- Associated Press - Sunday, March 6, 2016

ASBURY, Iowa (AP) - Jesse James would unlatch the curtain ties and sit in his darkened living room if his wife, Nicole, allowed, but she’s a stickler.

“I’m a little upset my wife doesn’t put blinds there,” he said. “She won’t let me.”

Twenty-eight-year-old Nicole jumps in with some praise.

“He’s come a long way with the blinds,” she said.

And an explanation.

“He’s able to tolerate it now with a lot of therapy and a lot of retraining his body to understand this doesn’t mean that you would die,” she said. “This doesn’t mean our family’s in danger because the blinds are open.”

Three tours in two theaters of war left U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. James, now 29, with raw mental scabs. His body — arms, legs, fingers — is whole. But Nicole says his full capacity for emotional connection and his ability to relax and find enjoyment is not.

“Everything over here that we’re trying to change in him, over there it’s what made him a great Marine,” she said. “I love connecting with spouses and talking with other spouses who noticed what their husbands were doing.”

The Telegraph Herald (https://bit.ly/24CAzG4 ) reports that for steadfast service in helping her husband and others, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation recently named Nicole a 2016 Caregiver Fellow.

Led by the former U.S. senator from North Carolina, the foundation works to strengthen veteran caregiver services.

“She’s a huge connection to all these spouses and families,” Jesse said of Nicole. “It’s hundreds of people online that she talks to every day, not just the spouses, but the moms of the deceased or the veterans.”

Nicole also knows the veteran support system — with all its strengths and weaknesses — very well. That knowledge she shares with others will be amplified by her status as a fellow, allowing her a platform to communicate concerns with the nation’s decision makers in Washington, D.C.

Jesse talks about what is missing from his life — adrenaline — almost as if he’s discussing the craving for an unsatisfiable fix. A bumper sticker Nicole put on the back of his pickup reads, “For those who FOUGHT for it, FREEDOM has a flavor the protected will NEVER KNOW.”

“When you sit there all day, everyday, and you’re ready to fight somebody — you’re ready to fight the terrorists over there — you get this taste, this adrenaline,” Jesse said of his two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. “I think protecting your life is kind of the adrenaline taste.”

Once while performing a raid overseas, Jesse said, the Marines were required to split the males and females into groups. Jesse was assigned to a man’s son, who was about 13 years old.

“I had to put him on his knees, put his head up there and pull a pistol on him and hold him there,” Jesse recalled. “That does a lot in your head because if you think about doing that here, that’s pretty scary.”

“That’s a kid, you know, I normally wouldn’t do it,” he said. “But over there if I didn’t do it and I didn’t get the information, there’s a big chance some of us would die if we didn’t help.”

Medics on base in Okinawa, Japan, determined in 2010 Jesse’s latest tour would be his last. They assigned him to the Wounded Warriors battalion.

The kid from Wahlert Catholic High School retired from the military in October 2012, six years after coming back from his first tour in Iraq and marrying a girl he knew from Hempstead High School.

They lived in Indiana before returning last year to Iowa with their two children, Levi, now 4, and eight-year-old Teagan. Their twins, Elliot and Jacob, are four months shy of their first birthday.

Nicole is well aware she and her husband have so far escaped two frequent realities of veterans in Jesse’s boots — divorce or, far worse, suicide. Jesse acknowledges he would be dead or homeless without her.

“I mean it, literally. I’d either be dead or living under a bridge,” Jesse said at his split-level home in Asbury.

“I could live in just a shack and I wouldn’t care, if it was just me,” he said. “The only reason I go is for my wife and my kids.”

The work for Nicole seems constant. A girl in grade school, a boy watching TV asking for milk, and two more baby boys struggling out of her arms. Then classes at Northeast Iowa Community College to study radiology. Flanked always by making sure her husband eats, takes medicine, goes to therapy and keeps the blinds open.

“Before I married him, I’d read in the news about soldiers, you know, going over and I always thought like everyone else about them and how hard that must be for them,” she said.

Nicole said she never knew how hard war would be for families, too.

___

Information from: Telegraph Herald, https://www.thonline.com

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