Friday, March 29, 2013

Dealing with PTSD and Deployments

As we come to the end of March and Women's History Month, we have one last posting that recognizes the service and sacrifices of our military spouses.  Today's guest blog posting is from Meghan, the spouse of a deployed service member who has been diagnosed with PTSD.  She also has her own blog:
First Homecoming, Camp Lejeune
"My husband, Staff Sgt Randy Williamson, recently left for his 5th deployment.  Every time he leaves, it is hard.  His diagnosis of PTSD has made each departure a little more difficult, because we just don't know."
"We don't know what could potentially trigger his PTSD.  We don't know when it could happen, or where he will be."  

"On April 30, 2004, my husband was injured in a suicide car bomb explosion in Fallujah, Iraq.  As a result, he lives every day with shrapnel in his shin, as well as a visible scar on his forehead.  Every day since then has been a struggle- not with the visible injuries- but the invisible injuries."

"Soon after he was injured, he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  While it freaked me out a bit, I didn't really notice anything different about Randy when he returned home in September 2004."

"It wasn't until we had successfully made it through three back to back deployments to Iraq, and had accepted non-deployable orders that we had a chance to catch our breath and process what he had been through.... what we both had been through.  We adopted our awesome furbabies- 2 cats and a very spoiled dog, and settled into a normal life.  (At least as normal as the Marine Corps allows!)"
Randy and Mocha--Obedience School Graduation, 2009

"I don't think I realized just how broken my husband was as a result of his struggles with PTSD.  On February 27, 2010, Randy took what we call a "leave of absence."  He walkedout- on our furbabies, on our marriage, on our lives together.  He decided that he just couldn't handle his life as it was anymore.  A lot of things had happened in a very short period of time.  It would have been a lot for anyone to deal with, let alone someone who had been through everything that Randy had been."
"It took three months for Randy to realize that he needed help for what he was dealing with, and that he couldn't blame me for the way he was feeling.  He realized that it was ok for him to ask for help, and it was OK for him to talk about his experiences.  He realized that I wasn't going to judge him, or think less of him because of what he was telling me.  I was- and am- incredibly proud of Randy for admitting that there was something there he needed to deal with, and for taking control and coming face to face with the nightmares and flashbacks he was experiencing."

"In September of 2010, Randy received orders to a unit that would be deploying to Afghanistan in March of the following year.  Panic immediately set in- mostly for me.  On top of the usual nervousness and fear that comes along with a combat deployment, this one would be the first since his "leave of absence."  He deployed on February 25, 2011."

Deployment Day #4, Camp Lejeune, NC
"That deployment day was by far the hardest- mostly because I was back to not knowing.  Would he be ok? What would happen if his PTSD did surface again? How would he deal with that? As a squad leader, would he even be willing to ask for help?? Would he be able to call me if he needed to? It was incredibly difficult to let go of his hand that day as he got on the bus- I was terrified, and I think a part of him was too, but we both did our best to put on a brave face and smile and wave as the buses drove off."
"I knew that I just needed to trust him- that he would know what he needed to do.  Two weeks later, I got my first phone call.  Randy sounded great- he had gone out on his first combat patrol the day before, and he said he felt really good about it.  He felt confident, and didn't have any problems at all.  I was so relieved, I immediately broke down crying.  It was such a relief to hear him sounding like himself, and to know that he was in control." 
"Randy returned safely from that deployment in September of 2011.  We have not dealt with any flashbacks, nightmares, or sleepless nights in quite some time.  I am constantly reminding him that I am always there for him, and will always listen to whatever he wants to talk to me about.  We have become much better at communicating, and I am constantly checking in with him to see if there is anything he wants to talk about.  We have learned that it is much easier for him to talk to me when the lights are out, so we can't actually see each other's faces. " 

"We have not allowed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to break us.  We have only grown stronger because of it, and I continue to be incredibly proud of Randy as he advocates for himself and his fellow Marines.  He speaks out against the stigma associated with PTSD, and makes sure that his Marines know it is OK to ask for help.  He wants them to know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of incredible strength."

