We asked our Veterans to share with everyone what they are doing to stay mentally active during this time. See what Vets like Dan have been doing.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR EMOTIONAL WELL-BEING?
Show us what works for you! It might be yoga, painting, running, singing, video chat with loved ones, walking your dog, baking, or movie time with your family; one size doesn’t fit all – but we all can practice things that help us maintain good emotional health during this challenging time.
Be creative, serious, funny, or touching. Tag #MoreThanEverBefore and #soldierstrong and nominate friends, colleagues, and family members to join the challenge.
Sharing your practices may just give someone who feels isolated or alone something that might work for them! Please help us reach those who are hurting by sharing what works for you!
Being born and raised in Wisconsin, I was instilled with all of the qualities that the Midwest is known for from a young age. I was taught to work hard, respect my elders, appreciate the outdoors, and above all that there is no team better than the Green Bay Packers. I am very lucky to have a supportive and loving family and friends that have and always be there for me. They are the foundation to all of the successes and achievements I have made in my life.
My childhood was fairly average for the most part. I have always been an adventurous risk taker so I have made quite a few emergency room visits for stitches, broken bones, and whatever battle wounds I brought home that mom and dad couldn’t patch up themselves. I am the middle child of five. I have two sisters and two brothers, one of each are older and younger. My two brothers have always been my go-to partners in crime, the three of us are most likely the reason for our parents’ gray hairs. My two sisters have always been my support group and sources of advice for as long as I can remember.
During my senior year of high school, I ended up taking the ASVAB (the entry test for the military) to get out of a day of school. This must have put me on the recruiter’s radar, because soon after completing it I started getting phone calls from them. After a home visit from one, I ended up taking the bait hook line and sinker once I was told about all the money for college I could get. On April 2, 2003 I was in Milwaukee at the Military Entrance Processing Station with my right hand in the air saying an oath that would change my life in many ways.
After High School I went to Basic Training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. I know a lot of people think “basic” was one of the hardest times of their lives, but I remember it being a lot of fun. I missed my friends, family, and home of course, but I look back on it like most of the summers from my childhood spent running around the woods getting banged up and dirty. The only exception was the early morning wakeups. After all of my training was done, I was a lowly Private in a Reserve Railroad Detachment in Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. Being in the Reserves, I was able to go to college while fulfilling my military obligation. I ended up graduating with honors from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in December of 2008. Things were looking great for me, I had a good degree from a respected college, I was ready to tackle the world. Unfortunately, the job market wasn’t as optimistic as my outlook, so I ended up taking a job as a hand cutter on a logging crew. Essentially, I ran around the woods with a chainsaw cutting down trees. This was the best job I have ever had, it was exciting, paid well, and I got to be outside every day.
In April of 2009 I had fulfilled my 6-year contract with the Army. I enjoyed my time so decided to reenlist for another 6, but I changed my job to become a Combat Engineer. I heard about a unit, the 428 Engineer Company, that was deploying stationed in Wausau, Wisconsin so I volunteered to go with them. In October of 2010 I was on a flight to southern Afghanistan. My company was tasked with conducting Route Clearance in the Zhari District and Horn of Panjiwae of Kandahar Province. The job involved driving the routes in our area of operation daily while searching for and destroying any Improvised Explosives Devices (IEDs) that the insurgents would emplace to attack US Military, NATO, and Afghan Army and Police, as well as some unfortunate civilians. Most missions were boring and uneventful, the hardest part of the job was staying focused and never letting your guard down. I was very fortunate to serve in a Platoon that contained some of the best Soldiers I have had the pleasure to serve with, especially SGT Elliot Baker and SGT Matthew Nogee, both of whom I consider brothers. The three of us were part of the primary crew of the point gun truck in our Platoon. As a platoon, we were among the best Route Clearance Packages in country. We had a 100% find rate for IEDs on our missions until day my truck was hit by the IED that injured me. I was the Truck Commander on April 27, 2011 with SPC Long driving and SGT Nogee gunning. The IED was buried in a culvert in the road that we had no way of spotting. The blast tore the vehicle into two pieces and sent both airborne. When the Explosive Ordinance Team conducted their Post Blast Analysis of the event they concluded the size of the explosive to be near 1,000 lbs. I am now a T4 ASIA A paraplegic, in lay man’s terms I am completely paralyzed from my chest down with no sensation or muscle function below my injury level. SPC Long suffered spinal fractures with no lasting nerve damage and SGT Nogee suffered a broken leg. Considering the size of the explosion and the damage inflicted on our vehicle the three of us are lucky to be alive. The only thing I can really say about that day was that as bad as it was, it couldn’t have gone any better.
