The Shifting Tide

The world is full of stories about veterans.  The latest ones involve unemployment, lack of access to health care, and the inability of veterans to integrate back into society due to PTSD or Adjustment Disorder (The latter often mistaken for the former).

So when I get a chance to share a good story, I will.  As veterans, we don’t have to look any farther than our own ranks to see people who have adapted, overcame, conquered.  That is what gives us hope.

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Brian Kennard.  He was former Navy, and with the Army-Navy game coming up, I was tempted to tell him to go mop a dumpster, paint it, and live in it for a year, but I agreed to interview him.

We met at the local Panera, and he wasn’t hard to spot, but maybe that’s because I knew where to look for him.  The dining room was crowded, so he’d found a spot back in a corner with a full view of the room.  After grabbing a sammich and a coffee, I sat down with him to hear his story.

This guy was a train wreck.  He had a background in IT and engineering, but he’d been a rescue firefighter on an aircraft carrier.  In this role, he’d been thrown to the deck so many times he’d suffered Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), but that had been mistaken for PTSD (many of the symptoms overlap and sometimes the two conditions exist simultaneously).  To make matters worse, the drinking water on the carrier had been contaminated with jet fuel.  For the next 15 years or so, Brian suffered from associated organ damage, and was diagnosed with Gulf War Syndrome.  It’s likely that some of these diagnoses were incorrect, but there were so many things wrong with this guy, the doctors were grasping at straws.  His motor skills, hearing, and thought processes were shot, and his relationships with others had long failed.  He was devastated financially following a divorce.

Then something happened in July.  He had sought spiritual help, not knowing where else to turn.  There was no magic moment, but something changed inside him after that.  It was like his will had returned.

He kept at physical therapy, and connections started to happen inside his brain.  He remembered skills long forgotten, and developed a few methods to cope with potential stressors.

“I don’t want to be disabled forever.  I can work.  I want to work,” Brian insists.  He’s studied hard to brush up old skills, and put together an impressive resume.  He was excited about an upcoming interview.

“Things were starting to change for the better, but the tide really shifted when I entered a healthy relationship,” he recalls.  “That made me want this even more.”

Brian still has some hearing loss and his gross motor skills aren’t 100%, but his eyes are bright, and he’s getting out of bed every morning with a drive to succeed.  He has skills he learned in the service that employers want – the ability to lead people, to delegate responsibilities, and to set complex priorities to support a larger mission.

Perhaps Brian’s story isn’t that exciting.  There was no shining light from the sky or voice of God.  There was no moment of epiphany, just a deep breath and a shift in the way he approached his day.  It didn’t even happen all at once.

But he inspires me.  The world needs a little more of that.


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