Our story really begins with a little history on us. Jeremy and I were married in December of 2004. After our wedding he went back to Georgia to complete basic training. I joined him in North Carolina at Ft Bragg in April 2005. He was assigned to 1/505 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. There he trained and we were blessed with the news that we would have a baby boy the summer of 2006. Jackson was born in June 2006. Just two months later in August, Jeremy deployed to Iraq. Jackson and I packed up and moved back to KC for the deployment. What a blessing to be surrounded by family. During his 15 long months in Iraq, we only saw him once over Christmas 2006. I endured too many phone calls of brothers lost, and others wounded. Jeremy was injured in January of 2007 by an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) that hit his humvee on which he was the gunner. He still has shrapnel in his neck and some hearing loss from the explosion. It missed his legs by only a few inches. a few months later in July of 2007, I received yet another call that he was injured. This time he had been shot in the neck by a sniper. (There is a God moment in that story too!) The doctors were amazed. The bullet had hit his kevlar collar and fragmented, missing every major vein in his neck. He still bears a 2 inch scar across his neck where he was shot.
After he returned home in October of 2007 we made plans to move to Ft Benning Georgia in February 2008. There he worked as a Styker instructor at the Army Stryker/Bradley University. He taught everyone from new privates to navy seals to foreign generals. We were blessed with the birth of our daughter Brooklyn in January 2009. By the end of 2009 we had made the decision for him to transfer back to a deployable infantry unit in early 2010. He wanted to lead guys again, he wanted to do the job he had trained for.
So In May 2010 we arrived at Ft Drum NY, knowing that God had placed us there for a very specific reason. It was not our first choice in duty stations by any means. God just kept opening that door and we finally listened and walked through it. During almost a year of training there we made many new friends and learned to love the area. the kids loved the mountains of snow we got and I learned how to operate a 2-stage snowblower. He deployed to Afghanistan March 24th, 2011
This deployment we were blessed with better technology and the opportunity to share more on a regular basis, via skype, email, phone calls, and stories read on video and sent back to us for the kids.
The kids and I had pictures taken for him for Fathers day and one of props we used said this “American soldiers do not fight because they hate what is in front of them, but because they love what is behind them”. It matched our attitude towards deployment perfectly. We missed him terribly but knew that he was there for a purpose.
By the end of August, first of September, I have to admit I was done. Brooklyn was not handling the deployment well, but who can blame her she was only 2 and a half. Jackson was about to start kindergarten and of course I felt unprepared for him to go. Then the first week in September the laptop crashed and the TV got smashed on accident, ALL IN THE SAME DAY! I was undone, unglued, and overwhelmed. I remember falling on my knees at my bedroom window sobbing that I needed God to just move in our home. I could not handle it on my own. I had been trying to do it for too long. Even though we were attending two church services each weekend, and I was going to bible study, I was still not trusting God that he was going to see us through this hard time. As soon as I let go, and let Him take over, things began to look up.
Then on Tuesday Sept 20th 2011, I noticed a missed phone call from a Ft Drum number as I walked back from putting Jackson on the bus. As I went to put Brooklyns shoes on so we could leave for PWOC (Protestant Women of the Chapel, an on-post bible study) the phone rang again with the same number. I said a silent prayer as I answered it hoping against everything that it was just a question about our family readiness support group. When I heard the rear detachment commanders voice my heart sank. I listened in disbelief as he explained that Jeremy had been shot more than once during a baited ambush. His right kidney had been removed in surgery, was in a medically induced coma and he was awaiting transport from Kandahar, Afghanistan to Landstuhl, Germany. I got as much information from him as I could, asked him to call my mother-in-law and let her know, while I called the rest of our family. I also let the commander know that If he needed me I would be at the post Chapel for PWOC and to come find me if there were any changes.
