Sunday, November 21, 2010

Reflections on Allen's 3rd Alive Day

Today has been a very hard day for the last 3 years. 3 years ago today it was the day before Thanksgiving and my family had gathered at my sister's house for Thanksgiving. We were busy preparing for the big meal the next day when my cell phone rang. I looked at caller ID and saw Allen's ex wife's number. I figured it was my step son calling to wish us a Happy Thanksgiving. Little did I know, my life was going to change drastically after that phone call.

The army had tried to get in touch with me for several hours but had only been calling my home number. Allen's command had not bothered to check his emergency contact list to get my cell number. When they couldn't reach me, they finally gave up and called Allen's dad who also did not know my cell number. He then called Allen's ex wife hoping she had my number, which she did. So, imagine my surprise when I answer my phone expecting my step son, but instead hear his ex wife's voice. I remember her telling me she had something she had to tell me but that I needed to sit down. She said the army had been trying to get in touch with me and I needed to call my father in law. She also said that Allen had been critically injured in Iraq but that was all she knew. I hung up with her and called my father in law. He said the same thing and that I needed to call a number. At this point, my dad took over the call for me because I was in shock. The details are very fuzzy to me after this point.

I do know that I flew to Walter Reed on Sunday and finally got to see my husband. He was excited to see me but then was ready to get back to his guys! He's definitely a soldier! He ended up being in ICU that night and then moved to the floor the next day. Allen remained in the hospital there for almost 2 weeks and then was out patient there until the middle of March. Thankfully, I was able to stay there with him that entire time.

Looking back at all of this, I can honestly say that we've been blessed. It was a terrible thing that happened to him, but then again war is a horrific event. He is haunted still by all that he saw and did the entire time he was there. We are all changed because of his selfless sacrifice of serving our great nation. I think everyone who was close to us at all has been changed by this. However, not all of the changes have been bad.

Allen has changed in every way. I've written about this many times, I can still see new changes all the time. But, I've come to realize this is just a part of life. True his changes may be due to a horrible incident, but he's still blessed. He meets new people quite often that end up becoming an important part of our life, as do I. Some of our closest friends are friends we've met because he was injured in Iraq. We never would have met these friends had this injury not occurred. Do not get me wrong, I would never wish this on anyone but I work really hard to see the positive in this entire situation. Thankfully, I usually do not have to look very far to see the blessings!

Today, I am writing in honor of my husband, my hero. I will forever be thankful that God chose to save him that day in Iraq. I also know that He didn't save him to come home and have a miserable life and this helps me keep going. While our road these 3 years have been difficult, we are still very blessed. If you've been a part of our life in anyway, thank you. We couldn't have made it this far without God and our wonderful family and friends.

Even Now......Gina

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


The summer of 2009 was a different summer for us. Allen had gotten really severe on his PTSD and he was still active duty. His WTU decided to send him to a program in San Antonio to get treatment for the summer. He was admitted to an in patient psych hospital that is privately owned called Laurel Ridge. Thankfully, the boys and I were able to go as well so that we could visit him everyday. We stayed nearby at the Guest House on Fort Sam Houston. The hospital Allen was at also would not allow him to keep Frankie with him so she stayed with us and went to visit each day. It was a very challenging summer but good in many ways. Allen received some good help and improved temporarily.

While we were there we met many wonderful people. One of those people came with the boys and I to visit Allen once and wrote about her experience in her own blog. Her words touched me greatly. I thought about them the other day and realized I had never shared them here on my own blog. So, I asked her permission which she graciously gave. Please enjoy and feel free to comment. Also, please visit her blog at . She does some amazing things!!

Here is her post:



I tell this story to let our soldiers with the invisible wounds know they are not alone and their service and sacrifices do not go unnoticed. And I tell it for you. So that when you go to sleep at night, you will remember Allen Hill and the price of freedom.

