Kenneth Wilson of Mize, Miss., has been shot twice and hit by shrapnel once. He survived five improvised explosive device attacks and received three Purple Heart medals.
The Army veteran of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and his wife, Michelle, expect to be dealing with the consequences — traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress disorder — of his distinguished service for the remainder of their lives.
Michelle described her husband as a gentle man willing to let bygones be bygones before he deployed to fight in the Middle East, but the injuries altered all that.
“His whole personality changed,” she said. “He wasn’t the same person. He didn’t take anything from anybody.”
Aggressiveness, agitation, bad temper, and moodiness had taken hold, leaving the couple feeling helpless. They even worried about having family, particularly children, around Kenneth because it was tough to predict what might set him off.
Compounding the behaviors was that Kenneth had a tough time concentrating, making some tasks difficult to complete.
“We didn’t know what to do for him,” said Michelle. “He didn’t know what to do for himself.”
For a man used to being self-sufficient and skilled at a variety of tasks, Kenneth’s injuries were nearly intolerable. He was frustrated.
“It is still a daily battle to realize, to say, I need help doing the smallest things,” said the former 1st Infantry Division sergeant. “My injuries are now our injuries. It’s very hard for me to see what I put my wife through.”
The diagnoses of TBI and PTSD helped by making Kenneth, who was medically discharged from the Army, eligible for an assortment of Veterans Administration benefits and medical services, but other aspects of the couple’s life remain trying.
Among those factors missing was someone who understood what the Wilsons were enduring. There are no families near Mize with Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans as part of the household, which meant no shared experiences or sympathetic ears.
For Michelle and Kenneth, the chance to spend a weekend with other military couples as they did recently at Destin’s Henderson Park Inn as part of the Warrior Beach Retreat program was precious. They could share stories, laugh and cry.
The Wilsons, married three years, made friends and exchanged contact numbers for those difficult times when only someone with a similar background can help.
The retreat provided an outlet for their concerns and worries. It also offered hope in the shape of prayer.
“We always leave with new hope,” said Kenneth. “And, when we leave here, we’re relaxed and refreshed.”
“… And smarter,” added Michelle.
The couple’s other go-to organization is their church.
Devout Christians, Michelle and Kenneth see their church as a salve for the emotional damage the wars have done.
“If I go just a short period of time without church, I become a different person,” said Kenneth. “I’m more agitated. I’m more aggressive. … There’s no medication that can heal the spirit.”