Word of the Day Two, Part 2

Humility Part 2

I thought about my experience in the military with leaders and as a leader and how humility applied. My time in the military, I experienced a continuum from terrible leadership to excellent leadership.  The better leaders possed a sense of humility as well as other positive qualities.

The worst leader I served under was a captain in the Marines.  He worked the unit hard, which is fine.  But, he also treated his Marines poorly and with a lack of respect. He saw himself as surperior to others. His attitude was his unit is a reflection of him and mistakes were not tolerated.  He owned the unit. It’s hard to put into words what I observed him doing.  “A Few Good Men” is not just a movie.  He indirectly ordered several junior Marines to “take care” of another Marine and “handle the problem.”  Three people beat the crap out of the “problem.”   The unit had the highest rate of non-judicial punishment, one courts marital, lowest reenlistment rate, and lowest promotion rate.  He taught me how not to be a leader.  

The best officer I served with was in the Army Reserve.  He viewed his commission as a way to help Soliders succeed- not only in the military but also with civilian goals. Of course, meeting mission was required as well. Do your job. He will oversee the NCOs under him.  He expected respect but he gave it as well.  He was humble. He never saw his juniors as “less than.”  Of course, he also had the other skills needed. He gave me an example of how to lead.  You don’t need an iron fist to accomplish the mission.

I spent 17 years in the military, both active time and reserve.  I led as both an NCO and a commissioned officer.  The leadership responsibilities between officer and NCO are different but birth vital.  I sought to be a positive leader.  I saw myself both as the person responsible for the Soliders and tasks but also as a mentor.  I viewed my troops as individuals with strengths and weaknesses.  My job was to build on the strengths and help them improve the areas of weakness.  I suppose I took the leadership example from Chaplain Ott.  But, it also matched my personal views of respect for others. I wasn’t a complete pushover.  I disciplined troops when necessary.

It was an adjustment for me when I became an officer.  I was used to providing training and being very interactive with junior troops.  I applied this as an officer.  An NCO pulled me aside on day and asked me if I had a problem with the NCO leadership.  I was rather surprised.  She provided the feedback about being too involved with the day to day training of the troops.  I honestly hadn’t thought about it.  I was still being an NCO.  In a way, that could be seen as arrogance or lack of trust when it was inexperience as a junior officer.  Humility was apologizing to my NCOs and telling them that I wasn’t in their lane out of a lack of trust but just being an NCO first.  I trusted them to tell me if I was “going NCO” on them.  

Humilty is recognizing mistakes, taking responsibility, and trying to correct the problem.  It also means recognizing that anyone can teach you a lesson, even if they are below you in rank or perform “menial labor” if a civilian. Even the most menial jobs contribute to the community in some manner.  

How do you handle leadership?  It is a trust given.

  

Why the Sadness?

I was trying to figure out why I feel so incomplete and a total failure.  I gained some insight finally. There are different deaths. Only one is physical. 

My Army Reserve unit deployed within a year of my injury.  I busted my ass in rehab with the goal of going with my unit.  I didn’t.  So many people say, “That’s good.  You didn’t have to go.” No, it isn’t good.  It sucks.  Although my unit came home safely and I know they didn’t deploy short handed, I still think I let them down somehow.  There’s a feeling of unfinished business.  That was my damn job and duty and I didn’t do it.  It’s not logical.  I didn’t choose it.  My injury made it impossible.  And, hell no, I wouldn’t choose this my life now ever. Unfinished business.

Ironically, while I feel sad about having to retire from the VA, it’s the loss of the Reserves and not deploying that hurts more. Unfinished business.   Maybe I should have taken the active duty commission?  Not really.  I loved working with the veterans.  Things just don’t work out the way you want them sometimes. Is go back to my life before injury in a heartbeat. 

  I wanted this blog to be a positive place. Maybe give someone some hope.  It’s more a place where I whine.  Maybe this can still help.  We all have different journeys but many people live with the after affects of brain injury.  Some heal completely, some don’t.  Sometimes, it makes no sense why one fully recovers and another doesn’t.  We’re all different.  However, we share some parts of the journey.  The struggle, the pain, the loss…. And the joy and in a way, pride, in seeing improvement as a result of the rehab.

