Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Love Letter Campaign: The Key to my Heart

My dearest Kevin,

Life without you just doesn’t make sense.

Years ago when we met and first fell in love, I never once imagined myself as being married to someone in the military. A few years and two children later, I stood at the recruiting station and watched you board the bus that led you to MEPS… This is when everything that I knew so well became a distant memory to me. From that point on, we became a military family and started a life full of new adventures, experiences, hard and emotional times, happy times, and some incredibly trying times. Before now, I never would have thought two people, a marriage, and family could endure all that we have and now look back on it all loving each other more today than ever before.

Over eight years ago I kissed you for the last time as a civilian family and we began on this amazing, yet trying journey as an Army family. We survived two deployments, combat injuries, marital struggles, children and all that children bring, living in different places over the world, my serious health issues, my close calls with almost losing my life, family issues, and so much more. We started off naïve to the life the army entails and immature to life in general. Yet, today we stand her stronger than we have ever been even with our health battles and what deployments have put you through and left in our house.

Times have been tough and have left each of us wanting to run in the opposite direction, yet our hearts have always led us back to one another.  In less than two weeks you will no longer be active duty and I find myself full of mixed emotions on this. You will be retired from the army…medically. You fought and tried your best to remain active duty and stay with your guys, but if was a battle that could not be won due to your injuries. At times I have watched and listened as you have let these injuries briefly define you as a person. You, my love, are not defined by the severity of your PTSD or TBI, you are not defined by your terrible spinal injuries or the way your body has changed. Instead, you should look at yourself and define yourself as the man you are today. The man that each and every one of us are not only blessed to have in our lives, but immensely lucky to know.

You have often stated things that have made me cringe and want to shake you into reality, such as asking what kind of man could you possibly be when you can no longer provide as a man should. You are more of a man than the majority of men could ever be. Yes, war did change you physically, mentally, and emotionally, but to live what you have lived through is the most selfless act there is. You have put your life on the line so many times in order to keep not only me and our children safe, but thousands of others safe as well. People like you are the reason that others continue to live their lives as they do and never have to live through what we have lived through. To do all that you have done, defines a not only a man, but a hero. You are not only a hero in my eyes, but you are also a hero in the eyes of our children.

We may battle the war on a daily basis from here on out and you may have bad days that leave you with terrible thoughts, but you will never have a day without me by your side. Without you, there is no me. There are more days that not, which I live for the glimpses of the old you that may sneak through the cracks, but those moments make all the bad ones worth living.  The old you may never appear as it once was, but I am okay with that because I still have you by my side and our children still have their dad. Life may get hard and I fully expect things to get more intense before the sun really shines through, but regardless of this, I will hold your hand as we overcome all the tough times that may lie ahead.

Just as you never left my side when I almost lost my fight last year or the few times before, I will never leave your side. I may want to run away on your bad days, but in all reality, there is nowhere else I would rather be. We have survived three very high risk pregnancies and have been able to love three amazing kids. We have overcome the odds and pulled together when most would fall apart. We have fought like hell and fallen in love all over again when everyone else said we never would. After all that we have endured, I have no doubt that these hard times will be a vivid memory one of these days. No matter how long it takes for that day to come…or if the day ends up never coming… I will always be here to help guide you through this thing called life.

I love you more than any amount of words can express and would be lost without you by my side. I have learned to love and trust because of you, when I never thought I could or would. You truly hold the key to my heart.

Thank you for being you and for never giving up.

I love you and always will…
“100 years”, sweetheart

All my love, always,

Look at Us... Vince Gill
"Look at us, After all these years together
Look at us, After all that we've been through
Look at us, Still leaning on each other

In a hundred years from now, I know without a doubt
They'll all look back and wonder how, We made it all work out

Chances are, We'll go down in history
When they want to see, How true love should be
They'll just look at us"

This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Love Letter Campaign: A Man Lost


As you left yet again to return to the VA hospital, leaving me alone with our children, I came to understand many things, you will never again be the man that I fell in love with, the father you once were, but you will survive this battle inside yourself.

For this first time in a long time I saw glipses of the man I fell in love with, while it is hard on the kids to see you leave yet again they also have pride in you for facing your demons head on. I pray everyday that this time the VA is able to help you, that this time will bring about a change in you that you will never again try and hurt yourself, that you will remember that we will always love you. I can not walk beside you down this path any longer, it has proven to hard for me and for our children. I want you to remember that although we are not by your side everyday we are your biggest fans chearing you every step of the way, we are not turning our backs on you as so many have done we are instead chosing to walk a differant path. The hypervigalance, anxiety, fighting, sleepless nights, and addictions have worn us all down, and changed us all but thru it all we have always loved you.

I need you to never give up, never back down, always push yourself face those demons head on and fight them tooth and nail, stay strong and surround yourself with those who want to help you. I will always be your best friend and your biggest fan, you amaze me so much in your will to survive and beat this, every time it knocks you down you get up kicking and fighting so please let this be the last time that it knocks you down, you are up so keep fighting never give up and find joy in your life find a reason to keep fighting if not for us then for yourself and remember that I will always love you!


This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Love Letter Campaign: To my Veteran With love

I am in love with you for many reasons.  You are caring and bright; You are the only person I have ever met who understand and laughs at my "not so Lady like" sense of humor. You ask me sometimes when you aren't feeling quite yourself, "Why am I with you? " and  "Why do I stay with you?"  You say you are a bad person, you say you have done horrible things...

I am going to explain to you, Tom why I love you and why my life has been forever changed since you stepped foot into my life.  Before you I had been blind to any issue that is veteran related.  Sure, I had heard about it on the news, and I may have even seen you on the news.  The day I decided to go to that VFW was a strange one.  I had never been to one, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect! It was just girls night with my favorite Captain. Then you walked in, thank God for county meetings. I didn't care who anyone else was at that point in time.  All I wanted to do was talk to you, and I guess you felt the same.  We talked for a couple of hours that night and exchanged numbers.  I felt like a giddy school girl, my heart was pounding through my chest and my ears were red when I met you. I knew from the moment I met you I wasn't going to let anything happen to us. We have been inseparable since that moment.

