While the 785th was making great strides to help their patients in impactful ways and change Army procedure, my husband’s family was suffering. His oldest son was five years old and having a tough time without his dad. When my husband could get a satellite phone or Internet messaging to work, his wife would tell him how his son was playing with other kids’ fathers at the pool or something else to show the impact the deployment was having. His youngest son started walking and talking about a week after he deployed. When the deployment was extended, she called his supervisor and fought to get him home, which of course was fruitless. As the months went by, her fighting spirit waned until one day she called to let him know she was considering going out with a man she met at the gym. Outfitted in body armor, set to mount up and head into the red zone, my husband helplessly listened to his marriage ending on a phone call. The prospect of losing his family was incomprehensible as he forged ahead to complete his mission.
A few months later he returned stateside and faced the hard reality that besides the familial woes, he had a host of personal issues to work through. Everything was an assault on his senses—color, sights and sounds, carpet, driving—but the worst was being misunderstood. At that point in the war, soldiers with direct combat exposure were a novelty, particularly physicians, and it felt like no one could relate, especially not a young mother who had decided she could keep the home fires burning just fine without her deployed husband in the picture. When he was awarded a Bronze Star by a two-star General a few weeks later, she attended the ceremony and stood by his side onstage, and while the General commended this innovative and courageous mid-grade officer, she leaned in and whispered, “This is bullshit.” Not long afterwards, she formally asked for a divorce and he moved into a two-bedroom apartment with no more than a duffel bag filled with clothes. The U.S. Army saw him as a hero; heartbroken, wearied and alone, he could only see himself as a failure.
He tried settling into his new normal, but he couldn’t get comfortable. Neither apartment nor single life suited him, and he was having trouble healing from the adjustment and loss. One day driving to work, someone tailgating him honked, and he lost control of himself. He slammed on the brakes, jumped out of the car and, in uniform, beat his hands against his chest, screaming, “You want a piece of me?!” The man in the car looked terrified, threw up his hands in submission, and drove around him. My husband stood in the road, breathing heavily, heart pounding, and realized he was not honoring himself, his children, or the uniform. He’d spent a year helping others, won an award, ended up on TV—and fate had brought him here, standing in the road screaming like a lunatic. Rule No 1: Command presence is critical.