DanvilleSanRamon.com

Cover Story - June 29, 2007

After Iraq

Wounded soldier and his wife talk about their first year in Danville

by Jordan M. Doronila

Fire rages; flames surge. Many run; others hide. But some, like Joey Bozik, 29, an Iraqi War veteran, hasten forth into the heat.

"It's basically instinctual," Joey said, explaining how he faced life missing three limbs upon his return from Iraq.

He has a strong instinct for survival, thinking clearly and looking for solutions.

"It's inherited," he said. "I ask myself the question all the time."

Joey, who was injured in a mine explosion in Iraq, recalled how some couldn't handle the adjustment living back in the U.S., while others could.

He and his wife Jayme, 27, talked about their first year living in Danville, their experiences being part of the Danville Sentinels of Freedom, a program that helps wounded soldiers transition back as civilians, and their adjustment to living in a small town.

Joey and other soldiers in the program will be riding on the Blue Star Moms float at the Fourth of July Parade downtown Wednesday. Other wounded veterans will include Ben Crowley, Manny Mendoza, Jake Brown and Manny Del Rio.

Joey said he has been able to make the transition after his injuries.

"I have no nightmares," he said. "I have no regrets. Why waste energy on something negative when you can spend it on something positive?"

Nevertheless, the thought of not being able to play golf, football and many other things was difficult, he said. At Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., he had to emotionally and mentally deal with losing two legs and a right arm after waking up from a coma in October 2004.

"The difficulty is the learning process," Joey said. "You go from being in charge to missing three limbs. I couldn't feed myself. I was helpless. You had to do everything all over again."

"You spent a lot of time rebuilding," he added. "You get frustrated."

When he began processing his injuries, he was asking himself questions.

"How did this happen?" he asked. "What does the future hold for me?"

"It's unknown territory," Jayme added. "You have to take it one day at a time. It's a long process. He couldn't imagine never playing golf again."

She noted there were family members, friends, doctors and psychologists who kept visiting him. Joey was taking medication to curb his initial physical pain as his body stabilized.

"We called it the revolving door," she said.

Joey said he felt comfortable at Walter Reed. He declined to comment about the recent stories revealing the hospital's neglect and physical deterioration.

"I'm in a good place," he said he remembered thinking, surrounded by his older brothers, mother, friends and quality health care.

Dr. Michael Matthews, a scholar of positive psychology at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, said the majority of soldiers grow emotionally mature from being engaged in difficult experiences, whether they are dramatic or traumatic.

"What you see in the press is Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, anxiety, drug use, and broken marriages associated in the public mind as a seemingly inevitable consequence of combat," said Matthews.

While there are soldiers who struggle adjusting to civilian life, most of them are able to transition and deal with personal challenges, he said.

Post Traumatic Growth, which means people make sense of their traumatic experiences, helps develop their positive characteristics, such as compassion and courage.

"Evidently, he is showing resilience and personal growth," Matthews said, about Bozik.

Joey Bozik and Jayme Peters met each other through e-mail while he was stationed in Afghanistan. When he returned on leave, they spent time with each other, eventually realizing they knew in their hearts they would marry. But he then left for Iraq, and when he came back, he was missing major limbs.

"I'm proud of the service he was doing," said Jayme. "I didn't doubt it. I felt whatever was going to happen, it was going to be in God's hands."

He told her he could not do the things a regular man could do, such as holding her hands and running together on a beach. He would understand if she decided to leave him, he told her.

But Jayme told Joey: "You've got your heart; you've got your mind. That's all I need."

"I guess we are getting married," Joey replied.

He called her dad to get his permission to marry her. Joey and Jayme married Dec. 31, 2004, in the hospital chapel.

After Joey was in stable condition and put in outpatient care in February 2005, the Boziks briefly stayed at a hotel.

"I was with Joey 24 days, seven days a week," said Jayme. "We lived in a hotel room with one bedroom."