I have the most respect for you and what you have done for this country.  You are a hero. I want nothing more than to be with and share my life with you.  Sometimes I see it in your actions and hear it in your words.  You want to protect me from things that I won't understand.  I understand that completely, but I want you to know that you are not a bad person, and that I love you very much.  You have opened my eyes to a world that I am happy to be a part of. You are the reason why I do the research I do, you are the reason why I want to help veterans so much.  I understand that being with a veteran is different, and that is no problem for me. 

I love you and I want you to remember that, no matter how hard it gets, or what happened I will always love you.  You are my rock, my best friend and an amazing partner in crime.

Submitted By: Gerwin

This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Love Letter Campaign: Happy Anniversary

This morning as I woke up on our 6th anniversary, I had every intention of writing about how we fell in love, but now that I sit here, it seems like another life we led. Instead all I can think of is how we are staying in love, through all our struggles and dealing with our “new life”.

When you returned home from Iraq, hurt and broken I never dreamed of what trials we faced. I was not totally new to PTSD, I heard you mention it after your first tour and heard talk of it from others and the news. But you came home with physical issues and a TBI on top of that PTSD. I slowly saw our lives changing.

On the outside we both seemed “normal” and tried to go through our days as usual. I watched you struggle, trying to heal after your surgery, trying to get use to the idea of no longer being needed in the Army (when they told you they were medically retiring you). I knew you were holding in your feelings, you never could open up to me; you were never one to complain about your demons. I had very little knowledge of what you experienced on your tours, but I knew it must’ve been horrible. Why else were you so angry (all the time)?
Through it all, I am grateful that the kids rarely see this new side of you. You are always so good at holding things together when they were near. But often when they went to bed, I got to see the “new you”. The one that sat in the garage in the dark, for hours. The one who rarely spoke to me, or told me what you were thinking, even if I aggressively probed you about it. The one who could explode at any moment over what seemed like nothing. The one who acted out his dreams unknowingly. 

I finally realized that our life would never be what it was, that day we were getting ready for “N’s” birthday sleep over and I saw in you someone I never knew was there. The paranoid you who thought we were being watched, who was angry and suspicious of everything and everyone. But I listened and for the first time we talked, and you were able to pull together before our guests arrived. Not too long after we decided that I should stay home for awhile, to be with you and the kids. I am grateful for this time.

Through all the fighting and arguing, I am grateful for those glimpses I get of who you use to be, the man I fell in love with. The man who can make me laugh, make me smile, and make me fall in love with you all over again. I am grateful for the sense of humor that we all have, that we are able to step away and laugh about your memory lapses, your sleep walking adventures, the times when you are not aware of what is going on around us, and the times when you are too aware of what is going on around us! It helps me through the times when we struggle. I am more proud of you than you can ever know. You sacrificed everything for our country, for our safety, for us.

 My hope for us every day is that we will learn how to heal, how to keep the “old you” here more often, how to deal with the days when you just can’t be you. I pray for the strength to be who you need me to be, to give you as much as you have given, to love you as much when you are not loveable as I do when you are. My dream is that one day the “old you” will be able to break totally free of this war scarred you and we can move forward and grow old with this life in the background, a distant memory of the sacrifices of a soldier and his family. 

No matter what happens, know that I love you. I love the man I met, the man I married, and yes, even the man you are now. 

Happy Anniversary!

With Love,

This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Love Letter Campaign: Fate with a Twist


It was 5 years ago this month that I first laid eyes on you. We were in a bar, I didn't want to do anything but have fun, you were a soldier returning from the war wanting to find something to be happy about. I was there with another guy, nobody special just another bad boy who was giving me what I wanted at the time... negative attention. I said something to you that night that to this day said was the first moment you knew you were going to fall madly in love with me and that we would get married one asked me if I was with the guy I was out with and I said,"I'm nobodys girl!"

I was a single Mother who had barley survived a horrible divorce and the last thing I wanted was some man telling me what to do. By the end of the night you had charmed me with your humor and somehow got me to give you my number. When you called the next day I NEVER thought in a million years you would be anyone worth my attention...just another dumb guy trying to get something from me. That night we talked for over 3 hours...and laughed most of the time. I learned what an amazing person you were, I remember getting off the phone feeling very curious about if you were really "for real" or was this just another act.

The next few months we spoke a ton on the phone while you were back in TN and I was in MD. When you returned for a weekend break we went on our first official date. MAJOR LET DOWN!! You were so uncomfortable I spent more time picking at the label on my beer then talking with you. I had my girlfriend call me and invite us downtown with some of my friends just so that I could get around other people in hopes that you would get the hint that I was not interested. At the end of the evening of me ignoring you, you still took me home like a gentalmen and said thank you for the evening. You didn't try to invite yourself inside, you didn't even kiss me. Again I laid down in my bed that night very curious as to what kind of a man you were...I had never been out with a guy who didn't at least try to get in my apartment or kiss me at the door after a date. This was all very interesting to me. 

Throughout the year of 2007 we had a number of ups and downs with you being in TN, me being in MD, you wanting me, but me still not able to give you what you heart. I couldn't tell you exactly when it changed for me but one day I wokeup and the idea of you not being mine forever gave me a horrible pain in my heart. I knew then that you were all I had ever wanted and would ever need.

