An Appreciation of Military Families

“They also serve who wait at home.”

That statement is often the only recognition military families receive. Little else acknowledges the sacrifices that husbands, wives, children, and mothers and fathers make every day, especially during times of war.

On Oct. 29, 2010, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation celebrating November 2010 as “Military Family Appreciation Month,” recognizing how families “provide our troops with invaluable encouragement and love, and serve our nation in their own right.”

This is especially true for the families of service members who are injured, like Heather Geiselmann and Rose Lammey, two wives who went from homemaker to primary caregiver in a flash. For Heather, the moment came Oct. 28, 2003, when her husband, Army Spec. Lance Gieselmann from the Ft. Hood, Texas-based 367th Armored Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, was critically wounded when his tank was destroyed by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

The explosion destroyed the tank and left a swimming poolsized hole in the road. Of the three crewmen in the tank, only Lance survived. He had been blown 50 yards, landing in a watery ditch where he lay for nearly an hour before help arrived.

“I broke my back at L-1, had a crushed vertebra, was paralyzed from about the chest down. My left leg had to be amputated, and I almost lost my right leg, too. A piece of shrapnel tore my heart open,” he said.

Lance was first treated in Iraq, and then flown to Germany, where his condition was labeled  “touch and go.” Heather left their 5-year old son, Dillon, in the care of other family members and flew to Lance's side. She was there when he woke up two-and-a-half weeks later and has been by his side ever since.

"I absolutely wouldn't be at the point I am at today without her," Gieselmann said. "She has been my rock the whole time.”

Heather has helped him through the guilt, depression and soul searching he has experienced as the only survivor of the attack. His two best friends, tank commander Sgt. Michael Barrera and Spc. Isaac Campoy, were killed immediately.

When Lance had recovered enough to return to the States, he first rehabbed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC.  After he was transferred to the VA spinal cord unit in Memphis. He was in the hospital for a year. Heather was with him through it all— and Paralyzed Veterans of America soon came to assist as well.

Paralyzed Veterans national service officers in Memphis quickly responded to ensure he was being treated fairly by the Army and VA and getting all the benefits to which he was entitled.

"They just made it stress-free so I could worry about getting better and not where the money was going to come from," he said. "They gave me encouragement, too. I was thinking, ‘I’m 23 years old and now I’m in a wheelchair—what am I going to do?’ They told me about their life experiences. They gave me great moral support. I don’t think I’d have been able to handle it without those guys."

Life since has had its trials, he admits, and hasn't been easy for son Dillon. "He knew me before this happened and we used to spend a lot of time outside running around," he said. "This has been quite a change for him, too, but he's adapted."

The Heather and Lance now also have a daughter, Marley, and Lance spends his days taking care of his children. 

"We are a family team who's adapted to our circumstances," Lance said. "I was forced to adapt. They did it because that's what military families do: adapt.”

For Rose Lammey, wife of  Navy Machinist's Mate 1st Class (SW) Mike Lammey, the fateful day came Dec. 3, 2006. Lammey's ship, the Guam-based submarine tender had been at sea for most of the previous week. They'd pulled in and brought family members onboard for a day-long "tiger cruise."

"He'd called me that afternoon, said they were in and he'd be home soon; they just had to run a few maintenance tests before he could leave," Rose said.

As a machinist's mate, Lammey worked on the high-pressure steam boilers that provide the ship its main propulsion. That final test of the day was to build up pressure in the boilers to test their relief valves, a safety mechanism designed to keep the boilers from exploding.

Lammey and 13 others were in the fireroom when the tests began. The boilers were heated and the steam pressure increased, but the safety valves failed to lift. Then corroded tubing inside the boiler ruptured causing the boiler to split open and the super-hot steam began spill into boiler room.

Lammey and five others were seriously burned in the explosion—two would eventually die from their injuries.

When the phone rang at the Lammey's home, Rose first assumed it was Mike, telling her he was on his way home.

“But it was the wife of one of his shipmates, telling me there had been an accident and I needed to get to the hospital," Rose said. "From that moment, I kind of went blank for a while.”

Mike had been burned over 98 percent of his body—48 percent seriously—including his face and hands. He and the other five were eventually evacuated first to Hawaii, then on to the military's special burn unit in San Antonio. One of the sailors died within a week and another within six months.

For Mike, who just was medically retired from the Navy this month, the road to recovery is still in full swing. His deep burns have cause heavy scarring and that's resulted in many surgeries. Recently he's been in Los Angeles getting plastic surgery to help reduce the scarring on his face.

Rose and their three daughters have been instrumental in getting Mike back on track so he can work again. "I don't think I'd even be close to where I am today without them. I would be on the pity pot somewhere," he said.

In the early days of his rehabilitation, when it hurt to even move, let alone walk, it was Rose and the kids who forced him to fight as hard as he did. "I was in a wheelchair and the therapist would tell her I had to get up and walk around the hallway, start walking every day. It was (Rose) that forced me to work harder because I didn't want to get out of that chair," Mike said.

The whole family pitched in.

"My daughters would help hold my hands when walking down the hallway," he said. "Each day we'd to a little farther, down to that hallway, and when I got more comfortable, then to the elevator, until I could walk to the bus and go to therapy. When I wanted to stop, they would say ‘no, you're going.’ "

Dealing with Mike's disfigurement was tough for the whole family, but something that happened without hesitation. "They really gave me confidence to face the world because my injuries are part of my life now and I can move on because they fully accept me as I am today."

That acceptance really hit home when he hesitated to go into his oldest daughter's school, saying he didn't want her to be embarrassed.

"She told me, 'Dad, I’m not embarrassed of you at all. I love you and I am proud of you.’ You can't imagine what that meant to me," Mike said.   

For Rose, the whole experience pushed her way out her normal comfort zone and she found herself in new territory and dealing with more than she knew how to handle.

"I've learned a lot in the past few years, and in helping Mike, I've found I can do things I never though possible before," she said. "This happens so fast in the beginning and then your life is changed forever."

Paralyzed Veterans of America pays tribute this month and every month to the families of all who serve. They are heroes as well.

Article by Mark D. Faram

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