Soldier Stories

The Bradley Family

The Bradley Family

Charles, wife Sara and their children, Dante, Greyson, Charles Junior, and Evryn

Lance Corporal Charles Bradley
US Marine Corp
Charles Bradley was only twenty when he decided to enlist, because he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. He chose the Marines, “the best of the best,” he recalled, and served five years as a helicopter mechanic.
Chuck had many friends, who often sought his advice and counseling. He was known for his mild temperament and humor, and enjoyed playing baseball and football. But just four years later, Chuck was a very different person – and he didn’t know why. He was angry, depressed, and anxious. He was impatient with his wife and children. He wasn’t interested in anything, not even sports.
 
Behind the Changes
Chuck’s first deployment was in 2005, when his unit was sent to Iraq to transport Marines and Navy Seals into position for taking over Fallujah. During these missions, they were under constant fire from the Iraqi nationals.
The daily attacks continued even at their base. Chuck recalled, “In the beginning, we were all petrified and ran for cover. But it happened so often, so we just became numb. And the night before we left, a mortar attack blew up the fuel station that was only 200 yards from our barracks. That’s why so many of us vets don’t like fireworks.”
Humanitarian missions were also dangerous, perhaps even more intense. During the Iraqi election period, Chuck’s crew spent two weeks transporting villagers to the cities where they could vote. He talked about how proud he felt, “helping the people have a say in their government.” But he also described the onslaught of anti-aircraft fire as “terrifying.”
Not safe in the U.S.
In 2007, Chuck was stationed in North Carolina. His unit was ordered to New Orleans for humanitarian relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina. He flashed back to that time: “Even though we were delivering food and water, and rescuing people from roof tops in New Orleans, we were still attacked. In fact, there were more bullet holes in the helo after that mission, than there had been after Iraq!”
Starting Over
On Christmas Day, 2007, Chuck received an honorable discharge, and returned to Rhode Island to be near family. He admitted that he was angry and had problems making friends and keeping jobs. ”I didn’t know what was wrong with me, and I didn’t know that there were agencies to help me. So I just struggled along as best I could.”
Chuck met his wife, Sara, during this time. They were both single parents, “looking for a friend,” Sara said, “But we fell in love.” And Chuck added that, “It was the kids that connected us.”
            But love doesn’t conquer all – especially the challenge of living with someone suffering from the emotional and mental effects of war. “I didn’t realize how much my behavior was affecting my family,” said Chuck. But it was. Sara grew tired of his anger and impatience, and the fact that money was scarce. Chuck couldn’t keep a job for more than two months. And because Chuck slept most of the day, Sara couldn’t rely on him to watch the children while she worked.
This family turmoil erupted in 2013, when Sara threated to take the children and move to her parent’s house. That’s when Chuck finally admitted that he had a problem. He checked himself into the VA Hospital, where he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He started counseling for anger management, and learned about the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). Chuck credits Sara for his recovery. “If it weren’t for Sara, I wouldn’t be getting better and becoming a better husband and father. She knows what to say, and when to put her foot down.”
As a family, they have attended two WWP events: a football game at Boston College, and the Veteran’s Day parade in New York City. “It was awesome!” exclaimed Chuck. “There were over 1000 of us [wounded warriors] marching in that parade!”
Anticipation
Chuck and Sara have never had a true vacation. Neither one is working; their only income is Chuck’s disability check. They have four boys: Dante (13), Greyson (8), Charles Junior (7), and Evryn (3). “The kids are so excited about skiing, sledding, and splashing in a water park!” said Chuck. He and Sara look forward to having “adult time” with the other veterans and spouses. But the gift they are most eager to enjoy is time together.

The Kingston Family

The Kingston Family

The Kingston Family

"It’s nice to have something positive to look forward to, and to be grateful for the little things in life." —The Kingston Family

 
Staff Sgt Timothy Kingston
US Army (retired)
September 11, 2001 had a major impact on 21-year-oldTimothy Kingston. In New York City at the time, he witnessed the mayhem and carnage of the attack on U.S. soil. “It triggered a larger call to duty,” his wife, Loni, said. In 2004, Timothy enlisted in the Army to become a paratrooper, “because he wanted to belong to an elite group of soldiers,” she added.
 
