Elizabeth Dole Foundation
Hidden Heroes
Caregiver Journey Map Campaign for Inclusive Care

Untold Story Challenge – Kylie’s Story

Untold Story Challenge – Kylie’s Story

How Come No One Ever Asked Me?

By: Kylie, Winner of the 2023 Untold Story Challenge

Soldiers are constantly fighting worldwide so Americans can have the substantial freedom we savor, but soldiers are not the only people fighting for this country. Along with each soldier is a family, thousands of miles away. Military families can be forced to move frequently and can often be separated from each other for long periods of time, missing countless birthdays, holidays, and special family events in order to protect us. These families worry every day about their loved ones, whether they will return, and if they do, will they be the same?

Families fight an unseen battle at home while their loved ones are absent. Many Americans live their lives completely ignorant of soldiers serving worldwide, and often not realizing there continue to be military conflicts. Many don’t notice wars happening thousands of miles away, but for me, there has not been a time period in my life without a war going on. Along with the rewards that military families experience while serving their country, many also experience extreme trauma. One military family, in particular, is mine.

It is bizarre how one day can change the rest of your life. On a cold December day, my day started off like any other. My mom, my brother, and I went to the Yankton Guard Armory to visit Santa. We were missing one very important person, my dad. He was deployed 6,640 miles away, overseas in Baghdad, Iraq. My day was filled with all things Christmas, making things to send to my dad, and recording a video for him. Little did I know my dad would never get to see my video.

On December 4th, 2005, my dad, Sergeant Corey Briest, was on patrol in Iraq and was hit by a roadside bomb. Although I was only three years old, every detail of this day will forever be implanted in my memory. I was wearing a red long-sleeve shirt, jean overalls, and my favorite little black boots. I remember sitting at the head of my wooden dining room table with my dog at my feet. I was eating Mac N’ Cheese on an orange, square Tupperware plate when my mom’s phone began to ring. This was a moment that would forever change my life.

Soldiers in Iraq are constantly fighting so Americans can have the substantial freedom we savor. My dad’s unit was heading to a mission as they were hit by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). Immediately, a roadside bomb exploded with shards of shrapnel going every which way. My dad, who was an EMT in civilian life, immediately went to help. An additional roadside bomb exploded, again spreading multiple fragments and discharge of shrapnel. This horrific accident resulted in the death of three outstanding people: Rich Schild, Dan Cuka, and Allen Kokesh, and severely injured my dad.

My dad was flown to Germany to get to the closest hospital. There, they told my mom they would only fly him to the states if he was stable. Jenny, my mom – and now best friend, was getting on a plane to go to Germany to go see him when she received another call. They were flying him to the states. Little did my mom know they were flying him home because he was not going to make it. They arrived in Bethesda, Maryland at the Bethesda National Naval Hospital. She could hardly recognize him. They had taken part of his skull out to allow his brain to swell; she said it looked like there was a soccer ball next to his head due to the extreme amount of swelling. Finally, the doctors told my mom that my dad was not going to make it, and she was forced to make the choice of continuing life support or not. She had to make the hardest decision of her life as she sat next to him in his hospital bed, planning his funeral. Even though my dad was in a coma, we knew that he was still with us. Every time my mom would play a tape recording of me singing, his heart rate would rise. He went to many different hospitals including the Veterans Administration Hospital in Minnesota, Bethesda National Naval Hospital in Maryland, and Casa Colina in Pomona, California.

My immediate family moved to California in 2006. I attended a preschool in California, and our extended family came up and visited all the time. I was always by my dad’s side, helping him get through his physical therapy, administering medications, and stealing a few bites of his orange sherbert. Every day I could see him getting better, stronger, and more independent. I remember being my dad’s little therapist and stretching him out, working with his nurses and feeding him through his feeding tube, but most importantly, his first word after waking up, “Ky,” my childhood nickname. After 18 months of hospitalization and rehabilitation, he was finally well enough to move home to Yankton, South Dakota in the summer of 2007. We flew into the Yankton airport to hundreds of people lined up against the fence and all the store signs saying, “Welcome Home Corey.” We moved to a brand new home that our wonderful community of Yankton had built for us. The house was fully handicap accessible and equipped with an elevator. Once we got settled, Dad started speech, occupational, and physical therapy at Avera Sacred Heart Hospital. I started kindergarten and everything became our new ‘normal’. To this day he is still 100% disabled, legally blind, goes to occupational and physical therapy multiple times a week. We try to focus on the good days, but even these can be hard. He will require 24 hour care for the rest of his life.

But, this is not where our story ends, in fact, this is where MY story begins. Everyone notices the superheroes, but no one pays attention to the sidekicks. My dad is my superhero, and I am his little sidekick. Everyone asks how my dad is doing and notices the progress he has made, but no one asks about me, no one asks if I am okay. The whole family makes a sacrifice for our nation, and military kids are often put into the shadows and not given enough credit. They can tell me I am strong, and they can tell me it is going to be okay, but no one asks if I am okay.

Here is MY story, but I don’t want people to feel bad for me. I love my life, and I want others like me to know they are not alone. I know there are hundreds, even thousands of kids like me, and I want them to hear my voice and I want to help them find their own.

When I grew up, I was very different from other kids. I was the girl who got bullied for having a ‘single’ parent, the ‘weird’ dad, or the ‘rich’ girl because I had an elevator in my house. These are all things I heard people say frequently. I knew I had to step up and help my mom out at home with my dad and my little brother. Life wasn’t easy, and I grew up fast because I had to. There are so many things I learned that my friends didn’t have to know. I know how to call 911 and to bring my brother to the neighbor’s swing set so he didn’t have to watch our mom perform the Heimlich or CPR on our dad, as he turned blue. I know about the sleepless hospital nights that are hard to get through after we had a seizure episode. I know how to divide out my dad’s medications, 10 pills in the morning, 7 at night. I know that every year people celebrate all of my dad’s accomplishments, but no one looks at me. I have had to think about things other kids never had to face. Could my dad go to that school event? Would it be handicap accessible?

What about that family vacation we want to take? Will he be able to participate and have fun?

Now that I am becoming an adult, I am facing the same questions… will my dad be able to come and visit me at college? Will he be able to visit me in my new apartment? Who will walk me down the aisle when that day comes? The answers are all obvious. Yes, he will be able to come and visit me, and he WILL walk me down the aisle, because we are a military family, we get it done. We fight for what we need and prove all the doubters wrong. My family members are my superheroes, and we are all ‘okay’.