I like to think of myself as a strong person. I’m the one who stands straight when dealing with adversity; there to support the ones who “really need the help”. My MS proves that’s not true. It reminds me how much I lean on others and how much others carry me, support me and give me the strength to keep moving forward. There are three people in my life who have carried me through some of my darkest battles with MS: my mother, my wife and my first sergeant.
When I was first coming to terms with my diagnosis, Mom was always there to support me and help me down this new path. I retired from the Army at the end of 2000 and started a new life: 28 years old and learning how to live with multiple sclerosis. Some of my worst days were still ahead of me. At several points during that time, my only salvation was being able to lean on mom.
In 2004, I met Brie. On the first date, I spilled every detail of myself. She took it all in stride and, for some reason, still kept me! Brie has held me through nights of tremors and long days in ERs and hospitals. She knows when my hands can’t hold on to something and when I can’t let them go, when I am having a hard time walking and when my words start to slur. Without even asking, she knows just how to help. She’s there every time.
Before I was as ‘well versed in MS’ as I am now, everything was new. I was still a Captain in Army Aviation, in command of a maintenance Cav Troop over in Korea. I was diagnosed in September of 1999 but I stayed in command until June of 2000. First Sergeant Michael "Top" Stewart and I were a command team for about a year and a half. I remember thinking about how great he was for the troop. After first becoming sick, I wanted to stay in command. “I can do most of my job still.” Besides, if I need to step back a bit, Top Stewart is always picking up my slack.
And so life went on for a bit. Some days were worse than others; my right arm and my vision were the parts most likely to fail on a regular basis. Thank goodness for Top! Like First Sergeants before and since, Top Stewart would pick up the commander’s slack. A commander’s time is always busy, so 1SG Stewart never questioned when I wasn’t around. I was able to ‘take care of other stuff’ without having to worry about the troop.
Right before 1SG Stewart was scheduled to rotate back to the states, I thanked him for everything. I let him in on my little secret. I told him how many times when I wasn’t around or was just sitting in my office, I wasn’t busy with other work. I was just having trouble seeing or moving. I figured that since he did so much to help carry me for those months I should at least let him in on the truth.
His only response…. “Yes, sir. I knew."
He never let on that he was carrying me. Fair enough, I guess since I never let on that I was letting him carry me. Through the years we’ve talked a bit; even as a SGM he was still "Top Stewart" to me…Now, we’re both retired. It’s a younger/healthier game!
It’s been a while since I last spoke with Mike. Too long, in fact. Time to reach out to an old Army buddy and let him know just how much his strength still carries me today!