Sometimes things happen in our lives that cause us to stumble and temporarily be thrown off balance. We grumble about the heat and the inconveniences of a freeway traffic jam, and we worry about the unimportant and mundane occurrences in our everyday lives that appear to us to be so earthshaking and insurmountable.

And then sometimes things happen that allow us to reach the center of what is most important. We suddenly awaken to what people we have never met, in a place we have never heard of, endured and will endure for the remainder of their lives to keep us free. Everyday, in every way, these American heroes lay their lives on the line to protect us. I find that extraordinarily humbling. And I find it remorseful that they aren’t appreciated more for their service and sacrifices.

It was a late 107 degree July Monday afternoon in San Antonio. I drove to a psych hospital where twenty soldiers are undergoing treatment for the invisible wound called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.) I had met many, many soldiers at Walter Reed and Brooke Army Medical Center with this injury, but none had effected me quite like Allen. Allen’s story first captured the heart of America when he and his wife were on a national television program focusing on the devastating effects of PTSD and how his service dog, Frankie, from Puppies Behind Bars in New York alerts him to his debilitating and reoccurring flashbacks by jumping on his lap and licking his face until he focuses on the present once again and the unspeakable horrors of war are temporarily released, at least for a few minutes before striking again.

I had had the opportunity of spending some time with Allen’s wife Gina and their two kids the day before. She kindly invited me to visit her husband the next day. Little did I know the impact simply meeting him would have on my life.

As Allen approached the large round dining table in the cafeteria at the hospital, I noticed we were surrounded by families visiting loved ones, small children who had been horrifically sexually abused, and gang members looking somewhat lost. As soon as Allen entered the room, Frankie became alert, tail wagging. You could almost hear her saying, “Finally, there you are.”

Allen sat down with his dinner tray of chopped beef and rice and mixed vegetables. Frankie was in position, under the dining room table with both paws and head resting on Allen’s big red shoes. She waited! She waited for the man she listened to. Listening for that moment when she needed to alert him back to the real world once again.

I introduced myself and spoke with this soldier who had sacrificed his future for me and others like me. With a lump in my throat, I extended my hand which he shook with a handshake that told me a lot about this man. I told him what wonderful sons he had and that he should be very proud. This seemed to please him. I mentioned I hoped he was a little better every day and that therapy was helping. We talked about ‘baby steps’ and how talking to a counselor would help him release the horrors of war and that while they would never go away they would lessen to a degree and he would grow to recognize the triggers to these flashbacks easing their intensity somewhat. He told me that he had not shared everything with his therapist. I asked why and he simply said, “It is more than she could take. There were days I didn’t think I would live.” I told him, “She can take it, she can take it. She is trained to.” His eyes told me that those words feel on deaf ears. He wanted to spare her the pain of what he endured. This is the kind of man Allen is or maybe he couldn’t relive it one more time.

Gina and I talked for a while as Allen silently ate his dinner. But her eyes kept moving from my face to his. Ever vigilant, Gina quietly said, “He is beginning to have a flashback.” I turned and looked at an American hero who was staring blankly into space. A space filled with unspeakable horrors that come back to him without warning, blacking out all reality of the present. Gina stood and went to stand beside him. Allen is never combative in these flashbacks but his eyes and face tell the story. First his eye lids started to quiver and then twitch. His eyes never off of the horizon of a place and time we will never know. Then his face contorted somewhat. Gina, patting his cheeks and calling his name realized she needed help from a dog that knew exactly what to do.

Frankie was given one of eighty commands she learned at Puppies Behind Bars and placed both front paws on Allen’s chest and began licking and nudging his face. Literally in two to three seconds, Allen blinked and returned to us for a brief time, until it happened about ten minutes later.

This is his life. This is Gina’s life. This is the price of freedom, the freedom that allowed Allen to get up and bring back three pieces of strawberry cheesecake, one for each son and one for himself.

Allen may not be perfect, but in his imperfections, he taught me that the bottom line is how we deal with the tough stuff, what and who we passionately and truly love, and that people are not defined by their limitations. In Allen’s beautiful black eyes, I saw my own life reflected and wondered on the way home how I would cope in similar circumstances. I was keenly aware of those times in my life when I have needed to be carried – when I just couldn’t do it anymore – and who was there for me.

