THE GIFT

I wrote this back in July. I think it’s message for our new Commander-and-Chief, is an important one.

I have been trying to write this “Independence Day” message for a couple of weeks. And frankly, I have been struggling. Then, a new connection on LinkedIn sent me a message and through our exchange, I was inspired. If not me, who? I wrote at the end of my message, a reference to the firework displays. The veterans who have seen war, who have fought battles, our warriors, struggle during those fifteen minutes of, “Bombs Bursting in Air.” For many it is terrifying. The noise can throw them back in time when there were real bombs exploding, real danger, real loss of life, real friends dead. We are a young country with many wounds to heal. But, we are strong and need compassionate leaders.

Out history of the emphasis we put on this day of the year, to celebrate our nations freedom, to honor all veterans from that first day when we declared ourselves an independent nation in 1776, is phenomenal! We are a young nation at 240 years. But, we are a strong nation who needs strong leaders.

There will be family reunions, picnics, barbecues, parades, concerts, and baseball games in every backyard, small town, city, and state where people can gather. Th months of preparations for this single day, to show our patriotism is nothing short of monumental. We are a young country. But, we are strong and need righteous leaders.

This one day of the year has been stretched into a week, or more, of honoring our veterans in various ways. All the ball parks have a veteran throwing out that first pitch. There are charitable organizations honoring veterans with special events. And some families are gathering to remember the one that won’t be with them this year…We are a young nation, but, we are strong and the price has been high. We need honorable leaders.

All this attention to the veterans walking among us today, warms my heart deeper than any of you will ever know. Some of you have similar feelings from your own circumstances, and some of you stand proud that one of yours has given their livesvso we can keep this day of freedom sacred. We honor you too… This is a day about remembering the price as well as the gift. Yes, the gift. The gift of freedom all veterans fought for, and are still fighting for today. This gift of freedom…all gave some, and some gave all.

Remember this Mr. President.

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THE MIRROR TEST

When the mail came one day about two weeks ago, my husband dropped  magazines, some ad papers, and two packages at my feet. I reached down to pick one of the packages up, thinking they were some quilting supplies I had ordered. But, as I lifted one of them off the floor it was obviously a book. The second package was addressed to Aaron.

I had been contacted several months earlier by a marine who had met Aaron in 2009. Reece Lodder was having trouble getting hold of Aaron, so, he reached out to me. He was trying to obtain permission for the use of some photos and quotes for a book that he was helping to edit and research. I sent a text to Aaron and he did not object. Over the next couple of months, Reece and I exchanged several emails as I continued to give permission on Aaron’s behalf. But, he never reveled the title or content of this book, which I found admix that pile of magazines and advertisements.

The book I held in my hands was THE MIRROR TEST, by J. Kael Weston. When I opened the cover I found a note on the title page:

Dear Diana,

Thank you for writing your book and for your help in support of this one. Families like yours make this nation great. 

Sincerely,

Kael Weston                                  (See page 438) OP Mend Ch.

I had no idea that he had been in touch with UCLA Operation Mend. I was flipping  through pages, wondering what was on page 438, and eager to read the chapter he had dedicated to the organization that had done so much for Aaron. I read through the pages where Kael had interviewed Ron and Dana Katz. Then, I was overwhelmed, speechless, I literally stopped breathing for a moment, when I came to the paragraph that started,  Diana Mankin Phelps, Aaron’s mother…My name in this book…what an honor. I’m humbled… On the designated page, he mentioned my book, A Mother’s Side of War, along with a couple of quotes from me. The last sentence in this paragraph told that I also maintain a blog, this blog, Writing To Heal

J. Kael Weston represented the United States for more than ten years as a State Department official. He received one of their highest awards, the Secretary of State’s Medal of Heroism, that acknowledged his multi-year work in Fallujah with Marines.

The first sentence in the Preface reads; ” I first met Marine Corporal Aaron Mankin in Fallujah in early 2005, just before he lost most of his face in the Iraq War.” You can see how this book grabbed my attention. He goes on to describe Aaron as, “professional in bearing, with cobalt eyes, square jaw, high-and-tight haircut, showed maturity and possessed an eloquence that belied his youthful age.” Aaron’s story of injury and healing is just one thread throughout this book about war and resilience. But it is so much more, as the author turns the mirror on our nation, on our policies and directives, how we look at our country, and how others see us.

