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Learning to see in the dark

Dave Roever, U.S. Navy veteran and wounded warrior (seated) and U.S. Army Capt. (Ret.) John Arroyo, speak to Keesler Airmen about their personal experiences of recovery during a resiliency talk April 11, 2019 at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. Both Roever and Arroyo shared how they continue to fight through their physical and emotional pain to teach others about resiliency. (U.S. Air Force photo by Sarah Loicano)

Dave Roever, U.S. Navy veteran (seated) and U.S. Army Capt. (Ret.) John Arroyo, speak to Keesler Airmen about their personal experiences of recovery during a resiliency talk April 11, 2019 at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. Both Roever and Arroyo shared how they continue to fight through their physical and emotional pain to teach others about resiliency. (U.S. Air Force photo by Sarah Loicano)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss., -- --

On April 2, 2014, U.S. Army Capt. (Ret.) John Arroyo was a Green Beret stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. As Arroyo parked his car that morning, he heard gunshots exploding nearby. The next shot caught him, close range, in the throat. Arroyo managed to staunch the bleeding and found help from near-by Soldiers who rushed him to the hospital. Despite being told he’d never speak again, months of intense rehabilitation allowed Arroyo to regain the use of his voice and right hand.

Recently I had a unique opportunity to hear Arroyo’s story, along with Mr. Dave Roever, a U.S. Navy veteran and fellow wounded warrior, who came to Keesler to speak to our trainees and senior leaders. Reading their biographies gave me chills and despite the hectic and busy schedule we all face, I knew I had to make time to hear what these two survivors had to say. Something told me their messages would be powerful and compelling, and they did not disappoint.

During his brief time as a river boat gunner with the elite Brown Water Navy in Vietnam, Mr. Roever’s job was to get his Navy seals as close to the river’s edge as quickly and safely as possible. This highly dangerous job left him battle scarred, enduring excruciating agony beyond imagination and years upon years of surgeries and physical reconstructions.

But what it didn’t do to him is even more astounding. It didn’t leave Mr. Roever angry, bitter or beyond redemption. Listening to Mr. Roever’s story, of humility, humor and hope, indeed even writing this now, left me in tears. I wasn’t the only one who was visibly shaken and moved his story. It felt like an incredible bond had formed between the audience and Mr. Roever, between him and me.  As he described the darkness within himself that he had to battle, over and over, only to beat it back with hope, love and the possibility of another beautiful day, he carried us along with him. Hearing him speak brought flashes of the times when I felt my own struggles – when I received that Red Cross notification during a deployment, returning to Afghanistan after losing my father and coping with postpartum depression. Times when it would have been easy to give into pain and despair, rather than fight and survive. I consider myself a resilient person; although I experience darkness, I am able to process the anger or sadness and find my equilibrium. Even so, it can be intense how quickly the darkness descends and when you’re in the midst of the night and it can feel very long and very lonely.

A few of Roever’s messages resonated and one that felt essential to his message of resiliency was that by himself, wasn’t strong enough to survive.

He. Could. Not. Do. It. Alone.

By himself, Mr. Roever would have allowed his physical and emotional pain to overtake him, but with his support team – his wife and others dealing with similar physical and emotional wounds in particular – he was able to battle and face each day.

Too often I think we as individuals feel like we are the only person experiencing a negative emotion, whether its grief, anxiety, depression or loneliness. We may feel our pain is different from others. And in a way it is different, because it’s ours, but other people experience and feel similar painful emotions and face their own demons. In that sense, Mr. Roever’s message resonated, with me and the audience. Both Arroyo and Mr. Roever needed someone to help them through their own journey of recovery, failures and disappointments.  They need someone still. We all need someone.

If you’re reading this, I hope it comes at the right time. I encourage you to talk to someone. To a friend. A chaplain. To anyone. Me. We are in this together and we are here for you.