I still hope some day I’ll be able to practice social work again in some way.  It’s a great field of work.  Until then, I need to find something else I can do to contribute to the community.  

  
 

Gourmet?  No.

In the military, our food is often presented as Meals Ready to Eat aka MREs. Frequently, these meals are all we have for days on end. Other times, we get hots or a combination of hots and MREs.  At times, it,was hard to know which was worse.

MREs consists of a main course and a variety of other foods: things like crackers, bread, peanut butter, some sort of desert, and the absolute prize…tobasco sauce. There is also an MRE heater.  Just add water and you can warm your food.  If you’re more creative, the heater can also make an impressive “bomb.”  You also get 6 sheets of toliet paper.  Save up four or five sets and you can actually have a bowel movement and have enough to wipe.  Fortunately, the MREs tend to stop up that particular function.  But, when you do go, it’s like crapping bricks.

  
                       (Example of MRE)

The MRE menus have improved since I joined in the 1990s.  Still, there are some absolutely nasty ones.

Perhaps the worst I had the misfortune to encounter was “Chicken ala King.”  Or, more accurately, Barf ala King.  Looks, smells, and tastes like barf.  It did make a good tool for practical jokes.  Leave a pouch open under a rack or in a locker.  Set it up so someone steps in it barefoot.  Good times.

There was always trading of meals or parts of meals.  No one would touch Chicken ala King.  Currently tobasco sauce is in every meal.  In the 90’s and early 2000s, it was only in some meals and very highly prized.  One of my experiences with Chicken ala King demonstrated the absolute hatred of the meal.  I received the meal two times in a row.  The second time, I tried to trade it for something, anything, even the second place in digesting meals, the omelette.  I saved two bottles of the tobasco sauce.  I offered them in trade for someone’s spaghetti.  No.  I sweetened the offer.. Both tobasco and the cake desert.  No.  All I mentioned previously and $20.  No.  I gave up.  At least there were peanut butter crackers in that one, 

I often miss being in the military after my medical retirement.  One thing I don’t miss are MREs.

  

Army Medial Board

I found out the results of my medical board for the Army Reserve last week. I was found no longer fit for duty due to the TBI, my asthma,and my hearing. The last two findings are improper. I was not supposed to be boarded for asthma or hearing. The board had not requested records, as the lower medical authority had found me fit and issued a permanent profile, allowing me to deploy with those conditions. I could appeal those findings. I’m not sure there is a point to it, as the TBI findings are valid.

A rather interesting thing happened on the way to the medical board. Two weeks ago, I get an email on a Friday afternoon from my case manager informing me that my medical records were in a stack of paperwork she had thrown away accidentally while cleaning her desk. She was extremely apologetic and took full responsibility but I still had to send all new records. This was the same time that sequester started. It was late in the afternoon. There was nothing that I could do that day, so I just let it go for the weekend. I held no anger, no frustration. I would start getting everything together again the following week. That Monday was busy. I had no time to contact my case manager at all. Tuesdays, I am not scheduled to work as those days I am in therapy all day for rehabilitation. On Wednesday, I emailed her with what I had found out. The auto-reply informed me she no longer worked there. Long story short, my file was accidentally forwarded to the medical board without the hearing test. My medical records were “found.” The board met and decided my fate.

What I found hopeful was my reaction to the “lost” records. I remained calm and did not become angry. For me, this speaks of spiritual and personal growth. Also, a certain amount of recovery from the depression. I maintained a positive mental and spiritual state instead of being drawn I to negativity. I was able to enjoy the weekend without obsessing. Mindfulness helped. When I did find myself worrying, I consciously drew myself back to the present moment. Spiritually, I gave my worry to the Goddess to hold and worked some simple candle magick to remove blocks to getting the records replaced. At that point, I just wanted the board over. It is uncomfortable, having it hanging over my head, even when I knew the outcome.