Hazardous Duty
Timothy had a distinguished service career with the 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera). During two deployments to Iraq, he used still and video equipment to document combat operations for the Pentagon. Timothy was the “Eyes of the Army,” and his work was used for intelligence and historical documentation.
 
But Timothy wasn’t only documenting. “He was always a soldier first,” Loni said, “focusing on getting everyone home alive.” His missions ranged from searches for weapons caches, night air assaults, kill/capture operations of High Valued Targets, as well as humanitarian operations. He received numerous awards and medals, and because of his actions in combat, was put in for the Bronze Star.
 
Even time at the outposts, between missions, was dangerous. The troops were constantly under attack from machine guns, grenades, rockets and mortars.
 
Timothy suffered multiple injuries during missions. “He doesn’t talk much about the day his armored HUMVEE was destroyed by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED),” noted Loni. In fact, Timothy has said very little about his deployments, not even confiding in Loni. She is the one who described his missions and injuries – as best she could.
 
Volunteered to Return
Timothy and Loni met while both were training at Ft. Meade, Maryland in 2004. Loni, a photojournalist, has since been discharged from the National Guard after completing her six-year commitment. Each time Timothy returned home from deployment, he continued his training. Loni couldn’t understand why he was willing to return, since he always came home injured. She was frustrated that he didn’t want to stay home with her and their children. Why did he continually volunteer for dangerous missions?
 
Loni explained that war “is like a calling for him; a calling to finish a mission and never leave a fellow soldier behind. Timothy’s doing all these great things overseas, where it’s hectic. But at home, well, it’s so different; too quiet, I suppose, and no one here really understands.”
 
            In the U.S. and especially in the military, there is the stigma of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “Timothy didn’t bring it up or get help because he didn’t want that label to affect his career,” Loni explained. That’s why he was not diagnosed until 2009. “In some ways,” she said, “life was safer in Iraq, where he was with his buddies who understood what he was going through.”
 
Lasting Effects of War
Due to 25-plus airborne landings, frequent mortar attacks and IED explosions, Tim is also learning to live with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and multiple back injuries. He struggles with permanent nerve damage and numbness in his right leg and foot. After four back surgeries – the most recent in October 2013 - Timothy is home recuperating. He’s hoping that with physical therapy, he will regain some feeling in his left leg.
 
After Timothy received a medical retirement in October 2010, he, Loni, and their three children moved to Connecticut. He returned to being a freelance television videographer, but the majority of the jobs were in New York City. The commute, crowds, and dealing with civilians who had no respect for ex-military were too much for him to handle. Loni, who recently completed her Master’s Degree, has put her career on hold to focus on Timothy and his recovery.
 
Noah (7), the oldest of the three children, spent his early years living in a military environment. Loni explained, “When he hears taps, he asks when they will move back to  base.” He and his sisters, Ireland (5) and Chloey (4), miss playing with their dad, but they understand why Timothy can’t pick them up and why they can’t jump on him.
 
Looking forward to family time
Timothy and Loni are waiting until December to tell their children about Christmas Can Cure. “Otherwise, we’d hear, ‘when do we leave?’ every day,” said Loni. Chloey is the one who will be most excited, as she has been singing ‘Jingle Bells’ since last Christmas. For Timothy and Loni, Christmas Can Cure will be time away from medical appointments and the stress of daily life. With child-like anticipation, Loni said, “It’s nice to have something positive to look forward to, and to be grateful for the little things in life.”

The Hunnewell Family

The Hunnewell Family

Stephen, wife Libbey and their children, Hunter and Hayden

"“Everyone wants to support the troops, but they don’t know the best way. That’s another reason why this program [Christmas Can Cure] is special. It’s giving something to the whole family.”" —The Hunnewell Family