THE MIRROR TEST is something that you may have heard Aaron talk about in his interviews and speeches. How he willingly ignored the mirror in his hospital room for weeks, not wanting to see the truth of his injuries. And after the tears, after the anger, after his realization that who he is on the inside had not been changed, and finally with acceptance as he embraced that figure in the mirror – Aaron passed THE MIRROR TEST.

Kael spent seven years on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. He landed in Baghdad in 2003 and was embedded with the marines by 2004 in Fallujah. This book is important, essential, for us to understand the other sides of war. The side of the civilians who lived in a country devastated by war, the side of Iraq’s political advisors to us, the side of Iraq’s military who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our service men and women, the side of those who were given-assigned-the task of rebuilding a nation and her communities, and the side that describes the emotional toll on all, are just a few of the reasons why this book is one that had to be written. And must be read!

THE MIRROR TEST – J. KAEL WESTON 

Release Date-May 24, 2016

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Remember Our Women Service Members

It seems to be easy to think about this nations wounded as men who are on the front lines fighting, traveling through war zones, or trying to keep peace in counties trying to establish their own democracy. But, they are not alone.

The women who serve our country, our sisters, daughters, mothers, wives, or friends, are with them in those far away places. As of December 2013, there were 214,000 active duty and 118,781 reserve women serving in all branches of our military. They are often put in perilous danger. And many have died or been wounded too.

These are the most recent statistics I could find. In December of 2013 the VA stopped releasing the number of non-fatal casualties of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. All that can be said with any certainty is that as of that date more than 900,000 service men and women had been treated at VA hospitals and clinics since returning from these war zones, and the monthly rate of new patients as of the end of 2012 was around 10,000.

In the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan more than 283,000 women have been deployed to these two countries. More than 800 female service members have been wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan. And 146 women have given their lives while serving against the war on terrorism. 110 of these women died as a result of serving in Iraq.

Although the prohibition against serving in combat was lifted in 1994 for women service members, it has been the policy to exclude women from ground combat units. However, in Iraq and Afghanistan, women have served as foot soldiers during door-to-door operations and they have been in convoy escort missions. About 20,000 women are still serving, mostly in Afghanistan.

So, remember our women service members. They too have given much, given some, or have given all, so we can continue to live our lives with our freedoms.

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Emotional Support Animals

Republicans Introduce Bill to Get Puppies for Veterans

Currently – an emotional support animal is a companion animal which provides therapeutic benefit, such as alleviating some symptoms of the disability, (Such as PTSD.) Emotional support animals are typically dogs, but may include other animals. A person with a verifiable disability can be prescribed an emotional support animal by a physician or medical professional, and will be afforded protection under the United States federal law.

These are the legal aspects of emotional support animals. But, from the personal aspects of the veterans who have known life with an emotional support animal, it has often been a life saver.

My son, a marine wounded in Iraq eleven years ago, has had an emotional support dog, Rocco, from the time he was released from the hospital, and assigned to a house on base with his wife, at Fort Sam Houston Army Base in San Antonio, TX.

Rocco died a few weeks ago. When Aaron called, it was to let me know a member of our family had gone. We had seen Rocco aging, but still, we were not prepared to let him go…

As we talked about how Rocco had been with Aaron through so much of his life, we were amazed at how that marine dog had been there to help Aaron through some pretty tough times, as well as the good. Unconditional love between those two was evident to all.

The companionship of a dog can make the difference in a veterans decision to keep moving forward. Rocco had been with Aaron through years of surgeries, the birth of his two children, a devastating divorce, and the challenges of becoming a single parent. His 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son never knew a time in their lives when Rocco wasn’t with them.

Rocco was with Aaron when nobody else was around, the silent times, the hardest times. He was there when Aaron struggled with the emotional and physical pain from injuries sustained during his service in Iraq. Rocco was there when he was filled with joy and pride as he brought his daughter, then his son, home from the hospital. And he was there through the devastating dissolution of his marriage shortly after the birth of his son.

