finally stay at home alone. The daughter who doesn’t know another kid like her-whose dad doesn’t act the same because of TBI.

When I think of what these folks have survived, worked through and live with, I stopped praying for a flatter road, less humidity, time to go faster, the torture to stop, an easier way to get into shape and started praying for them. I have realized that when you support someone else, your own woes seem to disappear. I was shocked at the ease of my 6 miles. For a split second, I felt like a gazelle – at least on the inside.

So, I ask that you support me as I run my first Army 10 Miler this Sunday… support me by picking one Soldier, Veteran or Family member to pray for during each mile of the race. Pray that they will have less pain. Pray that they will take their first step and their second. Pray that their marriage stays strong. Pray that they have laughter. Pray that they will accomplish their goal. Pray that they find peace. Pray that they feel the support of a grateful nation.

See you at the finish line.

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.”

Memories for Memorial Day

–By Emily Oehler, AW2 Stratcom–

Over the past two years, I have had a unique view into what it means to serve in uniform. While I always respected service men and women: their call to duty, their sacrifice – I didn’t really understand.

That began to change in May 2007 when I walked through the doors of the Army Human Resources Command and began supporting Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operations Center’s (CMAOC) survivors program, Long Term Family Case Management… and then transitioned to AW2, the Army Wounded Warrior Program. These two unique programs provide long-term personal support to Families of the fallen and those severely wounded, injured and ill. Working with them showed me the heart of the Army.

Although I felt like a fish out of water around all the Soldiers, worrying about Army protocol, I was comfortable in CMAOC as my father and brother are both ministers. I grew up talking about loss, funeral arrangements, and memories of loved ones. I was impressed to see all the care and thought put into every aspect of CMAOC. Not that I didn’t think the Army was compassionate, I just didn’t know what to expect. I soon realized so much of my military “knowledge” was based on TV and movies—which I have come to learn take great liberties with interpretation.

While supporting Army Long Term Family Case Management, I heard the stories of the fallen Soldiers and met many of their loved ones. It always meant a lot to me when someone would share memories of their loved one. I always feel that a person stays alive through memories and storytelling. And by listening and talking to them, I was able to better appreciate being a Soldier or the wife, mother, or sister of one.

As this weekend is Memorial Day, these all memories sit heavy with me. Each one represents a life and a loss. Two weeks ago, I heard a new memory… a Vietnam vet with severe burns shared with AW2 staff a memory of his recent trip to visit troops in Iraq; here is a paraphrase of his memory:

While I was there, a medivac helicopter landed with several injured troops. One was a 19 year old Soldier with third degree burns on 100% of his body – so you know who I went to be with. I got to his side, held his hand and whispered the following to him… ‘This is not a hospital, it’s a sanctuary; this is not a gurney, it’s an alter; you are not a Soldier, you’re a sacrifice for freedom. On behalf of the country, thank you.’ He then took his last breath and died in my arms. I prayed next to him, kissed his forehead, and left.

This story brought me to tears—the beauty of compassion, the sadness of war, the pain that Soldier’s loved ones will face for a long time.

For me, this memory and others like them have helped me better understand the burden our Soldiers, their loved ones, and their children carry on behalf of this country. These stories weigh on my heart and continue to be hard to grasp because they are so far out of my reality as a civilian.

Memorial Day for me is now much more than a three day weekend, it’s about real memories of real people who have made a real sacrifice… and the loved ones left behind with bitter sweet memories.

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