Leaving your house at 631 am vs 633 am could mean life or death for you. Is it fate that you were running a little late and missed a terrible car accident? You never know, and it is times such as that that make you start to look back at your life. You try to figure out all the “near misses” and think about what led you to be at the grocery store that day you met your spouse, how you missed winning the jackpot on that stupid slot machine…
Mine started as a pre-deployment health screening for the SMSgt who was set to leave to a deployment. When he went to get his eyes checked, they discovered he needed immediate surgery and could no longer deploy. I was next up, so I went. I won’t get into all the details, but the deployment was terrible. So terrible that I swore I would NEVER go with that group again. They would need to drag me on the flight before I would go on my own. So when it was time to go again, I could pick to go with them to the nicer base in Iraq… it had a Pizza Hut, and movies… or I could go to Baghdad and get 50lbs of extra body armor. I picked Baghdad, just so I could be with the other group. Was it fate? Or some sort of divine hand? Long story short, I had the weirdest feeling to move. To not be where I was. I moved and was not where I was supposed to have been, and by not being where I should have been, I managed to not get killed. The “what ifs” that race in my head are endless. So much guilt and shame, that I was actually consumed with it. I played it over and over, changing one variable at a time. It was MADDENING!
A few years back, while I was pregnant with our second child, I happened to be interviewed for the local newspaper about veterans. It was a veterans day piece. I mentioned to the reporter how alone I felt. I was a housewife, a stay at home mom, a college student, but even my neighbors didn’t know I had been in the military. I didn’t feel like I belonged in the world. There really felt to be no place for me, no where I fit in. After the article ran, someone reached out to the newspaper and asked that they pass along information to me about an organization called Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). I quickly hopped on their website and found their online groups. I joined one and really felt like I belonged! I complained about the VA, my treatment (lack of…) from them… how I was turned away from the VA where I lived when I went in for treatment for PTSD due to me being pregnant. They wouldn’t admit me. They turned me away. I called their appointment line and told them I felt like I was in a crisis… they scheduled me for a month out.
While in the group I read about PTSD service dogs. I networked and researched and applied for my own. Through lack of information that I could find online, I decided to start this blog. I thought it would be me documenting the process of applying for one, being approved, training, daily life with one. Little did I know that this blog would lead me to be picked for a documentary about veterans returning home. I also got a phone call with an invite to New York City for the Veterans day parade. By that time, my second child had been born and I was looking forward to getting out of the house! I packed up my husband and my dog and we went!
By the following spring, I was living my own life, still documenting and sending recordings to the people for the documentary, when I was invited to go with IAVA to “Storm the Hill”. They invited me because I had been dealing with a lot of the issues they wanted to address. Womens rights, VA backlog, advance funding for the VA, all that. I went. I didn’t really apply for it, since politics aren’t my thing. But I wanted to make a difference. Look, I had a DOG and a toddler and a very young child at home. The topics touched close to home for me so I think I helped put a face to the issues. I happened to overhear this SUPER tall guy talking about doing humanitarian missions and this new group they had going on. I listened in, offered up my documentary contacts (you know, help him get the word out on this new group!). I chatted with his buddy too and that was that. The end. But it wasn’t.
As interested as I was in running off at the drop of a dime to help people in need, I wasn’t done growing my family. It didn’t seem like the right time. I lived my life some. Still lost. On April 1st I started seeing posts on facebook about a suicide. I thought it to be the worst joke and the least tasteful one as well. But it wasn’t a joke. It was a nightmare. Clay had not been able to overcome the battles at home. I broke down. I couldn’t believe the wonderful, grinning, sweet guy from the Gala and Storm the Hill, the one who did EVERYTHING RIGHT hadn’t made it. There was no hope for me. I was pregnant with number 3 at the time. I wasn’t doing nearly enough for myself, and there he was, doing everything.
I happened upon Wounded Warrior Project while in a fight over access rights with my dog. Through WWP I did find purpose and belonging. I also was able to get back on my feet, emotionally. You cannot just live your life as a “wounded warrior” forever. You get your footing, and then start giving back. I did/do a lot with WWP and I absolutely believe in the model they use to get people who WANT to work at getting better, better. After an especially uplifting and eye opening Female Summit with WWP, I realized I still could do more. I remembered that organization that I first heard about in 2010. I knew one lady from the Storm the Hill who I was still facebook friends with was working with them. I thought that maybe I would try.
A week after I signed up, I was deployed with Team Rubicon. I had to actually unpack my duffle bag. I never did after I came home from Iraq in 2004. I dug it out of the attic. I looked at the last airline baggage tag. You know what I saw? The date I last used it was exactly 10 years to the day. I flew out to GA to help with ice storm clean up. That summer, there was an opening for a volunteer to be the Tennessee Program Operations Coordinator. I went out on a limb and applied. They actually wanted me!
So I have now been with TR as “leadership” for a year nearly.Just last week, I was invited by IAVA to witness the Clay Hunt SAV Act be signed into law. There were the people I knew from 5 years ago. Everyone was in a different place in their lives now! That really tall guy I heard talking up this new thing, now is the CEO of Team Rubicon. I am convinced he and the President have lunch dates when they are in town together. Paul, who was by no means a small fish 5 years ago, has grown IAVA exponentially since 2010 when I first met him. Some of my fellow “Stormers” are now staff with IAVA. And you know, I have come a long way as well.
Just yesterday, I decided (or perhaps “fate” did) to hang out some more with two of my fellow Team Rubicon buddies after our weekend service project. We decided to grab lunch, the three of us. While we were waiting to be seated, one of the ladies chatted up another lady waiting to eat. When my friend realized the other lady was planning on eating alone, she invited her to eat with us! After chatting, we learned that this woman was just hired by the city of Murfreesboro, but more importantly, we have learned that she has a ton of awards, including the Jefferson Award for Community Service. She seemed very interested in what we do.
So to boil this down.
1. Was a replacement for a deployment
2 which caused me to volunteer for the more dangerous location
3 which earned me my “combat related” injury
4 that lead me to some unseen and unnamed person pointing me to IAVA
5 in turn leading me to be randomly picked to go to DC at the last minute, meeting Jake and Clay
6 which lead me to WWP
7 who helped me gain confidence to apply for Team Rubicon
8 which gave me purpose and self esteem before I
9 received invite to witness signing
10 which will now, undoubtedly lead me down another amazing path.