U.S. Marine Corps logistics officer, Maj. Lee Stuckey suffered a TBI from an improvised explosive device (IED) during combat operations in Iraq in 2007. The physical effects of the blast were already hard enough to deal with, but the psychological effects – the nightmares and stress – almost led to his death.
U.S. Marine Corps logistics officer, Maj. Lee Stuckey, practices his archery skills in preparation for competition at the 2016 DoD Warrior Games at the United States Military Academy, West Point, N.Y., June 13, 2016. Stuckey, who is recovering from a shoulder injury, had to adapt to his respective sport by making adjustments to his compound bow. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Brandon L. Rizzo)
“After over two years of combat... you're going to come back with problems,” said Stuckey. “I didn't necessarily deal with them the right way when I came back, and I didn't want to tell anyone that I was having issues.”
“I didn't want to reach out to my brothers and sisters and say 'Hey, I'm having problems, are you having the same?' I consider myself an alpha male, I didn't want to be seen as weak.”
Then one day in 2009, the combat-hardened Marine began to crumble. After years of destroying the enemy and repelling attacks, he prepared to take one of his own bullets. He pressed the cold, steel barrel of his pistol against his head.
“My mom called my cell phone as I was pulling the trigger, and she saved my life,” said Stuckey, who said he immediately put the pistol down when he saw the name “Mom” displayed on his cell phone. “She called me randomly every two weeks, but this wasn't random. She saved my life with one call on a cell phone.”
This event however, was not the only sign for Stuckey to seek treatment.
“I equate my story to never changing my oil,” he said. “Over a 17-year period, I never changed my oil as a Marine. And if you don't change your oil on a car, your engine finally blows up. Well, my engine finally blew up, and one day I was sitting in the office, and I had blood coming out of my ears. That was a sign that I needed to change my oil.”
Stuckey said his command staff was very supportive, and they told him he needed to transfer to the U.S. Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment.
The physical effects of his brain injury were the catalyst for his transfer to the regiment, but the total treatment he received there aided greatly in his psychological recovery as well.
“I realized after getting therapy for myself and getting myself back on my feet that I wasn't weak: I was human. I was having problems with things that happen in combat,” he said.
During his time with the regiment, Stuckey also found out about the Marine Corps trials for the 2016 DoD Warrior Games. A long-time hunter and archer, he decided to try out for the team.
“I'm from Alabama, so archery and shooting, that's kind of what we're born to do,” he said. “We grow up in Alabama with a bow in our hands, and when I got to the Wounded Warrior East, they asked me what I'd like to compete in. That was kind of a no-brainer.”
Stuckey is competing in archery, shooting and is trying out for cycling. He said that being at the DoD Warrior Games is a great opportunity to reset and spend time with people who are going through the same issues.
His experience with combat-related conditions and the excellent treatment he received at the Wounded Warrior Regiment inspired him to reach out and try to help other veterans who are experiencing combat-related trauma.
He founded a non-profit organization called America's Heroes Enjoying Recreation Outdoors (AHEROUSA), which connects veterans with patriotic members of local communities by organizing outdoor events and social activities.
According to the organization's mission statement, their goal is to heal the physical and psychological wounds of war and military service by developing a support network for veterans that introduces them to available resources and programs that can improve their overall quality of life.
“That's what we're doing at AHERO,” said Stuckey. “We bring these veterans in and assess them. I find out what issues they're going through... and then I link them with different organizations and the CEOs of different foundations to get that equipment so when they leave on Sunday, their quality of life has improved dramatically.”
“They have a will to live. That's what it's about – if you have a will to live and a purpose, you're not going to take your own life.”
According to Stuckey, the DoD Warrior Games is a chance to create a network of like-minded individuals, which allows them to reach out and call each other and help each other in the future.
“What a great venue to reach out to our brothers and sisters and let them know they're not the only ones dealing with this stuff,” he said.
According to Stuckey, in over 15 years of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, there's been over 6,800 combat-related deaths. During that same time frame, there has been over 100,000 veteran suicides.
“It was 22 a day, and now it's 29 a day,” said Stuckey. “You're talking ten times the numbers [of combat deaths]. The biggest thing I can tell anyone is reach out to somebody who was in combat with you, reach out to someone who is acting a little different.”
“Maybe they're not getting enough sleep... their work performance is going down. Find out what's really going on, find out if they're OK and be their phone call like my mom was the phone call for me.”
By U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jefferson VanWey
Provided through DVIDS
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