Category Archives: Personal Reflection

For the Love of this Country

Johnny Clem

Johnny Clem

When I was a little girl, two of my favorite things to do with my stepdad were to go to yard sales with him on Saturday mornings followed by a stop at the donut shop, and listen to Paul Harvey’s program, “The Rest of the Story” on the radio. Now that I’m a mom and grandma, I’ve continued this yard sale tradition with my own family though I have trouble finding Paul Harvey anymore.

A couple of weeks ago, while “saleing” with my daughter, I came across a fascinating book called, A Treasury of Civil War Tales: Unusual, Interesting Stories of the Turbulent Era When Americans Waged War on Americans by Webb Garrison. (Rutledge Hill Press, 1988) One of the stories in this book was about the young drummers and buglers on both sides of the war that served during the American Civil War. All of these boys were under 18 with one very special one being only nine years old. Here is his story…

After being told that the U.S. Army was not “enlisting infants”, John Lincoln Clem went from command to command in his attempt to serve his country. He finally found a home with the Twenty-second Michigan unit not as a member but as a mere tagalong. The men liked the boy though and before long they were “passing the hat each month to collect thirteen dollars for Johnny’s pay.” The men even found him an old drum and Johnny “became a Union drummer boy in every respect except for official enrollment.” However, once the real fighting began and by the time of Shiloh, he was enrolled. The newspapers made Johnny famous calling him “Johnny Shiloh”. Before long “Johnny Clem came to be admired throughout the North and hated everywhere in the South.”

“At Chickamauga, Johnny was a sight to see,” said an aide to Major General George H. Thomas. “When we decided to move in and break the Confederate siege, Johnny rode a caisson to the battle line. He waved a musket that someone had trimmed down to size for him…a Rebel chased the piece of artillery on which Johnny rode…he (the Rebel) shouted out, ‘Surrender, you damned little Yankee!’ Johnny Clem didn’t say a word. He just raised his sawed-off musket and took the fellow down.”

Now Johnny was touted as the “drummer boy of Chickamauga”.

Perhaps he had had enough of the horrors of battle and bloodshed, but a few months after this battle, Johnny left the field to become “a courier for the rest of the war.” When the war was over, Johnny applied to West Point “but couldn’t qualify because his education had ended during the third grade.” Never one to give up, Johnny appealed this decision.

When “General U.S. Grant, who had been Johnny’s commander at Shiloh” and was now the U.S. President heard of Johnny’s plight, he personally “bypassed the U.S. Military Academy” and gave him a Presidential appointment to “second lieutenant in the U.S. Army in December of 1871.”

In the immortal words of Paul Harvey, “and now, the rest of the story”…

The nine year-old drummer boy who just wouldn’t quit spent fifty-five years in the uniform of a United States soldier. He retired in 1916 as a Major General.

Fireworks and This Combat Veteran

fireworksOk. I was wrong. The conclusion of my last blog has been blown out of the water. To be honest, I’m glad. I’m glad that most people are not living in fear and jumping at every car backfire.

As a combat veteran, there is a special way I go about enjoying fireworks every year with my family. It has a lot to do with grounding myself in reality and in the present. To do this, I use what I call a “grounding point”; something, anything that did not and could not have existed during my combat service. When I’m feeling uncomfortable, I reassure myself by looking at this thing.

This year my grounding point was my youngest daughter. To know her is to know happiness and joy. She has a smile for everyone. But the best part about her? She did not exist and in no way reflects my combat service. Therefore, if she is with me and I can see her, then I am grounded solidly in the present.

The fireworks this year started like any others. They were beautiful and one even looked like Saturn! How they do that is beyond me. Anyways, things were good. I had a little trouble, as always, with the flash bangs, those that go up and then just boom with a bright ball of light, but my daughter casually reached over and held my hand. A little extra “grounding”. And then, toward the end of the fireworks, someone thought it would be funny to set off some kind of firecrackers in the parking lot. Whatever these firecrackers were, they sounded exactly like automatic rifle fire. And they were coming not from the fireworks in front of me but from my right flank. I’m not afraid or ashamed to admit that I freaked and all thought of any “grounding point” was gone.

I immediately began to assess the threat when I realized that my family was with me. What the hell were they doing here? Total confusion set it. The soldier in me wanted to move toward the threat to better assess yet the parent in me wanted to get my family out of there. How in the hell could I be both at the same time? All my life the two things had been separate. Any threats I had faced had been oceans away from my family. Two different worlds.
I looked around at the people around us only to find them happily watching the continuing fireworks show. No one else appeared threatened. As I was trying to process and understand this observation, the finale began. The continuous booms and flashing lights left me a huddled, confused mess on the blanket until it ended. I do believe we were the first ones out of the parking lot.

Once home, my daughter came in to talk to me. She told me that after those firecrackers in the parking lot, she couldn’t enjoy the rest of the show. She said that with everything going on in the world, she just felt like a target sitting out there on the grass.