Things have never been easy for us. We moved in together and then found out one month later that we were expecting our daughter. What was suppose to be an amazing time when she was born turned into hell because her birth triggered so many things for you and not good things. Horrible nightmares from Iraq that you would not wish on your worst enemy. We then got married in June of 2009 which was followed by a year of challenges. 2010 to current has been the longest strech of challenges we have yet faced. Even the birth of our third child while it was truly a blessing it came at a time in our marriage when things were not as they should be. This has all challenged our marriage, our faith, our family, our souls, and so much more. It has taken our marriage to the breaking point but here we still STAND TOGETHER! You are my Husband and I will fight for you til the day that I die. You are my soulmate and my lover! My soul without you is not whole. You are my best friend and I know you are still in there just waiting to be healed so you can come back out. Please come back, I miss you (shadow warrior).

I love you more then words and actions could ever explain. You are my heart and soul. Never give up. Never stop fighting. Never let go of eachother!

I love you Paul!


Monday Momism: Santa Isn’t Done

Christmas was always special in our family: big family dinners, friends stopping by.  The kids and I would go to Christmas Eve services when they were younger.  When my son went to Iraq, Christmas was full of hope and prayer and faith that he would come home again.  My younger kids had repeatedly tried to get me to admit there was no Santa or Easter Bunny but to this day I have never agreed to. 

During Christmas one year, my older son was deployed.  The only thing I wanted and didn’t want at the same time that day was a phone call.  I wanted one from him.  I did not want one from the unit saying he was injured.  I got both wishes that day.

I told my younger kids I wanted their brother home for Christmas.  When he didn’t come home, my daughter told me to admit there was no Santa.  I said no. 

On January 2, I had just gotten home for my lunch break from the church I worked in as a secretary.  I heard a knock on the door and looked out to see a soldier standing there.  My heart nearly exploded.  I was scared to open the door.  I was thankful my daughter was with her grandmother on a road trip heading home and my younger son was out playing with high school friends at the basketball court. 

Suddenly, I heard a voice inside telling me “It’s okay.  Open the door.”  I opened it and there was my son, home as a surprise for his two week break from deployment.  I was literally in shock and so relieved and grateful.  I’m crying as I remember that moment even now, years later. 

I was so nervous that my son had to drive us to the school basketball court so he could see his brother.   As my younger son walked across the school yard, I could see first the curiosity and then the happiness as he recognized his brother. 

I called my mom and daughter and asked if they could pull over for a moment and talk on the phone.  I did not my mom driving while I told her the news.  They did so and I told them that a beloved member of our family had come home on leave.  They were so excited and only a few hours away but knew the rest of their trip would be filled with happy anticipation at seeing their brother and grandson.

Christmas has changed for me in the last few years but I have never forgotten that special time.  I still look at it as one of my best Christmas presents ever.  My daughter reminds me that he didn’t actually get home in time for Christmas but that’s ok.  I just tell her Santa had so many special requests from other families with their loved ones deployed that he got to ours as soon as he could. 

My new Christmas request is also going to take some time but I still have faith.  As they are coming home, more and more of our veterans are dealing with brain injuries and PTSD.  My wish this holiday season, as it’s been for the past several years and will continue to be each year, is that we don’t forget them just because they are home.  They didn’t come home alone and their families deal with the new “members” of their household as best they can.  They didn’t hesitate to go for those they love. 

If you are part of a veteran’s family experiencing this, we want you to know that you are not alone.  We understand and we are here to support you just as we have found support in each other. 

Christmas Day was yesterday but Santa isn’t done delivering the gifts we want the most.  This mom of a combat veteran has deep faith in that.  

Submitted By:
Monica Newton

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Love Letter Campaign: Now I Have Your Back

Where do I start? I guess at the beginning...remember when we met? At a party that wasn't supposed to exist on a night when we were both supposed to be somewhere else. I remember seeing you and you took my breath away. I'm not sure exactly what it was but I knew that you were different from anything I had ever known. I didn't have the courage to talk to you and when I finally did work up enough courage to try, you were gone. When you walked back in, it was like I had air in my lungs again and I did finally talk to you. From that night on we were inseparable...people are stunned when they hear that we moved in together on the night that we met but it didn't seem odd to us, it seemed natural...

I remember the first time you went out into the field after we met, you took my cell phone with you so you could call me and I remember how my heart fluttered when I heard your voice on the other end of the line saying "hi baby". Do you remember how you would volunteer to be the one to drive from the field to the mini mart on the pretext of getting cigarettes but really you just wanted to see me for a minute? You would call me and I would hop in the car and meet you there only to kiss you and talk for a minute.

I think about our tiny first apartment, about the time the sink over flowed and flooded the kitchen, how we didn't have a car and had to walk to the grocery store and you would have to get up extra early to take a cab to work. The endless hours while you were at work and I was bored to death because we didn't have enough money for cable or the internet and washing clothes in the bathtub. Its funny how now I look back on those times so fondly.

Our relationship was crazy fast and no one understood it but us, you asked me to marry you a week after we met and then 5 weeks later you were deployed to Iraq. We were so excited to get married that we couldn't wait until R&R to come around, so we did it over the phone! Life was so exciting, we were so proud to be a military family, we would talk about all the places we would go.You had such aspirations for a career in the military. By then we had a daughter and you were one proud daddy, remember on the phone when you deployed, I told you that we were going to have a girl and you starting yelling "I'm gonna have a baby girl!" at the top of your lungs? lol.

Then you deployed again. From the second you left I had the feeling that somehow things would never be the same again, I didn't know quite how but I could feel it.

I remember the phone call in November, just before Thanksgiving, you told me that your vehicle had hit an IED but you were okay, just banged up. Little did we know the impact that IED would have on our lives. In the months to follow I got 5 more phone calls like that...after the second one it was just sort of routine of "honey, we hit an IED". "Do you have all your parts?" Then you would answer with a simple, "yeah" and we would go on with our conversation. I remember the terror that ran through my body at 1 AM when the phone rang and the caller ID said US Government....

