John L. Maxwell

Spouse of Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Nikki L. Maxwell

Navy Mid-Atlantic Region Public Affairs, The Flagship

Navy spouse John L. Maxwell understands just how time consuming his wife’s job can be. After all, he was in the Navy for 21 years, retiring in 2006 as an aviation boatswain’s mate fuels senior chief. He worked 20 hours-a-day on USS Iwo Jima’s flight deck refueling rescue helicopters and delivering meals and supplies to Hurricane Katrina evacuees. Even though he was up for promotion to master chief petty officer, Maxwell decided his family needed him more.

“I wanted to know my kids before they grew up,” Maxwell explained. It was also an opportunity for him to support his wife, Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Nikki L. Maxwell, in her career goals.

He’s making up for lost time with Ian, 11, and Austin, 8, after years of deployments.

“Ian was eight-months-old when I made a cruise in 1996, and I didn’t want to go through that again,” Maxwell explained. “I missed his first birthday and Christmas. After having a family, it just wasn’t as fun anymore to be away, and it was time to step back and let Nikki blossom further in her career.”

Although there are times during Nikki’s deployments that he misses having adult companionship and conversations, he’s “having a blast with these guys.”

And his boys are benefiting with daddy at home, especially Austin. It was Maxwell’s refusal to accept predictions by doctors that his then 2-year-old son would remain paralyzed after being suddenly stricken by an ailment that defied diagnosis despite a spinal tap, MRIs and CAT scans while the couple was stationed at Naples, Italy. The family flew to Germany so Austin could get neurological testing.

Maxwell fought for better treatment. Austin was medically evacuated back to Washington, D.C., where a Navy pediatric neurologist diagnosed him with dystonia, a neurological movement disorder where muscle contractions cause twisting and repetitive movements. Austin was put on a drug trial and he began walking again. The family lived in a room at a Ronald McDonald house for three months while Austin recuperated. Then Maxwell returned to Italy to pack up their belongings and collect their dog before flying back to the United States.

Dressed in the suit he wore to their wedding in 1994, Maxwell wanted to surprise his wife with the reminder of their vows; that better times were ahead. He boarded the plane back to the United States. It was Sept. 11, 2001.

It would be six days before Nikki would see Maxwell in that rumpled wedding suit. Maxwell’s flight was grounded in Newfoundland, where he slept for five days on a wooden church pew before finally being allowed to continue his journey.

“I want you to know how amazing he is,” Nikki Maxwell wrote about her husband. “He is my hero at home.”

Although Maxwell is not overly involved in military spouse groups, he knows if he needs help, a single phone call could get 20 friends at his home through the Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Association and his chief’s mess connections.

“Military spouses need to understand we’re not alone,” Maxwell explained. “Even though I don’t use them (spouse support groups), I have people I still know, which is what I have going for me even as a retiree.”