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FROM THE HEART OF A COMBAT VETERAN

Updated: May 2, 2023

Father Nigel,


First off, I want to start by saying thank you. I can’t even begin to describe how wonderful I am feeling after the time that I spent at the WHI in Virginia Beach. When my wife signed us up for this, I was hesitant, I’d been suffering in silence for years. After arriving and going to the first session and hearing everyone give their names and telling where they served and how long they were in the service in my head I was saying “what am I doing here, I have nothing compared to what these people have. I served 4 years active duty in the Marine Corps as a Combat Engineer with one deployment to Helmand Province, Afghanistan. These vets in here have been everywhere. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq (desert storm and post 9/11) they’ve served more time than I’ve even been alive. Is this for me?” After the introduction and we went into the other room, and you began giving your session on what to expect. You played, “this is where the healing begins,” my mind began searching.


I went back to my hotel room and began replaying things in my head, but I now knew I was meant to be here. The next morning I was eager to wake up and go get breakfast (man do I love breakfast buffets) walking into the restaurant feeling shy and awkward as I typically am it felt so warm and pleasant everyone told my wife and me good morning and I felt so welcomed and loved. The amount of love and caring that I felt from every single member of the team played a huge role in my healing I believe. After breakfast and before we went up to the church I hugged and kissed my wife who is my best friend and one of the only people on this earth who made me feel safe and secure.


I knew things were about to get serious. I took that walk alone up to the church wondering what was going to happen, but I knew that I was ready and that this was it. We started off listening to “Doc” play some music on his guitar, and I couldn’t help but think of Johnny Cash (brilliant!). I rested in his music and prepared my mind for what was to come. The first session was with Wes. I knew from the introduction that Wes was going to make a huge impact on my healing. He was a young Marine Officer (I always had a close relationship with my Officers), and he deployed to the same areas of Afghanistan that I did. He started talking about moral injuries, and that’s when my heart finally began to soften.


I listened to every word he said and began to place the words he was saying into my heart. My healing was beginning. After he was done speaking, you began speaking and apologizing on behalf of the men to the women. I fought back tears because I know that I have always made things difficult for my wife by not being as sensitive as I know that I could’ve been to her needs and only worrying about myself and shutting off from the world and getting lost in my own head. That was another pierce right into my hardened heart.


Then you began to apologize to the men from the wives, and once again I felt the tears, so I sniffled and held them back. I was fighting it. I admit that even though I know some of the things my wife says and does towards me are because of my choice to close off my heart and emotions, it still hurts. I am her husband, and I want to be able to feel things for her and love and support her the way a husband should, but deep down, I wasn’t able to, and I never knew why. This was another pierce into my heart. I could feel my heart moving and the emotions of pain, not just from my time in the Marine Corps but also from my family life, running through my body. It was like the ocean during a huge storm. There was no control, but inside I could feel everything moving around. We broke for lunch, and I was reunited with my wife, and a big hug and a kiss were necessary to steady my heart just a little bit, I love that woman. After a little more group discussion, we broke into small groups, I was waiting for this moment.


The whole time I was hoping and praying that I would end up in a group with Wes because I knew I was connecting with him. They called my name and said that I was in his group, I felt a huge relief. In the small group, the other veteran with me shared his story, and some of the stuff he shared lined up with mine, and once again, I felt relief. The thing with what I thought was “my story” and the source of all my pain was that while I was deployed, a senior corporal of mine was a little bit “hard” on the other junior Marines and me and did some things that were probably really questionable but all for “training purposes and making us warriors." I loved him. His name was Cpl. Alex F. Domion. He was tough, cocky, prideful, and fearless. A Marine’s Marine. Within our first couple of days at our FOB in Afghanistan, my squad was doing inventory on some of our gear (about 80 cases of various types of tools, etc.), and we were putting it all back in a neat and organized fashion. The Marine Corps way, of course. I was getting frustrated but knew that it had to be done.


