“My older brother joined the Army when I was in middle school. He told stories of his time in Germany and other places so I already knew I wanted to join when I was in junior high. I enlisted in the Marines in 1987 and got sent to Okinawa, Japan for my first duty station. I was there for five years and we provided a lot of direct support for Operation Desert Storm and Shield. I fell in love while in Okinawa and decided to reenlist after my wife got pregnant. We got sent to Hawaii after that and my wife got pregnant with our youngest daughter while we were there. We would bounce back and forth between Japan and Hawaii for years before I was commissioned as a Warrant Officer and sent to Iraq in 2004. I was in Iraq for six months; I worked in the airfield and was tasked with sending military remains back to the US. It was an eye opening experience because I was truly able to see the toll the war was taking. I was sent home briefly before being sent right back over to Iraq for a second deployment. I worked as a watch officer on that second deployment which meant I reported significant events to the commander so he could report it to higher headquarters. You deal with a lot of difficult emotions in that position because you see and experience so much. I remember reporting on a big truck that was wrecked while carrying a bunch of Marines. The truck was washed down the Euphrates River: we lost seven Marines and one Navy corpsman. It took us three to four weeks just to find the bodies further down the river and conclude reports. That and other KIA’s (Killed In Action) I experienced on my first and second deployments really took a toll on me. When I got back from my second deployment, I was at the 19 year mark. I ended up doing 27 years and retiring as a Limited Duty Officer at the rank of Major. When you spend that much time in the military, making the transition out can be very difficult.
I moved back home to Norfolk, Virginia when I got out. It was a really toxic atmosphere so I decided to move back out to California and take a GS position. I was struggling mentally; I was short tempered, couldn’t sleep, and had a lack of patience. At the time my wife and I decided to get a divorce, I went back and started a doctorate program and I just had so much going on with my family. My mother was diagnosed with dementia and my father died of cancer. I was really struggling and knew I needed to get help. Luckily, a woman I had been dating at the time introduced me to the Headstrong program. After enrolling in the program I was matched with a therapist who was a great guy and really helped me a lot. I always look forward to our sessions whether it be in person or by telephone. He’s a great listener and provides me with little trinkets that have helped me to make a 180 to where I’m at now. I finished my dissertation and graduated this year. I’m now a doctor in education, remarried to my ex-wife, and my family life really stabilized after these past few years. The military gave me so much and I look back so fondly on my time in service. The military exposed me to all colors, races, and religions. I’m not saying I didn’t experience any negativity, but the overwhelming majority of it has been positive. Any negativity I experienced in my 27 years in the military or my nearly 52 years on this earth, I’ve tried to find a positive side to it. I tell that to young people today and encourage them to join. The service gave me a better perspective and understanding on life, but it also allowed me the opportunity to do the things I wanted to in life. When I grew up there were 13 of us and only 3 of us graduated from high school. To think that I’ve now written a book and published it is pretty crazy. I sent all of my brothers and sister a copy because I wanted them to know I didn’t do this by myself. I did it with their support. That’s why I tell young people you can do anything you put your mind to and you can turn anything into a positive that you want to.”