Marriages Tested by the Scars of War - 5/06
smartmarriages at lists101.his.com
Sun May 28 06:48:50 EDT 2006
In thinking about the challenges facing active duty military couples I have
been focused on deployment, separation, reentry. I guess I just didn't want
to think about this part. But no better time than on Memorial Day weekend.
> Combat in Iraq and Afghanistan has produced 424 amputees, according to a
> Walter Reed spokesman, and 459 traumatic brain injuries have been treated at
> the Naval hospital in Bethesda, which specializes in brain-damaged casualties.
- MARRIAGES TESTED BY SCARS OF WAR
Military couples recast future in face of the unthinkable
By Michael E. Ruane
The Washington Post
May 27, 2006
WASHINGTON - A few weeks after an explosion tore off his legs and part of
his right arm, Army Sgt. Joseph Bozik felt the time had come to tell his
girlfriend she no longer was bound by their plans for marriage.
He asked his mother to leave his hospital room at the Walter Reed Army
Medical Center and addressed his girlfriend, Jayme Peters. "Be completely
honest with me," he said. "If you want to go home, that's fine."
As she broke into tears, Bozik said he'd be okay, and he would completely
understand. He knew she had not bargained for a husband like this.
Along with its impact on bodies and minds, the war in Iraq has deeply
affected military marriages and relationships. It has presented some young
couples with the age-old choice: to wed before departure to the front or
wait until homecoming. And it has forced married couples to endure long,
But experts say the hardest challenge can be when a spouse or lover comes
home catastrophically injured.
"The young stud that the woman married, when he comes back injured, is no
longer a stud," said one Army counselor.
Reuniting with a changed spouse
Couples have had to face reunions in which the returning soldier or Marine
has lost one, two or three limbs, has been disfigured or paralyzed, or has
suffered a permanent, debilitating brain injury.
The couple must reexamine the foundations on which their relationship is
built, experts say. The two might have to accept new roles, in which the
spouse may be the chief breadwinner and caregiver. And the injured service
member may feel like less of a person and wonder if he or she is still
Kay Eady, 50, a teacher from Albany, Ga., said she often tells her husband,
Clarence, 41, who is recovering at Walter Reed from the loss of a leg in
Iraq: "You're more a man to me now -- for someone to go through that and
come out smiling."
But Michael J. Wagner, director of Walter Reed's medical family assistance
center, said he once heard a spouse say in front of her injured husband:
"How can I deal with this? He's not even a whole man anymore."
The final blow
One young soldier recuperating from a double amputation at Walter Reed said
recently that his war injuries were the last blow for his four-year
marriage. He said his wife already was unhappy with his two tours in Iraq.
Speaking anonymously because he is in the midst of a divorce, he said she
left the hospital partway through his recovery, telling his mother she was
not coming back.
"That was rough," he said. "I got on the phone to her and talked to her and
cried. . . . I was like, 'I got nobody.' That was the hardest thing. If she
had just stuck it out a little longer."
Combat in Iraq and Afghanistan has produced 424 amputees, according to a
Walter Reed spokesman, and 459 traumatic brain injuries have been treated at
the Naval hospital in Bethesda, which specializes in brain-damaged
Steven Tice, a veteran trauma counselor who lost an arm and a shoulder in
Vietnam in 1970, said it also is possible for the challenge of a major war
injury to enrich a marriage in the long term. Tice married in 1970 after
returning from Vietnam, was divorced in 1977, then remarried his wife the
following year after receiving counseling for combat stress. They have been
together for 36 years and have three children.
"I think it can be a key to a thriving marriage," he said in a recent
telephone interview. If a couple can come out of such a calamity "with
compassion for each other, and assist each other in negotiating the planet,
you've got some healthy individuals."
Something's happened to Joey¹
Jayme Peters was sitting in her car outside a CVS pharmacy in College
Station, Tex., about to open a Gatorade when she got a frantic phone call
from Joey Bozik's mother, Gail. "Something's happened to Joey!" Gail cried.
"Something's happened to Joey!"
It was Oct. 27, 2004, and Gail had just learned that Joey had been terribly
wounded in an explosion in Iraq. He had lost both legs and one arm.
Joey, now 28, was a strapping, 6-foot-1 soldier. He'd been working out, was
in top shape and was too smart and alert. God had plans for him, Jayme
thought. He couldn't be wounded.
A native of Wilmington, N.C., he had been serving in Afghanistan when a
mutual friend connected them via e-mail in March 2003. Now 24, she was a
college gymnast from Tyler, Tex., and student at Texas A&M.
They courted after he got home and soon were making plans. She would finish
college; he would pursue a career in federal law enforcement.
Then he learned he was being sent to Iraq. They looked at engagement rings,
and he had planned on proposing to her once he got home.
Just before he left, they talked about what might happen. Jayme told him she
didn't care if he lost limbs. The only circumstance in which they might part
ways would be if he suffered a severe brain injury.
"I think you would want me to go on with my life," she said she told him.
"That's the only reason I will leave you. Otherwise, don't you ever let it
cross your mind."
Neither of them really thought he might be maimed.
"That wasn't the plan at all," he said.
Not waiting around for tragedy
Carrie and Adam Kisielewski decided that marriage couldn't wait until after
he returned from Iraq.