Captain Stephen Hunnewell, US Army
Special Operations Forces
 “It’s the wives who make a difference,” Stephen Hunnewell said with conviction. “I wouldn’t be where I am today, if it weren’t for Libbey.” After multiple deployments to Afghanistan, Stephen returned to Virginia to work on national security issues.
It’s been only a few months since he moved home to Massachusetts, but he’s already found a niche that keeps him close to fellow veterans. Stephen is the Manager of the Wounded Warrior Project’s New England office located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Near-Death Experiences
Stephen completed various missions in Afghanistan. One involved leading a team of combat advisors. They lived and fought with Afghans, while training them to be a military unit. “Afghans weren’t disciplined soldiers, which made training difficult, especially at remote patrol bases,” he recalled. “It was frustrating, because they’d do unsafe things like talk loud, or smoke at night, and that would give away our position.”
Many missions were part of NATO operations, led by foreign nationals. Having a non-English speaker lead a combat operation “added complexity and response time, since commands had to be translated by a number of people,” explained Stephen.
During the more dangerous counter-insurgency missions, Stephen and his team were subjected to daily multiple assaults from direct fire, grenade launchers and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Once, three grenades hit a building where Stephen was attending a meeting. Although Stephen was sheltered from the brunt of the blast by the Afghans sitting on his right, he still sustained a traumatic brain injury. Yet he chose to remain on active duty.
The IEDs were everywhere. Stephen and his patrol unit survived one blast that destroyed their vehicle but caused many casualties. On another patrol in the Pech Valley, the IED exploded just after Stephen passed over it. Two members of his team were immediately killed; a third later died. Only Stephen, and the man he pulled to safety, survived.
Breaking the Addiction of War
Despite multiple near-death experiences, Stephen continued to volunteer for redeployment. Libbey couldn’t understand why he didn’t want to be home with her and the children. She was often stressed and conflicted. On one hand, she was glad that Stephen was alive and home; on the other hand, she was upset with how difficult it was to live with him. Many times Stephen would say, “You just don’t understand!”
It took Stephen five years to admit that he needed help, and to get a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He, like so many other veterans, was reluctant to seek help. “Time and time again I heard that I was the pinnacle of the military and had no weakness,” he explained. “So how could I admit to PTSD – that I was inferior?”
 “Libbey made me do a reality check,” Stephen acknowledged. “She forced me to take steps to break the addiction of returning to Afghanistan, where I felt like Superman. Because at home, I felt unaccomplished.”
It’s been a difficult adjustment for Stephen and Libbey, a physical education teacher. Stephen is in therapy for PTSD, and they are in counseling together.
Stress and Survivor’s Guilt
Simple family interactions can trigger stress. When their three-year-old son received a large gash on his upper lip, Stephen was shaken. He remembered the time he tried to save an Afghan child severely injured in a blast. He carried her for hours, looking for medical assistance. She later died.
Stephen also battles survivor’s guilt. At home in early 2011 for the birth of his first son, Stephen should have felt joy and elation. But all he could think about was his best friend, also home with a newborn. His friend was severely disabled with a traumatic brain injury. ”I could hold my child, but my friend couldn’t. What right did I have to be happy?” Stephen questioned.
Family’s First Christmas
Stephen is still uncomfortable with the attention he gets, when strangers thank him for his service. Libbey said, “That's why your program [Christmas Can Cure] is so great. Although Stephen doesn’t think he deserves it, he believes his sons do. And when he sees them happy and having fun, he feels happy.”
Stephen and Libbey have spent the last four Christmas seasons apart. Christmas 2013 will be the first Christmas that they spend together, with their sons Hunter (3) and Hayden (9 months). “To have this fun thing to look forward to and to forget about our daily hardships is priceless!” Libbey exclaimed.
She focused on Christmas Can Cure [CCC] by adding that, “Everyone wants to support the troops, but they don’t know the best way. That’s another reason why this program [CCC] is special. It’s giving something to the whole family.”

The Kennedy Family

The Kennedy Family

The Kennedy Family

Army SGT Joshua Kennedy
A fighting spirit
            In April, 2012, Army Sergeant Joshua Kennedy passed away. He had been deployed in Iraq for 18 months and returned home to fight a two-year battle with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). For unknown reasons, people who have served in the military are twice as likely as non-military to die from this disease. His wife, Ernesta, and three sons, seven-year-old Tyler, six-year-old Chase, and four-year-old Drew, are still mourning his death and wondering what this first Christmas without Josh will mean.
 
