‘Facing Stigma’ with Rudy Reyes

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“I grew up in the inner-city of Kansas City, as well as the impoverished South Texas border. Both of my fathers were Marines, but I use the word “both” lightly because my biological father left my mom before leaving for Vietnam. The man I consider my father, Rudolfo Reyes Sr., married my mother while she was still pregnant with me. We really connected because he empowered me and taught me to be a leader. Looking back, I recognize the seeds he planted and how much he impacted me both going forward in life and growing up without him after my parents split. After they divorced my brothers and I grew up being shuffled around amongst different relatives. Fortunately for me and my brother, we were put in the Omaha Home for Boys where we were cared for and got the structure we needed. It allowed me to avoid the bullying and abuse I had previously been subjected to so I really thrived in that environment. I believe that experience and the memory of my dad is what led me to join the Marines when the time came. I was in high school when Desert Storm started and it happened so fast I didn’t get a chance to join. However, when I saw that we were going to fight this genocide in Kosovo, I felt compelled to do something more. After completing boot camp and being in charge of a bunch of Privates and PFC’s for a while, I finally got a chance to join the Marine Recon team. I didn’t know how to swim back then, but I was so dominant on land and I worked hard through various training schools and evolutions. It finally paid off three years later when I joined the 15th Mountain Expeditionary Unit. Coincidentally 9/11 happened shortly after and my unit, along with the SEALS, were the very first American fighters in Pakistan and Afghanistan. After returning home, we got orders to invade Iraq. My time in Iraq was documented in ‘Generation Kill’ on HBO, as a true story about our team. I then fought in Fallujah and Ramadi where I sustained some of the toughest losses and warfare I had experienced.

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I had the opportunity to do three different combat tours as a Recon Marine. Once I got out, I went into contracting to do counter terror in Northeast Africa. After all that heavy combat, some of the worst suffering I went through was when I got home and had nobody around anymore. I knew it wasn’t just me because I saw that all of my best friends from the combat war communities were falling apart too. We’re facing an epidemic of suicide and I’ve been there myself, so I understand how people can succumb to suicide because they believe there is no hope. Some of us who had to see bodies and destruction understand the hard truths behind war. The depression that manifests when you have no mission to believe in and no brothers around is more dangerous than anything we see down range. We are taught very early on that you don’t show weakness and if you’re hurt, you don’t say anything and walk it off. In combat that’s great, but in day to day life that’s not the way to go about it because we need to learn to ask for help. I myself decided to get help and was fortunate enough to work with a doctor who put me on EMDR therapy. She has you relive and talk through your pieces of trauma to stimulate your frontal lobe, so that you can take out the bullets and shrapnel of trauma and sew it up to move on. You will still have that scar but the infection is out. There are so many outlets where our warriors can get help, and you can see that in the work of Headstrong and their mission. You can also see that in the mission of my organization, Force Blue. FORCE BLUE is one of the greatest therapies I’ve encountered because it allows me to bond with my fellow warriors, work out together, and then have this mission to better the planet one coral reef at a time. We’re getting out in the ocean and doing a hardcore job that has allowed us to help save lives. I foresee a combined arms where we get the best and brightest of Headstrong and Force Blue to work together to make everybody better.”

Healing the hidden wounds of war

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