Trip of Faith Leads To Blessings Of Life
August 2, 2010
- "We wanted to be in an Army community. We felt isolated in a civilian community."
- The Mendenhall couple learned about Huntsville and Redstone Arsenal from a Veterans Affairs coordinator at an Army Wounded Warrior program.
- "We felt God was part of it because we had been praying for a miracle."
- "The patriotism here in Huntsville is not to be compared to anywhere in the world."
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- In early 2009, Linda and Stanford Mendenhall were given an invitation that changed their lives.
Come to Huntsville, they were urged. Be a part of the Redstone Arsenal family, they were encouraged.
So, with all their personal items packed in their car, the Mendenhalls left their Long Island, N.Y., home and ventured south.
They discovered that coming to Alabama and joining Huntsville's military community were just what the doctor ordered.
"We wanted to be in an Army community. We felt isolated in a civilian community," Linda said.
Her husband is a wounded warrior, suffering from multiple injuries caused by his service in Iraq during a time of constant fighting and enemy attacks on the U.S. infantry. He has been declared 100 percent disabled due to fractures and osteoporosis that has led to two back surgeries.
The Mendenhall couple learned about Huntsville and Redstone Arsenal from a Veterans Affairs coordinator during an Army Wounded Warrior symposium. At the time, they were discouraged with the veteran support services they were receiving in New York. And, with financial support for the move from the Bob Woodruff Foundation, it wasn't long before the move sounded like a good idea.
Since arriving in Alabama in February 2009, there have been tremendous improvements in Stanford's health and pain management, and the couple's quality of life. With spare time on his hands, this medically retired Soldier has unearthed a love for gardening flowers and vegetables at the couple's one-acre spread in Meridianville. Linda is an attorney who works for the AMCOM Legal Office. From day one, the couple has felt very much at home in Huntsville.
"It was like being on a magic carpet ride. We felt God was part of it because we had been praying for a miracle," Linda said. "Alice (Myles) and Maj. Gen. Myles are like heroes to me. They make things happen. Kathy Campbell and Lt. Gen. Campbell have been heroes for us, too."
The couple has a long list of friends at Redstone Arsenal who have helped them since coming here. That list includes Brig. Gen. Chris and Mary Ann Tucker, Chaplain Father Ray Kopec, AMCOM Command Sgt. Maj. Ricky Yates and the AMCOM staff, Col. Bob and Anna Pastorelli, Col. Craig Meredith of AMCOM, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Ralph Borja, Fred Allen and Frank Faraci of the AMCOM Legal Office and the entire AMCOM Legal Branch, Army Community Service's Mary Breeden and the Garrison's Wade Brown.
Actually, their venture into the South wasn't totally new to the Mendenhall couple. Stanford is from Wilcox County. His family roots made it easier to convince the couple that they could find a home in Alabama.
"Stanford was very sick when we came here," Linda said. "He wanted to get back to family. There was no medical care, no family care where we were. We were falling through the cracks in New York. Our congressman and the Veterans Administration in New York were no help to us. Here, it's totally different."
With the help of U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith's office, the couple had a mortgage loan approval through the VA within a month of coming to Huntsville. They have experienced tremendous support from Huntsville/Madison County leaders and volunteers, including Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle; Laura Ayers, a local volunteer, author of the Reintegration Action Plan and an employee at the Army Materiel Command; Al Hinson of Operation Grateful Heart; and volunteers with the North Alabama Veterans and Fraternal Organizations Coalition who have helped them with VA benefits and other issues pertaining to their move.
"They are not just doing the talk. They really care," Linda said of those who have come to the aid of her and her husband. "They work on issues and they are for real.
"This is a very patriotic community. Last year's Veterans Day Parade was a healing experience for us. The patriotism here in Huntsville is not to be compared to anywhere in the world."
Stanford served for 24 years in the active Army and National Guard. As a member of the New York National Guard "Fighting 69th," he deployed to the World Trade Center to provide security after the 9-11 attacks. He deployed to Iraq in 2004-05 as a squad leader.
"Three months into Iraq I knew I was having problems," he said. "My chest and back were always pounding. I couldn't control the pain.
"But I wouldn't complain too much because I was afraid I would have to leave my guys behind. I was more afraid for them if I left than I was for me if I stayed and just sucked it up."
After his deployment, Stanford tried to go back to his duties as a carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, where he had worked for 18 years. It wasn't long before his supervisor, a Vietnam veteran, recognized that Stanford was struggling with this health.
"He told me I needed to get checked," Stanford said. "So I did, and found out I had a fracture in my upper back. It was something to be very concerned about because I hadn't gotten hit, I hadn't fallen, in Iraq. The doctor thought I had some form of cancer. I was a mystery man."
In March 2009, he was declared disabled. In February of this year, the former staff sergeant received a medical retirement.
"Some days I can't get up. My back will go out and I can't even walk or stand," he said. "The doctors told me I have arthritis in my back. I've had congestive heart failure and I have high risk osteoporosis where the bones start to die. Our whole unit in Iraq was exposed to depleted uranium. They don't know if that's connected to my health problems."
He's also been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.
"The mental part is the hardest," Stanford said. "The Birmingham VA hospital has been a great help getting things straightened out for me. They are checking my medications and I have good follow-up care. Now, I sleep at night. I don't fight in my sleep anymore."
During the initial days of her husband's care, Linda was told Stanford could soon be in a wheelchair. That motivated Linda, who at the time weighed almost 300 pounds, to have gastric bypass surgery and lose 170 pounds.
"I wanted to be healthy so that I could take care of Stanford as his health got worse," said
Linda, who now works out regularly at the Sparkman Fitness Center and the Huntsville Hospital Wellness Center.
Linda said there is no comparison between the care her husband has received in Alabama with that which he received in New York. She is convinced that had the couple stayed in New York, Stanford would now be in a wheelchair.
With Stanford's improved health and a more stable family life, the Mendenhall couple have gotten active in the community. They are volunteers with the North Alabama Veterans and Fraternal Organizations Coalition, the Semper Fi Wounded Warrior program and the VA Mental Health Clinic in Huntsville. They are active in Progressive Union Baptist Church.
Even though they are happy, the couple did give up plenty to come to Huntsville. Linda worked for 20 years as a family law practitioner in New York, and also as a prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn. The couple left their two teenage children with relatives to make the move. Their other two children now attend the University of Alabama.
"It's not been easy. Stanford is going through a lot of stuff. But there's a lot of support here for us. That makes all the difference," Linda said.