In 2002, the divorce was finalized between me and his mother, I would have the boys over every Friday through Sunday every week. We both remarried and had other sons, so I changed to getting the boys every other weekend. The year was 2009 and I had been in the Missile Squadron a year as the Facility Manager Superintendent. Our Squadron Superintendent retired in December of 2009 and I took over duties as Squadron and Facility Manager Superintendent. I was the only Master Sergeant in the squadron and worked both in the office and pulled tours in the field. Up until 2010, our son was regarded as a perfect kid; quiet, polite, thoughtful, smart and always offering to help where he could. All that changed at a school meeting on March 5, 2010.
There was trouble in my son’s home life, stemming from a marriage on the decline. During this meeting it was revealed that my son started showing negative behaviors around November 2009, and that they had escalated to two tickets on the playground. There were incidents with his music teacher and one where he wrote his name on a desk with a permanent marker. The principal indicated that he withdrew and hid under desks to avoid talking about what was wrong. A teacher remarked that he went from very shy in the beginning of the year, to being the class clown and the master puppeteer. An appointment with a therapist in town was scheduled for two weeks later.
His mom received a phone call on March 16 and the teacher indicated he was frustrated with a teacher and felt like he was being watched. He told her he did not want to go to school anymore and the teacher noted a change in handwriting. He would sometimes get sent to a resource room to not bother his regular class or get sent to the principal’s office to complete work. He started seeing his new therapist, but rarely talked to her or opened up about anything. These behaviors continued and he saw a psychologist for testing in May, which showed no evidence of ADHD, concluding that he had a reading disorder, written expression disorder, and depressive disorder.
There was a program in town called Child Adolescent Partial Hospitalization (CAPH), which we considered, but since he only had one shot in going through the program, we simply wanted to finish out the school year and either try a new school or use the program the following year. Things went from bad to worse at school and some days he would sit silently in the resource room for hours, or not respond, requiring the principal to come and remove him. This lead to a forceful removal, in which the principal scratched my son. We called the police, but since it was in the line of his duty as principal, there was nothing that could be done. My son’s home life was getting worse and he barely completed the school year, but somehow managed.
My job around this time kept me very busy from April through September, and we had a Combat Capability Evaluation, a Simulated Electronic Launch – Minuteman, a code change, a Limited Nuclear Surety Inspection, followed by a full Nuclear Surety Inspection. In the summer of 2010 we got a new Commander and the advice I was given by those who worked for him previously was to retire if I could. I was used to these types of Commanders at this point, as my last Commander in another unit did not allow our missile sites to have Cinemax, because it was obscene. Around this time I received a message from my mother at work saying that she had just found out my father was diagnosed with cancer. At the time I did not have the energy to digest the information or even begin deal with it. Thankfully, my son had a pretty good summer; we even took a family vacation to Colorado and South Dakota.
Overall he did not have many issues and he had a good time at family events and the state fair.
He continued to see his therapist off and on throughout the summer, as the new school year approached.
His mom switched him to a new school, as he was deathly afraid of his school’s principal.
In June of 2010, he started at a new school and things went downhill. It was noted he had excessive amounts of crying spells and exhibited destructive along with oppositional behavior. The family situation worsened at home and his mother started drinking more as her marriage was in shambles.
After getting into more trouble at his new school, the new principal sent him to CAPH in Oct 2010.
After less than two weeks and several incidents of destroying property, they had to call the police to come escort him the emergency room (ER) for transport to the psychiatric ward. Upon going to ward, I had to fill out a full family history and was able to visit and call him regularly. He was scheduled to be discharged on Halloween, which his mom was really hoping for, but had an incident which kept him until November. He resumed the CAPH program, made some gains and doctors started him on very low doses of Prozac and Abilify.
It was during his stay at CAPH that we had to face reality that he may need to enter a residential treatment facility. With my Tri-Care, he would have needed to go out of state, but with his mom’s Blue Cross and Blue Shield, we put him on a list of a facility 110 miles away. The downfall was the waiting list was four to six months. After five total trips to the psychiatric ward and further police calls, he was kicked out of the CAPH program. During the final team meeting it was agreed that he would switch to a controlled classroom school in town, which he started on November 15, 2010. The school awarded daily points and controlled every aspect of his day, even bringing lunch to the room to eat in the classroom. At this point, due to hostile home life, I started keeping him and his older brother off and on.
During this time at work I had to move to a flex schedule in order to take him to and from his new school. My special duty time had come and gone so I had to line up a new Air Force job. When I called my missile facility functional, he told me to line up a job or become a civilian, which was odd to hear, since I was an 18 year Master Sergeant at the time. I eventually got approved to retrain into Safety and was scheduled to go to school at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, sometime in 2011. During this time period I got him into the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) and also into social security disability. He started seeing a doctor for his medication and was diagnosed with depressive disorder, mood disorder, anxiety disorder and disruptive behavior disorder. Ironically, I was tasked with transferring one of my Airmen because his child was going through the same thing my son was. It took some time, but by wheeling and dealing I was able to move him out of the unit in order to better take care of his son.
The behavior at the new school ranged from perfect days of 100%, to me calling the cops to go to the school and request ambulance transport to the ER. On one occasion I got a call while he was in school, during a marriage counseling sessions my wife and I were having. I immediately left and called the cops to go to the school. We had a safety plan in effect, but they preferred I call the cops. Upon arrival, my son was in the controlled classroom by himself with no shoes and pacing back and forth. He had broken off a piece of plastic and was scratching something into the desk which he had turned over and slightly scratched himself. He appeared like a wild caged animal and as I had over the last year, I became numb to any feelings or emotions I should have had. They suspended him from school one more time and January 24, 2011, would be his last day at a regular school for many years to come.
Tomorrow: Part 2, Pride Manchester House.
Steven Mayne is a retired Air Force Master Sergeant. He welcomes reactions to this story both in the comment section and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.