Family key to recovery
Fort Lewis Warrior Transition Battalion Soldier Sgt. First Class Andrew Turnbull with his wife Sunee.

FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Much the same as other American families, the Turnbulls look forward to the holiday season.

Andrew and Sunee Turnbull have been married 10 years and have three sons ranging in age from 5 to 14. Late last week, Sunee, 30, was getting ready to deliver an early gift - Sara, their first daughter. This Army family of six should all be together for Christmas.

Last year at this time, however, things were a bit less settled for the Turnbulls. Andrew, 31, had recently returned home from his second deployment to Iraq with extensive injuries suffered when a hand grenade blew up inside his Stryker vehicle. Along with physical wounds, he had post-traumatic stress disorder.

"It was pretty bad a year ago when he came home," Sunee recalled. "He would not come out of the bedroom. That was his safe point, to be up there away from everybody.

"Christmas was really bad for him last year. During Christmas was the worst I'd ever seen him."

Though never much of a drinker, Andrew was doing his share back then to deal with the physical and mental pain he felt.

"I even carried a flask around with me," Andrew said.

Sunee asked him to stop.

"So I stopped," said Andrew, who has come a long way from that low point. A sergeant first class assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Lewis, he attends Pierce College classes at Stone Education Center and volunteers as a youth sports coach. He said he would like to teach high school history when he retires from the Army.

Loud noises don't bother Andrew nearly as much as when he first got back from Iraq. The smell of food cooking doesn't remind him of burning flesh anymore. And he now can drive more comfortably off post.

"I'd look for IEDs," Andrew said of the early days of his return. "When cars (were) too close to me, it would just freak me out. It's not that bad anymore."

Looking back, Andrew can see clearly how important family was to his recovery.

"I didn't want to talk to anybody, but when you have a wife and kids, you have no choice," Andrew said. "They're right there, 24/7. So it makes it easier, because you have to interact."

Andrew began telling his wife about his experiences in Iraq.

"It's a lot easier to be able to talk to your spouse about things that you don't tell your friends," Andrew said. "You have that bond that's greater than a friend or a best friend, because you share everything intimately."

He doesn't burden his children with memories of war, but Andrew makes certain to stay open to them in other ways.

"You definitely want to be on the ball with the children," Andrew said. "You don't want to stop doing what you used to do with them. It will hurt the children."

Sunee pointed out that Andrew is much less aggressive now than when he first returned from Iraq.

"He loses his temper just the same," she said, "but he recovers from it better."

Through it all, Andrew's loved ones kept him grounded.

"I didn't want to hurt my family," Andrew said. "That's the last thing I ever want to do is hurt my wife and children."

Bob Reinert is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.

Page last updated Wed November 26th, 2008 at 12:44