You are home now and out of the military, I miss the military life, isn't that funny? Despite everything that happened I still miss it but I think part of that is missing the life that we used to have together. PTSD and TBI took you away from me, it has changed everything. Sometimes the old you is still there, in bits and pieces and then you slip away again and I feel selfish for wanting to hold on to you for a just a little bit longer. The dreams that we used to share can no longer be and it hurts although I've learned that I have to mourn those, let them go and create new dreams.

Many times you say that you are lucky that I have stayed with you and I can't help but think how lucky I am to have you, to have known you. Sometimes when I look at you I can still see that 21 year old boy who took my breath away and sent my heart aflutter. I miss him so much. I miss YOU so much. But I have gotten to know the man who has come home from war and I've learned to love him. Yes things are difficult, beyond difficult, there are times when I honestly don't know how I will make it one more day. But then there are times like just now, you came upstairs to find me sobbing while I write this and within a minute you had me laughing hysterically. The bad times out number the good for the most part but the good times outweigh the bad. No one knows me like you do, no one loves me like you do, no one makes me prouder than you do. I am proud of all you have done and I am proud that despite the PTSD and TBI you keep trying. I couldn't imagine a life without you by my side, we became Jenny and Kevin on the day we met, we go together, we are a set, there is no Jenny with Kevin and no Kevin without Jenny. So I stay and I'm happy to stay, you had my back, now I have yours.

I love you.


-Olive Face

Friday, December 23, 2011

Letting it go....

I miss the military life, especially at this time of the year, Christmas, that might sound silly because thats usually when most military families are missing their family the most. But for us our house was always full, it would start out that I'd get wind of one of my husbands soldiers not being able to go home for Christmas and of course we would invite him, usually he would have a buddy who would came along and then while doing Christmas shopping out at the PX we would run into a few more and before we knew it we had 10 extra soldiers at our house for Christmas. I LOVED it, while the guys were running back to the barracks to get their things (we always had them stay the night because you know how those boys do love to celebrate!) I would run to the store and get  glitter glue and stockings and stocking stuffers and a small gift for every one and have them hung and wrapped before anyone got there. They would walk and sit down and naturally look at the decorations and then there was the moment-you could see it in their eyes- the moment when they recognized that they had a stocking hanging on the wall just for them. That moment of recognition and the softening of their eyes was the best Christmas gift I ever have or ever will receive.

I miss my husband bringing one of his guys home from PT with him so they could get showered and I could fix them a quick meal. One of his soldiers thought I was the most amazing cook because I made him an egg sandwich...really...a fried egg with a little bit of mayo and a bit of cheese in between two slices of toast.....but something that simple just made his whole day. Needless to say he got at least two sandwiches a week sent in for him. I miss making cookies and bringing them down to the company or making dinner and bringing it down when the platoon is working late...okay, you've figured it out, Im a mother hen and I have lost my chicks.

I miss the pride I used to see in my husband and I miss trying to be the best military wife I could be. The deployments were tough, beyond tough sometimes, the weeks by quickly but the days seemed to last years. But even in deployment good could be found, I made it my mission to write him a letter every single day and I did, for both deployements. I wrote about the most mundane things because to him its something from home even if its boring. I would start a letter in the morning, write some here and there and then finish it before bed, always putting one upside down stamp on the envelope because it means I love you. I also sent one care package a week and I absolutely had a blast with it.Sometimes I'd send him themed boxes like a Sunday morning box, a news paper from home, bagels (this was when somehow they go mail faster to Iraq that they could across our own country...go figure!) cross work puzzles, instant coffee with those shelf stable creamer etc. To me those letters and those care packages were the only way that I could show my love and I adored trying to find more and more ways to show him.

I miss watching the men in uniform salute each other, I miss seeing a tank in my review mirror, I miss driving slowly past the road marchers. I miss knowing that everyone on base, though we may not know each other or like each other is still in a way my family , they still live the same life we do , a life that people on the outside can't even begin to comprehend.

We used to lay awake at night talking with excitement about where we would like our next assignment to be, he wanted Alaska, I wanted Germany so neither of us budged. What I didnt realize then is that he was will to go to Germany as long as we went to Alaska first....I would have said yes to that! We truly adored our military life and now it feels as if we have been exiled but not just exiled , exiled without my full husband, part of him is in there still and its really trying to come out but he has bits of this new guy, this not so nice guy that is holding him back.

If this were a fairy tale I would be holding a silver hand mirror in front of my face but rather than seeing my own reflection you would be seeing the day dream going on in my head projected into that mirror and that at the height of happiness in the vision the mirror would slip through my hand and shatter into thousands of pieces, I'd fall to my knees and sob, trying in vain to put it back together so I could get to my dreams only to realize that I can't, they are gone and there is nothing in this world that can be done to make those dreams happen. You have to let go, drop the pieces and walk away or you will stay there and cry and bleed. You have to make new dreams....

I personally think that making new dreams is more difficult of letting go of old dreams, at least for me. You see the Army, it was such a bit part of our personalities. Kev was an NCO and he was proud of that, his time and effort went into being the best NCO he could be a training his guys up to meet their full potential. I was an FRGto the base and to the lifestyle, I would talk to the soldiers moms on the phones when they were worried about their sons but they knew their sons didn't want to hear them worry.  I was also trying to be the best military wife I could be, learning the terminology, background, the make up of the Army and such (I was quite proud to have been the only person in the audience that could sing the Army Song...thats on my hubby though, about an hour before the ceremony he told one of his guys that he should watch me because I knew the song....which I DID NOT!!!! So I spent an hour listening to the darn thing over and over and over until I go it!

But its like who are we now? Seriously,who are we? He is disabled and cannot work so he is home all day every day and I am his caretaker so I am with him all day every day and of course all night....who are we? Our life used to be so fulfilling and now the highlight of our day is checking the mail and watching "Impractical Jokers" (which you all should watch, its awesome)

Its so hard to let go when you haven't quite figured out your new dreams and its hard to figure out new dreams when you so desperately want what you had........