            Josh was 25 when he enlisted in the Army Reserves, just a few months after completing his Associates Degree in Information Systems. In 2003, he was deployed to Iraq, where he was a Petroleum Supply Specialist. “Josh was thrown into a harsh environment,” explained Ernesta. “It was the beginning of the war, so there were no barracks, no showers – nothing.”
 
            As a fuel truck driver, Josh was not directly in the line of fire. However, his was still a dangerous job, as he was surrounded by a lot of fuel in a small area. Plus, driving the convoys on unprotected roads to and from Baghdad in the early days of this war meant more chance for casualties from IEDs.
             In 2009, his ALS symptoms first appeared. They continued to get progressively worse, making it unsafe for him to perform his reservist duties. Josh was medically discharged from the Army in 2010. Josh’s conditioned worsened and as last Christmas approached he believed it may be his last with is family.
Ernesta recalled how last year, “Josh showered the boys with gifts to show that he loved them. He knew it was his last Christmas.” She wonders about this Christmas. “We’re all looking forward to Christmas Can Cure to be a true gift for our aching souls and hearts as we begin a new chapter of our lives – living without Josh.”

The Adams Family

The Adams Family

The Adams Family

Army Specialist Lawrence Adams
My country needs me
            Larry Adams was so outraged when the United States was attacked on 9/11, that he wanted to join the Army the next day. “I believed that everyone should serve his country in some capacity,” Larry proudly explained, “and I wanted to defend my country.” But his three children were under the age of six, so Larry delayed enlisting until 2006. He left for Boot Camp just a day
after his oldest child completed her last round of chemotherapy.
 
            Three years later, Larry was deployed to Iraq, where he drove supply trucks. In October 2009, while loading supplies from the catwalk between trucks, Larry was thrown to the ground by the blast from a rocket propelled grenade (RPG). Not realizing that he had suffered traumatic brain injury, Larry told the medic that he was fine, and returned to work.
Refusing to quit
            Although Larry continued to load and drive trucks, his vision became increasingly blurry, and he was off-balance, often falling while walking. Three months later, running to escape a mortar attack, Larry ran directly into a concrete barrier, injuring his head again. “I told the doc I felt okay; that my country needed me,” Larry confessed, and he was cleared for work.
 
            Larry’s injuries occurred at different bases, with a new doctor examining and clearing him for duty after each incident. Although his eyesight had deteriorated so much that he was unable to drive, Larry persuaded his commanders to let him stay in Iraq and perform other duties. But after medical personnel reviewed his entire file, Larry was medi-vaced to Germany, and then to North Carolina for treatment.
 
It’s been hardest on my family
            Now home in Massachusetts, Larry waits for his medical discharge. He is unable to work, as his vision and balance are permanently damaged. In addition, his traumatic brain injury causes depression and anxiety. In spite of everything, Larry regrets that he cannot defend his country. “If it were possible, I would go back in the military,” he stated. “Unfortunately, it looks as if I will not be going back to work anywhere, any time soon. “
 Danette, Larry’s wife and full-time caregiver, is looking forward to a relaxing Christmas Holiday. Twelve-year-old Hannah wants to enjoy the water park with her dad, while older sister Samantha, 16, hopes that Larry will be able to ski with her. Justin, who is 14, just wants “to be doing fun stuff” with the whole family. For Larry, being away from home and spending time with Danette and the kids, with no worries will fulfill a Christmas wish.

