‘Facing Stigma’ with Noah Galloway

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“My mom grew up a military brat when my grandfather was in the military. Our family held service to country in high regard, so her brothers followed in his footsteps during Vietnam. My mom was really pushing for me to go into the military after high school, but I decided to go to college instead. Halfway into my freshman year 9/11 happened and I remember watching as the the second plane hit. I went for a run after it happened so that I could clear my head. I didn’t have a destination or a certain distance, I just started running. I realized on that run that I was 22 years old, physically fit, and I loved my country. It went from my mom wanting me to make the military a career, to me feeling like it was necessary. So many people were trying to join after 9/11 that we had to sit in a three week holding pattern before basic training. Once basic training finished I was sent to Fort Campbell in early spring of 2002. Then in 2003 the entire 101st Airborne Division was sent to Kuwait, before moving to Baghdad. After we hit Baghdad, we pushed north to Mosul and took over that area. We were over in Iraq for a total of a year. They actually wanted us to go back over shortly after returning. I didn’t want to be back home and was anxious to go back over because I actually enjoyed it. It was exciting for me, and it made me realize that’s what I wanted to do as a career. We redeployed back to Iraq in 2005 to an area known as the triangle of death.

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The deployment was in the middle of nowhere and the enemy was constantly using IEDs in the open landscape. We were living in an old potato factory at the time, and I laid down to sleep after getting back from a mission earlier in the day. My platoon leader woke me up shortly after to go back out and help find the rest of our platoon that we’d split off from earlier. I drove with the headlights off and my night vision goggles on. It’s hard to see really well with those goggles, so I missed a trip wire that was stretched out across the road at the time. When my front tires hit the wire, the bomb sent our 9,000 pound Humvee flying through the air into a canal. Thankfully we landed wheels down because I was knocked unconscious and the water flooded, chest high, into the cabin. The guys from my unit helped get me out of the Humvee and back to the potato factory where the medics could work on me. A helicopter picked me up and took me to a camp in Baghdad for further treatment, before being transported to Germany and eventually to Walter Reed in D.C. on Christmas Day. When I woke up, I asked if everybody else from our unit was alright. They let me know that nobody died and that I had taken the brunt of the hit. I had severe injuries to my right leg and no feeling from my hip down. My left leg was amputated and my left arm was amputated as well. Months later I received a leg to walk with and I wore it all the time because I didn’t want to be in that wheelchair again. I kept pushing myself and within a year I left the hospital to move back to Alabama. I didn’t have much motivation to do anything, and I struggled with depression for about five years.

The one constant in my life are my three kids. I remember walking into the living room one day and seeing all of them sitting on the couch. I realized that I was a role model and I needed to emulate how a man is supposed to act. I didn’t fix everything immediately, but every time I messed up I thought about my kids, and that was enough motivation to get up and get better. I realized if I wanted to be healthy, it had to be about my overall health, rather than just about my body. I started going to get mental health treatment, and I felt a lot better when treating both my mind and body. Looking back I think a big part of my depression was due to the fact that I lost what I loved. I think a lot of veterans struggle to find that purpose again. If you don’t have a goal or a direction in life it’s tough to find that purpose. We have to be driven toward something. I think an organization like Headstrong allows veterans to access the mental health treatment they need, which in turn helps them get back on track to finding that purpose. It’s been almost 13 years since I’ve been injured and I still do a lot with the military. I feel good about where I am in life, and now I have my own purpose again. If I hadn’t been injured or gone through that depression, then I wouldn’t be as close as I am with my children. It’s that bond with my kids that makes me realize how fortunate I am in life.”

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Healing the hidden wounds of war

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