The Love Letter Campaign: Because of You

My dear Joey,

I've tried to write this letter to you time and again, but each time I encountered a writer’s block. Putting how I feel about you onto paper requires me to use the right words, but sometimes the “right words” just wouldn’t come. I guess that’s what they mean by “Writer’s Block.” So, after much consideration, I’ve decided to take a different approach to this love letter thing and write what comes to mind.

I remember when we first met. It was summertime, we were at our neighborhood pool, and you were so cute. Your roommate introduced us, and my sister cannon-balled into the water…on your head. You were in the Air Force at the time, and that in itself was exciting and scary. It was fun flirting with you at the pool, talking about movies and music, Germany, air planes, and pets. But the summer moved on without us, and we briefly fell out of touch. At this point, I have to credit your sister for our relationship coming together (well, her and a hurricane!) When she and your mom evacuated to your apartment, fate intervened and after a whirlwind romance, you proposed. And then, I was a better person, because of your love.

We've been through some interesting things, haven’t we? The hoops you had to jump through while we were dating – because of my overly protective parents. But you persisted, and here we are, six years later, married and having a blast as parents to our toddler. 

I am so many things because of you. I’m almost a teacher now, something that I’ve secretly dreamt about since childhood, because of you…I can admit that I fail at baking cookies, but love watching cartoons, because of you. I know a lot about World of Warcraft, Gears of War, and kicking our nephew’s butts at Halo, because of you. I laugh daily and talk your head off about Magic the Gathering (because of you!). I’m all of my great qualities, and even supported while indulging my bad ones, because of you. I could tick off so many more things (you helped me quit smoking and introduced me to blue cheese) but most of all …

Do you remember just how difficult it was for us to become parents, when it seemed that all around us were mommies to be. The pain that we felt at hearing that I’d never have children. But you stood by me, you stood strong, and never let me hate myself. You wouldn’t let me wallow, instead you loved me even more. And then – we got the amazing news. I’m a proud mommy – because of you. 

Here we are today. Facing another challenge; one that affects everything about our lives. We deal with our “new normal” and face our challenges head on. You often lament that you don’t understand why I’m still here; why I've not left, and why I still love you. I’ve heard the same things from you over and over – you’re a burden, you’re a waste of time/space, you can’t do anything, you aren’t a good husband, the list goes on and on. But it’s not true. You aren’t any of those things. I’m still here because I love you. Even on your worst day, you are mine. I’m still struggling to find the words that clearly and confidently express my love for you.

I love you. And I swear it feels like I always have. I look at you and I know what you’re feeling, which comes in handy in our new normal. Sometimes I think about reincarnation, and the idea that soul mates always find each other. When I hold you at night, I know this to be true; I know that our souls have found each other. I trust that in our next chance at life, our souls will, once again, find one another, and our love will prevail. 

With all my love,

This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Guest Blog: Veteran Artist Program

As a veteran artist I have constantly been in search for a way to pay it forward in the veteran community. It is hard work to market your own material, network and keep up in a competitive industry like art. As I neared two years of working alone, I came across the Veteran Artist Program (VAP); when I submitted art for a show they were producing, titled Remembering, which was spearheaded by Erin Byers.

I was excited about their vision- propelling artists into mainstream arts community. As I explored their work and mission; I found out that they have four unique parts within their organization VAP VIS, VAP VOS, Telling and The 6th Branch. I was impressed with what they were accomplishing and their future goals.

I contacted them to ask if there was a way I could volunteer or help out in the organization; and I was greeted with a warm, enthusiastic reception from BR McDonald, the director of the Veteran Artist Program. I was instantly made a part of the team (a wonderful team, I may add) and began tackling social media and partnership building for them.

It has been several months since I have started working with this talented team and incredible organization. It has taught me a lot on the social media front, partnership building, networking, collaboration and art. However, most importantly, it has called me back to the true meaning of servant leadership.

What I have found that stands out the most about this organization is their willingness to lead as servants. All of these individuals are incredible people, living full lives with jobs, families and other interests that compete for their attention; yet, they inevitably dedicate countless hours of giving back to the community through art and service.

The first week I worked for them, they were doing a community project in East Oliver, a neighborhood known for its rundown building, drug trafficking and high crime rate. The 6th Branch and VAP joined forces with a community of veterans, students and locals to tackle cleaning the neighborhood, planting trees and creating a mural. The mural was a piece designed by a Jake, a local VAP artist and Michael, an artist with the Baltimore Love Project in Baltimore, MD.

I was informed that this was one of the many projects that they would be participating in over the next year; as they commit to taking back the Oliver neighborhood and creating a better city, for everyone. I was touched by this project. I was also touched by the collaboration from so many different stakeholders. It is one thing to tackle something on your own, it’s another thing to orchestrate and maintain the energy of a whole community to support a vision.
In January 2012, Veteran Artist Program has a performance taking place called The Telling Project. This project, created by Jonathan Wei and produced by BR McDonald, has been a huge success in the Maryland area. The Telling Project has given veterans and veteran family members the opportunity to tell their stories.

In this moving performance, these individuals invite you into their lives and ask you to bear witness. The testament to this incredible performance is not just how the audience walks away satisfied and more knowledgeable on the military but in the work that takes place behind the scenes. It has led to lifelong friendship and healing. It has also given these individuals a platform to have their voice heard; while providing them the opportunity to learn the skill of articulating their story in front of an audience.

As I head into the New Year, it is an incredible time for the Veteran Artist Program. The goals that have been set and surpassed in 2011, are leading the organization into 2012 with many exciting plans. The organization is expanding its team and partners, collaborating with new stakeholders and touching the lives of veterans and their families in ways that were never expected. As I move forward as a part of the Veteran Artist Team, I continue to remind myself it’s an honor to be a part of such an outstanding organization. However, the greatest gift remains touching the lives of veterans and their families through community service and art.

