‘Facing Stigma’ with John S.

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“When I signed up for the Marines I had to get a parental waiver because I was only 17. I left for boot camp in September 2000 hoping to get my life started and unknowingly about what was to come. I went in as an airframe mechanic and was stationed in North Carolina when the towers got hit on 9/11. After working the night shift, I was woken up and got to the hanger just in time to see the second tower get hit and the buildings collapse. Two months later we were deployed to Saudi Arabia in what would later be known as Operation Enduring Freedom. For 6 months our job was to patrol the airspace above Iraq to make sure they weren’t operating in any other air space or no fly zones that they weren’t designated to be. When I got back I had an NCO recommend me for the Marine Security Guard Program which is a force protection assignment at embassies around the world. I was sent to Quantico, VA for training and graduated in 2003. I was assigned to my first embassy in New Delhi, India shortly after that. Your main function and duty at the embassy is to be a mini SWAT team in case something like Benghazi happens. If there were an attack on the embassy, we’re the first and hopefully last line of defense. I worked in India for 18 months before rotating down to Sri Lanka in 2004 for disaster relief for four months. I came back and got assigned to my next embassy in London and I was there for about a year from 2004 to 2005. I dealt with a lot of stuff while I was there and I was involved in a rather significant incident. I sat on the edge of the roof of the embassy, contemplating suicide while on duty. I was having a hard time dealing with that incident which inevitably swayed my decision to get out of the Marine Corps. However, that trauma transitioned with me and followed me.

I ended up getting out of the Marines and used my GI Bill to go to school full-time. I started working as an HVAC technician and did that for four years as I went to school and got my degree. I eventually took the New Jersey state police exam and was able to get hired in a small town where I worked as a police officer for about ten years. I had a lot of great experiences and accomplishments during my time as an officer, but after sustaining multiple injuries, I really started thinking about transitioning out of the force. All the physical and mental trauma from work, along with my wife battling cancer, really took a toll. I saw a therapist weekly for nine months and overall have been seeing a therapist on and off over ten years. My wife and I are in a place now where we’re both happy with who we are and where we’re at. I was able to retire from the force and it was the best decision I ever made and that she’s ever had to make with me. Thankfully, she has benefits from her job and is a pensioned employee so I made the decision to go work for myself. It really started while I was working as an officer and my wife asked me to make a wooden American flag for our house. I made the mistake of posting pictures online and it kind of caught on like wildfire. After seeing the demand and the amount of people reaching out to me, I bought a few pieces of equipment and converted my garage into a full blown fabrication shop. I’m at the point now where I barely have enough time in the day to make everything that people want me to make. My custom signs company is doing really well and I’m loving what I do. I’m looking forward to seeing where all of this takes me, because I have some big plans for the company going forward.”

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Healing the hidden wounds of war

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