Lee and K-9 Reba
Ok, where do you start with these kinds of things? After 26 years of naval service; 10 active, 16 reserve, 4 combat deployments and a laundry list of accomplishments, duty stations, friends both lost and still alive. How do you sum that up in a simple bio? Here it is.
I’m originally from Port Lavaca, Texas. I joined the Navy in 1987. I spent my 10 active years from San Diego up to Washington State. Deploying to Gulf War 1 for Desert Shield/Storm only 14 days after Saddam invaded Kuwait.
I had a 7 year break between my active years and my reserve years during which time my second wife, our 3 kids and I moved to Minnesota. On September 11th, 2001 I was laid up in my house with a fractured leg watching as the towers fell and at that point, I knew, that my years of naval service were not complete. After 3 surgeries and 2 years of physical therapy, and then reconditioning, I found myself swearing into the Naval Reserves.
I had 3 more combat deployments as a reserve sailor. The first was vessel escort patrol boats in Kuwait, the second was Korangal Valley, Afghanistan stationed with US Army 173rd as a motor pool sargent, and the third was vessel escort patrol boats in the UAE. Each deployment had its own sacrifices and rewards. The most challenging one was Afghanistan.
As anyone who paid attention knows the Korangal Valley is well known as the Valley of Death. I was there in 2008. While on that deployment as one would expect, you find peace and comraderies with fellow service members that you spend some of the worst times of your life with. During that deployment, our AO sustained numerous casualties. Many I never knew, some I was only acquainted with and 2 of which I was true brothers with. Both left families behind and I don’t know if I feel more sorry for them or those of us that were with them during their last days. The only benefit of their deaths coming while on deployment is that you have no choice but to shove it down deep and continue on the mission. This is an unfortunate common occurrence for so many combat veterans. This deployment was so filled with death not only of military but of civilians that you grew cold and some what callus to the feeling of death.
Now we fast forward to 2010 when I returned after my last deployment, and as luck would have it, I was stationed with a Navy Instructor Unit. I was an instructor for Military Supervisors on the recognition of drug and alcohol problems in our junior sailors, many of which were post deployment. This post afforded me the opportunity to share my experiences in Afghanistan with death to help others and conversely was very therapeutic for me and my demons. I learned that I wasn’t the only one feeling angry and alone.
As therapeutic as that post was, I still have a long road to travel. I found joy where I could and time and time again, I was reminded of the pain combat veterans feel. By one after another friends committing suicide, which only drove my anger deeper.
Some years after all this, following a nasty divorce, my second, and loss of almost all my physical possessions, a friend brought me back into the church fold where after some time I met the woman who would become the love of my life and my first step towards true healing. Her understanding, peaceful personality and kind soul would allow me to be who I was, how I was, anger, joy, love, all that. In her gentle way, she pushed me to the VA to help me understand why I was feeling what I was. After a few years, they finally discovered/acknowledged a traumatic brain injury that I had been battling with for several years. This coupled with a diagnosis with PTSD, a fractured vertebrae, and multiple surgeries, we finally had an understanding of what was going on.
In 2016, again the Lord set us on path (wrong turn) by showing us a beautiful piece of land waiting for a house to be built on it which would come to be known as Aisling House (Irish for dream). Unknown at the time, the simple act of moving away from the metropolitan area of MN has allowed me the peace needed to continue to heal. We are building our forever dream home and it is far enough along that we felt ready to add a new fur family member to our family. Reba is a German shepherd mix that looks like a German Shepherd only smaller. She is active, smart and loving and a joy to have in our home. Thanks to her giving herself the job of security, I am finding it easier to sleep and let go of pent-up anxiety and to some extent anger.
Thanks to Soldier 6, Reba and I will have the opportunity to train together so she can be a service dog and go with me anywhere. I am grateful for this program and opportunity it affords.
P.S. Don’t pity me. I do not regret a single day of my entire military service. I chose this career path knowing that my service afforded some other kid the opportunity to not have to serve and enjoy a life peace.
Thank you, Lee and Summer and Reba