By Diana Hume, AW2 Reserve Spouse
Editor’s Note: Diana Hume is a feature blogger for AW2. She’ll be sharing her experiences as the wife of a severely wounded reservist.
Surviving what seems to be the impossible is possible. We may not realize it, but spouses have been preparing for overcoming the impossible all along. Because of our Soldier’s absence, our strength grows over time. However, after we receive the call that our Soldier has been injured, we experience the fall out where, at least for me, the fog of loneliness I constantly pushed aside rolled in full force. I had to figure out how to manage the home front while simultaneously caring for my Soldier.
As a result of my Soldier‘s med-evac out of Iraq, he was closer to home and just 1,224 miles away from Texas. He was at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Also, keep in mind that this was back in April 2007, when many Soldiers were sent to Walter Reed to be treated, resulting in an over-flow of wounded warriors at the medical center. It was a time when the Army was working hard to hire more medical staff and develop new programs to handle the influx.
I found myself alone navigating the path of finding our new normal. Daily, I called anyone at Walter Reed trying to find answers, but found little support, particularly since I was so far away. The distance and disconnect was a big change for me–and continues to be for a lot of reserve spouses. To put it bluntly, it stunk. The internet quickly became my best friend and I spent hours researching all I could to learn more about Walter Reed and the experience upon which we were about to embark.
I am confident resources are abundant, just hard to find. During this time, I prayed for some group or network to appear, but that prayer wasn’t fully answered–yet. I found that in order to be the warrior my Soldier needed, I had to make my voice be heard. So, I came up with tools to help me survive my impossible ordeal. One cherished tool was my little black book. It was in this small notebook where I would write down every name, phone number, location, unit, title or any other relevant information. In hindsight, I should have put it on a lanyard around my neck, but instead I carried it in my purse. At night, I placed it by my bed just in case a midnight thought needed to be captured.
It wasn’t until two months later in late June 2007 that I first visited my Soldier at Walter Reed. Yes, I know what you are thinking; the time it took to even just visit my Soldier was too long. The system did not see the sense of urgency because of his invisible wounds. However, once I got there it was an impressionable visit. Nevertheless, it was also a visit where my thoughts became even more complicated. Again, so many acronyms and programs, but nothing seemed to fit together. Just when I thought I had answers, 15 more questions would rear their heads! At night, my tears got the best of me, sometimes all of me.
When tears finally dried, some clarity came. I could see a few noted valuable resources in my black book: The Soldier and Family Assistance Center, the chaplain, the Red Cross, the VA, and local charities such as the Yellow Ribbon Fund and, in Dallas, Operation Healthy Reunions. However, keep in mind that these programs and charity organizations differ by military treatment facility (MTF), so for all those who are going through their own period of transition, search for them on a local level. Keep looking both locally and nationally for organizations and programs that meet your needs.
I found that when I was physically at Walter Reed, things were different. It was only after I made my infrequent visits to be with my healing Soldier, that I became visible to the Army. Because of this visibility, I got help and answers to my growing list of questions. However, that did not hold true once I returned to take care of my home front. The old cliché, out of sight and out of mind became a mainstay. Remember, my Soldier was able bodied, his major injury being PTSD, so the Army assumed–without consulting me–that he was fully functional and able to manage his own care. Those who live with PTSD know that this is not the case and it is so far from reality.
Things I thought would happen and that I later asked for, such as reintegration counseling for our Family and marriage, were not being offered. Even those at Walter Reed didn’t seem to understand the challenges reserve spouses often face. It was always assumed we were active duty and that we had access to active duty programs. This was one of the most frustrating challenges I had to navigate.
As a result, I had to find help within my local community. However, this can be its own challenge. In a civilian environment it’s tough to find a specialist that understands the challenges faced by reserve spouses and Families who are adjusting to injuries and our new normal. I spent my time at home working to find a connection on my local level and within the Army so that our Family would be included in the healing process.
One of these connections appeared near the end of our recovery at Walter Reed. This connection was, Robert Lipp, our Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Advocate. Upon meeting him, I asked him, “Where have you been the last two years of my life?” It was a bitter sweet meeting for me. At Walter Reed, my Soldier didn’t qualify for the program because his injuries were invisible and we had no concrete initial rating. After the MEB (medical board evaluation), we were able to qualify to be part of AW2. Ever since, I have seen the amazing support the Army and AW2 provide and how they can improve the lives of wounded warriors and their families.
I believe that the impossible just means our focus needs to be ever-changing while we journey on our new path. We are now the warrior demonstrating strength, character, loyalty, and determination so we can defeat whatever crosses our path. Our medal will not come in the form of something tangible, but rather something deeper; a pride knowing you have withstood a moment in time that seemed impossible to overcome.
Most of you who are reading this may be aware of the AW2 program. However, we can still be lost during deployments and the early stages of our wounded warriors’ healing. I have searched for groups who specifically support spouses of our Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers. Unfortunately, my findings are slim.
Too many of us are falling through the cracks, but it is important that we never stop fighting. We, as reserve spouses, are full of experiences and stories of survival. Active duty wives have a strong network, so I ask that we work to build our own support network for reserve spouses so that together, we can navigate our impossibilities. This network could possibly be the best gift we can give to each other. Let’s keep sharing our stories.
We can start today by commenting on AW2’s blog and sharing the helpful organization you’ve found. Start making your voice be heard. We owe it to ourselves, our Families, and our Soldiers.