So the threats aren’t oceans away anymore. They are here and her fear is real though it saddens me. No one else seemed concerned. Have I done this to her? And now I have to also wonder…how will I be able to continue to take my family to public places while the soldier wars with the parent leaving both unable to function?

And back to therapy I go…..

Why Everyone Should Understand Combat PTSD

dsc_0002Though I did mention PTSD Awareness Day earlier this month on our Facebook page, it would appear that I let the day go by on this blog without a single mention. It’s true. Part of the reason is that I was busy with a couple of medical and mental health crises within my own family, but mostly, I think having a “day” for PTSD Awareness or even a “month” is simply ridiculous.

PTSD is all around us, People. If you aren’t aware of it by now then you need to crawl out from under the rock you have been living under and join the human race. Believe it or not, I’m betting that a lot of people who have never served in combat are beginning to get a little understanding of a small part of combat PTSD.

With all of the shootings aimed at civilian gathering places around the world, a simple car backfire outside a venue could cause mass panic and a stampede towards exits. At the very least, a backfire will cause people to jump and tense. It can’t be helped. It is an instantaneous reaction, without thought, to a threat that is real or perceived. So welcome to a little slice of combat PTSD. There’s your awareness for the month.

Later in July, we plan to bring you some tips and advice on staying safe in this crazy world. Check back with us every Wednesday so you don’t miss a thing!

Please continue to support your veterans.

Veteran’s Day

The daughter of my daughter in my story. At the age of 5, she is welcoming home her daddy from his most recent deployment. She is as tough as her momma.

The daughter of my daughter in my story. At the age of 5, she is welcoming home her daddy from his most recent deployment. She is as tough as her momma.

As we honor our veterans today, let us also remember that November is the National Month of the Military Family. Personally, I think that’s awesome timing.

As a combat veteran myself from a war that did not result in the institution of a draft, all the praise and “thank you’s” honestly make me a little uncomfortable. I’m a veteran of an all volunteer military force. I LOVED my job. Yes, I chose to do that job in service to my country. I love this country and was proud to serve it. Yes, I’m glad that there are people who couldn’t/didn’t serve who are thankful for the freedoms that we protect but when it comes right down to it, I could have chosen not to serve as well. That’s just one of the many freedoms we enjoy here in the United States of America. There is no compulsory service in peacetime as there is in other countries. As a matter of fact, our volunteer force is so large that you wouldn’t want to see the war that would require another draft.

BUT there is a group within the military community who don’t/didn’t have a choice. They are our children. They are the ones who deserve your thanks so much more. They give up their parents on a routine basis. Their dad or mom leaves for months on end and that child does not know if they will EVER see them again. Just imagine being that child. How would you tell your mom or dad “goodbye”? Well, I can tell you how mine did it. I was standing in the airport crying my eyes out as I was putting my little girls on a plane with their grandmother. As she was about to board the plane, my daughter came running back to me without a tear in her eye. I knelt down to her level, she put her little hand on my cheek and said these words…”Don’t worry about me, Mommy. You just go and be a good soldier.” With that she hugged me and ran back to board. That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is a hero.

So, the next time you see the child of a veteran, could you thank them, too? Let them know how much you appreciate that child’s sacrifice. A simple “thanks for supporting your mom/dad’s service” would mean an awful lot.

Amazing World of Service Dogs

service dogWhen I decided to write this blog on working/service dogs, I had no idea how little I knew about the subject. As a child, any thought of a working dog brought images of either a sheepdog watching his sheep (Sam Sheepdog with Wiley “Ralph” Coyote as they clocked in and out of “work” each day) or a Great Dane helping a bunch of meddling kids unmask the villain (you all know who that is). Probably, like most of you, this was the limit of my knowledge of working dogs.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_u3YRZb74w

As I delved into the research for this project, I have learned that there is a difference between a service dog and a therapy dog with legal ramifications that would surprise you. A service dog is allowed to go everywhere and anywhere with its human while a therapy or emotional support animal (ESA) is not. They are two different things. First, only a dog may be recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a service animal. This grants that animal all the protections of the ADA. An ESA whether a dog or not may be prescribed by a doctor if the doctor thinks the individual would benefit from having a pet. According to www.servicedogcentral.org, some of the psychological benefits of having a pet are reduced stress levels, less loneliness, and better mental health overall. A doctor can write a request that the animal be allowed in residences where no pets are allowed. The animal can even fly in the cabin of an airplane even if it normally would not be allowed but that’s the limit. It can’t go in stores and restaurants with you. The rest of the world simply views your ESA as a pet.

Are you all indignant now? Upset and thinking that this just isn’t fair or right? Well, don’t be too hasty. This distinction is made to protect you, Joe and Jane Public. Let’s look at service dogs for a minute. What do they do?