Allen’s story is not so unique. Thousands of our wounded heroes are returning from combat with the same injury. Glimpses into their lives are full of struggles and coping and agony and despair. They feel excluded, isolated, and face unspeakable terrors at every corner at every moment of the day.

We all need someone willing to go looking for us when we’re lost. We all want to find our way home again and sometimes it just isn’t that easy. “When I came home, I had to learn to be an American again.” Occasionally the flashbacks cause him to search his house for insurgents. It is then that Frankie takes Allen outside of his flashbacks and panic attacks into the here and now in a matter of seconds. Without Frankie the flashbacks could last hours.

At the end of the day what I write about turns out to deal with my deepest concerns and values. The important part is making the story powerful by expressing my authentic emotions. I write from my heart. Tonight I write about Allen.

Charles M. Schultz said, “A whole stack of memories never equal one little hope.” For Allen and Gina and the kids, I have hope. And Frankie - well Frankie gives me goosebumps! Observant and ever vigilant Frankie teaches us that nuzzling can make a huge difference. So with Frankie the story is just beginning. This dog provides a new meaning to ‘rest in peace.’ With this dog under his arm Allen can find rest, and peace and sleep and perhaps life again. Not the same life, but life.

Frankie can convey encouragement, support, empathy, affection, humor and can elicit it in Allen. The abilities of both are enhanced by the presence of the other. Frankie is not there to talk about how Allen got in this predicament, but to focus on hope and the future.

So I ask you to remember Allen and Frankie. Hear what life is telling you. Let your heart guide you. It whispers - so listen closely. By risk there is more to be gained than lost. Allen risks life minute by minute every day. With Frankie and Allen’s courageous companionship and allegiance to each other they just might be kindred spirits. Observing, I have learned to acknowledge that your soul mate helps you be your best self…so that your soul can do the most for the world. And sometimes your soul mate just might be a yellow lab named Frankie.

Allen has already done his best for the world. I like to think that what happened to Allen happened for us. For us to learn to appreciate our freedom and all the young men and women like him who sacrifice for us as we go about our daily duties completely unaware of their existence.

Allen and Frankie showed me that waiting for the ‘right time’ we spend much of our lives waiting. Allen fought so that we have this freedom to make a choice, to make a stand, to make our lives brilliant with joy and happiness, to make our lives count. For this I will be eternally grateful to this man I met today. I would miss him had we never met.

On the way home I realized that whatever comes from my heart has been given to me as a gift. I must give it honor. Allen will eventually heal to some degree from the past and I believe people who are fortunate enough to meet him will accept the gifts he has to offer their futures. Allen may not know it but our lives are now woven together, for on this hot Texas afternoon our dreams collided. For him the battle will never end. War ends but the battles don’t. For Gina and Allen love doesn’t fit into a nice shiny mold. But it fits.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Patriotism and Respect

I've mentioned several times that I am volunteering in our youngest son's classroom twice a week! It is a great way I take care of myself! I am a certified teacher and used to teach before Allen's injury so it is awesome getting back into the classroom. I have also decided that volunteering is so much more fun than being the one in charge!!

Reciting the pledge of allegiance in school's today is very controversial. I am happy to say that the school my son attends still recites it everyday, and all together. One child is chosen to go to the office in the morning to lead the school in the Pledge of Allegiance. I think this is amazing! I love being there for this time!

During red ribbon week a couple of weeks ago, our school had a hat day. The kids were all allowed to wear hats to school for the entire day. Dreyson wore his beloved Cat in the Hat hat. I think they had about 100% participation this day. I happened to be there this day in time for the Pledge. As I watch the class of second graders stand, I was brought to tears when my son was the only one who removed his hat to recite the pledge! The tears were of sadness as well as the immense pride I felt for my son.