Rocco stood with him as they watched over those two children when Aaron took on the full-time job of being a single parent. At Christmas time there was always a stocking hanging on the mantle for Rocco too. He was there as Aaron’s children grew and went off to school each morning. And sat at attention next to him, as they stood in the front yard watching for them to appear around the corner on their way back home. Both greeting them as if they had been gone for years and had crossed the Sahara desert to reach their destination.

This marine dog has earned his stripes, and a salute for a job well done. This world needs more Rocco’s to stand by the side of our warriors. I ask that you support legislation in your states, as well as at the federal levels, to recognize and support the importance of the need for these special companions to our heroes.

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Rocco, you will be missed…

Today

Today I have read extensively about two warriors. I can’t begin to sort through the emotions that I’m feeling, but I’m going to try. Because one needs us and one has given up on us.

I will begin with the one who needs us. I had posted something on Facebook and one person replied simply with a name. John Peck. I saw it, but I didn’t understand and was headed out. But, this was tugging at me… I had to find out who this was and why he would be posted on my page.

There are probably a lot of you who have heard, read, or seen Marine Sgt. John Pecks story. I had not heard about this young man and his determination to live and serve this nation.

Now, I’m going to tell the rest of you his incredible story of living not just surviving.

In 2007, Sgt. John Peck was serving in Al Anbar province, Iraq (This is where Aaron was injured) when he was first wounded. After a daylong patrol searching for Taliban, receiving small arms fire, finding a cache of HME (Home Made Explosives), waiting for his unit’s EOD team, it was time to go back to base. He was manning the machine gun for the lead vehicle, as it rounded a corner the vehicle was hit by a pressure initiated IED. He was thrown from his seat and smashed his head into the machine gun. He remembers fragments from that night. As a result, John was left with vision, balance, and hearing problems. He also suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and suffered short-term and long-term memory loss, forgetting everything up to the point of the injury. Twenty-one years of memories were gone. He had to learn everything all over again. To this day he continues to have problems remembering things from before this incident, difficulty finding words, and short term memory issues.

His first injury didn’t stop him from going back to serve his country. He had to beg and plead with doctors to release him from limited duty. You’re probably wondering at this point why? Why would he go back and not just take the medical discharge? “As a Marine, we don’t do it for the pay or the benefits, we go back for the guys on our left and on our right.”

However, on May 24, 2010, life once again changed dramatically for John. At the age of 24, Sgt. Peck was serving in Helmand province, Afghanistan when he stepped on an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) This is the type of explosive that tossed the tank that Aaron was in 10 feet into the air.) and triggered an explosion that would change his life forever. The resulting blast amputated his legs, part of his right arm, damaged his left arm, and caused third degree burns on his stomach.

Sgt. Peck is one of only two people alive to survive blood contamination by the flesh eating fungus, Aspergillosis. As a result of contaminations from surgery, doctors were forced to amputate part of his left arm, making him the third quadruple amputee of the Afghan and Iraq wars.

RECOVERY – Through the blast and twenty-seven different surgeries, John received forty-one pints of blood, thirty-five units of plasma and five units of platelets, and at one point blend out completely. He was medically sedated from May to early August, during which he endured daily surgeries to clean out debris and dead flesh and t6 fight the infection that was slowly spreading through his body. At one point his family received the heartbreaking news that John was living minute to minute and the doctors, sadly, suggested they say their goodbyes. During his surgeries, he flat lined three times and was pronounced dead once.

By the time his body finally started to fight back against the multiple infections attacking it, he was left with his right arm amputated above the elbow, left arm amputated at the mid forearm, and right leg amputated just above the knee. He is also missing his left bicep, first layer of abdominal muscles and his entire left leg due to the flesh eating fungus. The complete loss of his leg means he’s forced to sit on his pelvic bone –  a painful task with which he has learned to cope. When he awoke in early August, he was informed by his family of his extensive injuries, sedation, and near death experiences. Because of his tracheal tube, he couldn’t speak without using a special device. In order to have the tube removed, he had to perform swallow tests, which is where the doctor’s thread a small camera down your throat and feed you small amounts of food and liquid to see if your throat can handle it. “I remember all I wanted was a Mountain Dew and they couldn’t let me have it. One day a nurse walked in with a small can, popped it open and poured it into a bag. She left a second can behind and I, thinking it was soda, told her, ‘As soon as you leave thats mine!’ I soon came to find it was medication.”

