The New Year’s Eve Ball Drop in Time Square has been a bucket list item since Ward and Amy Taft were married 23 years ago. Unfortunately, it kept getting put off because of the birth of two daughters and Ward's service in the Navy.
But that dream becomes a reality this year thanks to the Hope For The Warriors, a national nonprofit that hosts out-of-state service members and local Gold Star Families. Hope For The Warriors help select service members for a dinner and with the help of the FDNY and NYPD have a spot to watch the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
Navy Senior Chief Ward Taft has had 14 deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations. He suffered multiple injuries during those deployments, including a combat-related vehicle accident in a convoy that ended his Navy career in 2013.
Life would become even more complicated for the Tafts in 2018, when during the renovation of their North Carolina home to make it ADA compliant, Hurricane Florence wiped out 80 percent of their belongings. The flooding forced them to really start all over. They spent last Christmas primarily in transit and didn't really celebrate the holidays.
Amy Taft says this year has been a busy one. She says they're excited to be back in their home, with the adaptations Ward needs, and to be able to have a real holiday season this year.
Taft says Hope For the Warriors has been a part of her family's journey since 2010.
"My husband's injuries occurred in 2010. Hope For the Warriors was kind of there for me initially to provide some support as my new role of how to take care of an injured service member and to help us navigate. They were also very active in helping us during my husband's initial treatments in the hospitals and help provide support for us going back and forth between the hospital and here because we live in North Carolina and the hospital he was being treated was in Georgia. So they helped us to make sure we could go back and forth to see him. Since then my husband has become very active with their sports programs. So he works with them in their golf and fishing programs and is able to figure out how to stay active with his injuries and the accomodations that he needs."
Amy says the multiple explosions that Ward experienced during his military career, the multiple blast wounds started his injury.
"It started rattling his brain is the best way to put it."
Then Ward was involved in the vehicular accident in Iraq.
"That was the result of an IED (Improvised Explosion Device) which caused his vehicle to collide with another. And went from the back of the vehicle into the front windshield. That is probably the injury that caused the significant brain injury at that point in time. He ended up with a moderate brain injury."
Those injuries would change the Taft family forever, especially how the Taft children would interact with their father.
"The emotional compounder was the fact of how the girls reacted to their father. It used to be that the girls would run right up to Ward and would be right there to grab his legs and to give him a hug and to say hello. Part of the moderate brain injury he received was a frontal lobe injury which caused his emotions to be all over the board. So one minute he would be just fine. The next minute he would have explosive anger outbursts. So my children learned to no longer to run up to dad when he came in the door. Instead, they would go and hide in their rooms because they never knew which dad was coming in the door. So I think emotionally that was one of the hardest things of recovery was trying to figure out myself how to meet the needs of everybody and I kind of lost myself in that process. And again, it was Hope For the Warriors that provided some really good caregive support that kind of gave me the structure I needed to take care of myself."
Amy Taft says caregivers are starting to get the attention they need, but she thinks where we are really missing the mark as a nation is the children.
"There are over 250-thousand children right now in this nation that are living in a home where there is an injured service member or veteran. These children have been pushed aside. This is a soapbox I could get on and probably stay on forever because I have made it my mission, my personal mission in this past year as well, to make sure that these children are not forgotten. Now their world looks so different from those of their peers. You know they are going into a home to where a dad my have an amputation and they know nobody whose dad has an amputation, or mom. They go into a home where emotions are skyrocketing and you have a teenager that already doesn't know how to deal with their own emotions and you put them in an environment where the entire family is on an emotional rollercoaster. Where other families have stability in the home, these kids never have a stable day."
Besides counseling, Taft says what studies are now showing is that these children need more peer-to-peer support. She stresses they need to be in situations where they can talk to other people that are their age that have experienced similar things.
Taft says this new year brings new hope.
"I have to remind everybody through all this, our family's motto has been they were are celebrating. My husband brought home alot of caskets, unfortunately, and in our family we've always been thankful that despite the brain injury he came home, he was able to be here. This year we're just continuing on that celebration."
21-year old Isabella and 14-year old Clara Taft will be able to join their parents for the trip to New York later this week and be in Times Square for the Big Apple Ball Drop.
Click above to hear the entire interview with Amy Taft.