The three of us were Medivaced to Khandahar Air Base by helicopter where we were stabilized and treated for our wounds. SPC Long and I were flown back to the states for treatment while SGT Nogee stayed in Afghanistan for the remainder of the Deployment. I was flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. where they performed my spinal fusion surgeries. While in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit, I ended up befriending one of the Registered Nurses, Chrissy, that took care of me. Chrissy was always there with a smile and never felt sorry for me. She told me about her friend who was a Paraplegic and showed me pictures of him racing hand cycles. When they moved me out of the ICU I would push my wheelchair down there every shift she was working to see her and show her how well I was doing, it was hard leaving Walter Reed and Chrissy, but fortunately we have remained in contact and I will regularly email her pictures of my adventures. Once my spinal fusions were stable enough, I was transported to the James A. Hailey VA in Tampa, Florida for rehabilitation. The staff at the VA was amazing from top to bottom. The Doctors, Nurses, PT’s, OT’s, and Rec Therapists all pushed me and motivated me to get back to a normal life and push the limits of what was possible. The most influential person in my rehabilitation was my Rec Therapist Tami. She pushed me further than I ever imagined possible. I remember distinctly before leaving rehab Tami came into my room with a packet of papers and told me that I was going skiing in Colorado in December; she wasn’t asking, and I wasn’t about to say no. She had filled out the paperwork and all I had to do was sign and date them. That week in Colorado skiing was the moment when I realized that I was not going to let my injuries define me as a person.
After completing my rehab in Tampa, I returned to Wisconsin in September of 2011. It wasn’t an easy transition by any means. I lost a lot of my motivation initially because I felt like I was limited by my wheelchair and my disability. I moved in with my parents and took a lot of my frustrations out on them, but their love for me never wavered and with their support, and a lot of help from them, my siblings, the rest of my family, and a lot of friends, I was able to regain my sense of purpose in life. The first few months home were definitely the hardest part of my life. From September to the beginning of December of 2011 I was in a dark place until my trip to Colorado. My little sister had moved out to Denver before I deployed to Afghanistan. I promised her I would visit when I got home to go skiing every time, I talked to her on Skype while I was deployed. I never thought I was going to be able to keep that promise until Tami told me I was going skiing. Luckily, my sister was able to get the week off of work and come up to Breckenridge with me, initially I was terrified to have her there because I was worried I was going fail miserably at skiing, but the first day on the mountain when we got off the lift together at the top of the run it hit me like ton of bricks. I realized that it didn’t matter how well I could ski, the only thing that mattered was I was there in that moment, with my little sister skiing with her like I had promised. I spent the majority of that day crashing every 20 feet coming down the hill, but it was by far one of the best days of my life.
The week I spent on the mountain saved my life. I was no longer merely existing; I was living my life once again. I was able to get over the feeling of self-pity and doubt and started taking chances again. I took advantage of every opportunity I had to get out and try any adaptive sport I could. My Rec Therapists Sara and Joyce at the Milwaukee VA would call me every week with different opportunities, and through them I was immersed in a world of sports and recreation. I have met many great people that work for amazing organizations that get people with disabilities involved in a plethora of sports and outdoor activities. My network of friends has grown exponentially with every event I have attended. I can honestly say that I have lived more in the two and a half years since my injury than I had in the 26 years prior. I have surfed the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, skied the Rockies, mined gold in Alaska, been on hunting trips in Alaska and Wyoming, completed the Chicago Marathon, and the list goes on and on. I have not made this journey alone and I thank all of those who have helped me along the way.
I am currently living in Madison, Wisconsin. I am now retired from the Army and I spend the majority of my time either playing sports, enjoying the outdoors, and helping anyway I can at the Spinal Cord Injury/Disease Unit at the Milwaukee VA. This year I have also started tutoring elementary students at a local school here in Madison, I enjoy being able to give back to my community and help the next generation succeed. Just yesterday I got a FaceTime call from my friend who teaches on of the students I tutor, she had passed a math test and couldn’t wait to tell me, I was so proud and moved that spending a little bit of time with her has had such a positive impact on her life. My journey is nowhere near over and I am excited to see where I end up next!