Nevada graduate advocates for PTSD

Ronna LawlessStaff Writer
Nevada graduate advocates for PTSD

A Nevada alumna is reaching out to sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder, even though she recently lost her husband to the condition that is claiming the lives of so many veterans.

Andi Madden Wrenn and her husband Chris were in the process of collaborating on a book about PTSD when he died Sept. 1. Andi is continuing now with the writing project on her own.

“I am writing about the experience we had with PTSD for the last 16 years. I’m writing from a non-fiction standpoint and have been working on it for over three years,” Andi said. “Chris was working on it with me. He knew we needed to talk about it — talk with veterans so they would get help.”

Col. Chris Wrenn was buried with full honors in Arlington National Cemetery on May 12. “It was in his will that he wanted to be buried at Arlington,” Andi said. The service was attended by the Patriot Guard; one of her employees is a member of the group. Also, one of Andi’s coworkers is an “Arlington Lady,” who presented her with a letter from the chief of staff of the Air Force.

Col. Wrenn had an illustrious military career and also sought high achievement in his personal life. He was a highly decorated airman in the U.S. Air Force, where he received many medals, including a Defense Meritorious Medal and a Joint Service Commendation Medal.

During his career, Chris was involved in combat and participated in classified missions in Central America. He served in deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Western Sahara, Africa.

More recently, he had focused his efforts on protecting the U.S. from nuclear and cyber wars. He had recently received a doctorate in philosophy in international relations from Tufts University.

“Chris’ dissertation offered the first theory for deterring cyberwarfare,” Andi said.

Chris’ final military appointment was deputy director of the Asia-Pacific Cell at the Pentagon. He retired from the Air Force in early 2015 after almost 27 years of service. He had planned to work the full 30 years when he was medically retired from the Air Force.

Late in his career and through his brief retirement, Chris shared his experience with PTSD and the trauma associated with a life of dedicated service and sacrifice in the military. He himself battled many of the symptoms of the disorder.

“Chris’ PTSD was deployment related, dating back from Desert Storm,” Andi said. “It’s such a negative stigma for people to get help, especially back in those early days of Desert Storm. But people need to go get help right away when they’re suffering from PTSD. As time goes by, the effects can compound if they’re not treated.”

Chris Wrenn survived combat and many dangerous missions, and was finally in retirement, when he should have been able to enjoy so many of the things he loved: Midnight ice cream at Disney World, cruises to the Caribbean, hosting elaborate Christmas dinners and family barbecues. He was a seasoned Scrabble player and was merciless to his opponents. He loved spending time outdoors, cooking global cuisine, and had a “cockamamie sense of humor.”

A second marriage for both Andi and Chris, they each seemed to have found their perfect match. They loved to travel together, owned several properties together and were supportive of one another’s careers and interests. “He told me every day that I was the sexiest woman in the world. It didn’t get old, and I didn’t always agree with him,” Andi said, “but I’m so glad he told me that every day for more than 15 years.”

Chris went missing Sept. 1 after he went out to scout a deer stand on the Wrenns’ 140 forested acres near their home in Louisburg, N.C. He got disoriented and had a cardiac arrhythmia. There was a three-day search for him that involved helicopters, four-wheelers, scent dogs, a human tracker and many volunteers doing a grid search. He was found in thick brush near a creek on their land.

“His death was related to his service,” Andi said. “He had suicidal ideations pretty bad for the past four years. When he went missing that was what worried us. Because of medications, he slept a lot and could be disoriented. He didn’t make the best decisions when he was by himself.”

But it wasn’t suicide that ended his life, and Andi is grateful for that. “When the helicopters and police started to show up, I thought of the book we were writing together. And I thought: This is not how the book was supposed to end. He was supposed to be completely healed at the end.”

Andi, a member of the Nevada Class of 1985, is successful as a self-employed consultant and independent contractor, working with military programs since 1994. She counsels military families about their finances and also is a trained marriage counselor. “If I didn’t have my degree, I don’t know if our marriage would have survived,” she said.

Chris was on medication, had a loyal dog named Buddy and had a suicide prevention plan. He had undergone counselling and had learned to control rage episodes he sometimes had. He’d been seeking help for PTSD since 2011.

Despite his PTSD, “Chris said the military was the best thing that ever happened to him,” Andi said. “It helped him get out of a small town and see the world and make a difference. He always said he had a really wonderful experience.”