The Strickland Family

The Strickland Family

The Strickland Family

Ret. Army CPL Christopher Strickland
This was my boyhood dream
            “Every child has a dream growing up. For me, my dream was to be in the United States Army,” Christopher Strickland proclaimed proudly. The day after his 2004 high school graduation,
            Four months later, Chris was in Germany, engaged in rigorous training living his dream.  Chris excelled as a sniper, and became a Calvary Scout. This unit is one of the first sent into a combat zone, and the last to leave. Chris spent time in Afghanistan before he was deployed to Iraq in January 2006. That July, Chris and three other Scouts were riding in a Humvee, when the vehicle hit an (IED.  The blast jammed Chris’ door, and by the time the other Scouts freed him, Chris already serious injuries had been made worse by the explosive fireball had caused first- and third-degree burns on the right side of his body.
            After doctors in Germany cleaned sand from his arms and legs, he was transferred to Walter Reed Hospital in Maryland. For over a year, Chris underwent multiple surgeries to repair his 30-plus broken bones, most of which were open fractures. Rods, plates and screws were placed into both shattered legs. The explosion fractured his skull, causing traumatic brain injury. Sadly, doctors were unable to save the sight of his right eye, nor his right arm, which had to be amputated below the elbow.
         While on the long road of recovery, Chris found a ray of hope emerging. Friends introduced him to Mandi, now his wife and mother of their five-year-old son. Chris named his son, Bradley, after his best friend who was killed by an IED the week after Chris was injured. “I have a new dream and a new purpose in life,” Chris explained. “My purpose is my family, and my dream is being the best father and husband I can be.” Mandi is due with their second child this winter.

The Oliveira Family

The Oliveira Family

Navy Lt Commander John Oliveira, his wife, Amy (also a Navy Veteran), and their children, Victoria, Joao and Maria

When you first meet retired Navy Lt Commander John Oliveira, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, you might notice that there is nothing unusual about him – no limp or missing limb, no visible scars. But you’ll notice his dog, a black lab, is always at his side. That’s Lois, his service dog, trained specifically to aid veterans dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In fact, if it weren’t for Lois, you wouldn’t be meeting John at all, since he’d be hiding behind the walls of his house – his PTSD so severe.
 
John’s PTSD is due to his having “fallen through the cracks” and never receiving any counseling or treatment during his many years serving the Navy as a Public Relations Officer.  In 1998, assigned to accompany the USS Grapple to Halifax, Nova Scotia, for a recovery operation of a Swiss Air plane that had crashed, John dove once with the dive team. “It was brutal,” he recalled, “diving to find remains of the victims.” Counseling was provided nightly to members of the dive team, but John was overlooked. The following year in Kosovo, John was overlooked again, even though he had spent six months on missions with the Army and Marines.
 
As the Public Relations Officer for the entire international task force deployed to Afghanistan, as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001, John was based on the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. More anguish occurred after another mission in Kandahar Province. “I took a reporter on a mission with the Marines to attack Taliban insurgents who were ambushing our troops from cover of a schoolhouse. We dropped another bomb, successfully killing the enemy. But I learned later that children had also been in that building,”
 
In January 2004, after 17 years in the Navy; John submitted his resignation papers. However, it was not until that December that he got into the VA system and began getting the help he desperately needed.  After much effort and time life is finally getting better for John, his wife Amy (also a Navy Veteran), and their children, Victoria (8 years-old), Joao (7 years-old) and Maria (5 years-old). John is active with the Wounded Warrior Project. He talks to groups about service dogs, PTSD, and how to get into the VA system.

The Platt Family

The Platt Family

Specialist Eddie Platt, his wife, Sarah and four sons: Justin, Kyle, Johnny and Kaleb

In 2002, nineteen-year-old Eddie Platt, a member of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division, found himself in Afghanistan, on a rescue mission of a U.S. Navy Seal.

Although known as paratroopers in WWII, the 101st now uses air-assault, rappelling down from Chinook or Black Hawk helicopters. “It was a four-day mission,” Eddie explained, “with almost continuous firing. We got the Seal out, and none of us got hurt. So we all had that feeling that we were invincible.” But when Eddie and his unit arrived in Iraq in April 2003, they were dealing with an entirely new situation. “We always felt fear because Iraqi soldiers wore civilian clothes, so it wasn’t clear-cut who the bad guys were,” he added.

Eddie and his unit were in control of the NW sector of Iraq, ensuring that no arms came across the border from Syria or Iran. “Many of the Iraqis had surrendered, so most of the people attacking us were from other countries,” Eddie explained. On September 23, 2003, as the platoon was finishing another presence patrol and returning to base, twenty-year-old Eddie Platt’s life changed forever.
 
