Comfort Amid Crisis: USO Supports Army Family Every Step of the Way After Blast
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
By Eric Brandner
Kat Causey still has the luggage tag with her wedding picture in it. It was made last fall, after one of the worst days of her life.
Causey, an avid writer and “Unlikely Wife,” as she used to refer to herself on her blog, got the news that her husband, Army Sergeant 1st Class Aaron Causey, had lost his legs in a blast in Afghanistan on Sept. 7, 2011. Stunned, one of her first moves was to call out of her volunteer shift at USO Fort Drum, N.Y., where the couple was stationed.
“The first thing I said was ‘I can’t come in today,’” Kat said. “And [USO Fort Drum Programs Manager Allie May said] ‘I don’t care that you can’t come in. Do you need me?’”
That phone call, and the emails that followed, started a chain of events in the USO network that stretched the length of the eastern seaboard of the United States, across the Atlantic Ocean to Germany and back.
“It was like their own family member had been injured,” Kat said of the USO response.
I received an injury notification today in the form of two strangers in ACUs. My life from this point on will never be the same, but I will embrace it and defeat all obstacles. … I have to see this typed: My husband lost both of his legs. He is otherwise fine and in good health, whatever that means. Thank you in advance for your thoughts and prayers.
Sept. 7, 2011
As Kat describes it, the Causeys were married on Easter Sunday in 2010 at “a place you can’t GPS in Alabama.”
They grew up in the same state–just an hour’s drive from each other on Interstate 20–but didn’t meet until a 2009 chance encounter in Atlanta. Aaron, now 33, was serving in Germany at the time, but the couple started dating when he visited the States again two months later. Kat, 30, estimates they spent a month in days together over the next year before tying the knot.
“In my first year of marriage, we went through possibly the most difficult thing a couple can go through: sharing a bathroom and a car,” she said. “If you can share a bathroom and a car with someone and still like them at the end of the year, then everything is great.”
Aaron is an explosives ordnance technician, which is as dangerous as it sounds. The Army sent the couple to Fort Drum, and then sent Aaron’s unit on a deployment to Afghanistan.
Looking for a new challenge, Kat started volunteering at USO Fort Drum in early 2011, right around the time Aaron was heading to the Middle East.
“It’s an infantry-heavy post,” she said. “So a lot of these guys are there because they don’t have money. They’re not 21. They don’t have families. … They come in and play video games, watch TV, watch movies, eat.
“I was there 15 to 20 hours a week. … It was wonderful.”
Everyday the plan changes. He’s doing well, but fighting infection and since he was bumped from two flights the Army is flying me and his parents over to be with him. … But people have been amazing. ... Total strangers (to me) are visiting my husband in Germany and updating me. They are reading notes to him the family has sent them.
–Unlikely Wife, Sept. 10, 2012
Two years later, everything was upside down.
The first stop for severely injured troops coming from the Middle East is Germany and Aaron was still at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center three days after the blast.
“I sent an email to Konrad Braun, Director, USO Kaiserslautern [Germany] that included pictures of Kat and Aaron,” USO Fort Drum Director Karen Clark said. “I asked Konrad to print the pictures so Aaron would have pictures of his wife with him while he traveled.”
With Aaron unable to get a quick flight back to the United States, Kat and her family prepared to go meet him.
“Karen Clark … sent out an email that flagged me that said ‘This is Kat Causey, she’s a key volunteer [and] her husband’s been injured,’” Kat said. “‘She’ll be making a journey to Germany and then going to Walter Reed in Bethesda. Let’s make sure we take care of her.’
“That email went so far.”
Kat made her way to USO Fort Drum to say her goodbyes. Her USO family sat with her, talked with her and cried with her. Then, four days after the blast–the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks–she was at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., boarding a flight to Frankfurt, Germany.
“I don’t know what the USO volunteer told the ticket lady at United Airlines, but I was [upgraded to] first class,” she said.
The effort didn’t end there. Once they were safely across the Atlantic, Kat said the USO helped arrange emergency housing so they wouldn’t have spent hundreds of dollars on hotel rooms.
“[The USO did] just incredible, incredible things,” she said. “Every person at the USO Center at Dulles, arriving in Frankfurt, Germany, getting back to Dulles and coming here–they all knew my name.”
Everything has gone really, really well and while a small voice in my head is saying, “Too well?” another voice is whispering that maybe this is how it’s supposed to be! ... We can hold our breaths just a little less.
–Warrior Wife, Oct. 8, 2012
Aaron is making progress now. He walked on prosthetic legs at the homecoming his hometown of Oxford, Alabama, held for him before last Christmas. He’s likely had his last surgery and recently received new artificial knees.
The Causeys believe they’ll be out of the Army by 2013 with a full life ahead–albeit very different from the one they envisioned when they exchanged wedding vows at that remote Alabama lake house a few years back. Kat is back in school and talks of becoming a D.C.-based lobbyist. She says Aaron will likely pursue a career in defense or intelligence in the civilian sector.
Through their whole journey, Kat has stayed in contact with the USO, speaking at a USO of Metropolitan Washington meeting and giving a speech on the USO’s behalf at the Charity Works Dream Ball earlier this fall.
"I still have the luggage tag with my wedding picture in it," Kat said. "I can show them that and say 'This is how personal it can get. This is how important it is that these programs are here.'"
(Photo caption: With his wife, Kat, at his side, Aaron Causey re-learns to walk at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in December 2011. Photo courtesy of the Causey family.)
Comments (# comments) [+]