” Effective March 15, 2011, under the Americans with Disabilities Act,

Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability…The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. The crime deterrent effects of an animal’s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition

Service dogs have very specific tasks and are highly trained. For certification they must receive a minimum of 120 hours of training. That’s more hours than it takes to become a certified nurse’s assistant in the state of Indiana. And like a CNA, a service dog must pass a test to be certified. Part of that test is to have a big, juicy raw steak thrown at his feet and the dog has simply ignore it. Try that with your dog and let me know how it goes. This is to make sure that when you’re out in public, the service dog doesn’t lunge across the table to grab that ribeye off the next table and get little Timmy in the process. Emotional Support Animals (ESA) on the other hand only need to yearn for that ribeye from outside the restaurant. They actually need very little training. They have to be housebroken, non-threatening to others and not a nuisance (barking, destructive behavior).

For more information on the training that service dogs undergo, visit the link below:
http://www.iaadp.org/iaadp-minimum-training-standards-for-public-access.html

Since I have grown up, I have seen many more working dogs than just Sam and Scooby. Some good, some not so good. One that recently impressed me was at a convention on the convention floor. This dog stayed right next to its partner surrounded by hundreds of people and simply stared up at his human the whole time. The dog was wearing a service dog vest, I don’t know what his job was, but I could see that he was doing it diligently. NOTHING could distract this dog from what he was doing and what he was watching for. I was awed by such devotion and by a work ethic that hasn’t been seen since the 1950’s.

On the flip side, my mother told me about a convention she recently attended with a blind group. She used to take my grandmother and since she has passed away, my mom continues to go with her blind friend. My mom’s friend has a seeing eye dog who we shall call “Jazzy”. (Name has been changed to protect the innocent. The dog is the only one innocent in this story.) First, let me say that a service dog can be treated as a loved member of the family but only by the family and only at the direction of the dogs human partner. You see where this is going? My mom and everyone else in their group is always petting Jazzy, talking to her, etc. and Jazzy’s human allows this happen. This takes away Jazzy’s “edge” and dilutes what she has been trained to do by shifting her focus. At the convention, when it was time to head up to the rooms for the night my mom’s friend headed off with Jazzy. My mom happened to follow shortly behind. It was lucky she did. Jazzy led her partner to a downward staircase rather than to the elevator. It was really only a matter of time before it happened.

How you treat a service dog can have huge implications. When you come across one, you must remember that it is working. If you have small children, please instill this in their minds now while they are young. Never do anything that will interrupt a service dog while it is doing its task. Since you never know what that task is, like the dog I saw staring at its human, then please follow these simple rules:

Only speak to the person.
Do not touch, make noises at or even look at the service dog
Never ask if you or your children can pet the dog. Many people are just too nice to say “no”.
Never offer the dog food.

In closing, I’m going to take a minute to recognize one special working dog who represents the working dogs of the police and the military that we didn’t discuss. Those that risk their lives every day.

North at retirement with his human partner.

North at retirement with his human partner.

K-9 North retired on July 20,2014 after serving 8 1/2 years as a dual purpose patrol / narcotics detection dog. North, a black Czechoslovakian Shepherd and who is now ten years old, was forced into retirement due to recent health problems that affected his mobility. K-9 North, affectionately known by his fellow officers as “South” began active duty with his handler, Officer Mike Johnson on February 5, 2006. North’s career included over 1,000 drug arrests in which he was utilized for traffic, residential and school drug searches. North also made several felony tracking apprehensions of fleeing suspects sought by the department. He played a valuable role to the police department in the area of public relations by performing hundreds of K-9 public demonstrations for numerous school and civic groups.

By the way, I wasn’t slamming Certified Nursing Assistant’s (CNA’s) and certainly not specifically ones from Indiana as I was both. The work is hard, the pay is meager, that thanks are few, and the training I received was piss poor but that was also 22 years ago. I was just using it as a comparison.

Sick at the VA by Lori Barnes

dsc_0164Over the past month, I have spent a total of nine days as a patient in the VA Hospital in Seattle. In the 17 years since I have been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, I have spent time in military hospitals (both in the field and out), civilian hospitals, and now the VA. I have to say that the care I received in Seattle was extraordinary. It’s not just the providers, though they were all wonderful, but the whole atmosphere of concern, respect, and camaraderie. There’s nothing like it.

For those of you who are not familiar with Crohn’s Disease, it is an incurable inflammatory bowel disease that has chronic recurring periods of flare-ups and remission. Every day I strive to keep it in check, but every few years it comes back hard and I have to seek help to beat it back into remission. Like any good soldier, I fight the battle first on my own and seek reinforcements only once all appears lost. Sometimes, my “I can fix this myself” attitude gets me into serious trouble. This was one of those times. By waiting so long to get medical care, I had allowed a seven-inch bleeding laceration into my colon. The docs said it looked like a bear claw had swiped through allowing all kinds of nasty germs to grow.

Let’s be honest here. When a civilian sees their blood leaving their body, Continue reading and add your comment