I was born into addiction and poverty. My biological mother was addicted to drugs and alcohol. I don't know if her decisions had an impact on my decisions in life, but I was born into a losing situation. Eventually, I was taken away at a young age and placed in Foster Care for several years.
At the age of 11 I was adopted by a wonderful family and finally had a Mom and Dad who loved me. I grew up on a farm, where I developed my love for dog training. My parents raised me with values and responsibilities. I grew to love animals In the outdoors. I was in Boy Scouts, ROTC, And even went to a Military Academy. After so many years of struggling and trauma, I was finally able to be a happy young man.
After 9/11, I joined the Kentucky Army National Guard on June 22, 2002, and completed all of my training in Intelligence and Counter Intelligence by November of 2003. I got deployed to Iraq in June of 2004. Since I had a critical job and skill, I was deployed to Iraq by myself ahead of the rest of my unit. I was attached to an Active Duty unit stationed at Forward Operating Base "Danger" in Tikrit, Iraq.
If you know that name it should tell you everything about what got me to where I am today. If you don't it's the hometown of Saddam Hussein. As you can imagine it was a constant target for Saddam and the insurgents. We fought for it just as hard as they did because controlling Tikrit was as much a psychological victory as it was a military victory for everyone. FOB "Danger" was a post elevated high on a cliff overlooking the Tigris River, making it an easy and highly targeted location by insurgents. We were under attack day and night by rockets, mortars, gunfire and Vehicle Bound Improvised Exploding Devices. The flashing of explosions, the sound, the smell of gunpowder in the air, changed me in ways I would never imagine. In addition, my job in Intelligence made me responsible for the safety of thousands of my brothers and sisters. Sometime we were right in our information, and painfully at times we were wrong. If we were right, I went on to the next task. If we were wrong, I constantly questioned things as I felt like I had blood on my hands.
Back in those days, just as quickly as a soldier was dropped into a warzone, they were dropped back into the "real" world. I came home to nowhere to go. My roommate had sold the house I was living in while I was an Iraq and didn't tell me. I literally came home to the streets. The National Guard was not equipped at the time to provide the support and assistance I desperately needed. I couch surfed but my undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder resulted in losing all my support with my family and friends.
When I came home I was not the same person. I did not know how to, nor had the programs to transition back into civilian life. I wanted to numb all of my pain and found that relief in drugs. I didn't know it at the time that I had PTSD. Like so many before me from wars before, I just assumed it was part of being a wartime soldier. I didn't know what it was or how it was affecting my behavior.
This began a vicious cycle of PTSD episode, drug use, arrest, and imprisonment. I was unable to hold down a job or a place to live. Being homeless I was often the target of police. This started a perpetual cycle that I could not get out of. I tried live in programs, therapies, and more. All wanted to treat the drug addiction, but because the PTSD was still lurking in the shadows none worked.
On April 1st 2017, I was hospitalized for acute psychosis from my PTSD and drug use. The next day, I was released on my birthday and decided to do drugs again. Immediately I had another episode and it was at that point I decided I would never do drugs again. So I've been clean from drugs since April 2nd 2017. Even though quit drug use, I began self medicating with alcohol and continued the cycle with DUI's. I am currently sober, but I know without the appropriate treatment every day will be a struggle. I am currently in some therapy, and on some medications, but now I know there is more help out there and I intend on using every last bit of it.
My struggle with homelessness is just as much of a challenge as self medicating. Because of my experiences at FOB "Danger," having a home with too much vehicle traffic, emergency flashing lights, loud noised, all caused me to flee those places. I never terminated those leases, and that depleted my disability. Driving with emergency lights behind me were "explosions" that just got closer and closer. Even clean, I still was in a position where I could not adapt to civilian life.
That is how I eventually ended up in Gastonia, NC. The community was very welcoming and helped me a lot, and the police did not bother me at first. However that changed and the Gastonia Police Department started harassing me frequently. When the police started harassing me I told some of the cops that were friendly with me, hopeful that it would help. It didn't.
I still made a home in Gastonia though. I had my camp in the woods with Sunshine. I had made a lot of friends, and saw people regularly the so I was comfortable there. People loved seeing Sunshine and I loved making people smile. There were people I talked to every single day and I looked forward to seeing them and so did Sunshine, and they looked forward seeing me.
In March 2021, I met Dave. During the summer of 2021, he would often come feed me and Sunshine, Over the months we would talk about the programs that the VA had to start treating my PTSD, the Veteran's Court program, and a more suitable living situation. On October 12, 2021, I signed the paperwork to have my VA file looked at by Dave so I could get the help I had been waiting so long for.
I had told Dave that day the police were harassing me and he offered to go and talk to them and tell them he was helping me get off the street. Maybe that would have bought us some time. At the time, I was scared and told him not to because I didn't want any more attention on me. I just wanted to be left alone.
Literally the next day, October 13, 2021, is when my life changed forever. Where I went from fighting only my PTSD to now also fighting for justice for Sunshine.