“I was sitting on the tailgate of the LMTV [light utility truck] manning the M249 [squad automatic weapon], when an RPG [Rocket-Propelled Grenade] hit. I saw a flash of light, and the next thing I remember is lying on my back, staring at the sidewall. I couldn’t move; I couldn’t get to my weapon,” Eddie recalled. He couldn’t move because one of his buddies, also injured in the attack, had fallen on top of him. The insurgents continued firing as Eddie’s vehicle sped away from the kill zone. The RPG had pierced the tailgate, continued through Eddie’s right knee, and lodged in an M.R.E. (meals ready to eat) box – never exploding. Eddie’s buddies folded his leg and applied a tourniquet, while calling for an air evacuation. That Black Hawk was under attack as it was taking Eddie and the other injured soldiers to the medical facility in Mosul. There, after being given many blood transfusions and pain medication, Eddie called his mother in Hershey, PA, saying, “Hi mom. I’m hurt and going to Germany. I love you. Bye.” Overhearing this one-side conversation, and sensing that Mrs. Platt would be hysterical, Eddie’s commander immediately called her to give more information.
 
Two weeks later, at Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, MD, Eddie was given devastating news and a difficult choice explained Eddie. “I could have an artificial knee, but they wouldn’t be able to replace my tendons and ligaments. So I wouldn’t have any control of bending my knee. Or, they could fuse my thigh and shin bones, leaving me without a knee at all. I’d never be able to bend my leg. How could I live like that?” In early October, just a month before Eddie’s twenty-first birthday, doctors amputated his right leg just above the knee.
 
“But I’m one of the lucky ones,” Eddie said.  “To me, it’s not that bad. I tell my wife that it’s like a woman who takes off her high heels at the end of a long day. I can walk long distances, but it feels good to take it off at night,” he commented.
 
Eddie and his wife, Sarah, have four sons: Justin (9 years old), Kyle (7 years old), Johnny (3 years old) and Kaleb (2 years old), and they are all looking forward to a snowy, winter vacation in the White Mountains.

The Martin Family

The Martin Family

Donald "DJ" Martin and family from Lagrange, Maine

On the night of March 26, 2003, during the Battle for An nasiriyah, at the time of the initial invasion of Iraq, SFGT Donald (DJ) Martin’s temporary main command post was attacked.  His fellow marines were under fire on a bluff on the edge of camp and had run out of ammunition.  As DJ ran through enemy fire to deliver more ammunition, he was blown off his feet by a large blast that came from Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG) and Mortars.   The explosion severely impacted the brain leaving him with a traumatic brain injury.  DJ now has damage to the cranial nerve, effecting other neurological functions that deal with memory and causes right side weakness.  He suffers from a complete loss of vestibular function, this has caused permanent impairment of his balance and vision, as well as regulation of blood pressure.  As a result, DJ must now walk with at least one if not two canes in order to attempt to stand upright and walk.  He can no longer drive and his wife Stacie is his full-time caregiver.  DJ returned to Camp Lejeune and remained there until 2008.
 
He joined the Marines in 1995 and shortly after marrying his high school sweetheart Stacie, he departed for his 1st tour in Okinawa, Japan.  During active duty, DJ was also deployed to Thailand for Operation Cobra Gold and then returned to Camp  Lejeune in North Carolina.  DJ was also part of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in the Mediterranean; training in Greece, Italy, off Coast of Kosovo.  During this time and at the time of deployment to Iraq, DJ was part of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division.  Of the 15 years with the Marines, he and his family spent 12 of those at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. After spending 1 year in Indian Head, Maryland with the Chemical Biological Incident Response Force, DJ was Medically Retired from the Marines in 2009.  He now lives with his wife Stacie and two sons Joshua (12) and Jeremy (9) in Lagrange, Maine, where Stacie grew-up.

The Perez Family

The Perez Family

Delaney "Rocky" Perez and family from Texas

In April of 2003, Rocky was deployed from Ft. Carson, CO to Iraq, and 5 months later endured injuries that would change his life forever.  Rocky calls it his “Alive Day” story.  On September 28th, 2003, at approximately 9:30am, Rocky Perez’s convoy was traveling North on Highway 1 back to their Forward Operating Base Vanguard, located near Ad Dujayl.  An Improvised Explosive Device (IED) hit the left rear side of the vehicle Rocky was riding in.  He and a Civil Affairs Soldier were sitting in the rear of that vehicle and as a result, he incurred shrapnel wounds to the left of his face, right of his neck (missing his jugular vein by only 2-3 cm), right hand, and right calf requiring a fasciotomy.   Fortunately, the IED went off shortly after the vehicle had passed its mark, preventing even further destruction and the loss of life.  As a result of service in Iraq, Rocky received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.  
 
