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How God Saved a Military Marriage (Part 1 of 2)

Air Date 11/10/2016

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Military veteran Chad Robichaux and his wife, Kathy, discuss his former struggles with PTSD, which led to the couple's separation, and how God helped Chad overcome PTSD and restored their marriage. (Part 1 of 2)

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Episode Transcript

Opening:

Teaser:

Mr. Chad Robichaux: I always say that the loneliest place I've ever been in my life is not Afghanistan but in my own bed with my wife's back turned to me. And we were just in this dead marriage. I just didn't care. I was so cold towards her.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: Oh, some hard reflections from Chad Robichaux and he's with us today looking back at a very troubling time in his marriage. This is "Focus on the Family" and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller.

Body:

Jim Daly: There are so many marriage relationships that are challenged, that are hurting, and they're needing God's touch. We have an incredible story of how God worked in a marriage involving a military couple. Chad Robichaux served in Special Forces in the Marines for eight tours in Afghanistan.

He came home for good and realized that he was suffering from PTSD. His marriage was caught in the crosshairs of that and today we're going to talk to Chad and his wife, Kathy, about how God took them from the bottom back to the top again.

And if your marriage is struggling, you want to lean in today, because I think you're going to learn some golden nuggets of how to fight for your marriage and how to survive and, I think in the end, give God the glory for what is accomplished.

Chad and his wife, Kathy, help other military families now, and they have formed the Mighty Oaks Foundation for soldiers returning from combat with trauma. Chad and Kathy, welcome to "Focus on the Family."

Mrs. Kathy Robichaux and Mr. Chad Robichaux: Thank you for having us.

Jim: Hey Chad, let me start right here. Man, I so appreciate your service. And Kathy. you in that role of support and spouse. Thank you for what you've done for our country--eight tours in Afghanistan. That had to be hard.

Chad: Yeah, it took a major toll on me, on many of my friends. You know, I wasn't the only one who came home and suffered. I know, many of my friends who came home and really struggled. And yeah, it was hard, but I am thankful that I got to serve. I'm thankful for my service and thankful for what I get to do now.

Jim: We're gonna get to more of that story and how that set up the difficulties in your marriage, but Kathy, you talk in your book, Marriage Advance—which I love that. I think that should be our slogan here at Focus, Marriage Advancement (Laughing), 'cause that's what we're trying to do; advance the cause of family in the culture, because when family is healthy in culture, culture is healthier. And I so appreciate that title.

You talked about being raised in a broken home, not only for you, Kathy, also for you, Chad; you both were raised in broken homes. Kathy, talk about your home and growing up and what was the picture like for you?

Kathy: My father, first of all, was a single father for many years. My mother and him, when they divorced, somehow my father got most of the custody of us and my mother had visitation rights. And many times my dad was just trying to find a place, you know, for us to stay while he would work. He was a firefighter.

Jim: So you kind of felt in the way?

Kathy: Yeah. Most of the time, I think especially he remarried, and they made their family.

Jim: Right.

Kathy: I definitely felt like I was in the way.

Jim: How old were you when your parents divorced?

Kathy: Oh, I was still a baby. I was probably 2 when they completely divorced. And then when he got remarried I was 6. So by the time I was 10, actually I ended up moving in with my real mom, thinking maybe this'll be better, but my real mother was just a very busy woman. I don't think she was ever into anything, you know, it wasn't drugs or alcohol; I don't believe that she lost custody. In fact, I truly don't know what the answer is to that. But I do know she was a hard-working woman, so when she'd come home at night, she didn't have time really to spend with me. I was the last thing on her plate.

Jim: That had to be horrible as a child not to feel connected to either your father or your mother.

Kathy: Yeah, it was. It really was, and unfortunately, I think that led into a lot of my own insecurities growing up. And even to this day, I mean of course I have Christ; I can go turn to Him when I'm feeling that, because, you know, I definitely will sink back into that feeling every now and then, and I've got to find where the truth really lies. But yeah, it was hard. I was a cheerleader in high school, and there were even friends that had their parents there quite often, and I would always feel like, man, I wish I had my parents here to support me. And never once did any of my parents show up to any of my activities, and I was always admiring that with the other [families].

Jim: But it left a hole in your heart. I know exactly what you're talking about.

Kathy: It really did. It really did, and because of that, I think I bombard on my kids too much. (Laughter) (I) make sure I'm there at everything way too often. They're like, "No, Mom, stay."

Jim: The loving mom.

Kathy: Yes.

Jim: Chad, how about you? What was your home life like growin' up?

Chad: Kathy and I have a very similar path of coming out of broken homes. I kind of step off to say my son, Hunter, joined the Marine Corps, so he's a third-generation Marine, because my father was a Marine. When he came home from Vietnam I think he struggled with a lot of the things that I struggle with, but he just didn't ever get the help he needed. So I grew up in a very dysfunctional home, with a very angry father who was probably suffering from PTSD and so I never really understood that as a kid. I just knew I had this angry man who drank a lot and physically abused my mother, then my stepmother, then myself and my siblings, and you know, he was [into] bars and women and—

Jim: So just hard.

Chad: --just a really hard life. And if anybody is, you know, I think people could relate to me who's lived in that kind of home that siblings get really close. So me and my brother—

Jim: Survival.

Chad: --yeah, you just kind of bond together, and I had a brother who was a year older than me, and we would talk about joining the military and escaping that lifestyle. And when I was 14 and he was 15, he was shot and killed, and so that was just extremely devastating.

Jim: So you lost him and how old were you?

Chad: I was 14.

Jim: Wow. That is a big loss.

Chad: He was the closest person to me in my life at that time.

Jim: So 14, that happens. You met as teenagers, though, correct? You guys were young.

Kathy: We did.

Chad: I was in my first year in the Marine Corps; Kathy was in her senior year in high school. And yeah, we met and I don't think we separated from each other since.

Jim: Yeah, right (Laughing). So how did that happen? I mean you're coming together. How did you propose? Let's go there. That's always a nice story.

Kathy: (Laughing) Maybe if we start like how it all happened, because it was just kind of a, you know, we're getting married type thing with us.

Jim: After two dates? After one date?

Kathy: Pretty soon, I'd say. I will go back. So, when we got together, we actually met through a friend of mine that went into the Marine Corps, and so Chad had needed a ride home one day, and we kind of met up on accident that day.

Chad: He needed a ride home. I gave him [a ride].

Kathy: Oh, that's right, right. Not you. Chad gave the guy a ride home that one evening.

Jim: Right?

Kathy: And then the second time I saw him, this time, I had showed up at my friend's house that my friend Scott was dating, and another girl was there, and they're all getting ready to leave, and it didn't even dawn on me; I was just kinda hanging out there, and I had sweats on, my hair was up in a bun. This was 1994 and he showed up again. And I'd already been like, "No, I don't want to meet him. I'm not really interested." Well, as soon as he pulled up, I looked at that girl and I was like, "I thought he wanted to get to know me!" And that was it. That was all it took.

Jim: A little spark of jealousy.

Kathy: Yes.

Jim: So you knew you had a feeling for him.

Kathy: Yes.

Jim: That's interesting.

Chad: It was a blind date they were setting me up on, because she wouldn't go out with me. And so, I had never seen that girl before, but when I saw Kathy there, this girl was getting real pretty and stuff like that. And Kathy was in sweats with her hair in a bun, and I invited her on our blind date.

Kathy: Yeah, yeah.

Jim: How'd that other girl feel?

Kathy: Yeah, she was the fifth wheel.

Chad: She hung around, but I don't remember even speaking to her.

Kathy: She was the fifth wheel. So, one, you know, one little thing that he did that melted my heart was, we were all sittin' in the back of his truck. It was a brand-new open-bed truck, and he had cami paint in the back of his truck.

Chad: Like camouflage.

Kathy: They were playing with cami paint. Well, he started painting my face with his, you know, fingers or whatever, and as soon as his thumb kind of passed over just the cheek bone and put it on me, I was like, "Oh." I felt it. And just kind of put that there.

Jim: He could put my makeup on every day. (Laughter)

Kathy: I always say, "You had me at making that little stroke across my cheekbone."

Jim: All the ladies listening are going, "Wow!" They're feeling that.

Kathy: Yeah.

Jim: And then, so there you are [a] military young couple. You're in the Marines. What was that commitment like for you, Kathy, being the spouse, the wife of a Marine?

