The Bullock Family (Silver Star)
The other side of the story is an equally important narrative that doesn’t receive nearly enough attention in our Global War On Terror. Although you’d be hard pressed to find Jesica Bullock complaining about this, her story is an incredible one of perseverance that begs to be told. So much about her mimics Jared’s story in the way that she presents the details with a blunt and refreshing honesty almost unrecognizable in a culture that dresses almost everything up. Jesica Bullock is Jesica Bullock, a woman that doesn’t even regard herself as a caregiver anymore. She’s been everything to Jared that he’s needed and when that included allowing him to handle his own responsibilities, she did just that.
Her handling of Jared’s injuries was certainly assisted by her background as a well-respected nurse, but nothing ever completely prepares one for that level of care. The reality is, knowing the possibility of pain doesn’t necessarily make that pain any easier to bare. Still, you’ll never find Jesica grumbling about her supportive role with Jared. In fact, you’ll find someone who describes her background as possibly being a type of divine appointment, preparing her for the realities of caring for a wounded loved one. This journey was also a part of her growth as a mother to a young son, Aidan, and the realization that her role would continually evolve in his life. We’ve already said enough. Here’s Jesica.
How did you meet Jared?
JB: I met Jared 14 years ago when his brother was dating my roommate in college. They were all from the same town and she’d brought up meeting Kyle’s (Jared’s twin) twin brother. I didn’t really want to date anyone that was in the Army but she thought I’d really like him. He called me and we talked on the phone for about a month before we saw each other. We fell in love over the phone which seems a little bit crazy (laughs). I met his brother first which was weird since they look exactly alike. We met and it went from there. The relationship was long distance for two years. We dated for a year and then he deployed to Iraq the second year. We dated another eight months after that and got married in December. I moved to Fort Benning with him after that.
What were the things that most attracted you to him?
JB: Jared’s perseverance to do more everyday in the Army was very attractive to me. He was in the infantry and that just wasn’t enough for him. He came home one day and said, “Jess, I want to go to SF.” I said, “What’s that?” He explained that it was Special Forces which was a two year process. This was pretty hardcore and more than he was doing at the moment. It could also be dangerous. I told him I was fine with whatever he wanted to do. We moved to North Carolina after he passed selection. He passed and I could not have been more proud of him and his perseverance.
Was that time period stressful?
JB: That time period was and wasn’t stressful, because I got pregnant when we moved to North Carolina (laughs). We went through the nine month pregnancy in North Carolina. I had Aidan on a Saturday at noon and Jared left for 4 weeks on that following Monday. He left a day and half after I had our son. It wasn’t 100 percent stressful because I knew what I was getting into when I married him. It was somewhat easy for us and we made it work.
What makes a successful couple when it comes to Special Forces guys?
JB: I honestly don’t know what it takes to make it as a Special Forces couple. I really haven’t thought about that aspect of marriage. I knew when I married him that I was going to be committed to him no matter what because I loved him. I come from a deep, strong faith and knew who I married. I wanted to be with him the rest of my life no matter what. I think we are both so strong willed that we wouldn’t let a divorce happen. We’re both stubborn and will give it our all. The will to keep pushing no matter how hard life gets at times, is a major factor.
Can you tell me about the day he was wounded ?
JB: That day was weird. I had talked to him 12 hours prior the night before. He was 12 hours ahead and going into the day that it happened. We didn’t have great a conversation that night when he called me at 10:30pm my time. The long distance gets to you after awhile and you just have those bad days. We didn’t really fight but there wasn’t anything good to talk about. It just wasn’t a good conversation. I’m a nurse and had gotten up at 5 a.m. to go in for my 12 hour shift. My eyes had bags under them and I looked as if I had been crying. I didn’t cry after our conversation but it was just weird. My co-workers were asking what was wrong because I’m usually upbeat. I told them I just felt weird.
I went to a wound vac class and did not want to be in there but I had to be re-certified. The irony was three days later I found out that Jared had three wound vacs. The day was just very uncomfortable. There was a kid from my hometown that had lost his leg and was receiving a free vehicle from the State of Illinois Firefighters. It was the same night of the day that Jared’s accident happened. I found out about this event and called my mom. I asked “Did you see this kid that’s going to be on the football game tonight? He lost his leg and I think it’s so cool that he’s getting a new vehicle.” I missed the entire thing because I received the call that Jared had been injured. They told me he had lost his arm and his leg. It was just the weirdest day.
What was the feeling of that phone call?