Rocky first heard of Christmas Can Cure through the Wounded Warrior Project while living in New England, and felt “it would be priceless to share such a magical event with my wife and two boys, Antonio (5) and Riel (8).  Due to the disruptive childhood and continued turmoil they have had to endure” while living with the aftermath of his injuries sustained in Iraq.  Most of the boys early childhood was spent driving to doctor’s appointments for Rocky’s recovery, pain management and rehabilitation.  Since 2003, Rocky and his wife Imelda have lived in 4 different states and were just relocated back to TX the second week of November. 
 

The Hardin Family

The Hardin Family

Kevin Hardin and Lillian May from Killeen, Texas

In 2007, Kevin Hardin, a Front Line Army Medic, was severely injured in Iraq when the Hum-V he was driving was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). He endured over 32 surgeries over two years. Kevin has injuries to both of his arms including a fused wrist and the loss fingers. He has more than a dozen pieces of shrapnel in his brain which are inoperable.  He spent two years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center where he met the love of his life, Lillian May. They were engaged in August of 2009.  They were married in April of 2010 in a courthouse that used to be a gas station.  Their families were happy for them but they believed the couple deserved a real wedding. Kevin's mother wrote to Christmas Can Cure asking for a fairytale wedding for her son.  

The wedding will be Saturday, November 13th, Veterans Day weekend, at Eureka Casino Resort in Mesquite, Nevada.    For the full story and to read the letter from Kevin's mom click here.

The Ugliono Family

The Ugliono Family

Sgt Shane Ugliono and his family from Hawthorne, New Jersey

Assigned to the 101st Airborne, Shane was leading his five-man team in Samarra, Iraq in January 2008 when his unit was ambushed by 20 or more insurgents. A firefight ensued that would last more then 45 minutes. Shane’s team was not captured that day, they fought back the insurgents but the costs were great. Three members of Shane’s team had been killed.  Shane himself had been shot 16 times, with four shots to the head.  His left arm is paralyzed and he’s living with the consequences of traumatic brain injury.  Shane’s commitment to his troops is a testament to the character of the armed forces; his incredible spirit makes him a role model for us all. When Shane first learned of Christmas Can Cure last year he immediately wanted in. He wrote on his application that he wanted this experience for his wife and children,  that it had been a difficult year for his family and that they could benefit from celebrating a wonderful Christmas together.   We are honored to be hosting Shane, his wife Kerri and his children Tyler (6), Taryn (5), and Teagen (2).

The Quiroz family

The Quiroz family

William Quiroz and his family from West Haven, Connecticut

William and his Alpha Company 6th Communication BN FSSG Division served during Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Injured during his service at the time of the invasion in 2003, William returned home and with his wife, Desiree, has worked to start a family.  They are excited for what they hope will be a white Christmas celebration with their son David (4), and daughter Isabella (2).

The Luce family

The Luce family

Sgt. Jared Luce and his family from Coventry, Connecticut

Jared is a double amputee who is looking forward to the many snow activities the White Mountains have to offer. He’s a family man and looks forward to giving back to his loved ones with Christmas Can Cure. “I am looking forward to building snow forts with my three boys!” Jared will join us in New Hampshire with his wife, Melanie, and three boys.

The Chidester Family

The Chidester Family

The Chidester Family from Fountain Green, UT

Originally a Cavalry Scout, Bradley was injured in Mosul in October of 2005 when a vehicle was detonated right next to his unit.  The blast knocked him unconscious and sent shrapnel through his upper body and face.  When he came to, he found himself in the middle of a firefight and returned fire without the use of his left arm.  It was during this firefight that Bradley was shot in the leg. The injuries Bradley incurred on this day have had many lingering consequences and he has been guided and supported in his recovery by his wife, Chante, and his four daughters, Madison (12), Mickell (10), Brianna (8), and Sierra (6).  
 "My family lives with the effects of the war each and every day," said Bradley. "It’s difficult to be a child who lives with an injured Dad.  My wife and my children have been injured by the war.  I believe Christmas Can Cure could be the catalyst for change in my family…I want to see my wife and children smile again, to see the sparkle in their eyes and hear excitement in their voices."
 

