That call saved Stuckey’s life. Now A HERO is helping save other wounded combat veterans from taking their own life. How? By giving them a reason to live.
Jumping in a car from Montgomery it takes about 30 minutes to reach the nonprofit A HERO, or America’s Heroes Enjoying Recreation Outdoors tucked away on Old Montgomery Road. As the city fades, visitors are left with plenty of land, long-leaf pines and fields.
The perfect place to forget.
Stuckey, who recently competed in the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games’ archery and shooting competitions, came back from his first deployment in 2003 with the Marine Corps a changed person. He served in two deployments after that to Iraq and Afghanistan and saw things “no human was meant to see.”
The purchase of a 104- acre farm in Shorter, Ala. after he returned home was going to be a quiet family retreat where Stuckey could forget and his brother and father could leave Montgomery and enjoy fishing and hunting. What’s more therapeutic than living off the land? Stuckey soon realized the benefits of outdoor recreational therapy and the farm transformed into a place where veterans could come year round to escape.
“In 2009 I struggled with combat stress,” Stuckey said. “After almost taking my own life I knew there were a lot of other guys and girls out there who were having issues, veterans who just needed to get away, needed to know that they weren’t alone.
“They weren’t weak because they were dealing with problems. They needed help.”
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among those in the military. Since the 9/11 attacks, 6,889 in the military have lost their lives supporting operations in the Middle East, but far more veterans are lost to suicide.
It was previously reported that 22 veterans commit suicide each day, however new data provided by the U.S. Veteran Affairs for 2014 show 20 veterans kill themselves daily. That is still too high.
Since after the Stuckeys bought the farm in 2003, more than 800 veterans have been helped through A HERO. One of whom was 26-year-old Kyle Carpenter, the Marine who became the youngest living recipient of the Medal of Honor, after shielding his fellow Marine from a grenade blast.
He came with 64 others the first year A HERO opened.
“It’s been absolutely humbling to think I’ve had celebrities sitting across from me and we get to spend time with like-minded people,” Stuckey said.
“There was this young marine, 22 years old who was missing his arms and legs, who had no complaints about anything,” Stuckey said. “He was happy and smiling, dealing with combat stress, but didn’t wake up saying ‘I have blemish on my face.”
Stuckey himself is wounded after his military jeep rode over an IED on their way to Baghdad in 2007. One of the tires set off the pressure plate that set off the explosion directly underneath him. That was during his second deployment with the Marine Corps after he graduated from Marion Military Institute and Auburn University.
He and his brother were first assigned overseas in 2003 but 2007 was a tough 13-month deployment facing multiple IED strikes, small arms fire and insurgents. At that time, he was an officer and witnessed 18-year-old men and women turn into adults.
He deployed again in 2009, which was the most dangerous. Suicide bombs, loss of soldiers, grieving and recovery became the normal. Those experiences gravitated survivors into a “tribe” that returned home with an inexplicable bond. A bond that prompts them to take care of each other.
A HERO is a place caring happens where “porch talks” relieve the stress of war, family fights and loss of friends. Those contemplating suicide, PTSD or anger management issues get the help they need. Stuckey sees to that. He walks them through the process, gets them in touch with resources because he’s had to for himself.
Those that come to A HERO, come from all over the country and leave better for it. Several who have come to A HERO have gone back to their hometowns and started similar retreats and invites vets to hunt in Kansas, Arkansas, Montana and even South Africa.
“It’s about coming together, creating that network and improving the quality of life for them and their families,” Stuckey said. “When they leave here they know that the light is at the end of the tunnel.”
Want to donate?
Stuckey is raising $300,000 for a pavilion to be named in honor of the University of Auburn graduate and decorated Marine Maj. Gen. James Livingston that would house veteran’s families and a resource center.
(c)2016 the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.) at www.montgomeryadvertiser.com
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