Charlie Palumbo
Social Media and Partnership Liaison
Veteran Artist Program (VAP)

FOV BlogTalkRadio "Veterans Edition" ~ The End of the Iraq War...

The end of the war.

The end of an era.

The beginning of a new war.

The beginning of a different war.

Join Sean Taylor and Tony Patchell on Friday for FOV's "Veterans Edition" of BlogTalkRadio as they discuss what impact the ending of our time in Iraq has caused. Learn the Veteran's side to this ending and exactly what we now face for the future. The end of the war is only the beginning of the battle at home, the on going battle that is Life After Combat.

Wish to share your thoughts or concerns on the matter, then please call in during the show at (323) 657-1470.

Warning: Content of the show may cause distress or triggers due to the nature of what is being discussed, listener discretion is advised.

FOV BlogTalkRadio "Veterans Edition" ~ The End of the War in Iraq: What it means for some Vets, Friday December 23, 2011 at 7PM EST, 6PM CST, 5PM MST, 4PM PST.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Love Letter Campaign: Learning Love

Dear Zac,

Seven years ago you came into Hooters wearing that Air Force flight suit. I wasn’t impressed. You took me at the surface of being a stuck up snob. I took you to be a dumb country boy. You found out my roots and then your opinion changed. You came in everyday and tried to charm me. It took a while but it finally worked. It was my 23rd birthday the night I finally agreed to hang out with you. You took me out in that shiny, black Chevy purchased with combat pay. We went to your stomping grounds and got stuck in the mud. It was a cool fall night and we laughed and talked and got muddy. I had the most fun I had had in a very long time.  I think it was the most you had had as well. You were still very tan from that desert sun and your blue eyes twinkled when you smiled. I was busy with school and work and wasn’t looking for a relationship, but ready for some fun.

Six months later we were Mr. and Mrs.

We have weathered illness and injury, hospital stays and worse. It has not always been rosy or easy or even happy, but we never gave up; we never threw in that towel even when we tried. Our marriage has not been typical, not a marriage that resembles most, but it’s our marriage and we treasure it. We treasure it more than anything else in our lives. At this point, the roughest in the storm of life, we have each other and not much else.

We are stronger today, than we were 9 April 2005. I am so grateful for every kiss, hug, tear, and fight we have shared. From you I have gained a kind of strength I would have never known if that redneck in the flight suit had never entered my life. For some reason the universe has thrown challenges our way, more than most, but we have come out stronger as a married couple. Our love has strengthened to one most will never be lucky enough to know.

I used to think that the world brought us together from some unknown reason, the whole “opposites attract” thing. Now I know why we were brought together: we each give the other purpose. You need me to ground you and guide with logic and I need you to add levity to my otherwise tight and rigid ass. You make me laugh and I make you dinner. You make me feel important and I make you fix the toilet.

Humor aside, words will never be adequate to express our love and our connection to the rest of the world, and that’s okay. The world doesn’t matter. There is something completely intrinsic about our feeling for each other; it is imbedded in our DNA it seems, we don’t have to think about it, it’s just there.

We matter to each other, through sickness and health, in good times and in bad, for richer or for poorer, until the end. Thankfully, we know that we will forever be together, even in spirit. 

Forever and always,
Liz, Strengthened by my Staff Sargent 

This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

PTSD & The Holidays: A Quick Survival Guide

At Family Of a Vet we're seeing an even higher than normal increase this year in the number of heroes and families truly struggling with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and the holiday season.  It is typical for those faced with PTSD to struggle during this time for a variety of reasons (increased exposure to crowds and unfamiliar places, changing schedules and routines, family gatherings, anniversaries of events they experienced during combat, etc, etc). 

Here are some articles we've found that give tips and suggestions specifically about PTSD and this time of year as well as some links to articles from the library that may be particularly helpful!

If you know of an article we missed, please feel free to add it to the comments at the bottom of this post so that others can read it.  Afterall, we're all in this together!!!

Articles about PTSD & The Holidays:

Coping with PTSD and Holidays:
An article written by Dr. Matthew Tull that not only talks about some of the reasons people with PTSD struggle during this time of year but also gives some great tips and advice.

PTSD and Holidays:
An article written by Patience Mason, one of the very first Veteran wives to ever address PTSD and its effects on our heroes and families head on.  Her husband was a Vietnam Veteran and the advice given is real and very useful.

Coping with the Effect of PTSD and Family Holidays:
Another article by Dr. Matthew Tull.  The article provides six tips with details to help those struggling with PTSD handle family holidays, including Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc.

How to Cope with PTSD and the Holiday Season:
Ideas and tips from several authors about PTSD and the holidays.  Also includes some ideas submitted by a wide range of people who are personally struggling with PTSD at the bottom of the page.

PTSD Spirituality: Holidays and the 18% PTSD Danger Zone:
A very long but well-written article that would help not only someone who has PTSD but also family members and friends who want to support them during this stressful time.

Articles & Resources from the Library:

Understanding PTSD & How to Really Help:
An article written to help "civilians" and others who don't know much about PTSD and its impact on our heroes and families understand better.  There is a printable version available to make it easy to share with friends and relatives at the bottom of the page.

Understanding Combat PTSD from the Inside, Out: How PTSD Changes the Brain:
A great article to share with friends or family who are still sort of in denial about the reality of PTSD.  The article talks about the physical and psychological changes that PTSD creates within the brain.

Combat PTSD in 15 minutes:
This is a FREE Ebook that is available in all major formats. It gives a good, quick overview of PTSD - what is it, what it looks like, and where to get help.

FOV's 911:
Advice for where to get help right away if you or your veteran are having a crisis.

Also, here are some phone numbers and contacts that can come in handy if you or your Veteran are really struggling over the holidays and need to reach out!

Some Phone Numbers That Can Help:

The National Suicide Hotline (800-273-TALK)
When calling, choose option "1" and you will be routed to VA suicide prevention specialists.

