A+ A A-

Valley prepares to host Wounded Warrior families

By Claire Flynn
JACKSON — "Never in our wildest dreams did we anticipate that it would catch on like it has," remarked Dr. Gerald Carrier, while describing Christmas Can Cure. Six years ago, his son, Andre, asked if the family could forgo their tradition of exchanging presents, and use that money to do something special for veterans.
11-29-wounded-warrior ccc-logo"We wanted to create a magical Christmas experience for the entire family – one they would never forget," said Gerry. Christmas Can Cure is magical. It is a week filled with family activities, including skiing and snow tubing, playing in a water park, visiting Santa's Village, relaxing on an evening sleigh ride, and being mesmerized by the Polar Express and its arrival at Santa's workshop.
From Dec. 12-17, Christmas Can Cure will host three families from New England. The community is invited to welcome them at a Dec. 13 flag-raising ceremony. This opening event begins at 10 a.m. in front of the town offices in Jackson.
Lance Corporal Charles Bradley
U.S. Marine Corps
Charles Bradley was only 20 when he decided to enlist, because he didn't know what he wanted to do with his life. He chose the Marines, "the best of the best," he recalled, and served five years as a helicopter mechanic.
Chuck had many friends, who often sought his advice and counseling. He was known for his mild temperament and humor, and enjoyed playing baseball and football. But just four years later, Chuck was a very different person — and he didn't know why. He was angry, depressed, and anxious. He was impatient with his wife and children. And he wasn't even interested in sports.
Behind the changes
Chuck's first deployment was in 2005, when his unit was sent to Iraq to transport Marines and Navy Seals into position for taking over Fallujah. During these missions, they were under constant fire from the Iraqi nationals.
The daily attacks continued even at their base. Chuck recalled, "In the beginning, we were all petrified and ran for cover. But it happened so often, so we just became numb. And the night before we left, a mortar attack blew up the fuel station that was only 200 yards from our barracks. That's why so many of us vets don't like fireworks."
Humanitarian missions were also dangerous, perhaps even more intense. During the Iraqi election period, Chuck's crew spent two weeks transporting villagers to the cities where they could vote. He talked about how proud he felt, "helping the people have a say in their government." But he also described the onslaught of anti-aircraft fire as "terrifying."
Not safe in the U.S.
In 2007, Chuck was stationed in North Carolina. His unit was ordered to New Orleans for humanitarian relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina. He flashed back to that time: "Even though we were delivering food and water, and rescuing people from roof tops in New Orleans, we were still attacked. In fact, there were more bullet holes in the helo after that mission, than there had been after Iraq!"
Starting over
On Christmas Day, 2007, Chuck received an honorable discharge, and returned to Rhode Island to be near family. He admitted that he was angry and had problems making friends and keeping jobs. "I didn't know what was wrong with me, and I didn't know that there were agencies to help me. So I just struggled along as best I could."
Chuck met his wife, Sara, during this time. They were both single parents, "looking for a friend," Sara said, "But we fell in love." Chuck added that, "It was the kids that connected us."
But love doesn't conquer all — especially the challenge of living with someone suffering from the emotional and mental effects of war. "I didn't realize how much my behavior was affecting my family," said Chuck. But it was. Sara grew tired of his anger and impatience, and the fact that money was scarce. Chuck couldn't keep a job for more than two months. And because Chuck slept most of the day, Sara couldn't rely on him to watch the children while she worked.
This family turmoil erupted in 2013, when Sara threatened to take the children and move to her parent's house. That's when Chuck finally admitted that he had a problem. He checked himself into the VA hospital, where he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He started counseling for anger management, and learned about the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). Chuck credits Sara for his recovery. "If it weren't for Sara, I wouldn't be getting better and becoming a better husband and father. She knows what to say, and when to put her foot down."
As a family, they have attended two WWP events: a football game at Boston College, and the Veterans Day parade in New York City. "It was awesome!" exclaimed Chuck. "There were over 1,000 of us [wounded warriors] marching in that parade!"
Anticipating family time
Chuck and Sara have never had a true vacation. Neither one is working; their only income is Chuck's disability check. They have four boys: Dante (13), Greyson (8), Charles Junior (7) and Evryn (3). "The kids are so excited about skiing, sledding, and splashing in a water park!" said Chuck. He and Sara look forward to having "adult time" with the other veterans and spouses. But the gift they are most eager to enjoy is time together.
Captain Stephen Hunnewell
U.S. Army
"It's the wives who make a difference," Stephen Hunnewell said with conviction. "I wouldn't be where I am today, if it weren't for Libbey." After multiple deployments to Afghanistan, Stephen returned to Virginia to work on national security issues.
