Military ‘Bravest Families’ Join First Lady on Oprah Show
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 2011 Two military families shared their stories – one of perseverance through deployment, one of recovering from a life-changing war injury - with the nation today.
First Lady Michelle Obama talks with soldiers about the nutrition initiative, "Fueling the Soldier," while touring the dining facility on Fort Jackson, S.C., January 27, 2011. Army leaders briefed the First Lady on the consequences of childhood obesity, poor childhood nutrition and the lack of physical exercise on military readiness. They also toured the post’s new “Soldier Athlete" initiative. White House photo by Samantha Appleton
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The families, and the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, appeared along with First Lady Michelle Obama and journalists Tom Brokaw and Bob Woodward on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." The episode, “The Bravest Families In America,” aired today.
The first family to appear, former Army Sgt. Corey Brest, his wife, Jenny, and their two children, live in the small town of Yankton, S.D.
Brest was serving in Iraq with his National Guard unit when a roadside bomb wounded him in 2005. The injury left him nearly blind and unable to move or speak as he once did.
Jenny said she has gone from being wife to caregiver, and though she accompanies and encourages the man she calls “the love of my life” to job training sessions and speech and physical therapy appointments, their lives will never be the same.
"Our biggest sacrifice is time," she said. "When we picked up the pieces at the hospital, we lost time there because I left home and I missed our son's first steps, his first words. We both missed it. Even here without [Corey's] sight, he feels like he's missing out. Yes, he's living every moment with us, but he's not getting to see his kids grow up."
Brokaw comes from the same small town as the couple, and helped to arrange their appearance on the show. Author of the World War II book “The Greatest Generation,” he has in recent years striven through his writing and speeches to bring America’s attention to today’s veterans and how their lives, and their families’ lives, have been changed by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The 99 percent of Americans who have not served in the war need to have a clearer understanding of what the 1 percent who have experienced as a result of their service, Brokaw said.
"Families in this country need to know what they can do,” Brokaw said, “and what Jenny and I have talked about is that you can just go to the door and say 'How can I help?'”
A small gesture like shoveling a driveway, which Jenny’s South Dakota neighbors do for her, can be a big help, Brokaw said.
"I think a lot of people are reluctant to reach out, but [these military families] want to know that you are aware of what's going on," he said. "They're living in their own war zone, and that's not right for this country."
Woodward introduced another military family member whose life was devastated by war: Teresa Arciola, mother of Army Pfc. Michael Arciola, who was killed in Iraq in 2005.
Teresa visits her son’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery every two or three months, she said. When she visits she takes flowers, reads a favorite story from when her son was “about 4,” and plays music he especially liked.
The visits, she said, help her feel she can still do something for her son.
"It doesn't get any easier, even though it's been six years,” she said. “I'm afraid that people forget about him, about his sacrifice, about our other young people's sacrifice. They did it for us. People don't remember that. It's like they don't exist."
The first lady introduced a family that includes the woman she calls her hero – Carmen Blackmore, wife of Army Warrant Officer Clifford Blackmore. The couple has been married for 10 years and has two children.
Carmen said she and her husband had discussed having a third child, but decided to wait when he was tapped for another deployment.
"A pregnancy now would only result in him missing the first year of our child's life," she said.
Previous deployments have left her acting as plumber and single parent, she said, and the changes she and her children go through in her husband’s absence make his return home challenging.
"That is something that is hard and that I have anxiety about, because I want to make sure the transition is smooth. … I'm aware that we've done things and we've grown without him, and we don't want him to feel like we didn't need him," she said.
Carmen is her hero, Obama said, because while she holds her own family together through her husband’s deployments, she also helps other military families through her activities with her family support group.
"She's helping other families adjust, she's delivering bad news and being there for other spouses when their husbands are away," Obama said. "This is typical of our military families — holding it together, making it happen."