Thursday, January 03, 2008

Moms in the Service to Their Wounded... from click link

Moms in Service to Their Wounded

Associated Press | January 02, 2008

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Rose Lage swears it is true:
Suddenly, in the midst of a fitful night of sleep last
June, she knew that her son had been injured in Iraq.
"I heard my son's voice," she recalls. "It might sound
weird, but I heard him holler 'Mama!'"

It turned out U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Michael Lage was
the only survivor of a blast that killed four others.
He suffered third-degree burns to nearly half his
body; part of his nose and ears were missing, and his
face, scalp, arms and torso were seared. His left hand
had to be amputated.

Rose Lage, 54, understood her son's life would change.
But she did not understand how much her own quiet life
- a life spent playing with grandkids, fishing and
preparing for her husband's retirement - would change,
as well.

She would exchange her two-story house in Atlanta for
a hotel room on an Army post, watch her nest egg
shrink and spend her days helping a 30-year-old son
change bandages and wriggle into garments meant to
reduce scarring.

The sacrifices of injured Soldiers, airmen and Marines
are recognized with medals and commendations. But the
mothers and wives who arrive here wide-eyed and afraid
make their own sacrifices - abandoning jobs and homes
and delaying retirement to help their wounded children
reclaim their lives.

"The women here are the heroes, every bit the heroes
as their Soldiers," said Judith Markelz, who runs a
4-year-old program to aid the families of injured
Soldiers sent here for treatment. "These kids could
not survive without their women."


The patients who arrive at Fort Sam Houston are among
the worst wounded in war, suffering the kind of
injuries that killed their predecessors in earlier

So far, about 600 burn victims and 250 amputees have
been sent here to recover at the Army's only burn
center and at an amputee rehabilitation program set up
since the start of the Iraq war.

Their injuries will take multiple surgeries and months
or years of recovery and rehabilitation.

When the injured arrive, fathers and siblings often
come for the first surgeries. But the wives and
mothers most often stay, Markelz said. They quit jobs,
give up health insurance and abandon homes.

"None of us realized people were going to be here two
years. That's not your normal hospital stay," Markelz
said. "They didn't want to make San Antonio their
home. Now, they can vote here."

Markelz, the wife of a retired army officer, was hired
four years ago to start the Warrior and Family Support
Center, a program that has grown from a few computers
in converted conference rooms to a catchall program
for families of the wounded.

The Army provides housing for families in a post hotel
or at one of the Fisher Houses, family-style dorms
with a living room, kitchen and dining room. But most
arrive with few or no friends and with little
understanding of what they or their wounded family
member will face.

"They come in with their purses like this," said
Markelz, hugging her chest. "They look like a deer in

The assistance center - which will move to a new
12,000-square-foot (110-square-meter) building next
year - provides meals, a place for baffled family
members to seek advice, rides to shopping, just about
anything Markelz's staff can do to help.

Among the family members here for the long haul, about
half are wives and half mothers.

Markelz said it is especially hard on wives of
guardsmen and reservists and on middle-aged mothers of
Soldiers - women who had well-established civilian
lives away from the typically nomadic life of active
military families.

"They didn't sign up for that," she said.


Staff Sgt. Michael Lage had always been an independent
kid. The youngest of three and the only boy, he was
the first to leave home. He joined the Army at 18.

He served two full tours in Iraq, first in 2003 and
again two years later.

Through both tours, his mother prayed and lit a yellow
candle every day at a shrine fashioned from his photo,
angel figurines and military mementos in front of her
fireplace in Atlanta. She continued the ritual when he
was deployed a third time in May.

But less than a month later, his Bradley Fighting
Vehicle was hit by a bomb in Baghdad. Lage was the
only one who managed to crawl out or get blown free of
the wreckage. He was on fire, still carrying his gun,
witnesses later told his family.

Rose Lage and her husband, Larry, arrived in San
Antonio to find Michael in intensive care in a
medically induced coma. He was covered in bandages
with tubes coming in and out of his body.

His mother recognized her son by his long dark

But she wasn't allowed to touch him, couldn't embrace
him the way she longed to.

"It took everything I had to be strong," she said, her
voice breaking.

Now, six months have passed since she arrived in San
Antonio with one large suitcase.

Her husband stayed as long as he could, but he had to
return to work after the couple tapped their
retirement savings for months.

Her two daughters, too, have come to help, but they
have their own homes and young children to care for.

Rose has not gone anywhere.

Pieces of her wardrobe have arrived with family
members as the seasons changed and as she lost weight
from crisscrossing the post on foot. A few photos of
grandchildren have gone up around the hotel room,
along with American Indian charms meant to protect
against nightmares.

Rose has cobbled together an unexpected life here,
learning her way around town and building new routines
and friendships.

Days of housekeeping and care for grandchildren have
been replaced with new routines: the careful wrapping
of gauze around reddened skin, vigilant adherence to
medication regiments, the zipping and buttoning of
Michael's clothes.

"We've given up a lot for him," Rose concedes, sitting
in a hotel room where a giant flag signed by her son's
unit hangs. "We'd give up a lot more for him."

Michael is grateful for his mother's help, but parents
and adult children living together can get on each
other's nerves. The close quarters and the stress

"I appreciate her being here, but living in a small
hotel room with your mom tends to wear on you a bit,"
Michael says.

A career Soldier and divorced father of 8-year-old
twins, he never dreamed he'd be living with or reliant
on his mother at age 30. (His son and daughter live in
Tennessee with their mother.)

Even as a child, he was never good at asking for help,
Rose says.

"That's what annoys her most: I never ask for help,"
he says.

Rose struggles, too, because she knows he doesn't tell
her everything. He holds back some of the emotional
and mental struggles that come with such serious
injuries and with the memories of friends lost at war.

"It's been very hard because I know he is frustrated
because I'm a mom and I haven't been there. I guess he
thinks I don't know what's going on," she says.

"They forget that you're a person. You have a life,
that you have feelings."


The Lages both finally left San Antonio on Dec. 15 for
a Christmas trip to see Michael's children and other
family and friends.

But Michael must return in January to face a series of
surgeries to reconstruct his elbow, and eventually his
amputated arm and his nose and ears. It will probably
take another year of treatment and rehabilitation.

That means Rose will be back, too.

"I will always be here for him no matter what. He can
always depend on me. I will never leave him," she
says, looking at Michael. "I'll be here for my other
kids, too. That's what a mom's for. I would give up my
life for him, and if I could give him my other hand, I

At that, Michael quickly brushes away a tear, and his
mother adds one last thing: "He's my baby."