JB: I was scared but I found myself feeling that I was super strong on that phone call. I don’t know how. I was half asleep and thinking I was on my way to work at 5 a.m. with Aidan asleep. I thought at first it was a dream and after he told me I sat straight up in the bed. I said, “Wait a second.” I had him repeat it to me because I seriously thought I was dreaming. He repeated it to me and it’s not a phone call anyone ever wants to receive.
Did you think about your future?
JB: I absolutely thought about our future. When we were dating we had conversations about this aspect of service. I knew in the back of my mind that there was a possibility he would not come home when he deployed. I understood that as a very real possibility. I never had that thought of him coming home injured, though. I come from a small town and was a just a little bit naive of those things in the world. You just didn’t see amputees where I’m from and you don’t know how to handle those situations until they happen. It just hits me like a ton of bricks pretty suddenly. I thought, “Oh my God. He’s coming home alive but what does this mean for us? Will he be able to talk to me? Is he going to make it?” It was a very uncomfortable feeling for sure.
What was the process after that? Did you fly out to Germany?
JB: I received the phone call along with his mom and twin brother. We all got the same phone call. They said they didn’t exactly know when we could come. He would need to arrive in Germany and be stable. They didn’t want to fly us out there too soon because if he was stable enough they would start the process of sending him back to the states. We ended up waiting three days to get over there. They said we would be allowed to go unless he took a turn for the worse. That Saturday evening they called and said we could come. It was a disheartening phone call because we had seen him on a video camera. He looked good. They said, “We need you to come.” His flight wasn’t going to get him back to the states until Thursday and they wanted us over there. We ended up going to Germany and spending three days with him.
What was the feeling like and seeing him in the bed for the first time?
JB: It was a bit of a relief to see him and that he looked okay. I got to see him a few times through webcam and talk to him. He wasn’t really able to talk because he had a tracheal tube in but to just be there with him was wonderful. I was there with him and not across the country from him. He only been deployed for one month to the exact day so it hadn’t been that long from seeing each other. It was definitely a good feeling to actually be there with him. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about him losing an arm and leg but I was just happy he was alive.
What was the process after that when you realized you would be a caregiver?
JB: I’m a nurse so taking care of him felt right for me. It was almost a sense of me realizing that my life’s calling to be a nurse was because this was going to happen. It was just that weird feeling again that we talked about beforehand. I give props to the wives and moms out there that are not nurses. This is a very hard thing to do when you aren’t a nurse. It was easy for me in that sense due to the fact I had been a nurse for 11 years. I knew what I was doing and wasn’t scared. The young wives and mothers that have never dealt with things like that, is hard to imagine for me. It’s your husband or son and you’re trying to take care of him but also be the mom or wife.
What did you specifically have to do?
JB: I did pretty much everything for Jared (laughs). He would save his bathroom breaks until I would come to the hospital (laughs). I did everything for him but I did try to not hover over the nurses that were caring for him. I took over but they would do the major things. When we arrived home I had to change his dressings on his leg once or twice a day. I would check to make sure it was alright. He was going to be headed to rehab for 6-8 weeks after being in the hospital for a month. I credit myself for being a nurse because he ended up not having to go to rehab. They said the only way he could go home was if he could get in and out of his truck with no difficulties. The stubbornness and strong will between the two us made that happen. He had two awesome occupational therapists that helped us out quite a bit. That was their goal with us because Jared’s monster truck was lifted and that was all we had to drive in Texas. Their main strategy was to get him in and out of there safely. We did and they helped us. We were home five days before Christmas. It was a nice thing that he didn’t have to go to rehab for the those 6-8 weeks and that I was able to take care of him.
What advice would you give to a spouse dealing with this situation ?
JB: I would tell spouses not to give up. You will have tough days and good days. You signed up to be with them and you will give them your all. They need your strength and support. I believe that helped get us through. I was strong for him and he stayed strong for me. I never sat there and cried in front of him because that wasn’t the time to cry. The time together was doing what needed to be done and figuring out life for the two of us.
What have you seen from him since those injuries ?
JB: I would have to say Jared’s perseverance is incredible, which has been there from the first day I met him. He was always a go-getter. The moment he woke up he began trying to figure out how to workout. His thought process was thinking of how to get up and how to get a new leg. He would call his twin brother and they would come up with some things he could do. He never gave up. There was one day when he did stop and grieve for his friends and for himself. That moment lasted for a blink of an eye and then he was back on track.
Do you still feel like a caregiver ?
