Adapting to a New Life Is a Little Easier for a Son of Army Parents

By: Kerri Childress
April 3, 2019

I grew up moving every year or so, living on bases all over the country and Europe. As a result, I was constantly making new friends and learning how to get around in unfamiliar surroundings. It gave me experiences few people get who grow up in one place.

However, it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to meet a young man who had been severely burned when trapped in an apartment fire in July 2018, that I truly appreciated how being a military “brat” can help prepare someone for life’s challenges.

Zachary Sutterfield, 20, was trapped in an apartment fire in San Marcos, TX, on July 20, 2018. Consequently, Zachary burned over 70 percent of his body, endured a traumatic brain injury, lost all his fingers on one hand and all but two short digits on the other, lost an ear and underwent 23 surgeries within the first six months of the fire. Zachary’s injuries were so severe the doctors gave him only a small chance of survival.

And yet today, one would be hard-pressed to know he had been through such horrors talking to him. Zachary has an infectious sense of humor and his optimism is irresistible.  I was just amazed at how he was taking his new life in stride.  His dad explained why.

“I think Zachary learned early how to adapt.  He and his brother, Danny, are military brats and have lived a lot of different places where they had to pick up and adjust to a new life,” said Zachary’s father, Karl Sutterfield, who retired from the Army after more than 20 years of service.   

Zachary’s mom, Deona, who also served in the Army, completely agreed.  “Our boys learned fast and early how to adapt and that complaining was never the answer,” she said.  

In addition to the resiliency that military children have, both Deona and Zachary spoke highly of the medical care he was getting at the US Army Institute of Surgical Research Burn Center, at Brooke Army Medical Center.  One more important benefit of a military connection – world class healthcare. 

Zachary and his mom are living at the Fisher House on base, where they have found some normalcy in an otherwise painful and therapeutic world.

“I can’t put into words how grateful I am to Fisher House Foundation,” said Zachary. “The fact that every day I had my mom there with me. She would do my wound care, the bandaging. She’d bring home-cooked food to me. And I knew when she left that she’d be going somewhere that would be like home. That was warmest and reassuring feeling I had, cause I knew it was going to be a year or year and half till I would leave Brooke Army Medical Center.”

“Fisher House allowed us to be a military family,” said Zachary.  “My mom has never left my side.  Even when I was alone in my hospital bed, I knew they were with me.”