The National Veteran's PTSD Hotline (800-293-1438)
The hotline is answered 24x7 by combat wounded or disabled Vets who can give you info about your closest PTSD related resources.

Vet Center Combat Call Center (877-WAR-VETS)
An around the clock confidential call center where combat Veterans and their families can call to talk about their military experience or any other issue they are facing in their readjustment to civilian life. The staff is comprised of combat Veterans from several eras as well as families members of combat Veterans.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-SAFE)

The Love Letter Campaign: Remember When

Remember when...we started out...

It’s been 11½ years since that day we were married. It was sunny and hot and I had the future on my mind. We were young and scared. We had three months of “couplehood” left before we were going to be parents. More than anything, I was joining the ranks of Army Wives everywhere and I had no idea what I was getting into.

Remember began...

The first day you went back to work after our honeymoon, you received news that sunk your heart. So much so, that you didn’t tell me right away; you didn’t want to upset your very pregnant wife. You always protected me, even when I didn’t know it. Later I would find out that you were PCSing to Camp Hovey in South Korea in the spring. In the meantime, we needed to get ready for a baby. Little did I know you were quietly suffering because you knew you would leave us for a year.

Remember when...we became parents...

On September 14, 2000, my water broke at 11:30pm as I laid in bed. You rushed through all the motions of an expectant father tasked with an emergency run to the hospital. I don’t remember a lot of it, but I remember you drove very fast toward Fort Riley and you were excited. At 3:50 am on September 15, we welcomed Gabriel Kennedy into the world. Complications caused me to be asleep during the c-section, so you welcomed our son by yourself. I don’t remember the first time I saw Gabe but I remember how elated you were to have a little boy. In the weeks that that followed, you took such good care of Gabe and I...your cherished family.

Remember had to leave us...

Fast forward through our first Christmas and into 2001. March came and you prepared to PCS to South Korea. I was frightened about your being away for a year. Gabe was only 5 months old...he would be 18 months old when you returned home. How much time you would miss! I was heartbroken for all three of us, but I knew we were strong and we’d make it. Besides, you had mid-tour leave in September, so I only had to get through six months.

Remember when...the world changed forever...

September came. Saying I was excited about your mid-tour leave would be muting my feelings a bit...I was ectatic! Gabe was almost 1 year old and we were looking forward to celebrating with you. He had grown so much and I couldn’t wait for you to bond with your son.

Then, the unthinkable. September 11, 2001...our world was thrown upside-down. Terrorists had attacked the World Trade Center and suddenly we were thrust into war. I was as scared as everyone else, but I was worried about you. I waited anxiously for your phone finally came. You were headed to the DMZ to stare at North Korea and hope to God they didn’t take the opportunity to strike. Oh, and by the way...your mid-tour leave was cancelled. I was too scared to be heartbroken, but I was missing you terribly.

Four days later, on a cold and rainy Saturday afternoon, we celebrated Gabe’s first birthday. He was going to have a wonderful cake with his favorite characters on it, but instead it simply had an American Flag. I wanted it to reflect our vigil of honor...his daddy was guarding freedom outside of the world’s most pristine ecosystem. Machine guns, Bradleys and miles of wire fence...that’s what you were doing when your son turned One. To this day, Gabe knows why his cake was a flag and I’m glad it was.

Remember came home...

Finally, you returned to us. The world was a very different place than it was when you had left a year before...but we settled right back into family life. We were thinking of expanding our family, but i wasn’t our time yet. We carried on and soon we found that you had received orders to deploy as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Although you were not excited to leave us again, you knew it was your duty. You told me that you had trained your entire career for this and you wanted to go.

Remember went to war...

April, 2003. You were Baghdad-bound. This time, I was very scared. Scared of “the knock”, scared of phone calls, scared of what could happen. I talked to you about once every two weeks at odd times early in the morning. It was always so wonderful to hear your voice. There were no emails so we exchanged hand-written letters. It was tragically romantic.

One day I received the message that you’d been hurt. The communication was sketchy and thankfully you were not injured as badly as I’d feared. However, the stoploss was lifted and you were sent home, against your wishes and better judgement. I didn’t understand then...I didn’t know why you wanted to stay.

Remember became a veteran...

Soon after you were back from combat, you were out of the army. All of a sudden, we found ourselves a civilian family and you a veteran. We were both scared but we never talked. You were quiet and seethed of anger. I wasn’t sure what was happening...I didn’t know what you had been through in Iraq. I didn’t understand that your unit was still there and you were scared for your men. I just didn’t understand.

You took a new job as a tower hand and traveled all over the country building cell phone towers. The money was good, but you were gone again. I was accustomed to you being away so I pulled it together and managed. I missed you, but I comforted myself with the knowledge that you would someday be in an office and home every night. We’d have family vacations like everyone else and dinners around the table. That was my fantasy.

Soon, we found out Jackie was on the way and you were excited to have a Princess. I’ll never forget the joy she brought to you, it was beautiful. I’ll admit now, I was a bit jealous of how emotional you were with her...because you never were that way with me. You simply never were able to let your walls down. I wish I would have realized that you just couldn’t. That it had nothing to do with me.

Remember when...we had illness and loss...

You called me one morning in May, 2005. You were out in Western Kansas, heading back to Topeka. You were in pain you said, you thought it was Appendicitis but you were going to try to get to the VA in Topeka. Finally, you made it. I was worried. I rushed to the VA, just to find you sick as you could be. You were rushed into emergency surgery. Hours later, we learned it wasn’t Appendicitis, but rather Diverticulitis. I was confused because you were only 30 and this is something elderly people get. I watched your grueling recovery for 10 days in the VA. You were miserable and in pain. Finally, the day before our fifth wedding anniversary, you were released. The next day, we spent our anniversary at the grocery store with you leaning carefully on the cart as we walked through the aisles. It was all you could manage and we came home. But it was the most romantic date we’d ever had and I still cherish it to this day.