The Perez Family

The Perez Family

The Perez Family from Logandale, NV

Staff Sergeant Joseph D. Perez first enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1988 and served until 1996.   In 1999 he heard the call to serve again and this time joined the US Army as a Sgt. in the Military Police.  While in Iraq in 2003, Joe suffered serious injuries resulting from a mortar attack at a prison riot at Abu Ghraib.  The attack left Joe with a fused spinal cord, traumatic brain injuries, and substantial injures to his left leg.  Joe has come a long way in his recovery, helped greatly by the love and support of his wife, Aileena, and their three daughters, Felicia (9), Marissa (12) and Ariel (17). Joe’s recovery has been so successful that he participated in the Wounded Warrior Project’s Soldier Ride in Las Vegas, biking through Summerlin with Warriors from across the country.  Joe and his family live in Logandale, Nevada where they enjoy a very large extended family.  Joe says he, his wife and daughters love Christmas and they are giddy about the trip. He is looking forward to seeing his daughters spoiled for a few days.

The Cortinas Family

The Cortinas Family

(Pictured from upper-left, clockwise: Jerry, Selena, Ally and Dion Cortinas)

"I feel like I am dreaming. We are actually pretty private and shy people, but this is so beautiful. I feel like saying to everyone 'Thank you, we are so grateful.'" —The Cortinas Family

Jerry and Celina Cortinas, along with their two daughters, Dion (age 8) and Ally (age 3), traveled to the Mt. Washington Valley in New Hampshire in December 2008 to kick off the first annual Christmas Can Cure. Hailing from Brownsville, Texas, the Cortinas children had never seen snow.

Jerry Cortinas served as a green beret in the U.S. Army Special Forces stationed in Afghanistan. In December 2002, he was loading a rocket grenade launcher when it exploded on site. He suffered extreme head trauma, which left him unconscious for 26 days. His left forearm and hand required amputation.

Before making the trip to New Hampshire, Selena Cortinas said, "As you can imagine, Christmas time for us is a bittersweet time. It is the anniversary of Jerry's accident. The kids absolutely love Christmas, and I try to make it special for them, but with limited money and the memories of the worst time of our lives, it is a tough situation. This trip will fill the month with good memories that we can associate with December, instead of a very bad one."

"This is a dream," said Selena Cortinas, upon arriving in New Hampshire. "I feel like I am dreaming. We are actually pretty private and shy people, but this is so beautiful. I feel like saying to everyone 'Thank you, we are so grateful.'"

The Mitchell Family

The Mitchell Family

(Pictured from top, clockwise: Zac, Roy, Jerrett, Serenity, Michelle)

"We have had a long road since 2003... I have had 37 surgeries to date and a lot of rehab. If I could, I would not change a thing, except having more time with my family." —The Mitchell Family

Sgt. 1st Class Roy Mitchell and his family joined the Cortinas family in New Hampshire last year for the first annual Christmas Can Cure. Mitchell and his family - wife Michelle, and children Zac (age 16), Jerrett (age 6), and Serenity (age 3) - call Fort Drum home in New York state.

Mitchell was injured in Afghanistan on November 23, 2003, requiring an above-the-knee amputation. He also suffered shrapnel wounds to the face and torso, and third degree burns.

"We have had a long road since 2003," Mitchell wrote in a letter to Christmas Can Cure. "I have had 37 surgeries to date and a lot of rehab. If I could, I would not change a thing, except having more time with my family. Since 2003, we have been able to have family time during the holidays just three times out of the last six. It just starts to take a toll on the family bond."

Michelle Mitchell said she felt a transformation as soon as her family drove over the covered bridge and into the village of Jackson, New Hampshire.

"There was no tension. There are no words to describe what people are doing for us."

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