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Marine Corps Marathon--Official Statement

All photos courtesy of Paul Oberle
The Marine Corps Marathon sold out today in record time, 2 hours and 27 minutes, but the speed was not celebrated.  Problems with the registration system prevented thousands from signing up before the race was actually sold out.  Soon after registration closed, this official statement was shared on Facebook:
"Marine Corps Marathon registration opened today at noon following a month of comprehensive planning and testing with registration partner ACTIVE Network. Recognizing the challenges another large marathon dealt with during their registration, the MCM supervised a substantial effort by ACTIVE Network to best ensure runner satisfaction. While the event sold out in record time, many runners experienced the frustration of error messages, slow-loading webpages and connection drops. The MCM celebrates the enthusiasm of the running community for "The People's Marathon" but cannot enjoy the success of this quick registration sell out. This online experience is inconsistent with the organizational excellence that has become the hallmark of the Marine Corps Marathon. Everything regarding the MCM registration process will be reexamined for future years."
Hope For The Warriors® invites those that did not get a coveted bib to join Team Hope For The Warriors®.  With a fundraising goal of only $575, join the race that honors service members by raising money for wounded service members and military families. 
We can't guarantee that you will set a new PR or BQ.  We can't guarantee the weather.  But we can guarantee that you will be inspired.

Volunteer Helps Others Achieve Their Best Year Yet

March is Women’s History Month and today we recognize the great work of Nessa Kiely, the founder of The Keily Company, and a Performance Consultant and Professional Coach. 
In 2008, Nessa began volunteering with Hope For The Warriors® within the Above & Beyond Professional Development Seminars. 

Through the seminar, Nessa has helped many of our wounded service members and spouses as they prepare to transition out of the military and into a new civilian career.  She has traveled to different states and participated in almost every Above & Beyond Seminar since the program’s inception.  Through her expertise, service members identify their strengths and develop a plan for moving forward.  After the seminar is complete, she continues to work with the service members when additional career advice is needed.
Thank you to Nessa for her continued dedication to our military families.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Breaking Barriers

March is Women's History Month and today we highlight a woman who will be honored at this year's Got Heart, Give Hope® Gala.

COL Heather K. Meeds has served in the South Carolina National Guard since graduating from college in 1985.  She began serving part time while working full time as a teacher.  However, after 11 years, she decided to pursue her military career further. Although it was not her goal, Heather has succeeded in achieving several "firsts" within the military. 

Heather deployed to Iraq for her first deployment in April 2003 as the 151 Signal Battalion Commander.  This put her as only the second female battalion commander in the South Carolina Army National Guard and the first to deploy into a war zone. Almost 700 were under her command for the year long deployment.

Heather deployed again in late 2010, this time as the first female Chief, National Guard Affairs for United States Forces Iraq.

She returned in August 2011 and quickly took a new position as the first female G6 of the Army National Guard at the headquarters in Arlington, VA. 

On April 17, Hope For The Warriors® will honor Heather for her leadership in the National Guard at the Got Heart, Give Hope® Gala.  But more importantly to our organization, she will be honored for her leadership in talking openly about the struggles of PTSD and the importance of seeking help. By her willingness to talk to other service members, she has helped many face their own challenges and get the help they need.

Learn more

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Volunteer Makes a Lasting Impression

March is Women’s History Month and throughout the month, we have honored many incredible women.  Today, we honor a longtime volunteer that has made a lasting impact on our organization.
Joyce de Moose began volunteering with our organization in 2008 and quickly became instrumental in the development of the organization.  Under Joyce’s direction, the Above & Beyond Professional Development Program was created.  At that time, Joyce planned and executed a comprehensive two-weekend course that brought together professionals in the areas of business, government and education.  Wounded veterans from around the country attended the seminars and found success through employment or by starting their own business. 
Joyce’s impact on Hope For The Warriors® can still be seen today.  While the seminar has evolved, the blueprint created by Joyce remains.  Many of the volunteers and professionals recruited by her also continue to support Hope For The Warriors® and even fly around the country for seminars that have been held in California and Hawaii. 