After sobbing to my sister and asking her to relay the info to our parents I went to PWOC. As I walked in the first person I came across is one of my very best friends. As soon as she saw my face she knew something was very very wrong. As I began to tell her through my tears what had happened, she hugged me. So tight that if I had passed out I would not have fallen. She just held me and let me cry and prayed with me. I will never ever be able to forget that moment. The women at chapel prayed over me, prayed for him and all of our deployed husbands and gave me so much strength to carry on. I wish I had more than just the pictures in my mind of the next few days. Its a little blurry. I spent most of the first day on the phone while my friends came to the house that afternoon and cleaned, watched Brooklyn and helped me explain to Jackson what had happened when he got home from school.
It wasn’t until a couple days later when he finally arrived in Germany that I got to talk to his doctor and get a real update on his condition. It was bad. He wasn’t able to be taken off the ventilator. He became septic, and was on more drugs than I could count. He had crashed twice in surgery, had 49 units of blood during surgery, and had also suffered a grade 1 liver laceration as well as a wound to his right arm where a bullet had gone through it. He had flown to Germany with his chest/stomach still open from surgery because there was so much trauma. They were finally able to do surgery there to close the main surgical scars but the bullet hole remained open. I talked to them everyday for the next week while we tried to make arrangements for my mom to come watch the kids so I could go to him. My friends brought meals everyday, took the kids to play so I could nap (I wasn’t sleeping well).
One night I finally asked his night nurse Bethany if I could talk to him. I knew he couldn’t talk back but I knew my husband. He needed to hear from me that we were ok, that he was going to be ok, and that his guys were ok. She called me the next night during one of his sedation breaks and held the phone up so I could tell him that I loved him. It was the best thing.
On Monday east coast/Tuesday in Germany, I finally got the call that he had failed for the 3rd time to make enough progress off the vent to fly to DC. The doctor was initiating orders for me to fly to Germany to be with him and escort him home. My mom was finally in town and we spent the next 24 hours getting everything finalized for my trip. I flew first to DC where I was taken to get a new passport since mine was expired, then back to the airport Wednesday night for my flight. I will never forget calling my kids from my seat on the plane to Germany and holding back tears so badly that my whole body hurt. I was scared. I had never left them to go this far away. I had been lucky enough as a teenager to make two trips to Europe and so I at least knew what to expect from the flight. By the end of the flight I had made friends with a Christian band who were on their way to India. They prayed for us and gave me a renewed sense of hope for what I was about to face.
My army Liasons for his unit met me at the airport. Here is the hardest part. I waited with them at the airport while another family from Ft Drum flew in to say goodbye to their soldier. He was not going to make it out of Germany. Here I was to get my soldier and bring him home alive. My heart broke all over again for her and her children. I prayed. I slept on the couch at the USO, I waited. We finally arrived at Landstuhl and I was able to get my room at the wonderful Fisher House there before going up to see him. Once we got to the base I was told he was finally off the vent and awake. I couldn’t contain my joy! My liason went to his room fist to make sure he wasn’t being treated by docs etc before I came in. I remember crying as we walked down the hall to his room and Sgt Tatro saying, “don’t cry, he is going to be ok!”. I told him that It’s been 6 months since I have seen my husband, I was going to cry regardless just because of the mix of emotions!
Seeing him there was the hardest moment of my life. I couldn’t even bear to take a picture of him. I barely recognized him. His face so swollen from the tube, the amount of lines coming from everywhere it seemed, his strong physique replaced with a gaunt frame….. but oh that first kiss!!! When I walked in I had only kissed him on the forehead, but within a couple of minutes he asked for a real kiss. I knew then that he was going to pull through. He was going to be ok. He was still in the ICU and because he still had an open wound he would fly to the states as an ICU patient. Which was amazing since that meant he had a team of amazing flight nurses working with him the entire flight. They are angels. One of them had even flown with him from Kandahar to Germany. She didn’t think he would make it then. She was so happy to see him awake!
Within 24 hours of landing in Germany I was back on a plane. This time a c-17.
I will never complain about flying coach again. I prayed a lot during that flight. Both for him and the kid on the bunk above him on the flight. Kevin. A 21 year old kid from South Carolina who had lost both legs and was probably going to lose him right arm thanks to an IED blast. His dad was on the flight and after watching me pray and read my bible for a while, asked if he could borrow it. Of course I said yes. God had also laid a verse on my heart for Kevin during that flight. Isaiah 41:9-13. I read them to Kevin and prayed over him. My heart broke again.