Not long after, your dad fell ill and you were worried. He had been sick before but this time was different. He was weak and wasn’t responding to treatment. I watched you suffer as he suffered. I watched you hold vigil at the VA and then at the Hospice House. I remember the early morning phone call, when all you said was simply, “dad is gone”. I was heartbroken for the loss of an amazing man and I was heartbroken for you.

Time went on and you rose in the ranks of the telecommunications industry. You were a supervisor and you were well-respected. We saw you every so often when you could get back home, but those visits became increasingly more tense. I didn’t understand, but I knew we were falling part. So did you. I know we were both scared.

We had our good times and I held onto those like a treasure. I remembered what things made you happy...simple things like A&W Root Beer, homemade cookies and a quiet nap. I tried to make you as comfortable as I could. Most times, though, I was aware that I was failing miserably. Not long after, William joined us. You were on the road and didn’t get a chance to spend as much time with him as you would have liked, but I knew you loved him. I took solace in the simple fact that he had your eyes.

Remember when...PTSD took over...

Life became more and more tense. I knew something was wrong but no one had ever told me to look out for anything after combat. I finally realized it must be PTSD. You weren’t ready to deal with it so you worked. You were hurting and you tried to tell me. I was hurting and didn’t know how to tell you without hurting you more. Neither of us knew what to do but we knew we still loved each other. I was confused and mistook your PTSD for a loss of love. I see now I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Remember when...the bottom fell out...

Finally, the hurt became too much. We decided to separate and then divorce. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done but at the same time a relief. We both needed time and space to figure ourselves out. We needed to fight our individual demons before we could tackle our marriage. You had finally made it to a corporate position as a Project Manager and your time was consumed by work. We continued to make the kids our primary concern. Slowly, we began to talk...

Remember when....we found clarity...

I learned more about PTSD, TBI and Life After Combat. The chaotic life that we had just endured came into clear view to me. I finally saw what you had been fighting this entire time and my heart sank...I wished so badly I would have known. I wish I would have been prepared to deal with what would happen to you in Iraq. I felt for a time as though I had failed you as a wife, but then I learned more. Over time, as you and I slowly and carefully began to wipe the slate clean and start over, I began to see. I watched you with the kids when I would bring them to Champaign where you were now living. I saw your love and I began to also notice your subtle cues...I could see when you were being triggered by something or a situation was too much. I fought it for a while...I was sure that I had to succumb to society’s rules about divorce; they were set in stone and they were clear. If you were divorced, you had to be cool and distant with each other. In my heart, I believe I knew otherwise...I believe I knew our situation was different and special. What I didn’t know is that I was to begin a crusade of redefining what divorce is...that it doesn’t mean the end. Just because a marriage ends in the eyes of the law doesn’t mean everything.

Did you know...we give hope?

Not long ago, as I’ve been working with Family Of a Vet, I’ve noticed something amazing. I’ve noticed that our situation is giving many, many veterans and their families hope. Hope that they can make it. Hope that even if they don’t, it’s okay. They know there are resources out there for them that we simply didn’t have way back in 2003 when your tour in Iraq ended. We know now that the war doesn’t end when you leave the battlefield.

Not long ago, our little girl laid in the hospital. You came rushing back to her. I could hear the fear in your voice on the phone as you drove. At 1am when you arrived in her room, you leaned over her fragile sleeping body and hugged her for a long time. I watched you and wondered what must be going through your mind. Over the next few days, I observed you in tense and stressful situations. You came to me and confided that you didn’t know what was the matter...I told you it was okay because I did. I can read your body language now and I know when you need to change scenery a bit. I watched you with the boys and the pride you had as Gabe’s football team was awarded their championship trophies. I also could hear in your voice how hard you were fighting the anxiety of the crowd. Gabe never knew the difference, though...all he knew is that you were there. After Jackie was out of the hospital, you read the get-well cards her classmates wrote her...I saw the wonder in your eyes when you realized how much they cared for her. It was Veteran’s Day and the cards included little flags from the VFW. Her classmates also knew you were a Hero.

Regardless of where life takes us, we can look back to were we’ve been. I love the man you’ve been, the man you are and the man you are working so hard to become. I am proud of you and your service to this country. I’m proud of how you’ve soldiered through all the years since your tour in Iraq. I’m sorry I didn’t know more about your suffering back then, but I do now and I’m here to walk with you the rest of the way.

Remember when old ones died and new were born
And life was changed, disassembled, rearranged
We came together, fell apart
And broke each other's hearts
Remember when...
~Alan Jackson

The words of this stanza have always reminded me of us. Life has’s been rearranged...and it’s definitely been disassembled. We’ve broken each other’s hearts and we’ve come back together. We’ve learned how to take pieces of a broken life and begin to re-shape it. Stronger and better than all those years ago. Remember when?


This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit

Monday, December 19, 2011

FOV BlogTalkRadio "Caregiver Edition" ~ Holiday 911

The holidays can be crazy for those living even the most normal of lives, but for those of us dealing with the PTSD, TBI, and Life After Combat World, things are multiplied! Unfortunately for us there isn't an emergency number to call when we need immediate answers on how to handle things before and after they become too much to deal with. Until now of course!

Join us Tuesday night on our BlogTalkRadio "Caregiver Edition" show and discover ways to better plan and help stave off those difficult situations! Have a relative you don't know how to handle or situation in particular you need advice on, then give us a call during the show at (323) 657-1470 and we shall try and help provide some solutions!

Find out the best ways to survive the holidays with us Tuesday December 20, 2011 at 7:30pm EST, 6:30pm CST, 5:30pm MST, 4:30pm PST!

FOV's BlogTalkRadio "Caregiver Edition" ~ Holiday 911

To listen to the archived recording of the show, just click the "play" button below.  You can also download it for free to listen on your computer, iPod, or other device.

Listen to internet radio with Family Of a Vet on Blog Talk Radio