Sunday, April 1, 2012

It Didn't Go Off As Planned

It's not just Soldiers who deal with flashbacks, fear, and the aftereffects of war.  I asked a fellow Army spouse to let me share her story, and that of her Soldier.  I think it is high time that we share the stories, from both sides of the uniform.

Loraine M. writes--

It was six years ago this April. I still can't watch a vehicle explosion in movies (like the humvee/ambush scene in Iron Man) without cringing and remembering that morning so incredibly clearly. If anyone ever thinks that the Soldier is the only one to deal with the trauma, they've never lived this life or walked in our shoes. 

April, 2006 - 2:45 am Fort Hood time, 11:45 am Baghdad time. (9 hour time difference)

I woke up because I heard his pillows fall off of the bed. I get up, pick them up and place them back where they would be if he were home. I look at the time, thinking maybe this a little sign that he's online or has sent me an email. I check, nothing. No IM. No email. Nothing. Not a peep. Just an eerie feeling that troubles me when I try to go back to bed. 

I finally fall asleep with my phone on his pillow, only to wake up to the alarm buzzing away on the table beside the bed. I get up, wake the kids and help them get their breakfast. At the time, they were 4 and 9. I remember their sleepy faces. 

I peeked briefly at the computer screen that I left on with the Yahoo Messenger running constantly so I didn't miss him. He was there. I clicked the button to accept the call."I need to talk to you." Something in his voice was off. He was tense and I could hear it. He needed to say it. "I have to take the kids to school; I'll be back in a few minutes." 

I wasn't sure that I wanted to hear what was next with the kids in the next room. I remember the errie feeling clinging to me that morning, though I couldn't explain it. I remember every step while walking them to school. I remember telling myself that morning that one foot after another would get them there and bring me home and then I could figure it out when I talked to him. I walked them to the front door of the school, hugged them and kissed them, told them that "Mommy and Daddy love you very much!" "Have a great day!" I'm sitting here years later and I can hear the echoing words. 

I walked home, stumped. Unable to shake the feeling that something was wrong. Halfway home, my phone rang. Pulling it out of my pocket, I noticed the long awkward phone number that start with 9... Sigh of relief. Confirmation that he was ok. But the truth is, he wasn't. Not completely and he never would be. 

"At 11:45 this morning our time, we hit an IED. It picked up my truck and slammed it down. It didn't go off as planned apparently and I'm ok." 

Didn't go off as  planned, he said. Like it was nothing. The timing was of huge significance. The moment his pillows fell off of our bed in our Fort Hood home, all hell was breaking loose for him in Baghdad. 

They didn't lose a single one that day, minus the vehicle he was driving. What happened immediately afterwards resulted in the General putting them all in for a Bronze Star that those below E6 were denied by a LTC who said those awards aren't for the "lower" enlisted. (That's why that phrase pisses me off, by the way.) 

He finished the deployment with back pain now and then after the IED. We chalked it up as having to wear all that armor on a daily basis. Later we found out that the armor had actually kept it compressed. When he got home and the armor wasn't a daily part of his wardrobe, that's when everything went to hell. He collapsed in PT at Hood. 

A few months later, we PCSed. He went through months of unsuccessful physical therapy, while still trying to do his job. Almost a year after returning from Iraq, I drove him to a hospital, where a last resort surgery removed 20-some% of the 
 vertebrae that had been smashed together as a result of the explosion. 

Up to that point, nothing was working. He was stumbling and falling when he walked. He was slowly losing the use of his left leg. He never received a Purple Heart, though his injuries are documented to be caused by the explosion that happened in Iraq. He doesn't want it. He was just doing his job. Apparently though, there were some who gave him hell because a PH would have proved to them that he was actually "blown up". Whatever. 

I watched him stumble and fall knowing there was nothing I could do to help him, except be there to put him back on his feet. I heard him whimpering in pain in his sleep. I wondered every day if his fight to stay in the Army was worth it. I wanted to throttle other spouses who had the gall to ask about buying their spouses out of their enlistment contracts while we were doing everything possible and he was fighting to stay in the Army he still loves today. 

Six months after surgery, he passed his PT test and worked his way back to pre-IED condition. A year later, the Army picked him for DS duty. I worried the entire 9 weeks of school about him aggravating the injury. I worried through combatives where they threw him on the ground or when they punched him repeatedly in the face. He never stopped. He refused to quit. He finished DS duty in December of 2011 as one of the most respected DS's in the BN. And now here we are back in what we lovingly call "normal Army life" with another deployment looming over our heads for next year. It's his job, he says and yet in my mind I still hear the words...

"It didn't go off as planned." And I'm scared all over again. 

There's a small part of our Army journey. I've been thinking about it off and on since Casey posted "Letter to a FriendWhose Husband is Deployed" and again when he started watching Iron Man a little while ago. I had to walk away from the beginning of the movie. I thought typing it out would help. But at least I can share it with others who understand.

Not everyone who deserves one, gets one.

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