The United States Marines reminded me of three important values that have always been a part of my life before and after joining. Those three values are dear and true to my heart, not only when I was young or during my service, but to this day in the present and always will be in the future. Those three values are Honor, Courage, and Commitment. Growing up I was taught to honor first and foremost God, as well as my parents, and especially my country. I was also taught that once you commit you never quit. I would say my favorite and staple out of all three is Courage, because without that the other two would not exist. Courage is the mental fortitude, the physical strength, and the moral compass ingrained in each and every Marine. It carries myself and my brothers in arms, regardless of branch of the armed forces you are in, through the challenges of combat and helps us overcome what 98% of the US population will not commit and embrace...FEAR. Don't get me wrong though, just because I embrace it, does not mean I did not or do not have it.
One of the most fearful moments of my life was just getting back from Afghanistan in 2005. I remember flying into the Marine Corps Base Hawaii like it was yesterday. It was nice to be back in the States, but it was super hard to walk off the plane and hug the parents of the fallen brothers that did not make it back with us. I also remember the first inkling of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that night, not really knowing at the time what that weird feeling was. You see I went off base to get some laundry detergent with a couple of other Marines at the grocery store. As I separated from them and realized this was the first time that I was alone and without my rifle to protect myself, and I had this sinking feeling that something terrible was going to happen to me. I remember thinking to myself what the heck is going on and thought the civilians shopping around me wanted to kill me. It was the first time I felt fearful for my life just getting back from Afghanistan and it was the most sinking feeling of being alone and vulnerable.
Unfortunately, this feeling of being alone and vulnerable just seemed to get worse over the years. I am not sure if it is the loss of confidence or the loss of life around me that amplifies it, but to this day I cannot shake the feeling. There was a point in time where I thought I could do it alone. However, I was just fooling myself and have since found myself in some of the darkest places mentally and physically you could imagine. Luckily for me I had a brother that I served in the Marines with named Scott Gatto. Gatto is one of the reasons I got myself out of the dark hole I dug myself. He was the first brother to reach down and pull me out and he did this with the help of his nonprofit he founded Reunite the Fight or “RTF.”
RTF is one of the reasons I am an Accountant working on my CPA currently. Living to take care of my wife and three little boys. RTF gave me that sense of not being alone anymore and made me realize that I had brothers out there who feel the same way I do. Instead of feeling vulnerable I felt protected and part of something that is bigger than me again. RTF gave me a sense of purpose and just being around brothers in arms, regardless of branch of service, lifted me out of that darkness. Whether it was going down to Iowa with my buddy and Co-Founder Matt Catron to help raise money or going on a Turkey hunt with Gatto and Catron, or the countless trips and golf outings RTF has so generously gifted so many brothers, it always lifted not only my spirits, but honestly is one of the reasons I am not part of the statistic of 22 lost veterans dying a day. See if I had not found RTF I would most likely be in jail or six feet under. RTF save my life in the same sense a brother in Afghanistan saved mine by pulling me down as tracer rounds were flying just above my head. RTF pulled me out of the dark so I could find myself and my purpose. I respectfully ask you to consider approving this grant so RTF can save countless other Veterans that are still lost and just need a brother to lift them up.
~ James O., SGT USMC (Ret.)