Monthly Archives: August 2008

A Salute to the Bravest

Senator John Thune visited Sean at WRAMC one afternoon. He took time to sit with him and discuss his medical issues, the battle we waged to receive proper care, and his treatment program at WRAMC’s DHCC.

An aide appointed to escort Senator Thune around WRAMC told Sean how impressed he was that Senator Thune walked around freely, shaking hands and talking to soldiers without waiting for the escort to make formal introductions. He said Senator Thune took a genuine interest in each person he spoke with, unlike previous Senators and Representatives he had been assigned to escort.

The following was published after Sean’s visit with Senator Thune.

A Salute to the Bravest
Senator Thune’s Weekly Column
February 15, 2007

As Americans across the country pay tribute to some of our bravest citizens during National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans Week, I hope we can each renew our commitment to honoring our veterans and troops serving on the front lines today and every day of the year.

It is easy to take common freedoms we enjoy every day for granted–worshipping at church, learning at school, traveling on family vacations–but if we take a moment to consider the great sacrifices that have been made over the years to cement those daily freedoms, they take on much more meaning.

During National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans Week, I had the opportunity to visit with wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Hospital. Every time I have the chance to meet with these brave young men and women, I am moved by their hardships, humbled by their courage, and inspired by their level of commitment to this country and to freedom.

On this particular visit, I met with Sgt. Sean Johnson from Aberdeen. Sgt. Johnson is a member of the 452nd Ordnance Company. He is a young man each of us in South Dakota can be extremely proud of and grateful for his brave service.

I also met with soldiers from all over the country. Many of them have lost limbs and endured tragic injuries. What amazes me is that even after having been shaken by violence, terror, and trials, their resolve is unwavering. Many of them told me if they could physically go back to the front lines, they would. This kind of commitment and resolve is what makes America the greatest country in the world.

Today, more than 77,000 veterans call South Dakota home. In fact, South Dakota ranks 10th in the nation for our state veteran population.

In Congress, I have been committed to helping rural veterans like those in South Dakota, primarily by improving their access to quality health care. With the help of my colleague, Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO), we were able to establish a first-ever Office of Rural Health within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

I have also worked to pass legislation to improve the likelihood that a new VA Community-Based Outpatient Clinic could be located with the current Indian Health Service facility in Wagner. Aside from the VA clinic planned for Wagner, a new clinic may also soon be established in Watertown. I will continue to work with the VA to establish these new clinics as quickly as possible, because they will enhance health care services for veterans living in or near these communities.

I have also recently introduced legislation to automatically increase the annual cost of living adjustments (COLA) for veterans’ disability compensation.

I will continue to work in Congress to implement policies and improvements so South Dakota veterans are receiving the best in care and benefits. This is the very least we can provide them after years of sacrifice and service.

In South Dakota, many of you will be reaching out to local veterans during National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans week, through volunteering, visiting, and sending get-well cards. The Sioux Falls VA Medical Center has plannned a series of events to pay special tribute to the veterans it cares for.

I encourage all South Dakotans to explore ways to show local veterans our appreciation year-round.


In February 2007 Sean travelled to Washington D.C. for a three week Specialized Care Program for pain management of Medically Unexplained Physical Symptoms (MUPS) at WRAMC’s Deployment Health Clinical Center.

The program included daily classes to educate the patients on the theory behind medical practice and medicine and how to deal with illness and their symptoms. He participated water therapy, physical therapy at the gym, yoga and yoga nidra classes, and relaxation therapy. He met with a social worker for counseling, nursing for vitals and meds, an internal medicine doctor for regular monitoring of progress, a psychiatrist for counseling, and a dietician to discuss nutrition for better healing. At the end of the three week program, there was a graduation ceremony for the participants. Sean thoroughly enjoyed the experience he had at the DHCC and believes it helped him learn to relax, accept that he may have life-long symptoms, and taught him how to deal with pain more effectively.

The group took an outing to the Pentagon where Sean met SGT MAJ Preston, the Joint Chief of Staffs and General Cody, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. An impressive tour, to say the least!

Sean’s Dad was able to visit him for a weekend. They spent time catching up and sight seeing.

Sean’s exit evaluation determined that he had Medically Unexplained Physical Symptoms, not due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), with moderate functional impairment, non-curable.

A New Year

The beginning of January 2007 was difficult. Besides missing Sean and trying to settle back into a routine, our unit was having a formal welcome home ceremony.

