I always knew I would end up in the military. I grew up in a military family, played “war” as a kid, and dreamed of the day I would put on the uniform. That day came in 2003. I was an airborne infantryman in a scout platoon in the 82nd Airborne Division, and my entire identity was wrapped up in being a soldier. The fact that I was getting paid to jump out of airplanes and shoot things blew me away.
In 2005, my unit deployed to Afghanistan, and I was thrilled. I had married the love of my life two months earlier, so it was difficult to leave her, but I wanted to get in the game. We all wanted to deploy; we all wanted to fight. That’s tough for people to understand, I know. The only way I can describe the desire is that it’s like an athlete practicing his entire life and never actually getting to play in the big game.
In 2006, we returned from deployment, and my military career was marching on. I had planned to apply to Special Forces training. I had my entire life mapped out and knew exactly where I was going.
It all came crashing down on January 24, 2006. To make a long story short, parachutes are supposed to open, and mine didn’t. I experienced what is known as a “cigarette roll.” My chute deployed but didn’t open. I pulled my reserve, and it slowed my descent enough so that I didn’t become a permanent lawn dart. But I broke my back while landing, and it became obvious that I would not be able to stay in the military.
The Hardest Year
What came next was the hardest year of my life as well as the hardest year of our marriage. I felt like an empty shell. In the fall of 2006, my former unit deployed to Iraq and experienced heavy casualties. This quickened my downward ...1