Monday, September 28, 2009

Dan's Path

One thing stands out in my mind as this intense experience unfolds: life will at some point test us. To be able to meet the challenge when it presents itself, one needs to prepare all one’s life for that supreme testing moment. We need to live each day with courage, integrity, honesty and respect for each human being we ever encounter. It occurs to me that Daniel Cnossen has done this every day of his 29 years on this earth. He is a good son, fine student, always followed his goals, lives with laser focus and integrity. He finely honed his muscles and built physical strength and endurance, becoming his life’s dream: a Navy SEAL. He also exercised his mind, reading voraciously and learning about world affairs, adventure traveling, making lifelong friends along the way. He faced his dad’s death while a plebe at USNA with courage and tenacity, hoping and wishing he could be home to support mom and sis but knowing his duty was to continue his education. He undertook the extreme challenges of becoming a SEAL always moving forward, never quitting. He deployed often and looked forward to the next challenge: platoon command. He had a foreboding feeling about this next deployment, which he showed to only a very close few family and friends.

The extreme challenge arrived Sept. 8. He had prepared all his life for this moment and chose to meet it head on and survive – truly a miracle. Rarely does a person survive the wounds he suffered. He survived because he didn’t want his mom to have lost a husband, mom, dad and son within 10 years. He kept going through incredible pain. The medics who saved his life, the surgeons in Bagram and Landstuhl who stabilized him for transport to National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, the excellent medical teams who have cared for him daily since his arrival here – all have converged to bring him to his destiny today: to embark upon many new adventures and turn over a new leaf in his life: healing, recovery, rehabilitation, reconnection with family and fellow wounded warriors, perhaps serving as an inspiration to many as he starts this long, arduous journey toward renewed health and joyful living.

Many here at NNMC have warned us: three steps forward, one step back, then three steps forward again. It’s a Marathon, not a sprint. This weekend, Daniel had a few steps backward. After four surgeries in five days last week, he badly needed rest. Thank you to all for respecting his weekend respite. You have continued to let his sister and me know you care by logging onto the Web site, calling and leaving messages, sending cards and well wishes galore. We so appreciate your prayers, care and concern! As we get through a little period of setback where Daniel’s bowels are resting, he again can’t eat or drink. He is always fighting nausea and vomiting. He's back to the OR tomorrow again, for more amputation revision and preparation for skin grafting. The pin they placed in his pelvis also has to be adjusted, as well as surgical repair of a broken right hand (his left hand is also broken). On the bright side, he no longer has a fever and his wounds are healing beautifully. His surgeries have been reduced to twice a week, and he is on the surgical ward where things are a little more private and restful. He continues to thank everyone for caring for him and expresses his gratitude for everyone’s prayers and well wishes. He is anxious to mend and begin communicating with all of you on his own. We need to be patient and will rejoice when that day comes soon.

I’m going to take a big risk and name some names. These are the people for whom Leslie and I and our family are so grateful. I know I will overlook some, and for that, I truly apologize. I feel the need, though, to thank people for your truly amazing support at this point. I can’t send thank you notes, as that would be overwhelming, so this is my humble attempt to thank you for keeping us buoyed up through this tremendously challenging and difficult time in our lives. Without you, we would be lost. Our sincere and heartfelt thanks to:

LT Kelly Bowman, ICU nurse and friend who will forever be in our hearts and family.

Westar co-workers and friends – you are truly angels of mercy. Daniel said yesterday, “It’s so nice of your company to let you be off this long,” and Leslie said, “Mom, you work with such WONDERFUL people at Westar!”

Pastor Judy, Shawnee Heights United Methodist Church, and Fr. Jerry, St. Matthew Catholic Church and entire church and parish for prayers and prayer blanket. Chaplain Wes Modder, part of the initial contingent who came to our Topeka home to comfort and pray with us. A very inspirational man!

CMDR Keith Davids, Daniel's commanding officer, SEAL Team ONE, who initially called me with the news while I was at lunch Sept. 8 with handled giving me the news in a very caring and professional manner, and my family appreciates how you kept calling every day to see how we were doing, up to the day you deployed, and still you offered us your cell phone to call you if we need anything.

Topekans, Stormont-Vail friends, Shawnee Heights High School community, neighbors and family friends, Shawnee County Coroner's Office friends, Topeka Police Dept. A special thanks to Leslie’s high school friends and their parents – you guys are the BEST!

Cnossen families, England sisters, Nina-Gracie-Maria-Marilyn-Jeanine-Janelle-Leila-Karla-Gina-Laura-Public Affairs (Westar)-Jeffrey Energy Center coworkers and the always generous and supportive Environmental department for all the transitions and changes Jeff has been through –you’ve been there for us! Sharon and Deborah, my faithful friends, and Jill-Connie-Nancy -- thank you for your calls/messages/support!

SEALs, USNA, DC families and friends, San Diego buddies, Virginia Beach supporters: you’re the best! Thanks for adopting us and taking time from your busy lives to stop by to visit us and ask how Daniel is doing.

Kristen Dreier, longtime SHHS friend – you are faithful!

