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

Kathy Stalnaker

It is delicate to build a routine around a grown man. I try very hard to not make him feel like a child. It is a complicated balance to meet his needs, while maintaining the dignity he deserves, as an adult who served his country for almost 30 years. I try to imagine myself in his position. Sometimes, I just curl up in his lap and let him care for me.

What does being a military caregiver mean to you?

It means finding a “new normal.” Never resting, always fighting. Never taking no for an answer. It means that sometimes it is OK just to stay home. It means that I have the honor of caring for a hero, my husband. It is the greatest job in the world.

How has your life changed since you became a caregiver? What sacrifices have you had to make?

I’ve lost a lot of family members who do not understand post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That has been the hardest, as they forced me to choose between them or my husband. I have no regrets. I have peace.

Can you describe a milestone or a moment that made you feel empowered or inspired as a caregiver?

The time my husband told his counselor that he knew I would lay down my life for him.

My Story

Kathy met Rex a few months after he returned from an 18-month tour in Iraq. They had an instant connection. Talk of marriage and talk of a tour in Afghanistan were common discussions. When the time came, Afghanistan won out first before they could get married. Kathy and Rex then began to plan for retirement, as he was about to complete 30 years of service! Little did they know that on November 9, 2009, as his unit was preparing for deployment from Ft. Hood, Nidal Hasan would open fire, killing 13, injuring 33, and changing their lives forever. Thirty-four days after the shooting, Rex was deployed to Afghanistan with his unit. It was during this deployment that he was diagnosed with severe & chronic post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety.

Kathy's role in their relationship had changed. They married in August 2010. At the end, Kathy and Rex are best friends. They know the value of loving and trusting each other. They are each other's Battle Buddies.