May retreat to offer support for Western Pa. military veterans, spouses

| Sunday, April 13, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

By his own count, William Busby helped rescue 48 survivors of Hurricane Katrina when he served in the Navy.

On another assignment, he and his crew chased and fought Somali pirates off the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.

Busby, 30, of Monroeville has nightmares and flashbacks of the bloated bodies in flood-ravaged New Orleans and dead and wounded pirates driven by poverty into making an illegal living.

That's why he and his wife, Yasemin, plan to attend a retreat May 8-11 for Middle East veterans and their spouses at White Sulphur Springs in Bedford County. The free retreat, supported by the Highmark Foundation and another, anonymous foundation, hopes to recruit 10 more couples from Western Pennsylvania.

“It will help make our marriage stronger,” said Yasemin Karabuduk-Busby, 25. “It's a little ray of sunshine.”

Warrior2Citizen, an Atlanta-based nonprofit, is the sponsor.

“The program provides them a trusting environment, a safety net,” said Mike Roberts, co-founder of Warrior2Citizen and a retired Army colonel.

The idea is for therapists and chaplains to teach the couples communications skills they need to tackle problems that many veterans and their spouses face. Among those are guilt, grief and “hyper-vigilance,” or a heightened sense of needing to be on guard.

“Warriors are taught to be on high-alert and keep their guard up, but that's hard when you're at a family picnic in South Park and you're trying to relax. It has a ripple effect with the people closest to the warrior,” said Kelly McFeely, coordinator of clinical programs for Warrior2Citizen.

The spouses will learn how to cope with change on a more practical level as well. Often the family dynamic changes with a veteran's return — maybe there's a new person balancing the checkbook, taking out the garbage or cooking.

Busby was working on the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii when he met his wife, then a junior at Hawaii Pacific University, at a barbecue. They were inseparable for months.

They married on July 2, two years to the day after they met. A North Versailles native, he came back to Western Pennsylvania with his wife but found it hard to connect with his family. The couple, having left their friends and the blue skies and beaches of Hawaii, found themselves cold and lonely here.

Yet they have aspirations: He works as a security guard and has been accepted to Point Park University, where he plans to pursue a degree in intelligence and national security. His wife, a German native of Turkish descent, would like to become a diplomat.

She is fiercely proud of his military medals and accomplishments. But the old images haunt him.

“Sometimes, I'll have dreams, and I'll wake up,” he said. “I try to push the thoughts out of my head as quickly as possible.”

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