2008 TORCH AWARDS HONOREE RECEPTION
Senior Airman First Class Michael and Yolanda Fletcher & Family
The purpose of the Adopt-A-Family project is to improve the quality of life for a disadvantaged family who is lacking adequate resources to meet its housing, food, clothing, transportation, educational or healthcare needs. With the Adopt-A-Family program, the Legacy Ladies offer so much more than a quick fix for families in need. They offer the tools and support needed for success in life. This year, is no exception. The organization has adopted a military family. After reaching out to multiple agencies (restrictions due to the privacy act) and researching families that the organization could support, the Fletcher family was adopted. The wife served two years in the Air Force until….
A Soldier’s Story
Hello, my name is Michael Fletcher. I am a U. S. Air Force soldier that was hurt in Iraq. I deployed to Camp Bucca, Iraq, in June 2005. I was scheduled to serve there for six months but unfortunately my tour was cut short. In August 2005, only two months into my deployment, I nearly lost my life on a routine reconnaissance mission, as the turret gunner of a humvee. I can remember feeling a sense of relief because we were on our way back to base after a long 16 hour working day. I remember the humid winds blowing in my face from the Iraqi sun. Suddenly, the vehicle began to lose control. I immediately tried to pull myself back into the humvee. However; it was too late. Everything happened so quickly. The vehicle started to roll over with me on top. With the first roll, the vehicle completely severed my left arm. with the second roll, I was thrown from the vehicle landing face first, immediately crushing my orbital bones and the top palette in my mouth. I completely lost vision in my left eye, suffered nerve damage throughout my body and worst of all, my nose was completely disfigured. There was nothing left but skin. I was immediately med evacuated out of Iraq into Kuwait. On the way, my heart stopped twice. I had to be given two blood transfusions, in which at the beginning my body was rejecting. I was given twenty hours to live.
I was born and raised in New Orleans, LA. I joined the air Force in March 2004 with hopes of being able to provide for my then unborn son, Michael, Jr. Unfortunately Michael, Jr’s mother and I realized that we were too young and really didn’t have much in common which led to our separation. I met my current wife, Yolanda, in Fairbanks, Alaska where she too was a Security Forces member in the Air Force. I can honestly say that I felt for her what I never felt for any woman. In April I was told by my commander that I along with ten of my colleagues were up for deployment in southern Iraq. Within that same month, my wife Yolanda informed me that we were pregnant with our first son, MiTrell. Not only was the deployment a day that I hoped would never come, I had only been acclimated to the military for nine months. I was happy to know that now I could provide for my family, but I was equally sad knowing that my wife would have to deal with an entire pregnancy alone not knowing if I would make it back home or not. In June 2005, I crossed into Iraq afraid for many different reasons, but mainly the obvious. I had just turned twenty-one years old, and our family’s biggest nightmare came to pass in August, 2005.
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city of New Orleans leaving half of my family searching for a place to call home. Fortunately, my mother missed the raft of the hurricane because she was at my bedside just days before the hurricane hit. Dealing with the loss of her home and no idea of where to go from there, while nursing her oldest son back to health, left her emotionally stressed. I can remember my family keeping the hurricane a secret because they didn’t want me to worry. At the time, I was still in intensive care, someone turned on the television one night and I can remember hearing the CNN news reports. I had a trachea in my throat at the time so I couldn’t communicate or express my emotions to my mother the following day. Through the financial help of FEMA, my family was able to use vouchers to stay here with me in Washington, D.C. through my healing process. However, the vouchers would only last for so long. My father went back to New Orleans and fixed the house where my parents moved into in February 2006. Two months prior, my wife Yolanda had to separate from the military to take care of me and our youngest son, MiTrell. At this time, I was confined to a wheelchair and had limited use of my right arm and both legs. We were now depending on my income alone. We were not yet assigned to a base so we had to get an apartment near Walter Reed army Medical Center so that I can attend occupational and physical therapy. Being that the apartment cost us nearly $1400 a month, that put us in a financial strain. Just before our bank account went to $0 balance, Andrews air Force Based picked us up giving us a house on base free of rent.
I then started my nasal reconstruction procedures costing us nearly $2,000 in travel and expenses because we didn’t know that the military could help with those kinds of issues. That pushed us to living paycheck to paycheck. Just a month ago, we found out that we were expecting our second child. Times are hard for us right now. We are in the beginning phase of a medical separation and do not have enough money to pay rent for an apartment. we are on a serious budget due to debts that accumulated during the time that I was hospitalized. Once receiving our belongings from Alaska several months after being discharged from the hospital, that’s where we learned that we owed creditors. Honestly, when your going through what I’ve been through, it’s hard to think about what bill is due and when. However; we know that we are responsible for paying late fees that accumulated during that time. Although the Veterans Assistance Program assists families with loans for housing, we are concerned about our credit which can affect our monthly payments. My wife and I are constantly out looking for employment but it’s hard for anyone to consider anyone that has one arm and weak legs. Also, my wife has to search for temporary or part-time positions due to her pregnancy. Recently, we turned to the Air Force aid Society to help pay bills that consisted of childcare, automotive maintenance, car note and insurance, child support for my oldest son, debt collections, phone, food and gas. They gave us a total amount averaging $800. That really helped us out. Last month alone we had $2,000 in bills and only earned $1,900. This is in part due to the fact that I cannot test for a higher position because I am on medical hold. My pay as an airmen is not enough to maintain a household and support a family.
My wife is currently attending University of Maryland University college in hopes of receiving a good job to support our family. She is a criminal justice major and attends class full-time/nightly. She also works as a Mary Kay consultant because that allows her to set her own schedule and be close to home. She truly is a go getter. She will stop at nothing. She recently took makeup artist courses. She is trying anything to be close to home but still bring in a sufficient income. She wants to own her own business one day. She just hasn’t decided what.
We don’t go out much in order to save money. We both are really hard workers and are trying to get out of our financial situations. I went through physical and occupational therapy to help me in taking care of my youngest son while she is away. Even though I am handicap, I try my hardest to show my family that I am not. I cook, clean and perform maintenance on our vehicle. I constantly fight through pain daily but put a smile on my face in order to live the norm. I suffer from phantom pain frequently. This is what you feel in the missing of a limb. It feels as if the limb is still there. However, it’s excruciating pain. I also suffer from nerve damage that have generated down to my feet. I cannot stand for long periods of time. I also wake up in the middle of the night because the nerves are rejuvenating themselves. It literally feels like my feet are on fire. I have been recommended by doctors to get tested for Traumatic Brain Injury. This is because I easily forget things and I have trouble sleeping at night. If you meet my family, you would see why it is so hard for me to focus on healing. They have sacrificed so much of themselves to help me in my trying times. I feel as if I have to get out there and take advantage of opportunities that might benefit my family. I am soon to start school again. I feel that education is the key to any good job. There is a new program out for injured soldiers, Operation War Fighter. There, members help injured soldiers find good paying jobs. I am in close contact with these guys in hopes of receiving a good job to support my family. Our primary means of transportation is a 1998 Expedition. Not only do we constantly have mechanical issues, it is a gas guzzler. We nearly spend $80 to and from medical appointments. I got it while I was in Alaska, then we figured it was spacious enough for the kids. Credit issues make it almost impossible to trade in. We currently owe about $8,000 on the vehicle. Having two kids and one on the way, concerns me about our future. My oldest son receives military Tricare. They pay a portion of his medical needs, but I must handle the remaining amount. However, my wife and youngest son are under my care, so their care is free.
My main goal in life is creating financial stability for my family. I would love to put my family in a home. Something I never had growing up in the Magnolia projects in New Orleans. I never had a backyard; this is something that I want my kids to have the luxury of experiencing. I would love to sit out back and watch my kids play and be comfortable knowing that this is all for them because they deserve it. I refuse to let my injuries defeat my goals in life. Even though times are hard, my family and I pray everyday that things will get better.
Through this entire process, there have been many people that helped out in ways unimaginable. Through the grace of God, people from all over sent small donations to show their token of appreciation. Groups within the military formed together and sent letters of support, donations and even hand knitted blankets for our unborn son during that time. We are truly grateful to them for that. Even if you all cannot assist us, we think it is wonderful what you represent. This world needs more people and organizations like yours that uses their humanitarian nature to help people that really need.
Thank you so much for reading our story and may God continue to bless you.
The Fletcher Family
…and Fletcher Family, the Ladies we will do their best!!