Continued from Part I of Jonathan’s story

“I don’t think you realize how hard it is to find a job outside the Navy, you will never succeed.” As my time in the Navy was winding down and I sat down with the Command Master Chief those words always resonated with me.  Was this a tactic to have me change my mind, or did  he truly believe that there isn’t a life outside the Navy?

I finished my Bachelor’s degree using my G.I. bill benefits while working full-time.  Life was good as I was enjoying my civilian life.  A few months later, I received a phone call from the Navy telling me that I have been activated for Afghanistan and leave in 4 months.  Admittedly, I had mixed emotions when I received that phone call, both anger and excitement.  I was ignorant to the idea of war and I think most of my fellow Americans are the same.  I thought my time in Afghanistan was going to be like all the movies I grew up watching on television and how they depicted war.  I was so very wrong.

As I went on my journey and left my family behind, I traveled on several planes to a country I only knew about because of the media. I just remembered how excited I was to continue doing my part for my country.  General Patton once said – “Better to fight for something than live for nothing”.  This quote is something I always believed in. I arrived and settled in, still unaware of what I was truly involved in.

I went on mission after mission, with some good days and some bad days.  The good days were still bad but they were better than the bad ones.  The bad ones I don’t wish on anyone because they truly question the core of any man.  When they say that gunfire, bombs, rockets, or any other kinetic activity during war wears on a person, it truly does.  War is not pretty; it is complete hell, for you see human behavior at its very worst.  You see true heroes, you see cowards, and you learn how you would handle the greatest adversities.

A foot patrol changed the lives of several men forever.  While on a routine patrol, a traumatic event occurred.  It was funny when anyone (including myself) said something was routine, because nothing is ever routine; in a matter of seconds things can go from routine to the complete opposite.  A young Marine who was sweeping (using a metal detector to search for metal items in the ground) for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) stepped on one approximately 10 feet from me.  I was knocked to the ground and hit in the head by an unknown hard object.  I felt dazed and confused, with ringing in my ears, dust in my eyes, and complete silence.  To me it seemed so surreal and the silence seemed to last forever.  It was as if time had stopped.

Then I heard the most painful sound, a sound that no one would ever want to hear.  My sense of hearing came back to me like someone had hit the mute button after the explosion and pressed the un-mute button moments later.  The young man was screaming for help and he was wounded worse than I was.  We were able to run closer and help the young man.  This is not something I will go into any further detail, because it is something I work very hard not to think about.  However, I am beginning to share this event more, because I think it makes it easier for me each time I do decide to talk about it.  I don’t remember much after the explosion, for it was all a haze.  I do know that the young man was taken to safety by air and survived.

I was taken to medical and suffered what they called a Traumatic Brain injury.  I remember sitting there with the Doctor thinking what in the world the injury entailed.  After a few weeks, I was sent back to complete my tour and eventually arrived in San Diego to continue to receive medical treatment.  The first year after my deployment was very hard on me and those around me.  War had left its mental and physical scars.  War is not a movie, it is not fun, and it isn’t a game.  It is complete chaos with no reason to why certain things happen.

I wanted to continue my education and I knew I had a long, hard road ahead of me, which was one of the most challenging paths I have ever taken.  The reason was because TBI affected everything I did and wanted to do.  TBI causes memory loss, sensitivity to light, headaches, and other side effects.  I could no longer read without getting a headache and had memory relapses.  I would have to wear sunglasses everywhere.  I was embarrassed to wear them inside, because people either looked at me funny, or would ask why I was wearing them.  I did not want to draw attention with them, even knowing that I was hurt serving my country.

I looked at two universities for my Master’s degree, Chapman and USC.  I looked at the requirements and knew I was going to have to take the GRE test.  I knew that taking such an extensive exam was going to be a massive challenge.  I studied for 8 months for the test and had to get extended time with breaks for all the side effects of the TBI.  I hated asking for help, and I hated the fact that I needed it. I wanted to just be like everyone else and I always felt I was a burden to others.  After taking the test it wiped me out for 2 days. I was completely drained taking the 8 hour test.

When I got the phone call from Chapman telling me that I got into their school, I was so happy.  I had done it and with a little help, but I was now going to be able to continue my education even with my injury.  Was it easy?  Absolutely not.  I struggled and I continue to struggle.  I get better with different mental exercises and medication to help lessen the side effects, but nothing will ever make them completely go away.

For all my fellow veterans out there returning from active duty who think that there isn’t anyone who understands, you are right, they will never understand and you can’t expect them to.  What you can expect is that people are there to help you.  Take the first step, swallow your pride and get the help you need so you can get the fair deal you have earned.  As President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad.”