Tag Archives: Connell

LSS: Military asking a lot from one family

Kevin and Gina Connell have five children. Three of them are serving in the military.
Sgt. Kyle Connell, 23, is currently serving in Afghanistan.
Lance-Corporal Nolan Connell, 21, is stationed in North Carolina. Last week, he received orders for deployment come January 2012.
And, Corp. Sean P. Connell, 25, is stationed in Hawaii. Since he joined the Army in 2005, he’s already completed two tours of duty in Iraq. He’s scheduled to deploy for Afghanistan in March.
Except he doesn’t want to go.
His family doesn’t want him to go either.
Their reasons have little to do with the hardships of the front lines.
Their reasons have more to do with the hardships of the home front.
In September 2010, Kevin, 50, was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. According to the ALS Association, the disease affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord and causes patients to progressively lose voluntary muscle action. In the later stages of the disease, patients may become totally paralyzed and not be able to swallow or breath because of lost muscle function. ALS patients generally have a life expectancy of two to five years after diagnosis.
To put it in perspective, Gina told me, “A year ago before Christmas, Kevin was in the mall chasing me around trying to buy presents for everybody. This year he was there with me in a wheelchair.”
So, Sean and his parents and the rest of their family explain that they have begged and pleaded asking everyone they can think to ask in the military and in Washington to see if there’s any way that Sean could be sent to Fort Polk instead of Afghanistan. To this point, the answer has been, “No.”
That’s when they approached me to tell their story.
“I’m begging for my son to be transferred. It’s not too much to ask considering I’ve given three of my children to the military,” said Gina. “I’m not asking for him to get out. I just need him closer right now.”
They’ve decided they have to do what they can do.
“If we’re going to honestly look in the mirror and say we’ve done everything we could do, now’s the time to talk to the media,” Kevin said. “Sean is not trying to escape the military, he’s just trying to do a different job for a little while because of the circumstances.”
Clearly, no one can question this family’s allegiance to the country or their willingness to serve in and support in military. It’s just that this time — especially with the signs of PTSD Gina and Kevin say they have see in their son — they want him to be close enough that he can help in the process of taking care of his dying father.
“Am I going to lose my husband within the year? It’s very possible,” Gina said. “When Sean first went to Iraq, the Army said to us, ‘Be sure to send him focused. Let him know you’ll be OK. Send him there focused and ready to do his job.’ I can’t do that this time. I wouldn’t want him in my unit defending me – knowing he can’t be focused. No way.”
For Christmas, all of the Connell children were home except for Kyle, who was serving in Afghanistan. On Christmas Eve, the whole family sat around and discussed the very un-festive aspects of life with ALS. Both Kevin and Gina wanted their children to take part in Kevin’s care and decisions.
“We wanted them to be a part of it. When will I accept a feeding tube? I’ll get breathing help with a bi-pap machine, but at this point, I will not go the tracheotomy and ventilator route,” Kevin said.
Gina is doing all she can do to help take care of Kevin, but she’s also trying to help her son get the help he needs to be able to support his dad.
By all accounts, the Connell family has done a lot for the United States military and wants to continue serving.
“Sean tells me, the Army’s motto is God, family, country,” said Kevin. “But this time it seems like country is taking the top spot.”