Paternal Instinct. Father's fears for his Marines sons realised

A Norwood father’s fears come true as he gets word only months apart his two sons were injured fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

On the day his first son was born 24 years ago, Bob Brady had a fleeting thought. As he marveled at the perfect little being he and his wife, Diane, had brought into the world, he said to himself: “I hope there isn’t a war in 18 years.’’

In 2004, with the United States fully involved in not one, but two wars, Brady’s son Carl graduated from Norwood High School and joined the Marine Corps six days later with the hope of eventually becoming a history teacher. Younger brother Craig followed suit after his high school graduation in 2006. That fear the proud and anxious dad felt so many years ago had become a reality.

Carl, Craig and Bob Brady at Walter Reed Army Medical Center

But the worst reality was yet to come.

This past January, Brady received a phone call that Craig was injured in Afghanistan. Then, while helping Craig through his recovery, Brady and his wife learned just last month that Carl would be admitted into Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio to be treated for traumatic brain injury, or TBI, caused by concussions suffered during his deployments. The “normal’’ life for this dad, husband, finish carpenter, and hockey referee had just drastically changed.

Reflecting on that “hideous’’ phone call about Craig’s injury, Brady said recently, “I was in Scott Brown’s office getting ready to campaign for him. The Marine casualty officer called me on my cellphone. As soon as I heard who it was, I knew it was bad, but they didn’t tell me much, just that Craig needed a tourniquet on his legs and had compound fractures. I sat in my car for half an hour and cried, then drove to my wife’s office and told her.’’

Craig, a corporal who had completed a previous tour in Iraq and served on a Marine Expeditionary Unit, was on a seven-month assignment in Afghanistan. Barely halfway into it, he stepped on an improvised explosive device, or IED, in the mountains of Now Zad, severely damaging his right leg from the knee down. He suffered numerous torn ligaments in his knee, compound fractures of the tibia, and a shattered heel and ankle, leaving him no range of motion. After attempts to salvage the leg, he and his doctors made the decision to amputate from the mid-shin.

Despite those injuries, Brady said of his son, “He was lucky.’’

“It was 10 pounds of explosives, but only 3 to 4 pounds of it went off. Had the whole thing detonated, he probably would have traumatic amputation on both legs.’’

Since January, the father has mostly been living away from his Norwood home in Washington, D.C., where Craig is receiving care. For the first six weeks Craig was treated at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, then was transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Brady lived with his son as his primary care-giver in Walter Reed’s Mologne House, the out-patient facility for those who still need daily but not round-the-clock hospital care. After a series of surgeries, including one recently to remove a hematoma from his leg, Craig is receiving physical therapy daily in attempts to strengthen his leg so he can be fitted with a prosthetic.

While at Walter Reed, Brady stayed busy. He helped coach Craig’s sled-hockey team, teaching amputees to skate again, and this has helped him stay sane, he said.

“You’ve got to have a distraction there, and hockey was a good one,’’ he said. “It’s one thing that brought out a smile in these wounded warriors who had lost limbs, and it made me smile as well.’’

But with hockey over and Craig doing better, Brady thought it was time to go home to Diane and get caught up at home.

Now that Carl, a sergeant who served two deployments in Iraq, is in the hospital in Texas, Brady’s challenge is to figure out how to divide his time among the two boys and Diane, who works for the town of Canton and has multiple sclerosis. (“I’m living a three-way tug-of-war,’’ said Brady with a laugh.)

The father returned home with a heavy heart recently, without Craig, and said he felt completely lost. He’s now planning to go to Texas to see Carl.

“His injuries aren’t external, so he doesn’t look injured,’’ the 54-year-old said of his older son. “But they are serious. When people think of traumatic brain injuries, they think of severe physical injuries to the head. In Carl’s case, he is suffering the effects of his Humvee being blown up by IEDs several different times. He was always able to go back to work as an antiterrorist specialist, even though he was having some issues with short-term memory, tinnitus [ringing in the ears], balance, and temper management. Those are classic signs of TBI.’’

Brady said a senior noncommissioned officer noticed Carl, who was stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., “flying off the handle’’ easily, and had him tested at the hospital.

In May, Carl was admitted for extensive testing and to be part of a study called HBOT — short for hyperbaric oxygen therapy — in which the patient spends time daily in a hyperbaric chamber.

“Carl is there alone,’’ said Brady, “and will be treated for the next two to four months. Carl wants me there, and I know I need to be there to see him, to help him through this. That’s all part of the tug-of-war.’’

Carl is accustomed to being away from home and his family, having been in the military for six years. But the Marine, who is halfway through the HBOT study, said he’s looking forward to a visit from his dad.

“It’ll be nice to take him around San Antonio and just hang out,’’ he said. “Dad is the backbone of the family. He seems to be handling all this pretty well. He’s been a big help to me. He makes me snap back to reality when I need it.’’

Craig said having his dad around at Walter Reed was helpful.

“My recovery hasn’t been that frustrating because I’ve had help,’’ he said. “If there was anything I couldn’t do, Dad did it for me. I am doing fine now, so Dad is back home. I’m watching a lot of movies and going to therapy. That’s an average day.’’

Both young men are unsure of what will follow after treatment is completed. Staying in the Marines is something they’re considering, but Carl is also still thinking about studying history.

“It’s day by day for them,’’ their father said.

For now, finding the time to visit his sons isn’t an issue, said Brady. He’s been on medical disability following a triple by-pass and recent shoulder surgery. But financing the travel costs is difficult with his disability pay and his wife’s town salary as an outreach worker for the elderly. The military helps out with travel expenses, and the Semper Fi Fund and the Yellow Ribbon Fund have helped, said Brady.

He is proud of his boys as Marines, and said what they have been through is part of the job they chose.

“This is the nature of the business,’’ he said. “I’ve always played the ‘what if’ game, and then you put it out of your head. But it does help you be mentally prepared. God had a plan for me, and He made sure I was mentally ready to accept it.’’

On Father’s Day, Brady says he misses his sons, but he’s grateful for them, and to those who lost their lives fighting for the country.

“My boys are coming home eventually,’’ he said. “I consider myself lucky. I got a phone call saying my boys were injured. I didn’t have three [military officers] at the door.’’

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  1 comment for “Paternal Instinct. Father's fears for his Marines sons realised

  1. wendy
    June 20, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Bob, you are a tower of strength for your boys. All at the Douglas Bader Foundation wish the whole Brady Bunch the very best of luck for the future and send you all our support.

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