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By Justin Cooley and Randy Economy
The numbers are staggering.
Twenty-two soldiers take their own lives every day here in the United States.
As technology changes, so does the way we send our troops onto the battlefield, but that doesn’t change the fact that war is war and that lives are still be lost in staggering numbers.
The grit and perseverance soldiers show is a human feat in itself, but to see soldiers come home despondent, broken and scared just shows how much the battlefield can have on a life.
Andrew O’Brien, the founder of the WYSH program (Welcome Your Soldier Home) is just one of the tens of thousands of veterans afflicted by the severity of war. Raised in poverty, O’Brien grew up in a broken family and dropped out of high school when he was 18. He soon found himself enlisted in the army. It had been given him exactly what he’d been missing his entire life: discipline, a family environment, and adrenaline. Originally stationed in Hawaii, the Iraq War brought him directly to the battlefield.
Stationed in Bayji, Iraq for an entire year, O’Brien describes his experience, “It’s nothing that any amount of training can prepare you for. You see movies and video games glorifying action and adventure like this, but when you get to the real thing, when you’re really there, it’s not the same.”
O’Brien saw some of the worst of the war. He recalls one situation where an IED dropped down from a tree and landed in a gunner hole in a truck, killing the entire unit. In an earlier instance an IED had blown up right behind his vehicle.
After his station in Iraq, O’Brien tried to readjust to civilian living. He saw a counselor, but refused to discharge over the claim that he had PTSD. Soon he found himself distant and detached. He destroyed his relationships and lashed out. He could no longer relate to friends and family.
He coped through street racing and other dangerous activities, desperate for any form of adrenaline pumping activity that could possibly recreate what he felt in service. As soon as his contract with the military ended he left Hawaii and moved back to Dallas, Texas, his hometown. He replaced adrenaline with party going and alcohol. Adjusting back to civilian living began his downfall; the stress of readjusting and the lingering effects of the war drove him to suicide.
O’Brien chose to end his life painlessly, overdosing on whatever he had around him: anti-depressants, over-the-counter drugs, etc. But as his life slowly left his body he realized he wasn’t ready to go. He called 9-1-1 and said, “Help.”
The next morning he woke up in the hospital. He went through 5150-psych hold and was forced into group counseling classes. It was only after his suicide attempt did he realize that adjust to everyday life was possible.
Andrew O’Brien’s WYSH programs aims to prevent stories like his from repeating itself in other veterans. The program helps families of wounded warriors of the stress and fatigue of war through suicide prevention, support groups, and financial aid.
Together with the Austin School of film, O’Brien will be releasing a documentary slated for 2014 release about the lives of veterans and the psychological effect of war on people. He is currently touring the United States doing public speaking events and other related rallies.
Also touring with O’Brien is Ryan Surber, founder of mycharitylife.com, a free Internet service that hosts a variety of charity organizations that converge through the site in turn creating a social networking-esque way of giving back to the local community.
Surber said that he is “inspired” by O’Brien and his passion to “create positive change.”
“America is at a cross roads, and just being able to help Andrew and his project is one of the most gratifying movements I have ever been associated with,” Surber said. “One person can still change lives, lots of them,” he said.
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