After we were about to close the door, Dom shouted something along the lines of “nope, thats not right take them all out and do it again” I became furious and shouted, “F**k You I hate you and I hope you die”. The next day we had some stuff we had to do first thing in the morning, but after that, we were able to go to our racks and hang out or whatever, so I watched a movie on my laptop. While I was watching the movie Dom said “(last name removed)*, your rifle is under Rumgay’s rack.” I was puzzled and said, “alright thanks.” I could hear Dom and another Marine (his best friend) practicing room clearing drills in our hooch. But all of a sudden, I heard a loud pop and sat up and looked down on the floor and saw Dom laying on the ground with a hole right in the middle of his forehead with blood all over the ground and his eyes wide open and staring at the ceiling. I panicked and ran outside; at the same time, our Corpsman and some of the NCOs ran into the hooch and started working on Dom. They ran with him out on a gurney and down to the COC.


After a few minutes, everyone came back up and told us he didn’t make it. I remember looking over in the corner, and I could see his friend who shot him, standing there covered in blood and breathing heavily. I immediately thought to myself that this was my fault. I spent many years blaming myself for what happened as if my words caused that. My squad they were training med was filled with combat veterans who served in some of the toughest times in Afghanistan in their previous deployments, so they were training me to be fearless. There was a quote used frequently by them that said, “the only hope you have is to accept the fact that you’re already dead. The sooner you accept that the sooner you can function the way a Marine is supposed to function, without compassion, without mercy and without remorse. All war depends upon it, ”and “it’s not a matter of if only when.” These things stayed pressed into my mind.


Towards the middle of my deployment, my squad was selected to join one of the infantry companies on a big operation. I was excited I was about to get my coveted Combat Action Ribbon. The Combat Action Ribbon in the Marine Corps is a big deal. It makes you above the rest etc. I wanted it. We were in a huge convoy rolling out for the mission, and things were feeling real.I was feeling so nervous and excited. The talk of all the combatants and IEDs had the warrior in me ready to do business. Things took a turn when the Husky at the front of our convoy got blown up. I said to myself, "this is real, I am going to die.” I won’t go into all the details, but the next couple of days, I was tasked with using metal detectors and sickle sticks to make sure there weren’t any IEDs in the area we were staged waiting for the enemy to be funneled to us. Anxiety central to say the least.


After a couple days the enemy was finally forced into the village we had surrounded and every weapon in the Marine Corps Arsenal was used to destroy them. Tanks, A-10s, every munition from fixed wings you can think of and I knew this was my chance to get my Combat Action Ribbon. My fire team had a m240 on our truck that we dismounted and took to the side of the hill and we had word that there was some combatants trapped inside a small compound down in the valley from us so we all take turns firing into this house. I have no idea what my rounds did but I knew I had my Combat Action Ribbon. I was excited. I can honestly say that the fear of death at the moment was overridden by the fact that I was going to be able to wear a CAR. That’s insane.


Another day or so passed and we headed back to our base. My pride was going. The rest of the deployment blew on by after that. I came home and was met with what I assume is the normal stuff anxiety, heavy drinking, anger you know the jest of it. I ordered a KIA bracelet for Cpl. Domion and I wore it proudly as well as my CAR. Flash forward to 2017 and you would find that even now I was still so proud of what I did in Afghanistan. Superior to those other Marines who never deployed or never saw Combat. In a sense I was proud of death and destruction. That with the title of Marine but not just a Marine a combat veteran Marine that I was superior to those around me. I now ask myself for what? I am proud to be a Marine and what they stand for but I am not proud of the Marine I became. I basked in the glory of a tiny cloth ribbon and a culture of death and destruction.


But on this day, 2 days after arriving home to Georgia. I am free. My chains have been broken. The grasp of the hate that was instilled in to my heart, the pride of the things I did and the things those did around me, the envy of the ones more decorated than me. I am home. The welcome home initiative to me wasn’t about coming home from war in Afghanistan. The WHI brought me back home to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I will continue to give praise and thanks to every member of the WHI, the other veterans who attended with me. I feel like now my purpose in life is to show other Veterans that yes we should be proud of our service and our devotion to duty but we shouldn’t let the culture that surrounds it define who we are. I no longer want to be known as Josh the Marine. I want to be known as Josh a child of God who is washed in the blood of the Lamb and forever free from the bonds of sin. Father Nigel, Wes and all the other members of the WHI thank you so much for allowing me the opportunity. I am eternally grateful for your words,encouragement, generosity and gratitude. I love you all.


Josh *


*last name given but removed for security.

Used with permission.

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Healing Grace and Peace be with you, Fr. Nigel+

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