It's been only a few months since he moved home to Massachusetts, but he's already found a niche that keeps him close to fellow veterans. Stephen is the manager of the Wounded Warrior Project's New England office located in Cambridge, Mass.
Near-death experiences
Stephen completed various missions in Afghanistan. One involved leading a team of combat advisers. They lived and fought with Afghans, while training them to be a military unit. "Afghans weren't disciplined soldiers, which made training difficult, especially at remote patrol bases," he recalled. "It was frustrating, because they'd do unsafe things like talk loud, or smoke at night, and that would give away our position."
Many missions were part of NATO operations, led by foreign nationals. Having a non-English speaker lead a combat operation "added complexity and response time, since commands had to be translated by a number of people," explained Stephen.
During the more dangerous counter-insurgency missions, Stephen and his team were subjected to daily multiple assaults from direct fire, grenade launchers and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Once, three grenades hit a building where Stephen was attending a meeting. Although Stephen was sheltered from the brunt of the blast by the Afghans sitting on his right, he still sustained a traumatic brain injury. Yet he chose to remain on active duty.
The IEDs were everywhere. Stephen and his patrol unit survived one blast that destroyed their vehicle but caused many casualties. On another patrol in the Pech Valley, the IED exploded just after Stephen passed over it. Two members of his team were killed immediately; a third later died. Only Stephen, and the man he pulled to safety, survived.
Breaking the addiction of war
Despite multiple near-death experiences, Stephen continued to volunteer for redeployment. Libbey couldn't understand why he didn't want to be home with her and the children. She was often stressed and conflicted. On one hand, she was glad that Stephen was alive and home; on the other hand, she was upset with how difficult it was to live with him. Many times Stephen would say, "You just don't understand!"
It took Stephen five years to admit that he needed help, and to get a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He, like so many other veterans, was reluctant to seek help. "Time and time again I heard that I was the pinnacle of the military and had no weakness," he explained. "So how could I admit to PTSD — that I was inferior?"
"Libbey made me do a reality check," Stephen acknowledged. "She forced me to take steps to break the addiction of returning to Afghanistan, where I felt like Superman. Because at home, I felt unaccomplished."
It's been a difficult adjustment for Stephen and Libbey, a physical education teacher. Stephen is in therapy for PTSD, and they are in counseling together.
Stress and survivor's guilt
Simple family interactions can trigger stress. When their 3-year-old son received a large gash on his upper lip, Stephen was shaken. He remembered the time he tried to save an Afghan child severely injured in a blast. He carried her for hours, looking for medical assistance. She later died.
Stephen also battles survivor's guilt. At home in early 2011 for the birth of his first son, Stephen should have felt joy and elation. But all he could think about was his best friend, also home with a newborn. His friend was severely disabled with a traumatic brain injury. "I could hold my child, but my friend couldn't. What right did I have to be happy?" Stephen questioned.
Family's first Christmas
Stephen is still uncomfortable with the attention he gets, when strangers thank him for his service. Libbey said, "That's why your program [Christmas Can Cure] is so great. Although Stephen doesn't think he deserves it, he believes his sons do. And when he sees them happy and having fun, he feels happy."
Stephen and Libbey have spent the last four Christmas seasons apart. Christmas 2013 will be the first Christmas that they spend together, with their sons Hunter (3) and Hayden (8 months). "To have this fun thing to look forward to and to forget about our daily hardships is priceless!" Libbey exclaimed.
She focused on Christmas Can Cure [CCC] by adding that, "Everyone wants to support the troops, but they don't know the best way. That's another reason why this program [CCC] is special. It's giving something to the whole family."
Staff Sgt Timothy Kingston
U.S. Army
September 11, 2001 had a major impact on 21-year-old Timothy Kingston. In New York City at the time, he witnessed the mayhem and carnage of the attack on U.S. soil. "It triggered a larger call to duty," his wife, Loni, said. In 2004, Timothy enlisted in the Army to become a paratrooper, "because he wanted to belong to an elite group of soldiers," she added.
Hazardous duty
Timothy had a distinguished service career with the 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera). During two deployments to Iraq, he used still and video equipment to document combat operations for the Pentagon. Timothy was the "Eyes of the Army," and his work was used for intelligence and historical documentation.
But Timothy wasn't only documenting. "He was always a soldier first," Loni said, "focusing on getting everyone home alive." His missions ranged from searches for weapon caches, night air assaults, kill/capture operations of High Valued Targets, as well as humanitarian operations. He received numerous awards and medals, and because of his actions in combat, was put in for the Bronze Star.