Maryann: world class triathlete from San Diego and a fellow nurturer: we are grateful for you flying here to be supportive this week.

Kimberly Dozier, CBS news correspondent and author of Breathing the Fire: thank you for adopting us and introducing Leslie to your friends. Your tips about what Daniel can expect in coming months have been invaluable.

Kathy Maguire, USSOCOM Care Coalition volunteer liaison, your cookies, and you, are marvelous and great comfort to us!

Tommy and Kandon Landers and mom Candace – thank you for your lovely notes/artwork now displayed in Daniel’s room. Jeff’s support and love through all this has been incredible!

For all your visits and words of support and praise for Dan - thank you so much:
Admiral Eric Olson
Vice Admiral Joseph Maguire
Vice Admiral Joseph D. Kernan
Vice Admiral Bob Harward
RDML Edward G. Winters
Capt. Alexander Krongard
CDR Tom Chaby
Bryan Yarbro

Medical team at NNMC: Drs. Perdue, Fleming, Malone, Greer, urological and orthopedic teams, residents, pain specialists –best in the world!

Chaplains, Dr. Sabin and other behavioral medicine specialists, nutritionists, PTs, OTs, nurses and corpsmen

Wally Graves and Susan Letterman, Naval Special Warfare Group 1 family support – our backbone and absolute joys to have around

MSgt Christian “Mack” MacKenzie, USSOCOM Care Coalition liaison - always cheerful, helpful, and tells the best stories!

Command Master Chief Kevin James, SEAL Team One - you are a legend!

Chief Glenn Hansen – you were with Daniel in those crucial initial days and nights and got him safely to us! God bless you for that.

Nick Hill from Team SEVEN coming back from deployment - thank you for your support.

Team SEVEN who signed the flag hanging in Daniel’s room.

Chief Jon Cummings…with broken neck and back, you still wanted to “run with Dan!” Thanks for being there for us!

Mark Lippert and Brian Gugliatti – true caring friends on Capitol Hill.

Matt Flavin - ditto. Your calls mean a lot to us.

Jon Iadonisi, your friendship and fine mind are inspirational.

Admiral Nathan and Chief O’Keefe – you run a great place here at NNMC!

Crofoot family – Mike and Carol, Tiko and Koro – Daniel is part of your family, and we love you.

The Kulczycki family - what great 1st grade artwork and notes! Thanks, Garrett, for sending those pictures to Leslie.

Pam and Rob Ketter who visited us during Rob’s USNA 30th reunion Sept. 26 – uplifting! Thank you!

Debbie Lee, mom of first Navy SEAL killed in Iraq: Marc Alan Lee. Your dedication to the troops is awesome!

Friends for life: Anthony Donahue, Niko Sidiropoulos, Marty and Erin Timmons, Sean Macintosh, Rob and Cara Bocek and Margaret/Robert; Ben Zuber and Dan/Beverly; Darren and John Bounds; Donny and Tina Muller; Brian and Biggi Ray; Sean Dudley, David Farias; so many more…I’ve lost count…but you know who you are and how we appreciate you!

As my longtime friend Billie Hall said recently in a phone conversation with me, there’s a whole village following Daniel’s progress and praying for him. We can’t thank you enough. God bless you all and God bless our leaders and country. Please keep the prayers coming for them and the tough decisions they face.

I close with this piece from Guardian Quest’s teaching on warriorship (thanks to Westar for sending its employees to this awe-inspiring course):

Warrior’s Dream

A lot of what we do is to protect ourselves. We get locked into our roles, and then we are not as effective as we can be, because we are holding onto people and things that are stifling us…
Letting go of what we are aware no longer serves us now and walking into the unknown is taking the next step as a warrior.
It’s about being out front … moving beyond limits.
There is an innate desire in all creatures to grow.
Yet in any type of growth and change, something has to end for something new to begin!
Peace and love to our village!


  1. I'm glad to hear that Dan is doing well after taking the weekend for rest. I hope he continues to make leaps and bounds in the coming months. I just wanted to say thank you to Leslie and Dan's mom for keeping us all so well informed about his progress. Without you, we'd be wondering. You both write such positive, upbeat updates--it's so easy to see where Dan gets his great spirit from. Keep them coming--we're all rooting for you guys!!!!

  2. When I read your posts, Alice and Leslie, I can finally understand where Dan gets his grace and determination. It must be a family trait.

    Glad to hear that Dan's surgeries continue to go well. I look forward to seeing Dan and meeting the both of you. Take care. Leila

  3. Les AND Alice Erika Just sent me the blog.... I want you to know we are thinking of you and praying for your wonderful son and brother. Les your mom and I shared alot when you girls were in India you also become my e mail daughter hope all is going well and that Dan gets better every day. you are a wonderful nurse and god gave you the gift to care for others be strong you both are so positive take care love Anita Dunbar

  4. Dan, Alice, and Les...I am glad to hear the fever has subsided. The blogs are great, I log on everyday to see how Dan is progressing. And though I have never met Dan, I know that he is a strong, courageous, and positive person. Your family is still in our thoughts and hearts. I love you Les. Doug, Jen, and ("stripper") Aiden