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  • Britt Myers

The Service of Spouses

There was never a question that Adam Boccher would join the military. His grandfather was a WWII veteran, his father served in Vietnam, and his older brother had enlisted in the Air Force. Even his mother was a service-oriented woman, working as a nurse in a children’s hospital for most of her adult life. 


“I knew early on that I would join,” Adam said. 


He began his career as a Security Forces specialist in the Air Force, completing his first deployment to Diego Garcia, a tiny island in the Indian Ocean. 


“Crabs and sunburn,” Adam joked. “Those were the two biggest threats.”


After his first deployment, Adam applied and was accepted as a Special Agent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), where he was responsible for felony-level criminal investigations. 


Around this time, he met and began to date Brittany. Six months later, they were engaged, but Adam got deployment orders before they could plan a wedding day. 


“You know there’s a real chance you might not come back,” Adam said. “So we got married on her lunch break, and then I left.”

Adam B. while on deployment.

Adam deployed to Forward Operating Base Salerno, near the southeast border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, about one kilometer from Forward Operating Base Chapman, which became more widely known after a suicide bomber attacked the CIA facility housed inside, killing nine people, including seven CIA officers.


Adam’s unit had a very specific mission set: find, fix, track, neutralize.


It became so integral to him that it’s now tattooed on his arm. 


“Throughout my career, I was exposed to horrific crimes against children and adults,” Adam shared. “My exposure to violent crimes and my combat deployments resulted in combat and non-combat physical and invisible wounds.”


Adam deployed twice more throughout his 20-year career, including serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, and his challenges were compounded with every tour. 


Adam B. stands in front of a military helicopter.

The impact of his work wasn’t only relegated to combat deployments. His work with the OSI was exposing him to increasing levels of trauma stateside. 


“I would know how violent a day was depending on how he returned home,” Brittany explained. “If his shoes and clothes came off in the garage, then I knew we were dealing with blood.


I could get a good gauge on his day without him having to tell me what happened.”


Adam was also a first-on-scene responder, and because of that role, he witnessed over 100 of his brothers and sisters in the military die by suicide.


It created a firestorm. 


Adam’s sleep progressed to a violent sleep stage. The family purchased a camera system for the house and Adam’s bedroom to record his sleep. 


“He was trying to break out of walls and windows, throwing imaginary grenades, and even giving me grid coordinates,” said Brittany. “He fell in his sleep and broke his ribs, and later fell, hit his head, and had to have two cracked teeth removed.”


The couple also had two young children at home, a daughter named Harper, and a son, Blake, who was born with Down syndrome. Understandably, there was a lot on their plates.

The Boccher family pictured together.

As they searched for answers, Adam and Brittany battled physicians through on-base and off-base providers, the VA, and eventually, the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. There, doctors discovered Adam had a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and an ultra-rare condition called REM Sleep Behavior Disorder without atonia. 


“The paperwork said, ‘Take everything out of the room and use a sleeping bag,’” Adam shared. “I appreciated the advice, concern, and care. But I didn’t want to sleep in a sleeping bag for the rest of my life.”’


Instead, Adam and Brittany built a room for him with sound-dampening walls, the thickest possible carpeting installed (for potential falls), more durable exterior doors, and a simple mattress with no bed frame. Still, it was better than a sleeping bag.


Due to the extent of his combat-related injuries, Adam was medically retired from 20 years of active-duty service. And now, a new family dynamic emerged. 


Adam seeks treatment for a rare sleep disorder.

Adam was no longer deployed for long periods of time or gone for much of the day and night. He was home, all day, every day. 


Brittany was no longer solely a military spouse and parent, she was now a full-time caregiver. 


“The family component was a difficult part of the transition,” she told us. “You’re used to living almost separate lives on active duty. You do things a certain way and you have your own schedule. Meanwhile, your service member is typically not working a traditional 9-5 or has an inconsistent schedule, so we were used to living parallel lives. 


“When Adam retired, he was home. And none of us knew how to navigate it. On top of that, now I was his caregiver, too. Everything was out of harmony.”


The reality is that Adam will never be able to hold a full-time job again. His brain hits a wall and needs brain rest. He never gets REM sleep – ever – because of his medical condition.

 

“My head is saying, ‘I’m 43 years old,’” Adam explained. “I still have so much passion and purpose. Physically, from the outside, no one can tell anything is wrong with me, but on the inside, I’m struggling. There’s this raging battle.”


Adam managing his health and medications.

Brittany explained what that’s like to witness as a military spouse. 


“For service members accustomed to high-intense, combat-related roles, that high adrenaline isn’t in their lives anymore when they’re out of the service. When you’re used to being in full swat gear and the most excitement you have now is the zero-turn mower, your body is seeking that adrenaline. 


“That’s why you see guys jumping out of airplanes, mountain biking, or going on hunting trips. It’s hard for them to know how to fit into this world after something like that. That’s common in our community.”


For Brittany, it’s been helpful to turn to their close-knit circle of military spouses and families. Many have experienced similar things and can empathize with their situation. 


As a former Military Spouse of the Year award winner, she has the experience and expertise to have an impact. She’s on the advisory council for Operation Homefront and on the Board of Directors at Inspire Up. She’s watched as more veteran service organizations have formed to help stand in the gap and provide more resources.


Brittany Boccher 2017 Military Spouse of the Year

Military families matter to her, and she sees an opportunity for broader support. 


“I’m a proponent of helping civilians understand the 20-year war is over, but now we’re dealing with the ramifications. There are only so many resources to go around, and people assume the families are taken care of, but unfortunately, that’s not always the case.


“We have so many people in this world who love and support the military and want to ensure they receive care,” she continued. 


Adam pictured with his service dog, Darby.

“Where we typically fail as a society is not looking at the military family and children as needing care, too. Military children also rely on mental health services. They carry a stronger burden. They carry anxiety. They carry secondary trauma and exposures. 


“When the service member leaves service, the veteran is typically taken care of. Where is the care for the military family? The family went through military service, too. The question is, how do we transition the children out of service, the spouse out of service, and the veteran out of service? But we usually stop at the veteran.”


Thanks to military families like hers who share their stories and experiences, those gaps are being identified and perhaps more comprehensive support and resources are on the horizon.


Brittany is doing all she can to ensure it. Mission Roll Call is, too. For those who’ve served and the families who’ve served right alongside them, we owe them all we can give – and certainly more than a sleeping bag. 

The Boccher family.

Mission Roll Call aims to deliver the collective voice of veterans, their families, and supporters to lawmakers and government leaders to enact real change. We invite you to become a member and participate in MRC polls to let your voice be heard, and to help identify priority issues. If you have a story to share, please connect with us here.

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