As for the result of the board, it is what I expected. I am surprised how sad and angry I feel. I am not angry at the Army for the decision. If I did not have the TBI, and they were incorrectly kicking me out on the hearing and asthma, I would appeal (and win). I know with the ongoing effects of my injury that I can’t serve anymore. I was not ready to have my Army career end. It was the Reserves. But, it was still a commitment that I took seriously and that I enjoyed. I wanted to deploy with my unit last year. I planned to serve for at least another decade. This wasn’t what I had in mind. I miss my unit. The anger is aimed at the hospitals that missed the initial diagnosis. The first night, the ER sent me home in altered state of consciousness. Yes, I had a clear CT. But I was not firing on all cylinders. Sometime later that week, a second ER sent me home with unequal pupils. Time was strange for a long time. I know I had a least one seizure. I wet the bed. And I had a positive EEG when a competent doctor finally diagnosed me and got me to a neurologist. I keep thinking, if one of those hospitals did their jobs and diagnosed and treated me correctly, would I have been as damaged? Would my career have ended? Treating the sweeping with steroids or stopping the seizures earlier might have made a difference in outcome. Or maybe not. Maybe I’m just angry about being injured.

Acceptance comes in stages. I joke about TBI being the gift that keeps on giving. In. A way, it is true. Each time that I come to a point that I think I have finally come to an end of my losses, one more pops up.

In my world of running, acceptance has made a difference. Listening to my body daily and accepting where it is that day allows me to maximize my runs while minimizing the risk of migraine. I find running is enjoyable again. This morning, Scout and I went to our favorite place, Bennington Lake. It was “breezy.” Spring has arrived. As I ran, I heard the birds singing and notice the new buds on the trees, and fresh blooms of grass. Each year, nature reminds us that rebirth is possible. What new beginnings do we need to make in our lives?

Fighting the Beast

Since November, I have been fighting an ongoing battle with my old nemesis, depression.  I am not sure why it has returned with such force after a long absence.  It comes like the tide.  There are times it is low tide, and my mood is low.  Then, I have high tide when my mood is closer to normal.  The depression is no longer controlled.  It sucks.  I thought I had it beaten.  I have not felt this way for close to 10 years.

  Last fall I was ill with both bronchitis and pneumonia at different times.  I was on three different rounds of steroids and antibiotics and felt drained and rotten.  At first, I figured my returned depression was a repsonse to the medications.  Ironically, I tried to keep running with the bronchitis.  I did ok for a while.  I took multiple doses of my rescue inhaler following a run.  Finally, I realized it wasn’t “just my asthma” and went to my doctor.  You’d think I’d learn.  After I finished the antibiotics, I went back to running.  For a few weeks, I felt ok.  Then, I started coughing more.  I thought it was residuals and, you guessed it, ignored it, treating it with the rescue inhaler.  One of the doctors at work heard my “normal breathing,” saw how pale I looked, and sent me to employee health to make sure I could work the day.  I ended up in the ER.  Smart, I am.   I am now fully recovered from the illnesses.

Around the same time, I received two letters from the Army.  One informed me that I was passed over for promotion the second time and was going to be adminstratively separated.  The second informed me that I was medically unqualified for continued service and was required to have a medical board for separation.  Fortunately, I have enough years of service in the reserves to qualify for medical retirement.  However, the board has to conviene before the Army kicks me out for not being promoted.  This situation looks like it will resolve in my favor. Then my unit decides to no longer excuse my drills and sends letters threatening to dishonrably discharge me if I don’t attend the next battle assembly.  The lawyer I hired sorted that out successfully.   All of these situations came about as a direct result of the TBI.  I really hate this. 

At work, my supervisor see me as broken.  Unfortunately, I made a few mistakes.  Miscommunications happened between us.  These situations could have happened even without a TBI.  But, maybe it contributed.  But, I’m seen as broken and not really trusted with difficult work.  For example, one of our health technicians recently retired for medical reasons.  He works at a community clinic.  She asked me if I would be willing to work as a resource person, answering phone calls and providing information to callers.  This is not even considered appropriate experience for our graduate students becuase it’s not clinical enough.  But, it fills a needed hole.  This is what she trusts me to do.  I asked her if I could help fill in for the empty social work slot by movi (internet camera) or tele mental health.  She said that isn’t “as priority.”  So, secretarial work.  Nice to know I’m trusted.  In a way, I’m starting to think I’ll end up out on disability.  Not necessarily because of what I am but how I’m seen.  But, I really can’t tell.  I know I get headaches still.  I struggle with concentration, fatigue, and balance.  But, I think I can still be a social worker.  But, part of me just wants to give up.  Depression talking or realism?  Maybe I am broken? 