We finally made it to Dover Air Force base Friday evening and were taken by ambulance to Bethesda Medical Center. We met his trauma team and made plans for surgery the next day to close his last open wound.
I called the kids and he got to talk to them. I slept soundly for the first time in almost 2 weeks. During his surgery I went to the McDonalds on post at Bethesda for lunch. A couple overheard me talking to my mom on the phone and ended up asking what happened. They were my angels that day. They took me to the commissary and helped me shop for a few groceries (my hotel room had a kitchenette). They continued to call and make sure I didn’t need anything else in DC.
The next few days were filled with doctors, therapy, new meds, being taken off meds, getting my in-laws orders to join us, more therapy, getting his feeding tube, picc line and other tubes out, trying to figure out why his right leg was numb/weak, and making new friends. See shortly after his injury I had posted a prayer request on the facebook page for the book “Faith Deployed”. Its a devotional for military spouses written by Jocelyn Green. One of the contributors to the book, Bettina Dowell, lived in the DC area and came to the hospital to see us. She brought me the most amazing care package complete with a signed copy of “Faith Deployed, Again”, warm fuzzy socks, tea bags, girly lotions, and scripture verses. She was my angel that day.
I visited the national mall with my in-laws on Friday October 7th. I made arrangements to fly home Saturday because my mom was flying back to Kansas City Sunday and I needed to go be with the kids. The doctors were confident they would get him back up to Drum soon after. Jackson cried when I came home alone. It was so hard to be back there without Jeremy. On Monday October 10th, Columbus Day, Jeremy received his Purple heart from President Obama.
He was finally discharged and flew back home on October 13th. 23 days total in the hospital.
We began his outpatient care with his new Warrior Transition Unit the next day. He began therapy again and seeing more doctors to determine the full range of his injuries. We learned that he has shrapnel still sitting on spine that tore through his nerve bundle causing permanent nerve damage to his legs. He was originally told that he would never regain enough feeling or strength to even run around with our kids in the yard. He looked at the doctor and said “watch me”. He also has a TBI (traumatic brain injury) from his first deployment. He has migraines and some short term memory loss but no signs of PTSD.
The next couple months were full of ups and downs. I rejoiced that we made to Christmas. He had never missed a Christmas with us.
He continued to gain strength and found a new respect for what I went through worrying about him and his joes during deployment. He hated being without them. We enjoyed a long awaited family vacation to Disney in February to spend some quality time together without doctors or stress. It was exactly what we needed.
March finally came and we were able to start welcoming home our friends. What a blessing. I was able to finally hug and thank the medic who worked on him in the field, Doc Kampwerth.
A few days later we were able to welcome home the rest of his soldiers.
Going to their homecoming ceremonies was bittersweet. I would never have that moment with Jeremy. Our homecoming was scarred, broken, and full of tears and worry. My depression came back with a vengeance. I learned that I have a form of PTSD called Acute Stress Disorder. Basically I no longer handle high stress situations well. Its improved greatly over the last few years. I have wonderful friends who pulled us through the dark days. We spent summer 2012 getting his disability rating from the Army & VA and preparing to move once we had those. We enjoyed lots of days at Southwick Beach on Lake Ontario, going strawberry picking, bbqs with friends, Jeremy took up golf again, and trying to just savor every moment. We were blessed. So blessed. Through EVERY hard place God provided a blessing. There has been a lot of tears, but more smiles than I can count as well.
We finally left New York to move home to KC after trick-or-treating on Halloween. I cried the entire hour long drive to Syracuse where we spent the night. Saying goodbye to the friends we had made at Drum was so hard. They were some of our angels. They still are. I can not thank you enough for the generosity that you all have shown us. We truly believe that there is a reason for EVERYTHING. God brought us to it, and through it. A dear friend told me once after his injury, “don’t tell God how big your storm is, tell the storm how big your God is.” it was a beautiful reminder that God is in control and that this is all being worked for HIS good.