When he woke up he couldn’t move any part of his body. He had no strength to lift his limbs nor any range of motion so he had to be stretched out daily. However, there was a problem, John’s skin had become hyper sensitive to touch. In short, the minute anyone made contact with him he was in enormous amounts of pain.

Every year John’s determination inspires those around him – from jumping out of a plane to scuba diving in Key West, and even completing fifty miles on a hand cycle. John also has a passion for helping those who have fallen on hard times. “I was raised by a single mother and every Christmas it was a financial struggle for her. You could see the pain in her eyes as the need to put food on the table out weighed the Christmas wishes of her young son. After my injuries I vowed I would help as many families as I possibly could at Christmas time.” In 2011 he started at a Target in Washington D.C.- helping a single mother purchase gifts for her daughter and surprising the woman with a gift as well. In 2012, after moving to his new home, he helped another mother with two children in Wal-Mart. In 2013 he changed his method and instead of approaching families, he decided to go to layaway and pay off three random accounts with toys in them.

THE FUTURE – John was recently approved for a double arm transplant. Through multiple tests including; skin type, blood draws, mental exams, vein mapping, and ultrasounds, the doctors determined he a strong candidate. He is currently waiting for the call that will take him to Boston and give him back his arms.

Although the double arm transplant is a miracle of the 21st century, it will also be an expensive and long-term recovery for John and his family.

For more information about helping John and his family by donating go to his email – jmpeck1985@gmail.com

Help John to realize his dream of becoming a world renowned chef!

 

Here We Are

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Well, Veterans Day 2015 has come and gone. Actually, it was a weeklong celebration of gratitude for what our veterans have given for us all. With all we did, every place we went, the people we met, the thing that stood out beyond anything else were the veterans themselves.

I love to stand back and watch as one veteran approaches another–whether they have met before or not– and without hesitation they reach out with an automatic acceptance and a camaraderie of spirit, which those of us on the “outside” cannot comprehend.

We try to see inside the heart of our war fighters–our sons and daughters, our spouses, our family members, our friends–as we try to pry from their shielded memories, from those thoughts that haunt them, wanting desperately to understand that which we cannot.

What we can do is simple. We can listen. We can observe. On one occasion, I was attending an event where there were wounded warriors and caregivers mingling within a crowded room. A room that was buzzing with warriors coming together with a release of spirit that only happens within the ranks of those who have served. And the caregivers huddling together to share their own joys and burdens. Again a closed group that only exists because of circumstances that redefined their own lives.

At one point I was standing in a hallway, waiting on a friend, when a young woman in uniform entered and stood across from me. I looked at her and saw someone who was desperately trying to hold down a full-blown panic attack. All she said was, “There are so many people.” I asked her to breathe with me. In through the nose and out through the mouth. We continued this breathing in unison for a couple of minutes. She watched me, as I watched her, with each motion in this simple taking of each breath.

Everything outside of that hall disappeared for a few moments. That was what she needed. Time to reach inside and find that strength within herself, which she had lost sight of in that crowded room. We parted not knowing each other’s names, only a shared moment of awareness.

That is the way we can help. We don’t need to know the why or the what. All we need to do is listen and observe. The answer will become clear. Then we act. And a bond is made.

NOVEMBER SPECIAL

DO YOUR CHRISTMAS SHOPPING AND GIVE BACK TO VETERANS!!!

For every one of my books purchased through Amazon, or myself, during the month of November,

$1.00 will be donated to THE BOB WOODRUFF FOUNDATION

and $1.00 will be donated to OPERATION MEND

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THE OTHER SIDE OF WAR–PAPERBACK ONLY

A MOTHER’S SIDE OF WAR–PAPERBACK OR HARDCOVER

Contact me by email- alwaysamarinemom@yahoo.com or text-(405)818-7490