Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Peace, Love, & War

In Nick's 18 years of service, his toughest deployment has been the Battle of Fallujah in Iraq in 2004. The Battle of Fallujah is an iconic battle in the post 9-11 era, and was considered one of the biggest urban battles since the Battle of Hue City in Vietnam. In 11 years of marriage, Nick has rarely opened up to me about his experiences in Fallujah. I've been careful not to pry, and have just let him share what he wants when he feels comfortable. It doesn't mean I don't have a million burning questions. I've tried to dig through his things to get some sort of inkling of what he saw and experienced. He was awarded a Navy Achievement Medal (NAM) for his actions in Fallujah with a "V" device for Valor. I also have a Navy Achievement Medal, but mine does not have a device for valor because it was not earned in combat. I got mine for being my recruiting station's "Rookie Recruiter of the Year" (just to give y'all some context to the award). I've asked a few times throughout our marriage how he got his "V" on his NAM, but he usually beats around the bush, and doesn't give me a straight answer. I stopped asking, because he clearly is uncomfortable with the question. I used to take that pretty hard.

I held that inside of me while silently having my feelings hurt, because I wanted to respect him.

For the last 11 years of our marriage, I have watched Nick's health deteriorate slowly. First it was a little back pain that turned into a big back pain. Neck pain. Limbs going numb. Migraines. A little sleeplessness turned into full blown insomnia. Hearing loss and severe tinnitus (if y'all didn't know already, he wears hearing aids). With all of these health issues comes irritability, some depression (which he has not been diagnosed with...I am just assuming), and a lot of frustration. Nick hides it very well. No one would know all of these issues that he deals with on a constant basis.

The pills either make him feel worse or don't help him at all. I have changed our family's eating habits and lifestyle to try and alleviate some of his discomfort. It has helped a little, but not a whole lot.

In the last year, Nick has really started to take his health a little more seriously. He is close to retirement. After watching all the hassle I went through to get my benefits through the VA, he knew he needed to really start documenting his health issues. Documentation is EVERYTHING when it comes to the VA and getting benefits. If you just show up at your exit physical complaining of all sorts of medical issues, the first question they ask is, "where is your documentation?". He also began to go see "the wizard" all on his own. The wizard is a term that some Marines use to call a therapist. I have asked him to go see a therapist several times, and I always got the typical answer...

So when he told me that he had started to go see "the wizard", I was genuinely shocked and so giddy inside. I tried not to be weird about it though (which I probably was), and thanked God for answering my prayers. I know that there is still a lot of healing that needs to happen, and I am grateful that he's taken a proactive step towards that.

I finally felt peace as far as Nick and his experiences in combat. Up until now, I felt so "in the dark" about everything. Because he didn't want to talk to me about it, I didn't know how I could help him. Knowing that he was talking to someone (a professional!) about it put my soul at ease. 

Several months later, Nick and I were getting ready for bed, and he casually mentioned to me, "so, I turned in all my paperwork for a Purple Heart." I stopped what I was doing, and had to ask again, "a what?! You were injured in combat??? When? How?" I had so many questions running through my head. 

He told me how he was injured, and explained why he chose now to finally put the documentation in for his Purple Heart. He posted this on Facebook:

"You can’t prepare yourself for everything. No congratulations needed. 14 years have passed since we were in Fallujah. The scenario was about as kinetic as it could have been. Enemy fighters were trying to push out of the city to escape the tanks, troop carriers and the Marines that were moving in quickly behind them as they cleared house to house just like the did through Hue city in Vietnam. Our job was not as dangerous as that but just as important as we established our blocking positions near the cloverleaf to prevent anyone from leaving the city and to provide safe passage for the Maine effort as they moved into their attack positions. The only protection we had was from the guard rails in front of our vehicles and minimal micro terrain. The enemy attempted to soften our position with rockets, small arms fire, and mortars. While I was moving between vehicles I was caught in it and I don't understand how I came out of it with all of my limbs and only received some secondary shrapnel and a concussion from the incoming mortars and rockets. I have kept this mostly to myself and between me and some very close friends. I didn’t burden my family with any of the details of that night or any other night. Today I received a Purple Heart from that night. The only thing I can say is it is an honor and privilege to wear it for those who no longer have the means and a burden to bare until the next life. I am honored and sad. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure how I feel. Maybe at peace. Semper Fi. I wear this for you Vincent Bell, Louie Cardin, Benito Aguilar, Jordan Stanton, Donald Hogan, Andrew Brownfield and the hundreds who made the ultimate sacrifice. Rest easy and we will remember you always. Thanks to Hana and the kids for keeping me grounded and forgiving me for everything and to my close friends who always lifted me back up."

Nick was officially diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI). It was finally an explanation for all his health problems and symptoms he has been experiencing for all these years. He's been given a referral the the TBI clinic at Camp Pendleton, and we are so grateful. They have one of the most state of the art TBI clinics in the nation. It's truly a blessing.

His Purple Heart was approved, and his long overdue Purple Heart ceremony was last Thursday. He didn't want a ceremony. He actually told his XO, that he would be totally ok with him just putting it on his desk when it comes in. I wouldn't stand for that. Not after all that we have been through as a family. I also know his unit would not let him just have it "put on his desk". The Purple Heart is weird in the fact that it's an "award", but not one you can really earn on your own merit. I know several Purple Heart recipients have told me that they feel guilty wearing it, because many of the service members who got the same award didn't make it home alive. I see it as a symbol of sacrifice, and I am really proud of Nick.  

Here are some photos I managed to snap with my iPhone from his ceremony. Someone took some nicer photos, but I don't have those (obviously). Nick felt really weird that people wanted photos with him, but oh well...

This is Nick with two other 2ndLts that he went to TBS with. 

I know this post is long. If you made it down here, have too much time on your hands and need to find a hobby (kidding...maybe). It was actually way longer, but I condensed it and took a lot of details out. I guess if you really want to know more, you can ask me! I really wanted to share a little part of Nick's story, and our family's journey. Like I mentioned before, I asked Nick if he was ok with me sharing this. I know it's very vulnerable for him. I'm a very open person on social media, and on this blog, but when it comes to sensitive or personal matters that involve my family, I always ask before I post. The biggest thing is, we just want other families who are dealing with combat trauma and the wounds of war to know that they're not alone. 

Instagram: @semperagblog


  1. I made it all the way! And wow, what a beautifully written testimony to Nick's experience and you and your family's sacrifice. I have to say I applaud you for your patience, understanding, and perseverance in your marriage. Anna's Dad also received a NAM with/for valor. When he came back home after a certain deployment (he had 4 total), I didn't deal with the not talking stuff so well. In fact, when he accidentally opened up one night after drinking, I didn't know how to be there for him. Ultimately, we got divorced because of our inability to handle the aftermath. He struggles to this day but he does it alone now. I'm incredibly happy that because of your effort and his (and the kids) you guys have made it through and are now helping others by sharing your story. God bless you and your family and thank you for your service. ����❤️


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