Even time at the outposts, between missions, was dangerous. The troops were constantly under attack from machine guns, grenades, rockets and mortars.
Timothy suffered multiple injuries during missions. "He doesn't talk much about the day his armored HUMVEE was destroyed by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED)," noted Loni. In fact, Timothy has said very little about his deployments, not even confiding in Loni. She is the one who described his missions and injuries — as best she could.
Volunteered to return
Timothy and Loni met while both were training at Fort Meade, Md. in 2004. Loni, a photojournalist, has since been discharged from the National Guard after completing her six-year commitment. Each time Timothy returned home from deployment, he continued his training. Loni couldn't understand why he was willing to return, since he always came home injured. She was frustrated that he didn't want to stay home with her and their children. Why did he continually volunteer for dangerous missions?
Loni explained that war "is like a calling for him; a calling to finish a mission and never leave a fellow soldier behind. Timothy's doing all these great things overseas, where it's hectic. But at home, well, it's so different; too quiet, I suppose, and no one here really understands."
In the U.S. and especially in the military, there is the stigma of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). "Timothy didn't bring it up or get help because he didn't want that label to affect his career," Loni explained. That's why he was not diagnosed until 2009. "In some ways," she said, "life was safer in Iraq, where he was with his buddies who understood what he was going through."
Lasting effects of war
Due to 25-plus airborne landings, frequent mortar attacks and IED explosions, Timothy is also learning to live with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and multiple back injuries. He struggles with permanent nerve damage and numbness in his right leg and foot. After four back surgeries — the most recent in October 2013 — Timothy is home recuperating. He's hoping that with physical therapy, he will regain some feeling in his left leg.
After Timothy received a medical retirement in October 2010, he, Loni, and their three children moved to Connecticut. He returned to being a freelance television videographer, but the majority of the jobs were in New York City. The commute, crowds, and dealing with civilians who had no respect for ex-military were too much for him to handle. Loni, who recently completed her Master's Degree, has put her career on hold to focus on Timothy and his recovery.
Noah (7), the oldest of the three children, spent his early years living in a military environment. Loni explained, "When he hears taps, he asks when they will move back to base." He and his sisters, Ireland (5) and Chloey (4), miss playing with their dad, but they understand why Timothy can't pick them up and why they can't jump on him.
Being grateful
Timothy and Loni are waiting until December to tell their children about Christmas Can Cure. "Otherwise, we'd hear, 'when do we leave?' every day," said Loni. Chloey is the one who will be most excited, as she has been singing 'Jingle Bells' since last Christmas. For Timothy and Loni, Christmas Can Cure will be time away from medical appointments and the stress of daily life. With child-like anticipation, Loni said, "It's nice to have something positive to look forward to, and to be grateful for the little things in life."
A family and community tradition
The Carriers understand that men and women return from combat emotionally and physically scarred. Re-adjustment to family life can be difficult. Most of us will never understand what these veterans have witnessed and endured while serving their country. However, each of us can join the Carrier family to create a memorable Christmas experience.
If you are interested in donating your time, treasure or talent, visit www.christmascancure.org. Donations are needed to defray the cost of travel, activities, and gifts for the children from their wish list to Santa. Volunteers can help with photography and transportation. Other adults will join families during activities, and some are needed to entertain children while their parents enjoy "date night" and a final evening reception.
Christmas Can Cure, a proud supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project, is a 501(c) (3) organization, and all donations are tax deductible. Make donations online at www.christmascancure.org, or by mail. Send checks, payable to Christmas Can Cure Inc., to Christmas Can Cure, c/o Leslie Schomaker, P.O. Box 209, Jackson NH 03846. Generous benefactors will receive invitations to a Christmas social at the Wentworth Hotel in Jackson on Monday evening, Dec. 16, where they can meet these families.
For general questions, contact Charlie Zaccaria at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. " or (603) 986-1923 or visit www.christmascancure.org. More information about the Wounded Warrior Project is available at www.woundedwarriorproject.org.
Please update your Flash Player to view content.

Facebook Fans - Join The Conversation

Conway Daily Sun - All Rights Reserved

Privacy Policy

Powered by BENN a division of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette