Category Archives: War

Since the Iraq war began five years ago, more than 30,000 American servicemen and women—including my husband, Kenny, a Marine master sergeant—have been wounded. In one sense, that’s actually ahopeful number. Battlefield medics these days are so skilled they’re saving soldiers who, in any other war, would’ve died.

That’s what happened to Kenny. During a firefight in Najaf a bullet ricocheted off an armored personnel carrier and pierced his head, entering under his right eye and exiting the left side of his skull. Medics kept him alive long enough to fly to a Baghdad military hospital. In a matter of days he was on his way to America.

Unfortunately, that’s not where the story ends. Not for Kenny, not for anyone else with war wounds, especially the thousands suffering what has become Iraq’s signature injury, traumatic brain damage. For those warriors and their families, a battlefield injury is like the start of a whole new war—not only to heal, but to navigate an often overwhelmed military medical system.



That, too, is what happened to Kenny—and to me. Up to the day Kenny was wounded I was what you could call a typical Marine wife. After—well, let’s just say I’ve discovered a fighting strength I never knew I had.

I first began to realize what we were up against the day Kenny arrived at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. It was five days after his injury and I was frantic. The only information I’d had came from patchy cell phone calls to officers and doctors in Iraq.

I’d had to drop everything—I taught aerobics at a YMCA near Camp Pendleton, where we lived with our two teenagers, Tasha and Alishia—figure out who would take care of the girls and board a red-eye to Maryland. I’d even had to put off seeing Kenny to fill out a financial hardship application to afford the rooming house provided for relatives of the wounded.

When I got upstairs to the intensive-care unit I saw a bank of monitors near the nurses’ station. One, identified by Kenny’s Social Security number, glowed with an X ray of a shattered skull. I drew a sharp breath and asked for the room number. I was starting down the hall when a doctor grabbed my arm. “Ma’am, why don’t you sit here first and let me brief you on his injuries.”

I stared at the doctor, incredulous. What could possibly be more soothing to Kenny than the loving presence of his wife? “I’m sorry,” I said. “He needs me. I don’t care how bad he looks. I’ve been waiting five days to see him and I’m going to his room right now.”



The doctor let go of my arm and I hurried to Kenny’s room. I paused at the door to compose myself then walked in. I didn’t recognize him. His head was swollen and disfigured, marked with dried blood and rows of staples. He lay passively, hooked to massive machines.

“Kenny, it’s me,” I said softly, trying not to cry. “Squeeze my hand if you know who I am.” His head didn’t move. But he squeezed my hand.

The following weeks I discovered that the disorienting experiences of those first days were only the beginning. Kenny and I had met in high school, married young, and for the next 17 years, raised our girls on bases around the country.

We knew a lot about being a Marine family. But nothing had prepared me for all the paperwork, decisions and medical terminology that came at us. I didn’t go to college and had no medical or legal training. I had to rely on my wits every time I was asked to sign something.

Early on I was presented with documents that would have retired Kenny from active duty, transferring his care to the Veterans Administration. I didn’t know exactly what that meant. But something about it seemed wrong. Didn’t they think he would get better? I didn’t sign the papers.

I soon realized I had to be equally vigilant about Kenny’s care. His injury had left him with near-total amnesia and great difficulty speaking. Doctors and therapists worked hard with him. Some were incredibly dedicated. But there were many patients on the ward, and the staff was pulled in many directions.


Sometimes, doctors even had to accompany politicians and other VIPs touring the floor to visit wounded soldiers. As soon as they left I returned to a routine I’d developed. I got Kenny out of bed, washed him, took him around the ward and pointed out rooms with other Marines.

No subject got him talking like his fellow Marines. The week’s highlight was Sunday phone calls from the 15 men he’d commanded in Iraq. That, or me renting movies or talking about Tasha and Alishia.

As weeks went by I felt more confident. I learned every aspect of Kenny’s care, to the point I could do it when nurses weren’t available. I learned enough medical terms to talk knowledgeably with doctors—me, an aerobics teacher!

And I got savvy enough to request a copy of every piece of paper added to Kenny’s medical record. When a new doctor or therapist came in asking Kenny questions he’d answered a thousand times before—or couldn’t answer at all—I pulled out my records and pointed straight to the information.

Just as I was getting the hang of things,  Kenny was transferred to a VA rehabilitation hospital in Palo Alto, California. We were flown in a military transport plane. I had just gotten him settled into his room when a nurse said, “Visiting hours are from 1 to 7 p.m.”

I looked at her, surprised. “I’m sorry, I’m not a visitor. I’m Sgt. Sargent’s wife and have been at his bedside for the last month. He has amnesia. I assumed I’d be sleeping here.”

“Ma’am, here’s a list of nearby hotels.” As I left, I saw Kenny’s eyes widen with fear. I spent an anxious, maddening night at the Hometel, a place for vets to stay during hospital procedures. Not even prayer brought clear answers. My thoughts kept drifting back to myself, to the struggles we’d already been through. It was as if God were saying, Stay strong, Tonia.

At the hospital the next day, I found Kenny still looking terrified. I paged the nurse. “I don’t mean to be a nuisance,” I said, “but there has to be some way for me to stay with my husband. This is a whole new environment for him. I’m the only one he recognizes. What can I do?”

“You can visit during visiting hours.”

A neuropsychologist came in. “Ma’am,” she said, and her voice sounded tired, as if she had a job to do and I was making it harder, “this is your husband’s rehabilitation, not yours. It would be better if you left the work to us. Think of him as being away on a deployment.”

I looked at her, at the nurse. They showed no signs of yielding. Disappointment and anger came over me. What could I do to make them understand? Kenny was better because I’d helped with his care. I glanced at Kenny. His eyes were still frightened.


But I saw something else in them too. A glimmer of fight. A glimmer of Kenny, the proud Marine. I thought about myself, a Marine wife. What did that mean? Well, more than I used to think it did. I had already mastered one hospital. Kenny and I had come this far.

Now was not the time to back down. Stay strong, Tonia. I took a deep breath. “I am going to be by my husband’s side. If you won’t help me do that, I’ll find someone who will,” I said.

And that’s what I did. I contacted the local Marine Corps Reserve unit.

I pulled out business cards I’d collected from VIP visitors to Bethesda and called congressional offices. I signed up as a hospital volunteer, giving me no restricted visiting hours. And I offered to help the hospital raise money to build more housing for patients’ loved ones. In short, I became an advocate. I went to war.

Today, four years later, Kenny is back home in Oceanside and I’m still teaching aerobics. Everything else is different. Kenny made a remarkable recovery.

But he is not now, and never will be, the man he was before he shipped out for Iraq. He has retired from the Marines with 21 years of service—we waited to sign papers until he was eligible for a full pension—and is not working. He spends days cooking, cleaning and keeping an eye on the girls.

I’m still an advocate, speaking to church groups and Rotary clubs about the challenges of life after active duty. My message is simple. No matter when the Iraq war ends, the warriors who come home will need more than slogans, more than bumper stickers and ribbon magnets on cars.




Find comfort, humor and knowledge that God’s love extends to all His creatures – human and animal.


They’ll need resources to get the health care they need. Support for family members taking part in that care. A lot of prayer. And a nation committed to seeing them through. 


Iraqi War Veteran and his Wife

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What made Alexander the Great so Great? – He rocked, shocked, and conquered…Here is how he did it


Nov. 24, 2004
 Caesar crossed the Rubicon. Napoleon had a good run before he met his Waterloo. But when it comes to capturing the popular imagination, they can’t hold a candle to Alexander the Great.

“When you look at the imagination that was necessary to be Alexander, the effect he had on other people’s imaginations — he was head and shoulders above them,” said Thomas R. Martin, author of “Ancient Greece.”

“Alexander is a legend, but he’s not a myth. He’s real. What he did — for better or worse — shows in the starkest and most exciting terms the lack of limits of human possibility.”