Kathy: Well, you know back then, this was 19—we got married in '95. I had just graduated high school.

Chad: Lots of training, lots of field, lots of school.

Kathy: I had him like pretty much almost every time we were off, we were together, and now all of a sudden I get married and my Prince Charming is like, has to work for a living? I'm like, he was always gone. He was in the field, and just, you know, so that took some getting used to. It wasn't what I thought marriage was gonna be like, you know.

Jim: And then, of course, things ramp up in the Middle East, you get deployed, all that activity going on. You talk about your PTSD. We've had shows about PTSD, but describe it for those of us who never served in the military who don't understand it. What does it look like? What does it feel like?

Chad: Yeah, I mean, for me, it wasn't like a, you know, one incident that it had happened and all of a sudden I have PTSD. I think it started with this like really intense drive to do my job and do my job at an intense level and just real strong passion. And eventually I turned into being one person in Afghanistan, and I'd come home and being someone, I couldn't be someone totally different at home. And so that intensity started turning into anger and it trickled over into my home.

I remember being in Afghanistan just raging like a kind of lunatic, just fueled on anger, and now I come home to my family and I'm starting to see I'm behaving the same way. And you know, I always say our home became not a very happy place for my wife and kids. They became very scared of me, and I was aware of that. I felt like everyone was walking on eggshells, and being aware of that and Kathy being what I believe to be this really godly Christian lady, I felt very out of place. And so I felt very uncomfortable being home.

Jim: And you had two kids at that point, or three?

Chad: Three.

Jim: Three kids.

Chad: And that anger eventually started turning to anxiety, and so I was in this very small Special Operations group of guys, very tough-- kind of bravado.

Jim: It was a Special Ops group.

Chad: Yeah, so there was a lot of bravado, and people didn't talk about things like that, so I started having these anxiety feelings, but I didn't want to say anything. And I think that keeping it to myself and trying to push it down and drive through led to a natural progression of things going sideways for me. It started off with, like my arms would go numb.

Jim: Your arms would go numb.

Chad: And my face would—my cheeks would go numb, and all the physiological symptoms of panic attacks, but I wasn't aware that's what it was. And then my throat would feel like it would swell shut, and that eventually led into what I know now to be full-blown panic attacks. I felt like I was dying, maybe even having a heart attack, and it was very scary.

And I just kept trying to deal with it myself. I didn't tell anyone at work. In fact, one time I came home from a deployment and I told Kathy, and she took me to a civilian doctor and he gave me anti-anxiety pills, and I refused to take them. And I tried to go back again, and the very last deployment, it was a period of about two weeks that now I can recall parts of it, but I couldn't even recall that two weeks.

Jim: Kathy, let me ask you, as a spouse, what were you responding like? Did you feel like there was a solution? You didn't understand?

Kathy: Yeah, at that point we had no clue what was going on. We didn't even know about post-traumatic stress. So what he was, how he was acting looked scary to me.

Jim: You were fearful.

Kathy: I was.

Chad: Because I went from very angry to very broken, like overnight.

Kathy: Yeah, and so he was very quiet. You see, he looked like, all I can say is like a sick person, maybe, you know, just very down and weak. So it was easy at that point, at the beginning of his last deployment and finding out something's wrong, it was easy as a woman, as a mother, I wanted to nurture him and care for him. That was the easiest part of the whole thing.

Jim: And he would let you? I mean that was okay?

Kathy: Oh yeah. He would let me. He would wake up in the middle of the night and just ask me to hold him, and I would just hold him. I'd pray for him. I knew something was wrong, and it scared me, because always looked at Chad like Superman, you know? If someone even dare[d] walked into this house, they better run out quick. You know it was always like that, and so to see my husband in this position of weakness, it was different to see. So I was totally fine comforting him and loving him through this. That was the easiest (part).

Jim: Kind of standing in the gap, really.

Kathy: Uh-hm, yeah.

Jim: That's admirable. I don't know that everybody could do that, but you saw that as your responsibility in that moment and you did it.

Kathy: Yeah, right.

