Rebounding from tragedy: Committed to seeing ‘light in their eyes’

Image courtesy U.S. Army JRTC at Fort Polk
Friday, November 15, 2013 - 4:24pm

After serving tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, sustaining injuries and being a Wounded Warrior, plus serving as cadre in the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Bragg, N.C., Staff Sgt. Charles E. Ford has come full circle as cadre in Fort Polk’s Warrior Transition Unit.

“I volunteered to come back to the WTU as cadre,” Ford said. “I’ve been in their boots, I know what these Soldiers are going through, because I’ve had many of the same problems they are experiencing. And I love the military. During deployment, you wear an American flag on your sleeve. Unfortunately, a lot of Soldiers who were killed in combat didn’t get to come home to their families. Today, a lot of Soldiers are crying out and I want to be there to answer that call,” he said. “It’s a special family –– perhaps the extended family I never had before –– your brother, father or battle buddy. I love my job, I love being a Soldier and I love being able to help these Soldiers.”

Ford discussed his previous experience helping Soldiers.

“When I was with the 4th Battalion, 10th Mountain Division, I would travel to San Antonio and take mail to Soldiers who were at the Center for the Intrepid and spend time with them. Recovering can be a very lonely process and a disheartening one if you are not making the progress you think you should be making. Sometimes talking with someone who’s been there can help,” he said.

WTU cadre play an important part in the daily lives of Soldiers assigned to their squad, said Ford. “I have 18 Soldiers in my squad. Each Soldier’s problem is urgent to them and to keep them focused is a challenge. I’m here to help them heal and transition. I’d do just about anything they need to help. Time is not a factor; it goes by fast, too fast and I’m constantly moving,” he said. “Every Soldier’s situation is different. You can’t assume anything. Yes, you will meet some people that no matter what you do, you can’t make them happy, but after a while, you develop a tough skin. It’s a hard assignment, but when you do get through to them, you can see a light return to their eyes, so you keep pushing and helping in hope of keeping them going,” said Ford.

“Never before have the armed services taken care of their wounded warriors as they do today. From first-class medical care, new innovative technology and a support system to handle their and their families’ needs, they are taken care of at all times,” Ford said. “In other wars, wounded Soldiers were sent home to their families or a VA hospital, often forgotten and bitter. I don’t want this to happen to any of my Soldiers or any Soldier. Yes, we all volunteered to serve our country, and right now, my extended family needs my help. I want to bring back the honor, pride and dignity every Soldier needs. I genuinely love what I am doing and I truly love today’s Army,” he said. “Yes it’s a hard, demanding and time-consuming, seven-days a week commitment that never ends. But I truly believe that I have found what I was destined to do –– be a cadre in a WTU. It’s a very important job; one that isn’t for everyone, but I would do it for the rest of my military career if I could.” Ford has known heartbreak and said that he once told a command sergeant major that he would die for his Soldiers –– that it was his job.

Ford left the Army in 2005, but continued his military career in the Reserves. It was during that time that he faced the most difficult day and time in his life, one that he never wants to repeat. “My 2-year-old son was playing in our front yard in Springhill, La. We lived on a street where when the sun was just right, it would blind drivers coming down the street. The driver, blinded by the sun, never saw my little boy when the car swerved into our yard, hitting my son and then swerving back on to the street. I heard people screaming so I went outside. My beloved son died in my arms. I wasn’t there to hold his little hand and tell him it would be alright. He faced death by himself. It was at that moment that I was not afraid of death anymore and that I had to survive and find a way to help others. It took a long time for me to come back from this tragedy, but I have made it back and now it’s my turn to help others get back too.” This tragedy took its toll on Ford and his marriage.

Ford’s life changed after that tragic day, and he decided to go back into the Army where he met his wife, Staff Sgt. Alonna L. Ford, a career counselor with the 115th Combat Support Hospital, in 2006 at Fort Gordon, Ga. They were married in 2008 and are expecting their first child, a daughter, in January.

“Both of us take care of Soldiers, each in a similar but different way,” said Ford. “Alonna is very supportive of what I am doing and she knows how important it is to me.”

As the holiday season approaches, Ford realizes that some of his Soldiers may experience bouts of depression. So he is making sure that his Soldiers contact their family and go home to spend time with them if at all possible. He considers family as their No. 1 support system and an important part of their overall recovery. “Strengthening family bonds can lift the spirits and even help speed recovery,” he said.

Fort Polk & Military News

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