One of the most successful (and some would say the most successful) military commanders of all time, Alexander has been inspiring would-be conquerors for centuries. He’s been immortalized in story and song. The latest movie version of his life, Oliver Stone’s epic “Alexander,” opens today with Irish bad boy Colin Farrell (sporting a bad blond dye job) as the Greek hero who never lost a battle.

“He has no failures,” said Elizabeth Carney, a history professor at Clemson University in South Carolina. “That’s the glamour — he’s the invincible, the unconquered one.”


Braving the Unknown

Alexander is a pretty hot property these days. When Stone got the green light for his film, Baz Luhrmann (“Moulin Rouge”) was planning his own Alexander picture, with Leonardo DiCaprio tapped to play the conqueror. (That project has now been pushed back.)

The accomplishments of Alexander still sound pretty impressive today: Born in 356 B.C., he became king of Macedonia when he was 20 years old, on the assassination of his father, Philip II. Not long after, he set out in search of glory and had conquered most of the known world by the time of his death in 323 B.C., just before his 33rd birthday.

“He starts in Greece, crosses over what is today Turkey, gets down into today’s Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. Then he heads off into Iraq, which was just as dangerous then as it is today,” said Martin, the Jeremiah O’Connor Professor in Classics at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. “Not only did he get past Iraq, he got into Iran, and he kept going.”

He made it as far as the Indus River, in what is now Pakistan, before his troops demanded they turn back. This is especially impressive, says Martin, because he was taking a leap of faith into the virtually unknown.

“In Alexander’s day, people lived in a world that was conceptually different from ours in the 21st century,” he said. “We know the world is a globe, we’ve seen maps, we have a geographic picture. They didn’t.”

Some latter-day Alexander admirers have posited that the Macedonian set out to bring Hellenistic culture to the rest of world, or to spread Greek ideals of democracy.

Not a chance, says Carney, author of “Women and Monarchy in Ancient Macedonia.”

“He was an absolute monarch,” she said. “He’s conquering to conquer, which is pretty much what conquerors do.”



Good Guy, Bad Guy, Divine Guy?

In fact, some modern scholars consider Alexander an imperialist who committed atrocities as he battled his way east. Others contend he was comparatively humane for a warrior of his time.

Carney sees Alexander as “scary.”

“I’m not sure that he was unusually bad. I’m not saying he was an evil person. I’m saying he was a scarier person than his father,” she said.

Philip (played by Val Kilmer in the movie) was an extremely successful general, and his victories in Macedonia and Greece created a solid foundation for what would become Alexander’s empire. But Philip was easier to get along with.

“Philip is a sort of Lyndon Johnson-y type or Clinton-y type; he’s a glad-hander,” said Carney. “The kid is stiffer, not so much one of the boys, more humorless.”

Alexander was very much a product of the Homeric world of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey.” “He is very much compelled by the desire to be a hero in the way that heroes were in Homer,” she said.

Alexander’s own personal hero was Achilles, the Greek warrior who is invincible until one lucky Trojan finds the weak spot on his heel. Alexander claimed descent from both Achilles and Herakles (known as Hercules to the Romans).

“He emulates both heroes, and he takes this heroic emulation much further than anyone else had,” Carney said.

Alexander experienced some kind of epiphany during a visit to the shrine of the god Zeus-Amon in the Egyptian desert. “I think he really did believe he could become a god by the remarkableness of his accomplishments,” Carney said. “I think it’s possible that he believed himself to be the son of Zeus-Amon.”


The Relationship Question

Whether or not he believed he had a divine dad, Alexander was certainly influenced by the strength of his mortal mother, Olympias.

“She was one tough cookie,” said Carney, who is working on a book about her. “She certainly kills a few people.”

After Philip’s death, someone disposed of his baby daughter and the child’s mother. That someone was probably Olympias, who would have wanted to rid her son of some potential rivals. “Lots of people think killing the baby is mean and nasty, but it’s clearing off the dynastic ranks,” said Carney. “All the deaths we know her to be responsible for are for political reasons.”