Learn more about the Above & Beyond Program.

Friday, March 22, 2013

When it is Time to Move On

March is Women's History Month and today we honor a spouse and caregiver. The military has always depended on a strong family to ensure its strength.  Spouses have served quietly during times of war and peace.  And during times of rehabilitation and recovery, they continue to serve, although many learn that they can no longer be quiet in that service.  When a service member is wounded, their family is often becomes their greatest advocate.

Today, we highlight Cheryl, dedicated spouse of a wounded service member. 

Cheryl is from Nashville and that is where she met her husband, Bryan.  They dated only six months before he deployed the first time to Iraq.  His time away did not end their love for each other.  He came home a year later and they were soon engaged and married.  Four months after they wed, Bryan returned to Iraq.  He was wounded only six weeks before he was due to come home.

This was in July 2006 when Bryan was hit by an IED.  He spent 20 months in rehabilitation until he was medically retired from the Army.

Bryan spent 20 months in rehabilitation, but Cheryl shares that their true recovery took much longer.

"For a long time being a wounded warrior family was our identity. It was one of the first things that came up in our conversations with new people and we were very much in recovery and survival mode for three years."

To pull out of this, Cheryl began by blogging (which she still does) and sharing her challenges with others.  In the beginning, there were more frustrations than triumphs. There were battles with the Army, the VA and with each other. 

"Once my husband hit his proverbial rock bottom we were able to start healing and moving away from that identity."
Cheryl's true healing began when she started to give back to others and to help mentor other wounded warriors and their families. 

"I believe that the only way you can heal is to help others. When you give back, the focus isn’t pointed back at you but at others. Being injured can be all-consuming and selfish at times. In the beginning it is necessary but when things settle down and you accept your 'new normal' it is time to help those that are just starting the recovery process."
Thank you to Cheryl and to all of the caregivers who truly love and cherish their service member in good times and bad, sickness and in health.  Our military is stronger because of their dedication.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Hope in Flight

March is Women's History Month and we continue to honor women that have displayed hope and courage.  Today's blog focuses on Pam, spouse of a wounded Marine and one of our honorees for this year's Got Heart, Give Hope® Gala.

Pam enlisted in the Marine Corps a year after graduating high school and at 4' 10" and less than 100 pounds, recruiters were unsure of her strength.  The first Marine began his conversation with "Are you serious?"--clearly in disbelief.  Pam went on to excel in boot camp and in the service and attended college to become an officer.  During her time at Oregon State University, Pam met Ryan and on July 4, 2004, the couple married. 

Nothing during her 10 years in the Marine Corps prepared her for the challenges that lay ahead.  Ryan, a cobra pilot, deployed with the MEU to the middle east in 2007.  In May 2007, Pam received the phone call that Ryan's cobra had been hit during a training exercise. 

It still took a few days before Pam understood the full extent of Ryan's injuries.  She rushed to San Antonio and Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) to be by his side.

The first time she saw Ryan, he was wrapped almost completely in gauze and was in a medically induced coma. She put her hand on his chest and felt his heart beating.  At that moment, she knew that they would be OK.

At the time, Pam was seven months pregnant with their third child. As Ryan began his rehabilitation, Pam focused on supporting him and taking care of their children.  Ryan maintained a positive attitude in spite of having more than 50 surgeries in the three years he was under medical care at BAMC.

As Ryan's recovery progressed, the couple began to make plans for the future.  At one point, Pam made it clear that flying again was absolutely not an option for him. Considering his injuries, no one could blame her.  And yet, it was Pam who eventually turned to Hope For The Warriors® in 2010 and our A Warrior's Wish® Program.  Her Wish was for training to put her husband back in the air, flying again. The end goal was to help Ryan get a job flying with US Customs and Border Protection, a job they had both read about.

