The average military family could relocate ten times more often than civilian families which is about every two to three years. Factor in changing schools, homes and jobs and it’s quite the hectic lifestyle.
That’s a good day.
Claudia Avila looks at all her days as good, even when they are hard because she still has her miracle husband, Capt. Luis Avila.
As an Officer with the 720th Military Police Battalion, Capt. Avilla served five combat tours throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. On December 27, 2011, he was severely wounded in an explosion in Afghanistan losing a leg, suffering two heart attacks, two strokes, cardiac arrest, was pronounced dead three times, and had a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), that left him almost completely paralyzed.
“Our boys were ten, thirteen and fourteen. This is a critical time when they are in their middle school years. We did what we had to do for Luis. His care was at Walter Reed, so we lived in the Fisher House and Navy Lodge for two years,” Claudia recalls.
Capt. Avila was hospitalized for four years enduring surgeries and therapies while his family had to keep being a family and living life too. “The Army didn’t want to give us orders because they were thinking Luis was going to die, his complex situation wasn’t seen before, so they finally gave me orders to PCS. Thankfully, in 2016 we got our forever home that was built to suit Luis,” said Claudia.
This military family knows what it means to serve. Even before Capt. Avila was injured, they were involved in a life of service together. “We always wanted to help care for our service members and families no matter where we were. The mentality always has been serving. I’ve always loved to be an advocate and care for people, and we taught this tour sons,” beamed Claudia who went on to share her sons, who are now young adults, are still living a life of service in their jobs and at college.
Besides relying on a life of service, the Avila’s rely on a life of faith and prayers.
“Luis is a full testament of the powers of prayers. We do what we do as a Military Family with love and prayers. Not just for Luis but for all service members and their families but especially for those who could be in a situation like ours,” said Claudia, who received the Hero at Home Award from the PenFed Foundation in 2018.
The role of Caregiver and Advocate is her life. The logistics of getting her husband to doctor appointments, physical therapy and even to their sons’ events is nothing short of amazing to witness. In the overwhelming darkness of this new normal she has advice for anyone who may have a change in their family dynamic from physical or mental issues in their loved one.
“Sometimes through these journeys people tend to lose their personality and identity. Every person is unique. You are who you are not because of your husband or what happened to him,” explained Claudia. She goes on with an early on example of that potential loss of identity.
“When I am talking about being a caregiver it’s disheartening that the public can make you lose who you are. Often people say this is the spouse of Captain Luis Avila and I say no I have a name; I am Claudia. I taught my kids that early on. Never be referred to as Captain Avila’s kids… your name is Miguel. You know, we all need to not lose who we are.”
The Avila sons and the rest of their family are crucial to the recovery and care process for Captain Avila. “Luis, Miguel & Jose are caregivers too, as they play the most important part of our lives, they have been our inspiration to continue our family journey. As a family we can’t do this alone. My mother, sister, and brother “in- love” have walked this journey with us and will forever. It takes a village to walk our journeys as the support of our military family,” explained Claudia.
Capt. Avila, with his impaired speech and limited mobility, is living his life to the fullest with the support of his family. He sings the National Anthem at many events and is even a member of Team Army, winning four gold and one silver at the 2022 Warrior Games last August in Orlando competing in adaptive sports. His victories are Claudia’s victories, but she stresses to any caregiver not to let barriers get in the way of those victories.
“Identity, inclusion and partnership are the biggest barriers for any caregiver,” she says. Indicating others like her may have heard comments like, “you guys make it look so easy.”
“I say well maybe it is easy because we do it with a lot of love, hope and prayers, it’s not complicated. People can make it complicated.” The worst disability a human can have is their attitude. We don’t see disabilities, only the possibilities. Behind every wounded, injured and ill service member, is a wounded, injured and ill family. Service members are the foundation of our nation, military families are the backbone for service members, and caregivers are the core of military medicine,” Claudia says as if to drop the mic with confidence, yet still knowing the challenges will be there.
The Avila’s chose to accept the challenge.
“We will navigate it and we will make it work. Military living, culture, tradition, resilience, and readiness, it might be a little challenging, but we will get there with faith, love, and prayers.”
Gratefulness comes out of this journey daily. The Avila’s know it takes more than a village.
“We are so grateful to our military family and everything they do. We appreciate military medicine, the pioneers of casualty care, as many of our combat wounded and ill wouldn’t have a life without their holistic approach in an interdisciplinary team,” said Claudia who is also appreciative of every opportunity to tell their story in order to help others.
“It helps our service members achieve a better quality of life in their new normal as they continue to serve with honor.”