In the new movie, Angelina Jolie plays Olympias as a power-hungry woman who will stop at nothing to turn her son against his father. At 29, the actress is all of a year older than her on-screen son. Since snakes were prominent in the religious rituals the queen practiced, Jolie had to film scenes with serpents writhing at her feet or winding around her neck.


There’s been some controversy over the movie’s treatment of Alexander’s relationship with best friend Hephaestion (played by Jared Leto, wearing gobs of eyeliner). Some have been angered by the film’s suggestions of a sexual relationship between the two men — which almost certainly existed. Others think it should have been more explicit: While there’s plenty of innuendo about Alexander’s interest in men, his only sex scene is with a woman.

Whether Alexander was gay, straight or bisexual shouldn’t be an issue, scholars say, because the ancient Greeks just didn’t think that way.

“You have to remember that ancient conceptions of sexuality don’t map exactly onto ours, and you could have loving, even sexual, relationships with persons of the opposite sex and persons of the same sex,” said Martin.

Scholars think Alexander was probably married three times, mostly for political reasons. He also had a longtime mistress named Barsine (who isn’t in the movie). He had two young sons, neither of whom survived him very long. But Carney thinks Alexander was always more interested in military conquest than in sex of any sort.


Going Downhill

Nevertheless, when Hephaestion died, Alexander was consumed by grief. He was already on edge because his army, exhausted after more than a decade of fighting, had flatly refused to push on into India.

“The traditional interpretation is that he worsens in character in the later stages of life,” said Carney. “Most people who want to modernize it go with clinical depression.”

Alexander also — like many of his time — was a heavy drinker. When he fell ill in Babylon, he knocked back a lot of wine, which undoubtedly made things worse. He died in Babylon on June 10, 323 B.C.

No one knows for sure what caused his high fever. At the time, poison was widely suspected. But in an age when there were no antibiotics, any minor illness could prove fatal. The general consensus is that he died of natural causes.

It’s tempting to imagine what else Alexander might have conquered if he had lived longer. One thing is sure, said Martin: “Alexander was never going to stop.”


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United We Stand

Everyone needs to see this video. It is about our troops, about our brothers, and about our country. Even if you are not from America, this video will inspire you to come together.

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Unsung Hero of 9/11

The Story of an Unsung 9/11 Hero

by  Sep 11, 2013 4:45 AM EDT

Twelve years ago today, Benjamin Clark saved hundreds of lives in the South Tower. But he wasn’t a firefighter or a cop. Michael Daly on what we can learn from the courageous chef

    At midnight every September 11, Elsie Clark hangs a banner on the fence alongside the front-yard memorial to the 39-year-old son who perished at the World Trade Center.

“In Loving Memory
Benjamin Keefe Clark

Benjamin Clark remained in the South Tower of the World Trade Center helping countless to safety. (Louis Lanzano/AP; Clark Family)

The son was not a firefighter or a police officer.

He was a chef.

But a morning that began with him preparing meals for the people at the Fiduciary Trust Company suddenly led to him becoming as brave as any first responder. A Fiduciary official would later credit Clark with saving hundreds of lives as he made sure that everyone in his department along with everybody else in the company’s 96th floor offices in the South Tower was safely exiting the building. Continue reading

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The Spartan Way = Success

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In 480 B.C., the Persians arrayed one of the largest forces the ancient world had ever seen — 120,000 soldiers by conservative modern estimates, and over 1 million according to the ancient chronicler Herodotus — to invade and enslave Greece. Dispatched in a desperate attempt to stop them were less than 7,000 Greeks, led by 300 elite Spartan warriors.

Even the Greeks knew it was probably a suicide mission, yet the volunteers from Sparta and Athens faced thousands of Persian conscripts at a narrow coastal mountain pass called Thermopylae or “Hot Gates” after a volcanic spring nearby. Xerxes, the Persian king, sent emissaries to negotiate with the vastly outnumbered Greeks. When Xerxes asked for their weapons and surrender, Spartan King Leonidas told him, “Come and take them.”

Even the Greeks knew it was probably a suicide mission.Image Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images


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The 300 Spartans

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