After the Pledge was over, I quietly went to my son and whispered in his ear, "Thank you for remembering to remove your hat!" He gave me a great smile and a thumbs up! I couldn't have been more proud that day! My son's teacher saw our interaction and then questioned us as to what was going on. I tried to just say nothing but she wouldn't let it go. So, I told her what I had said to him. She too told him that she was proud of him and that she hadn't even thought about that or noticed.

I love his teacher for many reasons, (I used to teach with her and have known her for most of my life), but what she did later that day was amazing. That afternoon, after I had left for the day, she had the entire class practice reciting the pledge with their hats removed. She explained to them the importance of removing their hat and showing respect to our great nation! She also stopped me after school to apologize for not catching it herself!

I feel very blessed that I have a 7 year old with so much respect and patriotism! I am also blessed that he has such an amazing teacher that would take the time out of her very busy day to teach her class this very lesson!

Even Now......Gina


I just want to give a little update on us since my last post was mostly ranting! We are all doing well. Allen hasn’t had any more bad nights since my last post and seems to be doing pretty well. I did encourage him to talk to his doctor about changing the ambien. I do not like the things he does when taking this medication and he has no memory of it. He just has really bizarre behavior and has a hard time deciphering reality from dreams. He has taken lunesta before and did not have those adverse side affects.

This week they have big visitors as The Pathway Home they have all been getting ready for. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill are going to be there most of the week hanging out and then wrapping it up with a concert that the vets will be honored at. I can’t wait to hear all about how these days go. I think it is great that they (Tim and Faith) are doing this. It is also great to see such big celebrities doing it for the right reasons, without cameras and publicity tagging along to show how much they do. That just shows their class and that they are truly doing it all for the right reasons!

The boys are doing well. Our 14 year old son is doing great in school and getting ready for basketball season to start. Our youngest who is 7 is also doing great in school. He is currently taking a musical theatre class thanks to a grant we received from Our Military Kids and is loving it! They are doing a small production next month and he has one of the lead parts as Humpty Dumpty.

I am also doing great! At times, I get pretty lonely and really miss my husband. However, I’m not sure I would really be that much less lonely even if he were home with us. Being the spouse of a combat wounded veteran can be very lonely. Many of us are married to men we have to get to know again once they come home from war. Our husband’s are changed in every way and therefore it is difficult to relate at times. This creates a struggle which is extremely frustrating for both sides. I know that my husband remembers what he used to be like and frequently states that he just wants to be who he used to be. That has to be frustrating. Then there is pressure added in by family members who love and miss the person they used to be. It ends up being a vicious cycle that we have to be conscience of so that it doesn’t destroy us. I think, most days my family does a great job managing this struggle, but one we have to be constantly aware of.

I am busy running the boys around, volunteering, and just spending time doing the things I love to do. I’ve been going to lunch with friends, catching up with old friends, reading, volunteering, and many other things. I am enjoying the freedom and the time I have been able to spend focusing on myself and our boys. I’ve seen a big improvement in the boys and my relationship with them. It has been exciting to see the transformations in all of us.

Even Now.......Gina

Monday, November 1, 2010


I am all fired up this morning and I'm not even sure why. I think I am on the verge of tears and have been brewing since I got up. So, I am taking the time to write. That is what seems to help me the most so I will apologize now for the rants and if it doesn't flow well or make any sense. At least you will know that it helped me!!

First of all, Allen had a couple of bad nights recently. He has been at the Pathway Home now for 7 weeks. The first 5 weeks were unbelievable. I saw so much improvement in him just through talking to him on the phone. Maybe it gave me a false sense of hope. Not that I'm not hopeful, but it seemed so perfect those first few weeks and now, not so much. The first imperfect week he was really moody. Every conversation we had started out with, "Today is not a good day". By Saturday, the 6th day in a row of hearing that, I sort of lost it. I was to the point that I did not even want to talk to him. Then I felt like the bad guy. What is wrong with me? I did not even want to talk to my husband whom I hadn't seen in a month. But man, sometimes you have to bend down, pick yourself up, let things go, and decide, "Today is going to be a good day!" I had a good conversation with Allen, and said about those exact things to him on Saturday. Our talk went well and I think it did really help. The next week was better, but not as good as those first 5 weeks. Then this weekend came and he had a trip to the ER by ambulance and then crazy phone calls to me. The ER trip ended up fine, they think he may be having seizures again. Not a great thing, but not life threatening either. The phone calls though, they have me a little more worried.

