When I first walked into my house, months after I had been there last, my calendar was turned to June. It was now late September and the summer was almost gone. I had last spoken to my husband on June 23, 2008, when the infrequent name was on the caller id. I told him that I was heading up north soon to spend a couple of weeks with our extended families. Our calls were usually 10 minutes at the most so he told me be careful and have a safe trip and I told him to stay safe as well. After telling him I loved him I packed up myself and the kids and hit the road for the almost 1300 mile journey across the midwest.
Somehow I managed to drive straight through the night to Illinois to stay with my in laws for a few days before planning to finish out my trip in Michigan. Sunday evening, on the 29th of June, I was watching an episode of Army Wives with my stepmother in law. Ironically that night’s episode was about one of the main character getting a phone call notifying her that her husband had been wounded. I turned to my stepmother in law and said, “that’s the call that I dread. I don’t ever want to go through that.” She nodded silently in agreement.
The next day I took pictures of the kids playing outside and sent them to my husband in an email that he wouldn’t end up seeing for weeks. I was pleasantly surprised to hear from him later that night. Normally I was lucky to hear anything once a week if that. He was telling me he had gotten a cell phone and that hopefully communication would get a little better and I could even call him once in awhile. He wouldn’t be able to have it on very often but it was supposed to be enough for me to be able to get ahold of him occasionally or at least leave a message. Unlike the last deployment, it was nearly impossible for him to get online, he didn’t have time to write like he did last time and couldn’t send pictures home. This time though, we got to talk for nearly half an hour that night and I went to bed feeling more upbeat and happy than I had been in awhile.
Some time around 4am on the morning of July 2nd, my stepmother in law came into my room, telling me to get up and follow her, saying something about Paul. I was half awake and wondered why she didn’t just hand me the phone. I followed her into the other guest bedroom and my father in law was right behind us. I could tell by the sound of her voice that something was wrong. She said something along the lines of, “okay we’re all here.”
My husband started talking then, telling us that he was okay but the vehicle he was in had hit an IED and he was the only one injured. He didn’t know what was left of his arm but that it might have to be amputated. He explained more of what had happened but the only thing that had actually registered with me was that he was hurt. I couldn’t get any words out for what felt like 10 minutes. I don’t know how long the call actually was but I sat there speachless and stunned. This is going to sound horrible, but as a military wife I had played the scenario a thousand times in my mind, of someone knocking on the door to tell me he had been killed. That was a fear I had lived with every day. Ironically I had never pictured him being wounded so I was simply at a loss for words as I tried to absorb all the information at once.
I don’t remember hanging up the phone or much of what went on that morning. My mother in law stayed home from work and my father in law did go to work that day but called every hour for an update. I do remember having to notify other family members and it was hard to find the right words. I had buried my mom during the first deployment so I’ve had to make the kind of phone calls where there’s bad news, yet this time was different and it felt so much more difficult. I was grateful that my stepmother in law made some of those calls for me because it was hard enough to keep a positive, light mood for the kids.
During some point of the morning I called the battalion’s rear detachment to see if they could advise me of what to do and where he might be sent to. When I called they had no idea what I was talking about and said that my husband had jumped the gun so to speak on calling me and he shouldn’t have done so. They said if something had happened I would be properly notified by the command. They hung up so fast that I felt foolish for even calling them for help. I contacted our FRG leader and left her a message that my husband had been injured and I was kind of lost on what to do and did she know of someone I could call. When she called back later, she hadn’t heard that he had been wounded. I would find out later that he was one of the first, if not the first one in his unit who was wounded by the enemy.
Around noon that day, my husband called back and said he had been awarded his purple heart. I had told him before he left that there was no need for him to get one of those so I reminded him during the call that he didn’t listen to me as usual. Even though he was pretty drugged up I learned that he had been in an MRAP and they had hit an IED. Since he was the saw gunner he was up in the turret and took the impact of the blast. When he was on the ground being tended to by the medic, it looked as though they were going to come under direct fire. Without a second thought he jumped back up into the vehicle to defend his position, which was no surprise for our family to hear about.
What still sticks out in my mind about that day are the mistakes that followed when I realized why I was having a hard time finding out from anyone about what I needed to do to get to my husband. I didn’t know if I would need a passport to fly to Germany or if I should start driving to Walter Reed. Late that afternoon, my in laws received a phone call from the military so they said I should go ahead and answer it. When I did, they asked for my father in law in regards to my husband. I told him that it was my husband who had been wounded and we had all been waiting to hear from them what to do next. He told me that he needed to speak with my father in law and couldn’t give me that information because I wasn’t the primary contact. I was shocked as I handed the phone to my father in law. He also explained that I was Paul’s wife and there was no reason for me to not be given that information. He said they had to go by the information that was provided to them by the rear detachment, who had yet to contact any of us again since the original conversation. To make maters worse, an hour or so later, my in laws received the official notification call from the Army that he had been wounded. After that my mother in law had called me to tell me that they had officially notified her as well.
By this time I was absolutely livid that no one was contacting me. Of course I had the most current information because I was staying with my in laws but I couldn’t understand what was going on. I called rear detachment back and demanded to know why his parents were notified and I was not, and to ask why they hadn’t bothered to give me an update. They said point blank, you’re not the primary contact in his file, his parents are. I said that’s not the case, and told them to look again. I said my husband notified all of us and I am staying with my in laws but that’s beside the point. They told me that my husband must’ve put the information down wrong yet they looked closer at his paperwork and realized then that they had mad a mistake and read the contact info wrong. They gave me a half hearted, annoyed apology, if you want to call it that. I said “what if he had been killed and you made that mistake? Sorry is good, but it’s not good enough.” I was angry, in some ways I will always be angry about them making things more stressful for me simply because they were, in my opinion, too lazy to be bothered to help me and read the file correctly.
It would be six days before I would actually be booked on a flight to finally see my husband. In the meantime his battalion commander had contacted me from overseas to apologize for the mistakes made in notifying me and asked if there was anything he could do to help. He went on to tell me that he was extremely proud of my husband and that he was a damn fine soldier. He said it was an honor to have him be a part of the battalion. He sent me a photograph of Paul receiving his Purple Heart in Afghanistan. He said if I wasn’t updated on his condition frequently to email him and let him know.
Once he arrived at Landstuhl in Germany I was updated almost hourly and able to call him twice a day. I think he had had 5 or 6 surgeries before he was even flown back to the states. Some of them were to clean out shrapnal, something they would still be doing almost a year later. First he went to Walter Reed before being sent to BAMC where he’d recover and we’d eventually relocate.
On July 8, 2008 I finally got my itinerary to fly to San Antonio. I was very grateful to be able to leave the kids with my husband’s family and my best friend for almost two weeks. It was pretty tough for the kids to be away from me since they probably thought their daddy disappeared for a long time and I might too. Of course the flight left late because we were flying to Chicago and O’hare is right up there with DFW when it comes to delayed flights. I flew down with my mother in law and when we got to SAT someone was waiting for us at the USO and he took us to the Powless Guest House which would become my 300 sq ft home away from home for the next 3 months.
Visiting hours at BAMC normally stop at 9pm and it was after midnight when we got into town. We must’ve been politely convincing because we were able to go up and see Paul for about 10 minutes. He was only about three months into the deployment when he got hurt so there was no big fancy homecoming celebration. Sometimes it felt like he was just away training or in the field for a few months and then I’d see the extent of his injuries and it would hit me what really happened. I kissed him good night, instead of good bye and went back to my hotel room to get some much needed sleep. The next morning would be an early start, just like the rest to come, with my life revolving around the hospital.
(to be continued)