Spending this amount of time with each other put stress on their relationship, they recalled. Jayme said going into the bathroom was often the only way to be alone.

"You have nothing to talk about," she said. "We never could truly get away from each other. People need personal space."

"That's what marriage is about - not about having the same life," added Joey.

A friend of Joey's at Walter Reed told him about Mike Conklin and the Sentinels of Freedom, as a viable option. Conklin contacted Joey by telephone after receiving information about him.

"We're looking for attitude," Conklin said. "Without attitude, we have nothing."

"He was tenacious," he added, about Joey. "His injuries would've killed him. He didn't give up. He fought it."

The Boziks traveled to Danville in November 2005 to meet with Conklin and see California.

"I got to meet a lot of people," Joey said. "It's a different mental state in California. People here are more relaxed mentally."

"On the East Coast, it's, 'What the hell are you looking at!'" he added.

The Sentinels board of directors chose the Boziks for a "scholarship" to launch him into a productive life in 2006. The group found the couple a home for four years donated by Castle Construction, its furnishings, and a job at Wells Fargo.

"It's a community responsibility," Conklin said, about helping soldiers. "We feel it's not just the government. It's our sons and daughters that go out and serve."

"All the community embracing has been incredible," he added. "It is a huge testament of the heart of America for the members of the military who have been wounded in the war."

The Boziks first drove to North Carolina to spend time with his family and then to Texas to spend time with hers before heading West to Danville. Jayme did most of the packing, and they shared the driving.

They arrived in Danville on Father's Day in June 2006, Jayme said, and received a warm welcome.

"I was very touched by how much the community came to support Joey," she said. "It makes it feel great to be an American."

The Boziks were asked to appear in the Kiwanis Fourth of July Parade soon after their arrival. But Joey didn't know he was going to head up the Sentinels of Freedom sitting on the back of a convertible next to Councilman Mike Doyle. Television folks followed them up and down the route and asked him to make a few comments.

At times, the attention does get overwhelming, he said, noting that some of the most touching gestures he received were World War II veterans or other people buying him food and walking away.

"Sometimes, you have to say no," said Jayme. "There are so many people that want to see Joey."

He expressed some disappointment about how many media outlets have gotten facts wrong about him or his wife or only released short sound bytes after he gave lengthy interviews. Nevertheless, he said it was important to make people know about the importance and impact of fighting in Iraq.

Joey believes the U.S. would need substantially more soldiers to stop the bloodshed and to bring stability to Iraq. If this does not work, then withdrawing the troops, strengthening security internally in the United States, and working with the United Nations and other countries to prevent terrorism is an alternative option.

"It's becoming worse in Iraq," he said, adding that someone with military experience like former Secretary of State Colin Powell leading the mission could bring victory in Iraq.

"We are not fighting for oil," he said. "We are fighting terrorism."

Additionally, he believes educating children in the Middle East will bring change.

"Look, you have the freedom of choice to believe in Allah or Jesus," he said. "That's significant. You're not going to change 50-year-olds. That's not going to happen."

Joey, who works as a personal banker at Wells Fargo on San Ramon Valley Boulevard, said living a civilian life is not that difficult compared to being in the military, where your life is often at stake.

Jayme recently started a civil engineering job at AT&T.

Joey still swims, and he plays golf, using prosthetic hands, once a week at Crow Canyon Country Club in Danville.

The couple said it is expensive living in Danville, and they don't know if they plan to stay when their scholarship runs out after three years. The Boziks enjoy the small town atmosphere and mingling with a mature crowd of people. Despite not having friends their age, they said they enjoy each other's company or relaxing at home. They talked about getting a ranch house in a level area so Joey would be able to maneuver the streets more easily.

"We would like to stay in the area, but it's too expensive," he said.

This isn't the life the young couple dreamed of when they realized they were falling in love. But it's the life they are building together, facing the fire, pain, adjustments, with humor and noting that the fire of their love still burns strong.

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