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Thursday, May 21, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Hats off to The Washington Times for using Military Appreciation Month to shine a light on the war on terror’s unsung heroes — military caregivers. These selfless individuals are the parents and siblings — but more often the spouses — of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines recovering from the painful and horrific wounds of war.

As The Times’ monthlong series reveals, many of these homefront heroes are forced to leave their jobs and endure lost income to serve as the primary health care advocate for the one they love. Very often a caregiver’s own health deteriorates as a result of the around-the-clock attention given to their combat-wounded loved one.


Like too many women in our society, they don’t get the recognition they deserve. Because of the incompetence in the Veterans Affairs Department, the astronomical cost of health care, and the complexity of navigating the bureaucracy of military medicine, wives of the wounded perform not only the role of devoted spouse, but they also take on responsibilities of various medical professionals.

Her roles are not limited to that of wife and best friend. She is also a counselor, nurse, therapist, encourager and enforcer. She often acts as the traffic cop who adjudicates conflicting advice from multiple doctors and spots the dangers presented by prescribed, but incompatible, medicines. She’s on call 24/7. There is no shift change and no overtime. She performs these roles with love and care and compassion. She exercises diplomacy and patience and still finds time to pen a thank-you note to those who help her out.

If Hollywood wanted to inspire us, they would capture these stories in a series called “The Real Housewives of Recovering Heroes.”

At Freedom Alliance, we’ve met these amazing individuals through the programs we offer to recovering service members and their spouses.

For example, our Hero Hunts are a popular respite for rehabilitating troops. A few days in God’s beautiful outdoors can lift the soul and rejuvenate the spirit. Service members who join us on these outings benefit from the mentorship and informal counseling of fellow veterans. On more than a few occasions, wounded troops were invited to attend an activity after our team received a phone call from their caregiver-spouse. Recognizing the increased levels of anxiety associated with post-traumatic stress, they tell us their husband could benefit from the tranquility of a few days on the river. Other times they realize their own stress levels inhibit them from giving the best care and call us to confess, “I just need a few days to myself — do you have a hunting trip he can attend?”

Under different circumstances, it’s not time apart — but quality time together — that is most beneficial for their relationship. We’re not about to let terrorists break up another American family, and that’s why Freedom Alliance gives military caregivers and their husbands vacations and marriage retreats.

When Deane Messex came home from Afghanistan, he was badly wounded. His injuries were obvious, and hard work was needed to rehabilitate his battered body. But Deane had other problems. His marriage was strained and being tested.

Deane is married to Stacy — a beautiful and devoted wife and a wonderful mom to their two young children. Deane and Stacy love each other very much, but the wounds of war can threaten even the strongest relationships.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Deane felt called to serve his country. He went to see a recruiter and enlisted in the Army Reserves. Before that he was working as a heating and air conditioning contractor. He was making a good living and providing for his family. But the attacks on American soil angered him, and he wanted to serve.

As a Reservist, Deane deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. While fighting in Operation Enduring Freedom, he fell from a Chinook helicopter and suffered injuries to his back and legs that left him physically disabled and confined to a hospital bed.

We met Deane and Stacy while Deane was recovering at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Freedom Alliance helped with some expenses they incurred while in the hospital. After Deane was cleared to travel, Freedom Alliance sent them to the beach in Florida for a much-needed respite.

“The whole trip was amazing,” Stacy told us. She said they enjoyed their favorite activities and shared some overdue laughs. But the best part came later in the week.

A baby-sitter was arranged so Deane and Stacy could spend time alone. It was the first time Stacy and her husband enjoyed a dinner together — just the two of them — in years. After dinner, they went for a walk on the beach. They walked and talked. They were relaxed and uninterrupted and able to enjoy each other’s company.

They found a dock in a quiet spot, sat down in the moonlight and continued their conversation. Stacy explained it this way:

“Magic happened out there that night. You have to understand that Deane had been through so much [during his deployments and injuries] and I didn’t understand it. But that night was picturesque — we just sat on the dock and talked. We reconnected.”

For the first time since he returned home, Deane told Stacy some of what he had experienced in war. They talked for hours under the stars. They confided in one another and confronted their fears. They recommitted themselves to each other.

By the time they headed home, their relationship was on a better path. Their love for one another was as strong as ever. Deane — a man of few words — explained it this way: “That trip saved my marriage!”

When young men like Deane choose to serve our country, they face the possibility of losing life or limb. But it shouldn’t mean losing their families, too. That’s why Freedom Alliance is doing all we can to keep military families together.

Stacy’s role as a caregiver began long before Deane was wounded. She took care of the house, the chores, and the kids by herself. There were things she had to do — yard work and small repairs — which Deane normally handled when he was home. She never complained. Her husband was doing his duty and she was proud of him.

Military wives like Stacy are underappreciated. They are women of immense character and courage and an important reason why America’s military is the greatest in the world.

• Oliver North is the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance and the host of “War Stories” on the Fox News Channel. Tom Kilgannon is the president of Freedom Alliance.


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