The bright side of my life is definitely my animals.  My ferrets, Bobby, Kaliyah, and Tosca are a source of laughter.  Bobby loves to wrestle.  He’ll jump at me.  I’ll catch him and wrestle with him.  It’s hard to find happiness. 

Scout continues to work well as a service dog.  He helps with the depression also.  Often, he is the one who encourages me to get out and run.  He wants the exercise.  One thing about running is the endorphin release.  Runner’s high puts the best to sleep for a while. 

Brigid is a love.  This morning she heard my alarm ring, came in, jumped on my chest, circled, flopped down, and purred me back to sleep for an hour.  I woke again to a cat drapped across my neck, snug and warm.

The love of animals is a gift.  In a way, they want only what they need.  Love, food, and shelter.  In return, they love without judgement and are loyal. 

 

 

 

 

Friends Far Away

In yesterday’s blog, I discussed my current problems with my reserve unit. Most of my unit is deployed in Afghanistan, due to return soon. Even with all the chaos around the pitiful ending to what seemed to be a promising career, ironically, if I had the ability to do “Harry Potter” magic and heal myself, I’d be overseas in a combat zone. What motivates me? The people. It’s not patriotism. The flag represents people but even then, it’s not the entire country of them that makes me cry in shame that I failed to go. It’s the Soldiers I trained with and the service members who are there in harm’s way and their families. I suppose that I still feel guilty at a certain level. If I had tried harder, perhaps I could have… but no. That’s emotion speaking. Not fact. Not medical science. Not reality. Not helping. Self therapy.

I connected with a few more Soldiers in my unit deployed on Facebook. They return home soon, safely. I am relieved that there were no serious injuries or deaths. I hope to meet up with a few next month. It will be good to see them.

I spoke to a JAG today. He is actually a member of the Army Guard and I had to hire him as a civilian. I’m supposed to be able to get free JAG representation. But, none of the correspondence I received tells me how. I spoke to this gentleman earlier about the non-promotion and medical board issue and he gave some guidance. I retained him today. He’s going to initiate services and try to connect me with a free JAG at the same time. I tried calling the closest Army post, to be told that JAGs were only for “real” Soldiers. No kidding. There’s still that “only a Reservist” bias after 10 years of war. Nice. He told me that the unit can’t just kick me out without a board proceeding, which I have the right to legal representation during. He’ll be in contact with my unit commander (rear detachment). Maybe she’ll return his phone calls.

Honestly, I’m almost more angry at the unit for making me fight them than I am for the action itself. I don’t like going against people in this manner. I’m not certain why. I think it comes down to a misplaced sense of loyalty to the unit on a whole. But, I have to protect my own interests. I can’t allow a dishonorable or OTH to happen. That’s not justified.

What is sad is all this could have been avoided if the unit had communicated with me. They had a working email address and a working phone number. I have initiated several calls and emails in the past couple of months. It’s stupid. And that makes me angry too.

I am not upset about not getting promoted. I didn’t qualify with my Army education (OBLC). My CO made the correct decision to remove me from training. With my injury, there was no way I could have completed it safely. I wish she had been more helpful afterward. I told her that I had missed the prior year training and already been passed over once. This was due to an issue with my physical not being correctly entered. As a result, I was coded “not qualified.” It took my unit 7 months to correct it. And, I was new and perhaps wasn’t as assertive as I needed to be in hindsight. I asked my CO to help prevent the second non-selection. Could the packet be stopped? Or a medical excuse? She suggested to try calling some places. I tried. I was brain injured less than 4 months. I contacted incorrect people. I soon became frustrated, irritated, and hopeless. I just wasn’t capable at that time of functioning at that level. I still have trouble with similiar situations. Hence, the JAG. I gave up. Honestly, I figured the issue could be corrected later. In a sense, I understand why this removal process happens and why I am being targeted. It does not reflect “what happened.” I did not choose not to train. The medical retirement reflects the true situation.