What if he was killed in battle?
"I wanted to have the chance to say we were married," she said. "I didn't
want to go through my life thinking I never had a chance to marry him."
So, they married last June. In August, the Marine lance corporal and an
officer were searching an empty school near Fallujah when they triggered an
explosive device. The officer died, and Adam lost his left arm at the
shoulder and right leg below the knee.
Thinking he was dying, Adam asked his buddies to tell his wife he was sorry
he wouldn't be able to buy her a house. "They pretty much told me to go to
hell, that I'd have to tell her myself," he recalled in an interview. "They
gave me a reason to stay alive."
Once Adam, 22, reached the intensive care unit at the National Naval Medical
Center in Bethesda, Carrie, 27, moved to a hospital guest house to be near
They had been married about 12 weeks and never had genuinely lived together.
An Army friend had warned her that a grieving Adam might push her and other
loved ones away and shut them out of his life.
Unsure how to respond
Mostly, she was overwhelmed by how helpless he looked, sedated in the
He was just starting to emerge from the haze of drugs when one day she
walked in and he began to cry. His heart rate jumped, she said, and a doctor
asked her to leave.
She didn't know what to think.
"I was just afraid that he wasn't going to want to see me and didn't want me
in his life," she said.
She had gone back to the guest house when Adam's mother called.
"We need you over here," she said his mother told her.
"I'm only coming if Adam asks for me," Carrie said.
"Yes, he's asking for you," his mother replied.
To this day, Carrie said, neither she nor Adam is sure why he was upset. "I
don't know if it was because he didn't want me to see him that way, or he
was upset that he wouldn't be able to take care of me. I don't know."
Adam went on to recover quickly. He said he never wondered if she still
loved him. He knew she did.
In January he and his wife moved into a new house in Thurmont near her
parents, finally beginning their married lives together.
"It's an adjustment," she said.
Sometimes, in a restaurant, she must help him cut his steak. But then he
will go race around on his ATV, which terrifies her.
They know they have seen much more than most couples in their first months
of marriage. "I figure if we can make it through this one, we're smooth
sailing for the rest of however long," she said.
Questions of faith, loyalty
At night, after all the visitors were gone from his hospital room, Joey
Bozik would think about his girlfriend. He was coming to terms with what the
land mine had done to his body, and most of the time he felt happy to be
But how happy would she be with a man who had lost both legs and an arm?
"Is Jayme going . . . to want to stay with me?" he recalled wondering. "Is
she going to want this lifestyle?"
They had to talk about it, and he knew he had to offer her an out. She knew
"I knew that he was eventually going to tell me that I could go," she
recalled. "He was just that kind of guy."
And that pained her, she said, because she didn't want him to doubt her even
for a moment.
She recalled that they had the talk right before Thanksgiving of 2004 in his
fourth-floor hospital room.
"Why do you want to stay with me?" she said he asked. "Why would you want to
stay with me?"
She began to cry.
"I pretty much told him that I loved him," she said. "I was willing to be
with him the rest of my life if he would let me."
It was a good time¹
They were married Dec. 31, 2004, in a hospital chapel. Sitting in a
wheelchair, he looked tired but happy. He wore a dark jacket with a red
boutonniere and had his wedding ring on a thin chain around his neck. She
wore a lacy white dress and veil. They had cake and flowers and played a CD
of wedding music she bought at a local bookstore. "It was a good time," she
Since then, their lives in Mologne House, the hospital's long-term recovery
residence for the most seriously wounded, have been filled with adjustments
to the new reality.
As Joey recovered, was fitted for three artificial limbs and underwent
months of physical rehabilitation, she did the laundry, the shopping, the
scheduling, the driving. For a time, she had to open his sodas, help button
his shirts and arrange things so he could bathe himself without asking for
She watched him undergo his exhausting therapy and got him dinner. They were
together a lot. Sometimes they both looked drained. She had to be careful
not to do everything for him. "He wants his own dignity, his pride," she
said. And he had to learn to ask for her help.
Last month, after nearly a year and a half of recovery, they left Mologne
House for good and headed back to North Carolina.
They packed Joey's spare artificial legs in a big blue sports bag and,
helped by a visiting high school pal, Martin Wysocki, began loading their
belongings into a trailer hooked to their Nissan out in the parking lot.
Waiting in their third-floor room, Joey seemed pensive as Jayme taped the
last boxes. A warm breeze blew the curtains. The TV chattered. The erasable
wall calendar on which she had etched much of their lives had been wiped
When it was time to go, he slipped on the artificial legs with the hydraulic
knees, adjusted the suction in the camo-colored sockets and headed for the
lobby in his electric wheelchair.
She slung a courier bag over her shoulder, grabbed his two canes and went to
the front desk to pay their outstanding $1.22 phone bill. "This is the
beginning of the next stage of our lives," she said.
Outside, Joey backed the wheelchair up the trailer ramp and stood
unsteadily. Jayme stepped to help him, handed him a cane and guided him down
She climbed in the driver's seat, and as he maneuvered to the passenger
side, he sang, "I got some spurs that jingle, jangle, jingle."
Then, under a clear blue sky, they drove away.
© 2006 The Washington Post Company
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