Ed Heckathorn: Serving after Duty

When I was first contacted by the Foundation to write for the newsletter, I was honored, excited, and nervous about having to come up with something to write.  Then I thought, “Wait, why me?  I don’t have TBI, nor do I have PTSD.”   That said, I do have a story.  As a matter of fact, we all have a story, a story worth sharing.

I am a 12-year Active/Reserve Army Veteran, Staff Sergeant.  At 47 years old, I have two teenage daughters and one young adult son.  I recently become engaged to the love of my life, who has a ten-year-old son.

My military career started back in April of 1992 when I enlisted into the Army in active duty.  I did my basic training in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  My active-duty job was as a fire support specialist.

After completing my training, I was sent off to Fort Benning for Airborne school and the Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP).  After completing both, I was sent to my duty station, the 1/75th Ranger Battalion, in Savannah, Georgia.  There I was assigned to Bravo Company, where I spent two years traveling the world and training with what I would consider one of the best units out there.

After serving in the Ranger Battalion, I returned to my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, and went on Reserve status.   My unit was going to be closing down and no other units in the state offered my MOS, so I chose the MOS of military police, keeping me in my hometown.

While on Reserve status, I became employed as a deputy at the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office starting in September of 1999.  There were many reservists working at the Sheriff’s Office during this period, and there still are today.

In January 2002, following the unfortunate events of September 11, 2001, my Reserve unit, the 342ndMilitary Police, was activated.  There were nine deputies just in my unit alone that were deployed.  Unsure of our mission, we knew we were shipping out to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for additional training.   This turned out to be quite a life experience.

Our unit worked with contingent Air Force soldiers doing transport missions of captured Taliban in Afghanistan.  We flew from McGuire AFB, New Jersey, to Incirlik AFB, Turkey.  There we planned for the next part of our mission. For security reasons, we would fly at night to a determined location in Afghanistan to pick up Taliban detainees from the ground forces. When we landed, the ground troops would bring their detainees to us to be accounted for and loaded. Then we flew nonstop for 22 hours to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. There we unloaded the detainees to other Military Police who then transported them to Camp X-ray to process them. Then we would fly back to McGuire AFB, New Jersey. This all happened in roughly a 96-hour turnaround time.  Then the mission would repeat itself all over again in a week or two.

As I would imagine is true with most who have served, I am not sure I could ever truly put into words my experience of my time in service and how it has affected me as a human being, both in positive and negative ways.

One of the impacts it had on me is making me appreciate all that I do have and all that I have done.  During my 12 years of military service, I’ve traveled all over the United States, training with other units. I’ve traveled to Turkey, Cuba, Afghanistan, Egypt, and Panama twice.  In all my travels, I have seen many diverse backgrounds, cultures, and demographics; poverty and oppression; diseases and maladies. All of this has only made me appreciate more all the freedoms we have as Americans.  It has taught me to slow down and take some time to talk to people and recognize others.  Our soldiers are fighting and dying in countries with far fewer rights, freedoms, and opportunities than ours. There are soldiers and veterans living here and coming home every day with cognitive and physical injuries who are not able to get the help they so desperately need and are so ever-deserving of.

Getting out of the Reserves in 2004 was not an easy transition for me.  I was a Staff Sergeant and squad leader and it was hard to leave my brothers and sisters. Once you enlist, there is a very strong, real, and unique bond that one develops with what many would consider family.  I truly missed that bond and connection.  And while in the service, I had lost a “brother” who had become my best friend, the emotional impacts of which I still feel today.

While leaving the military was difficult on an emotional and personal level and I was dealing with that, for quite a period, I was burying the physical pains that I was experiencing. I had been a leader and thought I was going to just get through it and continue my time at the Sheriff’s Office and not face any of my physical ailments.   Then there finally came a point in time when I realized that I needed to reach out to the VA and to outside physicians and get the medical help that was there for me.

When I finally decided to seek treatment in 2008, I first had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Chrisanne Gordon.  This is when my post-military life changed forever.  I was her patient first, but now I have the distinct pleasure of calling her my Hero.

For those that are fortunate enough to know Dr. Gordon, you know she’s an amazing doctor.   However, you also know that if you get her in the room with another talkative person, hours later they will most likely still be chatting away.  That is exactly what happened and what started our relationship.  She and I talked for more than an hour at my appointment and it wasn’t all about my injury. We talked about veterans with harsh injuries and traumas, and about how difficult it was for them to get the proper diagnoses and treatments. She was so energetic and full of passion to help veterans that I was totally INfrom that moment on.

Beginning with Operation Resurrectionand then Resurrecting Lives Foundation, I’ve worked with and helped organize multiple fundraisers. Working with Dr. Gordon from the beginning, I’ve traveled with her to Arlington West in Santa Monica, California, for the beach display memorial for our soldiers fallen since 2001. I’ve traveled twice to Washington, DC, with her and my fellow friends/veterans Chris Lawrence, Wendell Guillermo, and Curtis Armstrong to advocate and to talk to Congressional representatives on behalf of our Foundation.

Working with the Foundation combined with my 20 years at the Sheriff’s office, with the last 10 years being in court services, I had the opportunity to observe an area where our court system was severely lacking.  I connected Dr. Gordon and retired Ohio Judge Evelyn Stratton to address this issue for our veterans.  In doing so, we now have established a Veterans Court in Franklin County, Ohio, where the focus is on treatment rather than punishment.

Dr. Gordon has been a true inspiration to me and there is nothing I wouldn’t do to help her and the amazing Foundation. I proudly volunteer with the Resurrecting Lives Foundation or advocate for our mission because I feel a sense of pride in who we are and what we represent.  It is a cause I truly believe in.  Being a part of this organization also has given me the sense of military family I was missing for so many years.  I feel right at home again when talking to any member of the Foundation.  For that, I am forever grateful.

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