Jim: You're listening to "Focus on the Family." Today our guests are Chad and Kathy Robichaux. They've written a book, Marriage Advance. We're right in the beginning of the story. And their marriage took a real dive, and the Lord intervened and their commitment to each other became the dominant feature. We're gonna hear more about that today and next time. If you need us, call us here at Focus on the Family. The number is 1-800 the letter A and the word FAMILY. We're here for your marriages.

Jim: Chad, let me ask you this question. How long from the time you were seeing action, the eight tours, Special Ops in the Marines Corps, how long was it before you started feeling these panic attacks and the PTSD symptoms? Were you still in the military, or was it after?

Chad: Well, I went in in 1993, so it was a long span of active duty, reserves, other life things, and then in 2007 is when I came home from my last deployment, April '07, and that's when I was actually diagnosed with PTSD.

Jim: So you were in a long time.

Chad: Yes, sir.

Jim: Ah and Kathy, I mean in that context, how are you managing all these curves and swerves in your life?

Kathy: Yeah, it was difficult, you know, getting out of active duty and him going into law enforcement. That was an exciting, but scary move. But the thing was is, we were starting our family and [all that].

Jim: You were all into the kids, I'm sure.

Kathy: Yeah, yeah. That's all I knew. That's all I did. And so, best thing I could ever ask for, but I really felt alone most of the time.

Jim: Like a single parent.

Kathy: Yeah, I did. I did feel like a single parent. And so, everything that I thought marriage was supposed to feel like, and you know, having Prince Charming came to rescue me, and I thought that we were gonna live happily ever after and have this awesome family, I really felt like, well, I do have to say, it took me from living in Southern California to the bayou of Louisiana. (Laughing)

Jim: Careful now. Some people think that's a good thing. (Laughter)

Kathy: So I was very—

Jim: But being a Southern California boy myself, the weather can't be beat.

Kathy: --yes, exactly. The mosquitoes and the bugs were huge. But you know, so it was just, definitely [I] found myself feeling very alone, and I felt really just, you know, there, not really in a good, healthy marriage.

Jim: Can I ask you about that? Because we've alluded to that, but you're a believer,

Kathy: Yes.

Jim: You're goin' to church.

Kathy: Yes.

Jim: I'm not sure, Chad, where you were at in your faith with everything going on, and war, and I'd like to talk about that a little, because you know, a lot of times as Christians we are in a world full of sin, and our hearts are sinful. What was happening spiritually at this time for you guys? What was going on?

Chad: Well, I think we always went to church, right, even when we first got married. If I can be a little transparent and honest about my [journey], looking back I believe I went to church really to drag my wife there because I knew if my wife went to church, she'd be a great, godly Christian woman, be faithful, and my kids would go to Sunday school and learn about you know, right and wrong. And so, I believe I was really manipulating my family and just checking the box for myself. I was never gonna go beyond the surface of that, and I think a lot of men do that.

Jim: Right.

Chad: And really, I think I had this kind of masculine persona of myself, and I looked at a lot of men in the church and thought, you know, these guys are not like me; these guys are weak. And sadly, in some cases it's true, right? There [are] a lot of Christian men that don't stand up and be the men that God called them to be. And that was my perspective, and so I didn't really feel like—

Jim: So, you didn't respect it.

Chad: --I didn't respect it, and so, I just did it to control and manipulate my family.

Jim: Yeah. Kathy, let me ask you this. The picture you're painting there of being almost like a single parent and our heart goes out to single parents, 'cause they are livin' it every day, and there is no solution right around the corner for them, but did you feel bitter? Did you start to become bitter toward Chad that, hey, you know, I'm doing it all?

Kathy: For sure, yeah, I did. I really did. I think a lot the way I would react to him would even be out of anger, bitterness towards him because, I mean I'm grateful. He always provided. We never went hungry. Whatever he did, whatever job he did, he did at 100 percent. He was a hard worker. But in our home, he wasn't putting that time and effort into our home, and that was, you know, in the early, mid-90s he was really focusing on his martial arts career, as well, and so, for me, I was even bitter towards even just him being in the gym. It just made me so upset with him, because I needed him a lot of times.

Jim: Would you try to communicate? The reason I'm digging on this is that I think in many cases marriages are in trouble in this way—

Kathy: Yes.