"When I read the description, I saw Ryan in that job. I couldn't not let him be himself.  This was who he was."

Hope For The Warriors® granted Pam's Wish and after a year of flight training and another year of interviews and testing, Ryan was hired. In this position, he is both a pilot and a law enforcement officer. 

Pam and Ryan had another great example of hope.  That is--their fourth child who was born in August 2010.  Pam calls her their miracle baby because if Ryan had not lived, she would not have been born.  Each of us feel a close connection with this little girl even though we have never met because Pam and Ryan gave her the most amazing name....Hope.

Join us on April 17, 2013 in honoring Pam and others who demonstrate great hope and courage.  Learn more.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Monument Unveiling: Testimonial from a Marine Spouse

Today's blog posting is written by the spouse of a fallen Marine, Samantha.  She shares how the unveiling of No Man Left Behind impacted her on that beautiful and windy afternoon.
"On March 8, 2013 I had the privilege to attend the Monument Unveiling of 'No Man Left Behind,' at the Wounded Warrior Battalion-East at Camp Lejeune. It was a beautiful day and I always look forward to events like this because I get the chance to hear some amazing stories of which relate to my own, and I also get the opportunity to meet the most amazing people!"
"I had previously met John Phelps at the Got Heart, Give Hope® Gala in 2012, but being able to hear the inspiration and story behind the Monument made me appreciate him even more than I already did. John Phelps and I relate to one another because both of our loved ones paid the ultimate sacrifice. After such an experience, somehow life is supposed to transform back to normal. Although with time you come up with a new routine, your experience and sacrifice is one that you can never forget."
"After my husband passed away, I decided for myself to live in his honor and do the best I could to carry on his legacy, and last but not least, do everything in my power to make sure that although he isn’t here, that he is never forgotten. Since his death, a bridge in his hometown of Cuba, New York was dedicated to him and we have also started a scholarship in his memory. To me, the Monument is a pure symbol of the sacrifices both of John Phelps and his son Chance, and also the Marines that are injured in war."
"Every time someone comes across the Monument or they hear about it, they will be reminded that freedom isn’t free. It is such an amazing thing to be able to remember your loved one, but it’s even more amazing for your loved one to be honored, and know that his sacrifice will never be forgotten."
Samantha and John Phelps at last year's Gala
Photo courtesy of Paul Oberle
Samantha is one of the honorees at this year's Got Heart, Give Hope® Gala.  To learn more, visit the Gala webpage.

Donate Today

Monday, March 18, 2013

Treating Today’s Service Member- An Integrative Approach to Recovery

As we continue to celebrate women during the month of March, today we highlight Aynisa Leonardo, Military Wellness Program Coordinator and Family Reintegration Program Director with Holliswood Hospital and Hope For The Warriors®. 
Today, Aynisa is our guest blogger.

Military members sign up to serve for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which being a tradition of honor, devotion to duty, and a love of country, understanding they might make the ultimate sacrifice. 
What that contract neglects to mention is that a different sort of price may have to be paid in return—being physically or psychologically wounded.  The cost involves isolation, instability, loss, void, and conflict, and these are the perils that treatment providers must learn to examine and support. Finding a way to help clients mesh all of these variables into one integrated and healthy lifestyle can be an elusive goal, and given all of the complexities at play, it’s no surprise why.

“Normal” Life
Service members must constantly evolve and re-establish themselves as their environment changes, creating a physical and emotional strain on the entire family.  These crises are layered and intertwined with aspects of career, relationships, and moral values. Service men and women undergo the stress of extended trainings and/or deployments, which result in displacement from home. Wounded service members are thrust into an array of unpredictable circumstances, related to duty stations, medical boards, continued deployments, expectations, standards, early retirements, and career changes. All of these factors necessitate a sense of continuous adaptability, which can interrupt a person’s constancy and personal identity. Without a steady foundation, they struggle to cultivate connections with each other, their community, their society, the world at large, and ultimately themselves.

