Robert "B.J." Jackson enlisted in the Iowa National Guard when he was 19. Four years later, he was deployed to Iraq. On August 7, 2003 -- his first day off in over a month -- the Humvee that B.J. was driving through Baghdad hit a landmine. B.J. was severely burned and as a result of his injuries he lost both his legs below the knees. B.J. and his wife Abby live in Des Moines, Iowa with their three children (with a fourth on the way). Abby works in residential homes for people with developmental disabilities and B.J. is a national spokesperson for the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes. Last year B.J. and Abby participated in a groundbreaking panel on sexuality at the Coalition’s Road to Recovery Conference.
The conference is an annual all-expense-paid educational and service event which provides wounded troops, their families and caregivers with one source of information regarding benefits, services, counseling, insurance, healthcare, financial support, career counseling and employment opportunities.
But talk to anyone who has been and you quickly realize this is much more than a week long career fair or counseling session. The conference offers an opportunity for wounded service members and their families to learn from and support each other. It also takes the idea of recovery out of the hospital and into the “real world” which encourages everyone to see their own role in building a life for themselves and their families after combat.
In an interview with About.com B.J. and Abby talked about the importance of the Road to Recovery Conference and why they're involved...
B.J. Jackson: "Last year was the first year [we had a sexuality panel], there was some discussion about doing it but there were only a few people who held back about it. We thought the panel was a great idea. It’s a subject no body wants to talk about. To have a whole panel of people standing up there and answering questions about disability and sex it’s something that no one wants to cover. It’s perfect. As soon as Abby mentioned that she’s willing to openly and honestly talk about sex, people just ran up to her and asking her questions.
The panel was amazing. It was set up by us was so service members could feel more comfortable. We talked about ways we adapted and overcame our injuries. When I woke up [in the hospital] I was 102 pounds and had lost both my legs below the knee. How do I get into the restroom? Well my wife who was not much heavier than me had to physically pick me up and carry me to the bathroom and sometimes even give me a bath or shower at the time because I didn’t have the muscle strength to do those things. So we share the information amongst each other about how we adapt to situations and it just gets everybody more comfortable because of course us all having disabilities we’re completely comfortable around each other anyway. When we’re first injured we feel like outsiders to the world. But when we get together everybody is the same, we’re all messed up! So that panel covered those issues, but Abbey likes to think outside the box, and she opened a whole other door and it really proved beneficial. I was a little uncomfortable at first, and Abby pointed out I was blushing, but I’m used to her throwing curve balls and I’ve learned to deal with it. It definitely makes for more excitement at these conferences.
I think [what helps is] using the network of service members with disabilities but also having spouses groups together can help. The sexuality panel we do at the conference is great. I hope this year’s panel is even better than last years, and last years was just amazing.
It means a lot to Abby and I to help others in anyway that we can. (even if it’s uncomfortable for me!) Times have changed and the more education about things the less people are prejudice to them."
Abby: "The more we can get people to realize that everyone is different in some way, shape, or form the more accessible society itself will be. There are so many newly injured or recently injured people in the last couple of years who are coming back that this could be like the baby boom era. There’s so many of them that they could have such a positive impact."
Learn more about how combat experience can affect: