“I give mad credit to women in the military who are mothers,” Teresa Grace said.
We had resumed our interview and the first topic was the fine balance of military duties with the daily details of life and family time.
Grace had some time to go yet in the story of her newly minted young adult life before she would make this heartfelt statement. Soon, her admiration for women who leave children to answer the call of duty would come from personal experience.
Then-Army Pvt. Teresa Broadwell came home a hero from her first tour of duty in Iraq where she was awarded a Bronze Star with “V” for Valor for action in Karbala in 2003. Between then and her redeployment in January 2005 back to the “sandbox,” she met and married Army Sgt. Jake Grace, also an active-duty soldier.
In the midst of the honeymoon months, she boarded a plane back to Iraq.
“It was difficult for me to get back on that plane,” Grace said. “I was leaving my husband. We’d just gotten a dog, which was basically our baby, and I hate flying.”
“We’re going to make it,” said Grace’s girlfriend and battle buddy, Susanne Barker. They sat side by side as they flew with Grace hyperventilating. Barker and Grace joined together to extend their home-grown family, and support each other.
While Grace knew the grueling conditions of combat she was returning to, it was her health that surprised everyone.
“By April 2005, the onsite emergency care at our little Polish-run field hospital medivaced me out of Iraq to Germany,” Grace said. “I was pulled out alone, so I transitioned without anyone from my unit or area. Not much opportunity to talk to any other soldiers except a kind of dayroom with a TV at a PX, I waited till I got a flight to Andrew’s Air force Base. From there a bus took me to Walter Reed and to be assessed for surgery.”
With family around her, Grace came out of surgery on June 1 that repaired two holes in her heart and dealt with her aneurysm.
“My husband is from Maryland, so I was fortunate to have a week of recovery and then have the added care of my sister in-law who is a nurse. I had help and family support. I taught myself to walk again and gained strength.”
Life changed again for the dual-military family. The Graces worked through the details of a family care plan, because a family of their own was indeed on its way.
In that first year, unable to wear a vest or carry any heavy loads, Grace’s next job was to administrative work. At the 194th Military Police Company headquarters she worked with forms, finance, awards, leaves and similar details. She also had her first child.
“Leaving my son to go to work for the day was very difficult,” she said. “I don’t know how active duty military mothers handle leaving children for long periods of time.”
Grace and her husband made the decision she should become a stay-at-home mom.
“It was a weird transition period. Kind of like the weekend all the time. It seemed like just not enough for me to do after an intense military routine, but I didn’t want to miss more of my son’s life-his learning to walk, to play, to talk.”
Grace took on work that fit around her family’s schedule. A 6 a.m to 2 p.m. full time shift in a residential setting helping women with mental, physical and behavioral issues let her contribute and earn money.
“It wasn’t too late in the day to be with my kids when I was done,” she said. “I got help from friends and from my dad who came to live with us to lend a hand.”
Grace pulled in her military training to help with the transition.
“Military mentality helped my clients with the structure and commitment I brought to the job,” Grace said. For her, the Army’s training taught her discipline and left plenty of room for her to care about her work and clients. She brought up issues she felt were real.
Only in her mid-20s, Specialist Teresa Grace, served her country well, created a family, received an honorable discharge, beat the odds on an incredible health risk and built the first real home of her young adult years with her husband.
In the last leg of our interview we look inside Grace’s survival strategy and ideas on coping when post traumatic stress came knocking at her door.