True recovery often requires several role inversions: From a position of strength to vulnerability, from a state of emotional numbness to saturation, from a definitive identity to the unknown, and ultimately from wounded to survivor.  Supporting this variability means to understand that loss is a part of life, and that they must grieve in order to grow.
Family Support
Another important consideration is to understand the military member in the context of their support system, often a family.  Military families have the capability to display unimaginable levels of unconditional support through even the darkest hours. Family-focused treatment is integral to the wounded, ill, or injured service member’s recovery, as a strengthened and informed family sets the stage for their healing process. Through a course of reciprocal healing, the entire family unit learns how to develop a “new normal” of balanced and productive dynamics, with convergent goals and expectations. 

Treatment Models
Using standard methods alone may be enough to meet basic clinical needs.  However, advancements in progressive treatment options are required in order to transcend clients into areas of existential growth and sustainability. Through a combination of verbal and other expressive modalities, the service member and their family is able to heal, both independently and collectively. An integrated model should include education, skills-building, evidence based treatments, holistic techniques, readjustment counseling, and social/peer support.  

Providers must also understand that this model of recovery cannot be done alone.  Strategic collaborations are essential, in order to combine missions and support continuums of care for clients and families. This is the treatment philosophy of our Family Reintegration Program, which is a partnered endeavor between Holliswood Hospital and Hope for the Warriors©.

You can learn more about this program at the following links: Family Reintegration Program and 
Art Therapy

Traumatic experiences cause physical, psychological, emotional, and physiological effects.  A trauma survivor often experiences symptoms of both the mind and body concurrently.  There has been increasing evidence on the correlation between brain functions and trauma. Brain development theorist Bruce Perry discusses how incoming trauma events become encoded in specific areas of the brain, and thus are uniquely accessed and processed.  His studies reveal that “a traumatized brain is compelled to train its focus away from language and verbal content, and to fix instead on non-verbal danger cues. This is why interventions that are based on a strictly cognitive, problem-solving approach cannot impact terror-driven behavior.” (Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal, Belleruth Naparstek).  These findings reinforce the efficacy of symbolic and non-verbal methods in trauma-focused therapy. The following pictures show a series of Art Therapy directives completed by service members in treatment, as part of their respective therapeutic processes. You will commonly notice themes of transformation, representative of the paradigm shift that accompanies recovery.

As new treatment options become available, mental health professionals must continually adapt their methodologies to ensure that today’s service members receive the most effective treatment possible.  By using integrative care, in addition to standard practices, providers are able to go beyond words and help clients and their families reach more impactful and longstanding resolutions.

We posted a story about how art therapy helps families at Holliswood Hospital.  Read here.

If you would like to learn more about a treatment program that implements this model/approach, please visit:   

Aynisa Leonardo, LCAT ATR-BC, Military Wellness Program Coordinator/Family Reintegration Program Director, Holliswood Hospital/Hope for the Warriors®

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Remembering Rick Leipold

March 13, 1957 - March 12, 2013

Yesterday, we shared on Facebook that Rick Leipold, our adaptive equipment specialist, had passed away. Today would have been Rick's 56th Birthday.  I am surprised that he is not older--not because he looked older but because he had done so much in his life.  Many years ago, Rick lost his leg in a motorcycle accident but he never felt sorry for himself. Instead, he used his personal experiences to help wounded service members adapt to their new physical challenges.  He loved working with each service member and they loved his sense of humor and positive outlook.

I visited Rick's Facebook page yesterday to see what others had posted. So many service members and friends had wonderful stories to share.