JB: I don’t really feel like a caregiver anymore. I finally have been able to let that role go and move back into the wife role. Every woman is going to take care of their husband and do things for them (laughs). I don’t see myself as the caregiver and haven’t for at least 3 years. The first year I did a lot for him but for the most part he does things for himself now.
Can you tell us about the gym and adapting to that?
JB: I’ve decided to give up my nursing career for the moment to help with the gym. In the beginning, he was going to do this all alone with me being in the background. It evolved into us making all the decisions together over the last few years when it came to the gym. This has allowed us to be together unlike those first 5 or 6 years where we were always apart. We’ve started this new journey together. It’s his passion more than mine but I do enjoy it. I never envisioned myself owning a gym. It’s new and we never saw this coming. I saw myself being a nurse and thought he was going to stay in the Army for 20 years. This has been fun, although it’s tiring (laughs). It’s a new chapter for us and I wouldn’t be the same without him.
Can you talk about that ? How did you adapt to being around him all the time?
JB: I think I must just be one heck of a woman to adapt to Jared being around all the time (laughs). It definitely was a change and different. It was a life changing when he was wounded, and I didn’t have time to think about it. I took a bad situation and I turned it into a blessing in disguise. I have him home and he’s safe.
How has raising your son together been?
JB: It’s been great. Aidan turned four the day after Jared’s accident. The night I found out that Jared was injured, the next morning I had a birthday party planned for that night. I had all of our friends coming over to celebrate. Aidan had no idea what happened because I wanted it to be his day and he was having so much fun. Jared hadn’t been around a whole lot since he would be gone six months at a time quite often. It was a little different life since we would go to Texas for a while and then come back home. When we got back to Florida there were baseball games and school events and Aidan didn’t have to worry about him not being around. He didn’t wonder if his dad was going to be there. It’s been a challenge with parenting because I tend to let Aiden get away with more while Jared was gone. It’s been a fun journey and nice to have us all together.
How was your experience at BAMC (now SAMC)?
JB: BAMC was good and bad as far as the hospital because there were a few things that happened that I didn’t feel great about. The CFI and rehab were great. The occupational therapist that helped him did everything to help us get to our goals. The nurses were amazing as well. You’re going through a lot and trying to navigate the issues with what has just happened. We had assigned reps who helped us get housing, transportation, and anything we needed. It was incredible to have that help. We moved from Florida to Texas within a weeks time and that was very difficult.
Who was your most helpful team member with your family during that process ?
JB: I had some close friends that were from Florida and helped pack up the vehicle when we moved to Texas. When we were on a SF team we had a close knit group of wives that were my rock. They were there for anything I needed whether it be packing or watching my son. This group of wives were the lifeline for those few days and even throughout the entire process of it all. When you get out of the routine and the process changes the aspect of the friendship changes. They all knew Jared and I were stable which showed them we could fend for ourselves.
What do you see in the future and moving forward with your goals ?
JB: I want this gym to be successful. I know this was not Jared’s dream in life. He wanted to be Special Forces for however long he could. I was going to be a nurse until I retired and then have a ranch somewhere. Life changed just a little bit. It’s a nice feeling to have your own thing with someone you love. You built this yourself and no one helped you. This is all ours and we have done it together. We want to be successful and leave a legacy which I think Jared already has left one. He didn’t give up.
What advice would you give to spouses trying to own their own business together ?
JB: It’s hard (laughs). You should never underestimate it and make sure you love the person you’re with (laughs). You will fight quite often and the decisions have to be made no matter who makes them. Whatever budget your plan is you should double that and stick to your passion. You need to make sure you can agree on things. Don’t give up.
Resilience is a truly beautiful human trait in our nation’s caregivers. Demands arise few could ever imagine but those are met by great love and perseverance as seen in the example of spouses like Jesica. Although she must’ve mentally prepared herself for those possibilities of brokenness, she would’ve never truly known those realities until that tempestuous moment of truth. Still, her example is one of taking a moment in stride and immediately moving forward towards greater goals. Although Jared was already an incredible example of strength in his own buoyancy, Jesica’s resolve surely only served to enhance his determination. Sadly enough, there will be future Silver Star Families dealt the harsh realities of lives forever changed as the battle follows our veterans home. Those families would do well to follow the examples of heroes like Jesica and Jared. We at The Veterans Project would like to thank Jesica for being our first Silver Star caregiver on the blog. Check out the Bullock’s gym Foundry Athletics on Instagram: @foundryathletics and Facebook: @FoundryAthletics.