Wounded warrior embraces new normal, new employment – Part One

Editorial note: This week we will feature a three-part series on Master Sergeant (retired) Jeffrey Mittman and his story from being wounded in Iraq to his employment with the Department of Defense.

Foreword by Major (ret) Arturo R. Murguia, Special Assistant, Office of the Secretary of Defense

On Feb 29, I attended the Service’s Wounded Warrior Employment Conference at Fort Belvoir, VA.  While there, I had the pleasure of meeting MSG (ret) Jeffrey Mittman.  Jeff was attending the conference to encourage wounded warriors like him to consider applying for positions at the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS).  Jeff’s journey from being wounded in combat to employed veteran is the stuff legends are made from. 

 The last seven years of his life alone would make others cringe at the intestinal fortitude required to complete his daunting odyssey.  Thankfully, Mr. Mittman had the support of his wife and children.  His story could have ended a million different ways; out on the battlefield, in the Medevac flight to Landstuhl, or in one of his approximately 40 grueling surgeries.  But Jeff wasn’t ready for the honor guard, wasn’t ready for the caisson, wasn’t ready to leave his wife and daughters…he wasn’t ready for the end.  And if you ever get the chance to meet him, you will understand why.  There is absolutely “no-quit” in him, like it’s engineered into his DNA -just like he wouldn’t quit with those often painful surgeries or those occupational therapy sessions from hell, just like he wouldn’t quit after one master’s degree, just like he won’t quit now.  He won’t quit because he has a family to provide for, because he won’t quit on his wife, daughters and family who wouldn’t quit on him, because, at the end of the day, he has too much living to do.

 My words here can do no justice to the obstacles Mr. Mittman has faced.  I can only offer a humble “thank you” to Mr. Mittman for setting an example of what wounded warriors can overcome.

 We begin the series with Christy Mittman’s account of her husband’s injuries and how her family’s life was changed forever. 


Family photo of Jeffrey and Christy Mittman and their two daughters

Jeffrey and Christy Mittman with their two daughters prior to to his 2005 injury.

Before my husband Jeff was injured, I would say that we lived a fairly normal military life. He was in and out of our house a lot, back and forth to schools and various other places that his military duties took him. While he was away, my children and I went about our daily lives and made the best of the situation. It is not to say that we did not miss him, but we dealt with it the best we could. Life does not stop just because your husband is away on duty.

This “normal” life changed on 7 July 2005. Many people may remember this day as the day of the London bombings. Jeff was in Iraq on his fourth combat tour when I received a phone call from the Department of Defense informing me that he had been very seriously injured, had severe facial trauma, and a right-hand injury. The caller could provide no further details and told me that I would be receiving an additional call when they had more information.

When I received this phone call, I was visiting my parents in Indiana with our two daughters who were 8 and 2 years old at the time. I was faced with the task of sitting two small children down and telling them that their father had been injured in a war that they did not understand. So there we sat for the next 12 hours as family gathered around us and awaited further word on Jeff’s condition. Finally, I received a call and was told that my husband was on his way to Germany and I would hear from the doctors after they were able to evaluate him.

It was the next day before I received that call from the doctors. During the call, I was told to write down all of my husband injuries to ensure that I understood their severity. They also told me that my husband would be transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) in Washington DC. Over the next two days, we received updates on Jeff’s condition as I prepared to leave my children with my parents and go to my husband’s bedside at Walter Reed.

I arrived at Walter Reed on the evening of 11 July 2005. As I looked around, I saw amputees, bandages, wheelchairs, and crutches and knew that this was my new “normal.” I headed straight to the surgical intensive care unit (SICU) and was stopped outside of my husband’s room by his nurse. He wanted to make sure that I knew the severity of his injuries and that I was prepared for what I was about to see. Despite being told what to expect, I was shocked when I first walked into Jeff’s room.  He lay there in the bed missing his nose and lips, bloodied and bandaged, with a ventilator making a swooshing sound as it forced air into his lungs. For the next three hours the nurse briefed me on every possible detail about my husband’s condition.

For the next month I would arrive at Jeff’s room early in the morning, stay well into the night, and then return to my hotel room. Every day was the same thing—I would sit by his bedside and make sure he was taken care of. I became an expert and changing IVs or bandages.

About a month after Jeff was injured the doctors began to wake him up from his medically induced coma. It was a struggle at first because he would become violent and try to fight whoever was in the room as he was waking up. However, he slowly began to break free and regain consciousness.

You can imagine his confusion once he was awake. He was tied to a hospital bed unable to see, speak, or walk. As he became more coherent, I had to explain to him what had happened. I would start at his feet and work my way up slowly explaining each injury as I would come to it. The problem was that every time Jeff fell back asleep he would forget what had happened and when he would awake, I would have to repeat the process all over again. This went on for two or three days until he was fully conscious. Jeff would spend the first seven weeks after he was injured in the hospital, and the next five and half years enduring approximately 40 operations to reconstruct his nose, lips, teeth, and arm.

Even today it seems so overwhelming. Sometimes I still cry when I recount this story. I think about how my husband’s injuries have changed our lives and the about effect they have had on our children. To this day our youngest daughter has no memory of her father prior to him being injured and the oldest daughter’s memories are fading. His injuries have dominated their childhood. I have often thought that military children begin their lives serving their nation and we know firsthand the sacrifices that they make.

Despite everything that has happened we are lucky. We now lead fairly normal lives. Jeff is working on his second master’s degree and goes to work every day; while I take care of the home and chauffeur him and the children to their daily activities.

Jeff may have been severely injured and lost most of his vision, but he survived. Other families weren’t so lucky.

Stay tuned tomorrow for part two where Jeff Mittman talks about his recovery and search for employment.