A Vietnam veteran wrote:

"The world of injured and wounded service members has lost a great man.  Rick may have looked short in his wheelchair but he was a giant of a man with a heart to match.  He was an icon in the world of handcrank wheelchairs.  Rick could build an adaptive chair for any type of injured or wounded person.  I can hear Rick screaming out the side window of his van 'You can do it you old Marine!' as I struggled up a mountain on the 9-11 Ride to Recovery. Rick was 'good people.' God speed my friend."

A Hope For The Warriors staff member shared:

"My favorite memory is when Rick and one of our Team members went up and down the escalators in their wheelchairs at the Staten Island Ferry.  Everyone rushed to their assistance, not realizing they were in complete control.  Rick inspired service members to not only feel comfortable in their chairs, but he taught them cool tricks to maneuver through cities.  Rick's positive outlook on life will stay with me forever."

There are many more stories, photos and memories.  Each tells the same story.  Rick--you will be missed.

Story in The Times

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Note from SgtMaj Bradley Kasal, USMC

As we shared yesterday, SgtMaj Bradley Kasal, USMC could not attend the unveiling.  However, he was there in spirit and shared these words with Chris Marquez, Dane Shaffer, and other attendees.

To all in attendance, I first must say I apologize for not being able to attend in person. My deepest regrets as I'm unable to get away from my current duties.
But I do want to take this time and write a few words to say thank you to all in the Hope For The Warriors organization. Thank you for what you do for all our nation’s service members, most specifically our wounded. It’s remarkable to know our young Americans who have raised their right hand and volunteered to support and defend this great nation, are never forgotten. That there are great Americans taking care of fellow great Americans. This is what makes our Country unique and special. This is the American spirit and the American way. People are the US Armed forces greatest asset, and two of those great Americans are in attendance today. While there are three individuals depicted in the statue you see before you, I can assure you I was nothing more than an unlucky individual who was fortunate to be surrounded by many of the greatest of our generation. In this particular case I had one on both flanks of me by the names of then LCpl Dane Shaffer and Chris Marquez. The date of Nov 13th, 2004 was a day that brought many unfortunate casualties. However it was also a day when young Americans showed what they were made of and displayed extraordinary spirit and heroism.

I remember vividly as I lay wounded inside the house that day, two young Marines who suddenly appeared at my side. They did so after running across an open room covered by deadly automatic weapons fire. The thing that first caught my attention, besides that they were crazy, was neither Marine carried a weapon. They left them behind, so they would have their hands free in order to more capably carry me to freedom. First, this displayed the trust they had in their fellow Marines who were assigned the task of covering them as they crossed the open room unarmed. There was only one way out, and that was back through the same kill zone that already caused several Marines to be wounded. They ended up crossing that kill zone four times, each time unarmed, and each time trusting their fellow Marines.
They did it because they were Marines. And that's just what Marines do.

To the Marquez and Shaffer families, if you are in attendance, you should be very proud.  If we ever ask where we get such fine men, we only have to look as far as their family.
We as a nation should never forget men like these two and all the others who serve today in one of our nation’s most trying times. They are truly incredible Americans and it was my honor to serve beside them.

Again, I want to say thank you and God Bless.

Semper Fi
SgtMaj Brad A Kasal
United States Marine


No Man Forgotten

The monument "No Man Left Behind" was unveiled in front of the Warrior Hope and Care Center aboard Camp Lejeune on Friday, March 8, 2013.  In attendance were two of the men depicted in the sculpture as well as the artist.  In addition, many active duty military attended and veterans in the area attended.

The two men on the left and the right are Chris Marquez and Dane Shaffer. They stand in front of the sculpture that depicts them as they fought in Fallujah, Iraq on November 13, 2004.  They stand in front of the monument that demonstrates to the world that they would not leave a fellow Marine behind.  The man that stands between them is a Vietnam veteran and the artist that created the sculpture.  Most importantly however, he is the father of Lance Corporal Chance Phelps, USMC KIA.