Saturday night, the boys and I were at a Halloween party and Allen knew that's what we were doing. Usually, he handles us doing stuff really well. He wants us to be happy and not worry about him. I talked to him right before the party and he asked me to call him when I got home. No problem! However, that is not how our evening went down. The first part of it was great. Then, the texting started. It wasn't anything, just chatting really. Then the voicemails because I didn't have much of a signal where we were. This is so not like him. He was almost clingy. I guess that is the best way I can describe it. So, I finally got home and called him. He was fine, not really sure what he even really wanted. I am thinking maybe he's just homesick. We chatted a bit and then said goodnight and went to bed. Well, when I go to bed, I shut off my cell phone. When I woke up Sunday morning and turned my phone back on, I had a voicemail. That was a little odd since I didn't shut my phone off until like midnight and was turning it back on before 8 am. It was a nurse at The Pathway Home telling me about the ER trip. I called and it was over and fine, so no problem.

Sunday, the multiple phone calls from Allen and texts as well start again. Since he's been gone we usually talk once or twice a day but that is about it. He is not a big texter so this is kind of weird. I didn't think too much about it, but I had a funny little feeling. I took Dreyson trick or treating but again, the phone calls. This time, he was beginning to act a little bit confused but not too much. I think only because I know him so well, did I notice. We talked again before I went to bed and he was watching football. I told him I was tired and going to bed and he seemed fine. Once again, I shut off my cell phone and went to bed. A little after 10:30 my house phone rings. It about made my heart stop! It was Allen just wanting to talk again. He apologized for scaring me and we chatted a bit. The longer we chatted though the more confused he became. He started telling me he was playing football instead of just watching it and really thought he was in the game. I asked to talk to one of his nurses and he put her on the phone. She said he had just taken his night meds and they were trying to convince him to go to bed. The meds had just kicked in and he needed sleep. He is on a lot of medications that are sedating, and this isn't too unusual.

The problem is, he is in California and I am in Kansas. I finally was able to go back to sleep, although now I'm getting kind of worried. 11:19 my house phone rings again. It's him again but this time he isn't saying anything. I finally hang up and call the nurse's station to check on him. They say he's fine, he's just fighting sleep and not wanting to just go to bed. I ask her to take his phone from him so I can get some sleep. I do manage to get back to sleep, but I woke up fired up this morning.

It is so hard being a caregiver to a spouse to begin with. I've been doing this for almost 3 years now. So, I am used to being in control and calling all the shots. Even doctor's will ask me what I think they need to do. (I don't really like that much control!) It is good that there is some distance between us so that I can learn to let go of some of that. It is good that he is working on getting better. But, it is so dang hard. I've not been away from him since his injury. I was great when things were going good. But now, this is hard. I just have a feeling something isn't right but I'm not sure what it is. It's not like I can really call them up and say, "Hey, I have a feeling something isn't right with my husband, but I have no idea what or why, can you fix it please?" I really don't think that is going to work. With his confusion this weekend, I don't think I can really mention it to my husband either. It is just really hard being here with him there and not seeing first hand what is going on. I know he's in a good, safe place and I just have to trust and be okay with that.

When I started this post, I had no idea this is where it was going to go. I really thought it was going to go in a totally different direction. I'm really frustrated with the general public not knowing what is going on with our returning troops. I guess that's why writing is good for me, it lets me get out what is really going on. Thanks for being patient with my rant! I have a feeling another one will be coming soon about the above mentioned subject!!

Even Now......Gina