As assistant leader of the FRG I had many responsibilities to fullfill for this event. I was not a willing participant, despite my best efforts to be happy for the others. I was extremely jealous that these soldiers and families had been reunited 2 1/2 months prior and I had very recently gone through another separation from my husband. I resented that I was planning and facilitating a celebration that would have meant so much to my husband and yet he would not be able to attend.

The day included a Welcome Home Warrior-Citizen award ceremony followed by a Christmas party and dinner. It was a 14 hour day from start to finish, and when it was over I was a train wreck.

The high point of the day was meeting with Tonya Peterson, Senator Johnson’s aide, when she came to speak on his behalf. It was great to meet her and thank her in person for all her hard work. (Senator Johnson suffered a brain hemorrhage the day after we met with him in Washington D.C.) I cannot express my gratitude enough for this amazing woman.

Also on hand to welcome the soldiers home was Senator John Thune. Senator Thune’s office had also been making inquiries into Sean’s care. He took the time to speak with me about the progress and our recent trip to Walter Reed. Arrangements were put in motion for Senator Thune to meet with Sean when he returned to D.C. for his treatment at WRAMC.

Both Senator Johnson and Senator Thune were well-informed about our case and concerns. Both expressed outrage at the shoddy treatment Sean had been given. Both assured us that we would not be forgotten, and that they would support us in any way possible. I was impressed with both men, not as Senators or politicians, but as men. I appreciated the way they listened and were sincere in their conversations and actions. Thank you!!

The day was long and difficult. I tried to put on a smile and brave face, but inside I was aching and bitter. When people asked about Sean, it was hard to keep from tearing up. I wanted to talk about him. I wanted to tell everyone what was going on. I wanted to scream, “Doesn’t anybody notice that my husband is not here?!” I felt so out of place sitting with my friends next to all their husbands. I called Sean several times on the verge of a breakdown. But somehow, I made it through.

The rest of January was a holding pattern. Sean’s condition neither worsened, or improved. The staff on base mostly left him alone. The days dragged on with no further visits scheduled.


“Anyone can give up, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that’s true strength.”

A Salute to the Military Wife

I found this post on a website for Sgt. Samuel Nichols, USMC, a moving site about a recovering soldier and his wife. SGT Nichols was on convoy duty in Iraq when his humvee was hit by an IED. He is currently recovering from traumatic brain injury.

A Salute to the Military Wife

This is for the sad military wives, the angry military wives, and the strong military wives.

This is for the young women that are waking up at 6 a.m. every morning, laying out clothes and packing three lunches for those small precious children that they have been left alone to care for.

This is for the pregnant military wife wondering if her husband will make it home in time to watch their *miracle* happen.

This is for the childless military wife, living in a town or on a base alone where she is a complete stranger to her surroundings.

This is for the women that feel like a third leg when they go out with their friends and their husbands.

This is for the military wife that canceled all her plans to wait by the phone, and even though the phone broke up and cut off every time you spoke to him you waited anyway.

This is a pledge to the women that cry themselves to sleep in an empty bed.

This is to recognize the woman that felt like she was dying inside when he said he had to go, but smiled for him anyway.

This is for those of you that are faithfully in that long line at the post office once a month, handling 2 large boxes and 2 small children like a pro.

This is for that woman that decided to remodel the house to pass time, and then realized that she had no idea what she was doing and sighed and wished she had a little help.

This is for all the lonely nights, all the one-person dinners, and all of the wondering thoughts because you haven’t heard from him in days.

A toast to you for falling apart, and putting yourselves back together. Because a pay check isn’t enough, a body pillow in your bed is no consolation, and a web cam can never compare.

This is for all of you no matter how easy or hard this was for you. Our marines/soldiers/airmen/sailors/coasties are brave, they are heroes, but so are we.

So the next time someone tells you that they would never marry a military guy, don’t bother explaining to them that you can’t control who you fall in love with. Just think of this and nod your head, know that you are the stronger woman.

Hold your heads up high, hang that flag in your front yard, stick 100 magnets on your car, and then give yourself a pat on the back.

If you are a military spouse or know a military spouse,THANK YOU FOR YOUR SACRIFICES

This is for the military wife of a wounded troop who, when she receives “the call” rushes to her husband’s side to be with him, to comfort him, to nurse him back to health with her love.

This is to the military wife of a wounded troop, who when the doctors tell her, “there is no hope”, disregards their words, tears up the DNR form, and loves him back to health.