I spoke to the section in charge of the medical boards today by email. The form did not need my unit signature. There was a block for it, but it was not required. More Army logic. They have the form and the medical board process will start soon.

The same command that does the administrative removal for non-selection also does the medical boards. However, different sections are responsible for the work. I have been impressed with their professionalism and helpfulness so far.

All in all, I think this is a good lesson for me so far. I went to my friends and family for help instead of trying to figure it out alone and getting emotionally wrought. I’m also not obsessively worrying about “…what is the JAG is wrong and I get kicked out…” I’m letting him do his job and the Universe and the Goddess take care of it.

Have a good evening everyone.

Army

When I spoke about goals on New Year’s Day, I must have tempted fate. But, wait, I did not mention patience. Or needing to learn to let go of control. But, perhaps the Universe or the Goddess in Her infinite wisdom, decided on that lesson plan. I have served in the military for over 17 years, the last 10 being Army Reserve. My proudest moment was obtaining my social work commission. I still remember my goal was to help enlisted make the most out of their service. I wanted to mentor in addition to my work as a clinical social worker helping soldiers and families. Little did I know that decision to get a commission would blow up in my face.

When I was first injured, my only thought was towards my unit. The Warrior Ethos, “I will never quit” and the Army Values of Loyalty and Duty drove me. My unit was deploying in 2012. I was going to be with them. I did everything the doctors recommended and then some. I ran until I vomited. My commanding officer pulled me out of OBLC (Officer Basic Leadership Course) or I would have gone and tried my damnedest to pass. Even two months before they deployed, my goal was to recover enough to be a “replacement” mid-tour. Then, my goal was to deploy with another unit in 2014. See the pattern? It was only last month that I finally accepted, grudgingly, that my military service is over. It’s not that I want to fight and kill anyone. I wanted to deploy, first, to be with my Soldiers and, secondly, to help soldiers in country. I wanted to be a social worker. If I could prevent one service member from getting PTSD or committing suicide, it was worth a year of my time. For myself, I wanted the experience. I know that sounds strange.

How messed up is the journey? I was passed over twice for captain. That usually means an administrative discharge. Only, I am also medically unfit. Unfortunately, in order to qualify for medical retirement, I have to state that I am not medically unfit, thus triggering a medical board. The medical board then finds me unfit and medically retires me. Army logic. I can’t just accept the findings and request retirement. That would make sense. The medical board has to convene before the administrative board takes action on my non-selection. Now, here my unit comes in.

At first, my unit was supportive. Then, I got two letters today. Well, honestly, I hadn’t checked my mail in 10 days, so I probably got at least one of them earlier. According to my unit, I now have 8 unexcused absences from drill, for November and December 2012. True, I did not attend drill. I am medically unable to drive or ride 170 miles or so one way to my unit. Even if I get there, I am very limited in what I am able to do. For example, I do work a full 8 hours due to fatigue. I also can’t fire a weapon and I get migraines under florescent lights. Prior to this, my drill have been excused and my rehab has been counted towards drill time. Before I received the letters, my commanding officer left a voice mail. I returned her call four times in the past month, leaving voice mails. My medical provider has also called her. She never returned the calls. I also emailed the unit administrator twice and called and left messages twice (before letters). Can you hear the crickets chirping? I can. So, if I get one more unexcused absence, I can be reduced in rank and receive an other than honorable discharge. Guess what is this weekend? You got it! The letters have no email, phone, or fax contacts, just an address. I have my medical providers writing letters to the commander, but after this weekend, I may face the military equivalent of criminal charges. For having a brain injury and being medically unfit. Oh! And I need a signature on a form by the unit in order to start the medical board!

I’m calling a JAG tomorrow. He’s actually a civilian lawyer and a JAG with the Army Guard. I’ll be paying him out of pocket to represent me. I will not be dishonorably discharged out of stupidity.

Yes, I think the Goddess decided I needed a lesson in trust.

Another one of the Warrior Ethos, “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” My unit not only left me. They kicked me down the hill and under the bus.