Knock, Knock

Article by Danielle Egan, Army Spouse

On May 4, my husband, LTC Steve Egan, and I spent a beautiful sunny morning at Fenway Park in Boston. We weren’t there for a Red Sox game. It was the Run-Walk to Home Base – the annual fund raiser for the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program, which is committed to helping Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families heal from the “invisible wounds” of war – Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – through clinical care, community education and research. It was also the first Runwalkfundraising run in the city since the Boston Marathon Patriots Day bombings. For the thousands of actively serving military, veterans, their families, community members, medical professionals and elected officials, the day was a poignant reminder of the tremendous resilience of our military community, and especially military families.

Every year people travel from across the country to come to Boston for this event.The 9K run and 5K walk through Boston ends with participants crossing home plate at Fenway Park. I was truly inspired by the number of participants and fans – many of them complete strangers, who come together each year. Immediately, I felt like I was among family and it caused me to consider what it means to be a strong military family.

My husband and I moved to the Boston area this past year when he was assigned to a new leadership role in the Army. We quickly learned about Home Base and wanted to get involved. We knew that our family’s story was not unlike others.

We had just finished our 2008 PCS when Steve received deployment orders to Iraq. Knowing a strong support system would be crucial, I moved (twice) to familiar stomping grounds, splitting my time between my family, friends, and job as a Flight Attendant. It was challenging with him gone for a year – for us and our two dogs – but we made it work. Communication? Try “cluster!” Skype was unreliable and phone calls were hit or miss. When woman on phonewe did finally connect, I found myself “code talking” our forgotten online passwords into my Bluetooth in between “Buh-Bye” to my passengers. Likewise, since he wasn’t allowed to share much about his experiences, I did most of the talking. But most of the time it was about silly things like visits to the veterinarian or tumultuous tarmac tantrums. I felt disconnected and frustrated – and the communication challenges did not disappear when he returned home. If anything, they got worse for awhile.

Coming home presented unexpected challenges for both of us. We had a joyous reunion, but I quickly realized that Steve was different. Overseeing a detention center at his base in Iraq had left him with a hyper-vigilance that never seemed to subside. He had been under constant pressure and it was evident upon his return. Steve was constantly on edge and had trouble sleeping. He often awoke in the middle of the night to what he thought was someone knocking loudly on our front door – a sound that wasn’t actually there – to tell him about some emergency in the facility.

The “knock, knock” was a big wake up call for us. Our communication and relationship wavered, as we had to relearn our responsibilities and roles in the family. I knew it was not uncommon for returning service members to have similar challenges; in fact, he once told me a majority of his unit had similar experiences. We realized that we had some work to do, in order to return to a level of normalcy in our marriage and daily life. I guess you could say we needed to get back to “home base.”

Thankfully, we were able to work through these challenges and are now in a much better place; life feels more normal again. For us, being resilient meant asking for help and investing time in our relationship as well as in one another.

flag in bostonThat’s why we are so committed to supporting the Home Base Program and recommending it to other military families. Home Base defines family broadly and is there to help all loved ones in a veteran’s life – spouse, partner, parent and children. Whoever is close to the veteran and can help the veteran recover is considered family.

I know that military families are strong, proud and resilient. They are the backbone of our country. When service members are called upon to serve, so are their families. It is important to provide support – not just once a year on Memorial Day or Veterans Day – but each and every day.

In many ways, the Patriots Day Marathon Bombing was a wake up call for us all. It was a “knock, knock” that gave the 99% of Americans who don’t serve, a glimpse into what our military experience is every day. Thinking of my own family’s experience, I realize how important programs like Home Base are to supporting the health and welfare of soldiers and military families throughout our communities.

Danielle Egan is a military spouse and a volunteer for the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program

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