This is for the military wife of a wounded troop who is dealing with traumatic brain injury, who may not hear the words, “I love you”, but can look into her husbands eyes, and know without a doubt, that he loves her and is eternally grateful that she is sticking by his side.

This is for the military wife of a wounded troop, who is at her man’s bedside 12-14 hours a day encouraging him, kissing him, massaging him, praying for him—who knows that whatever God’s plan is for him, she will be right by his side holding his hand on their journey together.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Christmas vacation started and I loaded the kids into the van for the 10 hour drive to see dad. Instead of him coming home, we would be spending Christmas in his barracks on base.

I packed the coolers, crockpot, and electric frying pan along with the few gifts I has purchased and pillows and blankets for everyone into the van. Sean’s room was average-size like a hotel room, with one full bed, a table and chairs, dorm fridge, microwave, and bathroom. He did not have TV, but had a laptop for watching DVDs. We brought an assortment of board games to help keep everyone entertained. We bought groceries upon arrival and stocked the mini-fridge and coolers.
Since I had done minimal Christmas shopping, saving the bulk to do with Sean, we travelled to a nearby town with a mall for the day. We gave the kids some cash and ditched them so we could buy their gifts. It felt wonderful to have Sean shopping with me as I remembered the previous year shopping with my FRG friends. This year I wouldn’t have to email Sean a list of what we had bought for everyone, he was there to help pick it all out.
We smuggled the gifts home in the van with strict “no peeking” rules and then banned the kids from the room while we wrapped them. Not much to do, they hung out in the parking lot and kept knocking on the door to see if we were done.
No room for a Christmas tree, so K colored one for us and taped it to the table where the presents were stacked. We played Scrabble, Uno, and Monopoly. Although it was cramped and the kids complained about sleeping on the floor, it was great to be together.
Christmas Eve we did more shopping at the PX. Then we returned to the room to watch a movie and later open gifts.
Christmas Day we got up to see what Santa had left–MP3 players all around. We went to lunch at an Irish Pub in the next town. This is a topic of some tension…I had suggested that Sean check available restaurants for Christmas Day dining…he assured me that the Cracker Barrel was open…I checked when we arrived, and sure enough unless we wanted Chinese food ala “A Christmas Story” there were no restaurants open…until Sean hit upon Paddy something-or-other. The food was ok, not good, but ok, and three of us ended up with stomach issues later that afternoon. That meant three of us competing with Sean for the one bathroom. The kids have henceforth referred to it as “Paddy McFaddy’s.” We showered early, put on our pj’s and played games the rest of the evening.
One more time we left Sean behind as we headed for home. A home where he wanted to be. A home where I wanted him with me. I cannot imagine it from his point of view, staying behind, but from mine, it sucked. One more trip of crying, and kids crying and fighting. I felt despair. How would I ever get my husband home? Were our lives going to forever be this series of coming together and tearing apart?
I left my Christmas spirit somewhere along the road.
Talking about the trip to Washington D.C.
Christmas MorningChristmas DayA Game of UNO

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving 2006 we met Sean in Sioux Falls (3 hour drive for us, 6 hour drive for him) for a 4-day weekend. He was able to get a ride with another soldier on medhold who lived in the area. Sean’s brother, his wife, my niece (10) and nephew (3) met us there also. We had adjoining rooms at the hotel and the kids were able to watch movies, play games, swim, and hang out between the two rooms.

It was fantastic that I didn’t have to drive so far or board a plane to see him this time. And we were in some familiar territory, so it things felt a little more like home. We ate the buffet dinner (not recommended unless you know their quaility) for a mere $200 (7 people) of which maybe $75 worth of food was actually consumed. The chocolate fountain was a hit with the kids, but that’s about it.

Luckily, we had packed several coolers of food and snacks. We had crockpots at the ready. I have definately learned how to travel and provide food for all without breaking the bank eating every meal in a restaurant.

We spent some time pre-Christmas shopping and checking out the light displays.

Mostly, we were just so happy to be together as a family and to celebrate a holiday that we so often take for granted. We obsess over menus and clothing and who sits where…we forget the reason is to gather and appreciate the togetherness of it all. Just one year before, Sean had Thanksgiving dinner at the chow hall in Iraq. We were at my grandmother’s house and I was heartsick all day for missing him. This year, we were together and that is such a happy place to be.

A Famliy Photo