Jim: --because particularly wives are saying, "I had a different picture of what this would be like," and you can fill in the noun of what it is--whatever you're struggling with as a listener. How did you communicate? Were you guys just fighting at this point? Could you have a discussion about it, your feelings, your desires, and for Chad, his feelings, his desires? How did you communicate? Or was it already so much tension you couldn't talk it through?

Kathy: Yeah, it was really hard for us to communicate.

Chad: We were too busy.

Kathy: Yeah. I mean unfortunately, I hate this, and I see it so often is, women, we try to discuss this with our husband; we try to share it with them.

Jim: We're not always good listeners. (Laughing)

Kathy: No, not good listeners and then we get accused of being naggers. And so, it's trying to find a point, how do you discuss this with your husband and share something that's bothering you and not be accused of nagging about it? How do you get there? And because we were so young at that time, in our early 20s, and not really being connected in a church, we did not know how to communicate. And so, it was always just strife in our marriage.

Jim: How many years did this go on, this strife, this loneliness?

Kathy: Gosh, well, 15 years?

Chad: Yeah.

Kathy: Fifteen years of trying to figure this whole thing out, and you'll hear the victory and how we finally came to that.

Chad: There was no model for us, either. We had no model. I mean, both coming from broken homes, not connecting to a church to have that mentorship and discipleship in our marriage, we had no model. We didn't even have anything to aim at.

Kathy: My mother was the kind of woman, by the way, who was divorced, and married and divorced three times.

Jim: Right.

Kathy: I learned in the first two years, don't go to her about problems in our marriage because she'd always say, "Pack up your bags and leave him."

Jim: That would be her solution.

Kathy: Yep. Then I had Hunter, my oldest son. "Pack up your bags, get Hunter and leave." And that was it.

Jim: Well, how did you resist that temptation? I mean having that kind of modeling and then saying, "You know what, I'm not gonna do that. I'm gonna stick with it."

Kathy: You know, sometimes it was probably my faith that gave me the strength, but a lot of times it was fear. And also, and I can say this probably for [the] majority of women out there, if I can just make it till the kids graduate high school, then I'm out of here.

Jim: That was your feeling.

Kathy: Um-hm.

Jim: Stick together for the kids.

Kathy: Yeah, stick together for the kids, because I was scared to death of my husband. He was very good at manipulating the story, and I was scared that he would actually somehow turn or twist something around on me, and to hurt me he would somehow take my kids from me. And so, I just figured if I can just hold in there until my kids graduate high school, then I'm out of here.

Jim: And there was some tough stuff. We've been a little "surfacey" here. I want to, in the last few minutes of today, I want to get down to the nitty-gritty. Chad, you did pursue martial arts training; you had your own studio, I believe. And in that environment you got into mixed martial arts--MMA--competitions, things like that. Very heady, very macho. These are like fighting full-bore, right?

Chad: Right.

Jim: And you were good at it and you were winning. And that set you on a trajectory of pulling you away from your family. Describe that environment and what happened.

Chad: Well, when I, you know, when I came home from Afghanistan. I was diagnosed with PTSD, I didn't feel like I could do anything. I felt like if I did anything physical, my body would just stop working. And Kathy and my counselor at the time recommended that I do jujitsu, because jujitsu was a martial art that I'd done since I was 5-years-old. I'd already fought professionally. I was a professional mixed martial arts fighter. And so, when they convinced me to go try it and I get back on the mats and wrestle with some of my friends, I literally felt like I had found a cure because--

Jim: You felt comfortable.

Chad: --I felt comfortable. I felt like I couldn't think about Afghanistan and do that, because if I was focused on something else, my buddies would choke me. So I had to be focused, and so, I took something that could be good for me, and I abused it like a medicine or anything else.

Jim: What happened?

Chad: Well, I would spend 10 or 12 hours a day on those wrestling mats. And obviously I'd find success there, spending that much time. So I amassed a record of 18 and 2. I fought in some of the biggest televised fights and Strike Force and Bellatore and all these big shows. And so what happened was, I surrounded myself with all these people who told me everything I wanted to hear, and no one that told me what I needed to hear, and that was that I was still living in a broken home. I was still angry. I was still having panic attacks, but I just hid those things really well.

