Trish Kenney helps her son Bini, 4, paint one of his cars Thursday afternoon, August 2, 2012. Since her husband Tim's return from Afghanistan Trish has continued to shoulder a great deal of work maintaining their home and family as Tim struggles to recover.  Mahala Gaylord, The Denver Post
Trish Kenney helps her son Bini, 4, paint one of his cars Thursday afternoon, August 2, 2012. Since her husband Tim's return from Afghanistan Trish has continued to shoulder a great deal of work maintaining their home and family as Tim struggles to recover. Mahala Gaylord, The Denver Post

Soldier Tim Kenney falls deeper into post-war depression and anger

MONTROSE — Normal. That is all Tim Kenney wants to be.

Normal enough so that he no longer is compelled to check ridgelines and corners for danger. Normal so he can sleep without nightmares that have him flailing violently at his wife. Normal so that he can walk one of his daughters down the aisle in a month.

But normal is no longer coming easy for Kenney more than a year after he returned wounded from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Instead of feeling better as the days stretch out between being an Army infantry gunner near Bagram and being a family man and small business owner in a quiet rural town, Kenney’s post traumatic stress disorder is worsening.

Tim Kenney is put out by a migraine Wednesday night August 1, 2012. He never got migraines before deploying. On Thursday he’s back to work coordinating several guiding fly fishing trips and guiding a couple from Texas at Pacochupuk State Park on the Uncompahgre River, August 2, 2012. Mahala Gaylord, The Denver Post

“I’m not doing so well. Things are not good. My life pretty much sucks right now,” Tim said with candor fueled by a second glass of vodka.

Tim quit drinking 18 years ago but recently started dulling his wounded psyche with alcohol. He started that after giving up the pain pills that had tempered his back pain, as well as his mental trauma since his return. He is seeing a psychiatrist and a counselor and is on psychotropic medication.

He is learning from his counseling sessions that he needs to find a new normal. But he isn’t there yet.

“When you kill someone, you cross a line and you can’t cross back,” he explained.

Tim Kenney watches as his kids, Emily, 18, and Biniyam, 4, play in the front yard Wednesday, August 1, 2012. Despite suffering a migraine, Kenney is up and about preparing. He has a full day of fly fishing guiding and rafting to oversee the next day. Mahala Gaylord, The Denver Post

Tim killed more times than he can count during combat. Those deaths of enemy combatants aren’t the ones that torture him in the dark of night. There is one he had buried in his subconscious. It came out during therapy sessions.

“I think I killed a little baby…” is his startling beginning to that story.

He was traveling in a convoy of armored vehicles when they had to avoid a beggar woman sitting in the middle of the road — a common occurrence. She was holding a tiny baby. Tim tossed a water canteen to her: It was his habit to throw water or packaged meals or anything he had that might help. But this time he is pretty sure the water bottle hit and likely killed the baby when he threw it from a vehicle moving 40 mph.

“I was trying to do a good thing. I’m such a family man you know,” he said.

The memory of that, along with the recent suicide of his armored vehicle driver, triggered a breakdown. It happened when he accompanied his wife to Colorado Springs for her Air Force Academy reunion last month.

“I just went berserk. I snapped,” he said.

Tim and his wife Trish poke fun at each other because neither of them can thread a needle at their home, thursday night, September 27, 2012. While their relationship is still mending from the trauma it took while Tim was overseas and from the stress of having him returning home injured, they are starting to have more good moments with each other. Mahala Gaylord, The Denver Post

When they returned home, he moved into one of the outbuildings on their property. He and Patricia, who have been married nearly 25 years, are back in marriage counseling. The tension got so bad that after his wife talked to his Army superiors in Salt Lake City, Tim said they considered placing him in an in-patient treatment program.

That hasn’t happened, but Tim said the threat that he could be pulled away from his family has added to his stress.

He admitted he has learned through all this to say what his counselors want to hear. When he first returned, he said he answered the standard questions honestly.

“Did you kill people?”

“Yes.”

“How did killing people make you feel?”

“It felt good.”

That caused the military to flag him as a behavioral risk and channel him into counseling.

“Now, he said he answers that last question differently.

Tim and Trish Kenney walk down the hallway towards their bible study class after the sunday service at First Church of the Nazarene, April, 22, 2012. Mahala Gaylord, The Denver Post

“It made me feel terrible,” he has learned is the proper response — and one he has learned is more true than he ever knew.

When he enlisted in the Army National Guard at the age of 42 he thought his relatively old age would protect him from the after effects of war. It obviously didn’t.

He was awarded a Purple Heart and some people view him as a hero, but he said he doesn’t feel like one. He reserves that title for his wife. She raised their four children alone while he was gone. She cared for him when he came back broken and was allowed to recuperate at home rather than in a military hospital. She has stuck with him through his troubles since his return. She is currently planning their daughter’s wedding while Tim said all he has had to do is get fitted for a tuxedo.

Trish Kenney pushes adopted son Biniyam, 4, on the swing Thursday afternoon while her husband Tim Kenney tries to sleep off a migraine Wednesday August 1, 2012. He never got migraines before deploying to Afghanistan with the Army National Guard. Mahala Gaylord, The Denver Post

“I am just not up to talking about it now,” Patricia said when asked about her husband’s current state.

Tim said it bothers him that he can’t figure out how to become the head of his household again. He is trying for smaller goals: He has to try to pull himself together enough for the wedding scheduled for four days after Christmas. He wants it to be an honor for his daughter to have her dad walk her down the aisle — not a disgrace.

“I am going day-by-day. I am trying. I am trying. I am really trying,” he said wearily. “I haven’t done anything stupid — yet.”

Nancy Lofholm: 970-256-1957, nlofholm@denverpost.com or twitter.com/nlofholm

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About Lee Ann Colacioppo

I am the Senior Editor/News at the Denver Post. I have been at The Post sincd 1999 in a variety of positions, including city editor and investigations editor. I previously worked at The Des Moines Register, Greenville, S.C., News and Kingsport, Tenn., Times-News. I'am a Denver native and graduate of Drake University in Des Moines. View all posts by Lee Ann Colacioppo →
  • burkai

    I like to know who is the officer overseeing Tim Kenny’s records for his military retirement board. I believe this person is sitting on their butt and letting this soldier blow in the wind. Where is this soldier’s congressman and senator and why aren’t they putting a fire under the Army to process this soldier out of the service so he can focus on his family’s needs and continue his healing without the military continuing to ignore this soldier’s service? Too bad for Tim he’s not a Senator’s son…..

    Representative Scott Tipton: where the hell are you? Why is your office so powerless to help this man?

    I served in the military for nearly twelve years, worked at times in a top secret organization. This mess with the Army holding this man’s retirement in limbo is due to someone in the higher ranks not doing their job.

    OneTao.com