On March 8, the weather was photographs.  It was sunny and cool but there were also gusts of high winds.  So before the unveiling, most of the honored guests waited inside the lobby of the Warrior Hope and Care Center.  Standing in the lobby was actually perfect--it gave a glimpse of the state-of-the-art facility that opened in December 2012.  As visitors enter, they are greeted with this image:

Chris and Dane stood together around the corner from most of the crowd, surrounded by their families.  When I approached, I introduced myself and thanked them for coming to the unveiling.  It did not take long for their question to come out,

"Is Sergeant Major Kasal coming?"

Unfortunately, Kasal could not attend due to commitments in his current command.  But I assured both men that he had written a beautiful letter to be read during the ceremony.

I was not surprised by the question and the need to see the man that they had carried out of battle and to safety.  Kasal had been their 1st Sergeant.  The fact that an iconic photo of the three of them was taken was not nearly as important to these men and it was to all of us.  They simply wanted to see the man they had served with more than eight years ago.

And they were not alone.

Before I met them, I spoke to another veteran.  A Marine that had served with all three men.  His first question had been the same.  Are the men here? 

Of course, this comes as no surprise to those that know service members and veterans. Our service members serve our country and protect our freedoms.  But they sacrifice for the men and women they serve with. 

Near the end of the ceremony, this same veteran approached John Phelps, the artist and Gold Star Father.  His son, Chance Phelps, was killed in action on April 9, 2004 in Ramadi.  The veteran shared that he had met Chance only briefly.  However brief, the two men needed to share their memories of a Marine, a man, and a son.

With service members, a monument does not need to be created to remember those who have served, sacrificed and paid the ultimate price.  No man is ever forgotten.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Mary Nicholson: The Brave Love of a Fearless Mother

Mary Nicholson (right) with Hope For The Warriors® staff member, Mirka Young
March is Women’s History Month, so today we highlight an amazing woman, mother, and recipient of this year’s Hope & Courage award: Mary Nicholson.

Mary Nicholson is the mother of two sons; Andrew, and Michael. Her younger son, Sgt. Michael Nicholson, joined the Marine Corps one year after graduating high school. He was stationed in Hawaii and in April 2011, deployed to Afghanistan.
Mary’s volunteer service started when Michael’s military service began.  She created a Military Ministry at her church. The group was formed to provide support to servicemen and women by creating care packages and helping their families.  But it was also a support group for the military -- no one can really understand what a military mother goes through, except another military mother.
On July 5, 2011, Mary volunteered at a funeral reception for a fallen service member, though the Military Ministry.  The very next morning, two Marines rang her doorbell. Mary peeked out the window, saw the sharply dressed Marines, and refused to answer the door. Somehow, she thought, if she didn’t open the door, it wasn’t true.
Finally, she opened the door. The Marines quickly said “He’s alive.”
But he had been critically injured. Michael had lost his right leg entirely, his left leg above the knee, and his left arm.
Mary, her husband John, and their son Andrew traveled to Walter Reed Military Medical Center to see Michael.  The medical center would become her new home for the next nine months as Mary supported Michael’s rehabilitation.
While staying with Michael, Mary began volunteering and took on an active role to help other families.  She was part of both the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Wounded Warrior Advisory Committee and the Joint Task Force Wounded Warrior Family Care Committee.  Through this work, Mary joined other parents in identifying the needs of the family members while the service member was receiving medical care.  She also supported other families by putting together family care packages for the family’s first days at the hospital.
Mary stayed at the medical center for nine months and returned home to Tampa the following Spring.  After only two months at home, her husband John was diagnosed with cancer.  Mary now found herself caring for two men in her family; her son Michael, slowly adapting to his new life as a triple amputee, and her husband John, who insisted on working through all his cycles of chemotherapy.
In the face of all these challenges Mary has remained poised, strong and positive; seamlessly balancing the unwavering love of a mother, while not coddling her grown Marine son because of his injuries.
Michael will soon return to Tampa and await his new “Smart Home” to be completed. Mary is volunteering for Hope For The Warriors® and the Spouse/Caregiver Scholarship. Mary is thankful for the support the Nicholsons received during their darkest hours. She is dedicated to giving back to all those people who helped and supported her family through this life-altering ordeal. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

No Man Left Behind

The Wounded Warrior Battalion East and Hope For The Warriors® are excited to unveil the new monument in front of the Warrior Hope and Care Center at 2 p.m. on March 8.  The event will take place at Wounded Warrior Drive, Building PP-3, Camp Lejeune, NC.

If you live in the Camp Lejeune area, we invite you to attend and view the completed monument on its pedestal. (Military: Dress Service Bravo; Civlian: Business Casual)

The monument is based on the iconic photograph titled Hell House, captured by acclaimed combat photographer Lucian Read.  As battle raged, (then) 1st Sgt. Bradley Kasal, USMC, risked his life for the lives of his Marines. Kasal pushed through enemy fire to shield a wounded Marine from a grenade explosion.  The photograph depicts Chris Marquez and Dane Shaffer, both Lance Corporals in the Marine Corps, carrying a bloody Kasal out of the house to safety.

We are excited to share that both Chris Marquez and Dane Shaffer will attend the unveiling this Friday.  SgtMaj Kasal is not able to attend but was very quick to share, "Remind everyone that they (Marquez and Shaffer) were the heroes that day."

The sculpture was created by artist John Phelps, a man who understands firsthand the weight of war.  His son, LCpl. Chance Phelps, USMC, was killed in action in April 2004. The HBO® movie, Taking Chance, chronicled the journey of the Marine escort who brought LCpl. Phelps home. 

Since the loss of his son, John has become an advocate for wounded service members and Gold Star families.  He is heavily involved with Hope For The Warriors®.  John also designed and created the statue given to our Hope & Courage Honorees at the Got Heart, Give Hope® Gala.

Hope For The Warriors leaders at the Warrior Hope and Care Center Grand Opening
Photo by Sgt. Mallory S. VanderSchans

The concept for the Warrior Hope and CareCenter was conceived by Hope For The Warriors® leadership.  In early 2007, principals of the organization attended the ribbon cutting for the Center for the Intrepid (CFI) in San Antonio, Texas.  They were impressed with the facility and frustrated that at Camp Lejeune, the wounded were not receiving that same level of care.

They returned from that trip, determined to change that problem.  Architectural plans were drawn and Hope For The Warriors® donated the plans to the Marine Corps.  The Warrior Hope and Care Centers were officially opened at both Camp Pendleton and Camp Lejeune in 2012.

Hope For The Warriors® is excited for the monument unveiling and hope that all who are in the area, can attend.  We believe that the sculpture is both a beautiful piece of artwork and a significant tribute to the men and women who have served and sacrificed.
Replicas will soon be available in both bronze and resin.  The funds raised from the sale of the replicas will support programs from Hope For The Warriors®.  To inquire about the replicas, e-mail 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Handpainted NASCAR Helmet Signed by Jeff Gordon

Whether you are a NASCAR fan, or just a supporter of Hope For The Warriors® , visit Ebay to bid on the handpainted Du Pont NASCAR race helmet signed by NASCAR legend, Jeff Gordon! This is truly a one of a kind item for any fan, and all proceeds benefit Hope For The Warriors® .
The helmet was handpainted and is being auctioned off by Dave Smith, artist and owner of Phoenix Designs, and avid Hope For The Warriors® supporter. Dave has donated other helmets to be auctioned off in past years. We highlighed Dave in another blogpost from July 2012, titled, 5th Annual Winchester Memorial Poker Run. 

If you're interested in owning this one of a kind piece of art, signed by NASCAR superstar Jeff Gordon, check out Ebay to bid now, and remember, proceeds of your purchase will benefit Hope For The Warriors® . But hurry,  the auction closes on March 15, 2013!

Thank you again to Dave for his continued support to Hope For The Warriors® .

Donate Today!