And so, I had this kind of fake façade of success that everyone saw, but at home, many nights Kathy and I slept in separate bedrooms. I always say that the loneliest place I've ever been in my life is not in Afghanistan but in my own bed with my wife's back turned to me. And we were just in this dead marriage. And so, it didn't take long with all that attention that I got from MMA for me to step outside of our marriage into an affair. And I didn't even care if I got caught. I just didn't care. I was so cold towards her.

Jim: So you're doing a lot to cover up the pain you're feeling. I mean, that's what it sounds like to me, just burying it with the dirt of life.

Chad: Staying busy.

Jim: Stay busy. But Kathy, with an affair in the mix of this whole thing, that had to be devastating. And it wasn't just one.

Kathy: Right, exactly. Because it went back even before he left to Afghanistan, and so I was already dealing with the past, and then you bring this and post-traumatic stress on top of, you know, everything else, and I always say you were super mean before you left to Afghanistan. Now you're coming back now and I'm supposed to deal with our past and deal with this now and, you know, there was just so much unforgiveness inside of me. And so, you know, yeah, it was easy for me to turn my back at night, because I just was so hurt from him and so empty.

Jim: Well, and people, women hearing you, Kathy, are going, "Right on. I could feel that for you."

Kathy: Yeah.

Jim: And some of them are actually living it right now.

Kathy: Exactly.

Jim: And they're identifying with that pain that you lived in. We're at the end of the program today. (Laughing) Talk about a bad place to end, but the hope coming is that God was in your corner--

Kathy: Yes.

Jim: --pun intended there, Chad. But He was there for you, and next time we want to come back and talk about how God began to repair your brokenness, and we'll, you know, get into more of those details and even perhaps go to even more of the despair before we turn that corner. But are you willing to stick with us and continue to talk about kind of the dark side of your life at this point? Because God did intervene, and He glorified Himself in your relationship. That's why you're sitting at the table today.

And you know what? I know there are some of you who are listening who are in a dead marriage, as Chad described, and you don't know what to do. You're listening going, "That's us." Circumstances may be different, but you're living in it. And I want you to know Focus on the Family is here. We want to be in your corner, and we believe the Lord is right there. And even though it feels like despair, we know that God can deliver you.

And we have a program called Hope Restored, which is an intensive marriage counseling effort out of Branson, Missouri , and it has an almost 85 percent success rate two years after the intensive program. And if you're in that spot, call us. We have some scholarships. Although limited, we have some scholarship(s) available. We want to help you.

Because I believe, and I believe Chad and Kathy agree, marriage is on the ropes today, and Christian marriages particularly, and this is the thing that we need to get right in the Christian community, and we want you to fight for your marriage and we want to be there for you. So call us. John, you'll have more of those details in a moment. We want to help you.

Closing:

John: And you probably are on the edge of your seat right now wondering how the rest of the story goes. Be sure to join us again next time, as Chad and Kathy share what God did in their lives and right now you can get the CD or this two-part series when you call us or the CD or download online.

Now the book is called Marriage Advance and it's really a devotional book, as you read their story and then work through some marriage questions and answers at the end of each chapter. Ask for it when you call 800-A-FAMILY; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or visit us online at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And when you make a generous donation of any amount to our work of saving marriages and offering life-changing resources like this radio conversation, we'll send you Chad and Kathi's book as our thank-you gift, either for your own use or to pass on to a couple that you think could use the encouragement and hope that they offer in it.

Thanks for listening to our program today. Your host has been Jim Daly and on behalf of Jim and the entire team, I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow, as we continue this conversation on "Focus on the Family" and once again, help your family thrive.

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Chad and Kathy Robichaux

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Chad Robichaux is a USMC Force Recon veteran who served our country on eight deployments to Afghanistan in the War on Terror. He is also a former mixed martial arts world champion, a best-selling author and the president and founder of the Mighty Oaks Foundation. Chad is a widely sought after public speaker and a subject matter expert on PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), who has been featured in such media outlets as Fox News, Forbes and The 700 Club. His wife, Kathy, is the co-founder of the Mighty Oaks Foundation and serves as Director of Women's Programs, leading the organization's ministry to female veterans and service members. She has a strong connection with women struggling with the heartache of separation and divorce, and speaks publicly as a wife and a mother who fought the war at home for her husband.