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Serving After Service: How Getting Involved Helped Me Overcome My Fears and Rediscover Myself

The following OpEd was published by Military Times on August 7th, 2019

Author: Earl Lundy, U.S. Army Veteran, Purple Heart Recipient

4 Minute Read

 

It’s March 3, 2008 in Afghanistan. I’m in the kitchen preparing a meal for my team. All of a sudden I see a flash of white light. When I come to, nothing but pitch black. I’m in complete darkness, and the smell of smoke and gun powder is inescapable. Then I realized I couldn’t move if I wanted to because I’m trapped beneath steel and rubble. As I lay there buried under a building for the next 5 hours clinging to nothing but my thoughts, I come to the realization that I have a choice to make. I may be trapped in this dark place but I’m not dead, so I will choose to live, and use whatever resources I can to get through this ordeal. Eventually I hear voices asking if anyone is there, and I call out with so much pride, “It’s Seargent Lundy. I’m here”, knowing that I made it through my darkest day. For that day, I was awarded the Purple Heart, an honor I’m certainly grateful for. 

But all the days following March 3rd are where I believe I earned the designation. The physical recovery was beyond challenging. Over the course of the next 3 years I fought every day to regain the ability to walk, while battling permanent nerve damage. During that time I was also dealing with retirement, which was just as difficult for me to process. Being injured in Afghanistan cut my military career short, and left me feeling like a part of me was ripped away that I would never get back. My father and grandfather both served and retired from the 82nd Airborne Division. Transitioning out of the military left me feeling disconnected from peers and left without a purpose. I spent countless days sitting in my apartment in Houston, TX with the only thought in my mind being that I had no idea what was next for me. Unbeknownst to me, my wife had signed me up to attend a social event with Wounded Warrior Project. So I was quite surprised when I received a phone call invitation. I can honestly say that is when my recovery began.

Just by accepting that invite, it put me on a path of healing and helped me redefine my purpose. By continuing to get involved, I transformed from the quiet veteran sitting in the back of the room lost in his thoughts, to an inspired character mentor for the next generation of leaders with another organization, Travis Manion Foundation. WWP gave me the opportunity to continue my education and prepare me for the civilian workforce. That introduced me to a number of other amazing veteran service organizations, like Combined Arms and Travis Manion Foundation (TMF), just to name a few.

TMF helped me recognize my own strengths and passions, which made me more comfortable and focused on who I was striving to become. I gained the confidence I needed to share my story, and now include this personal example of resilience when giving TMF character presentations to hundreds of school students around the Houston community where I serve as a Mentor. I am grateful that TMF gave me tools that I need to help me teach the next generation what it means to live a life of character.

This new direction has helped me find a career that I love, as the Gym Manager at Combined Arms. This position allowed me to regain that camaraderie from my time in the military. I continue to be involved with TMF as a veteran Mentor and Chapter member, where I’m part of a team comprised of veterans and community volunteers. We coordinate service projects, social events, and more. Thanks to the numerous veteran service organizations who were there for me following my darkest day, I was able to see that even though I’ve taken off the uniform, I can still be of service.

It has been a long journey but I am grateful for being awarded the Purple Heart. Since that day, my outlook on life has changed dramatically. Just because I was awarded the Purple Heart it didn’t mean that life as I knew it stopped. It simply sent me on a new course to keep on living, which I was able to recognize and embrace thanks to these VSO’s. I have a second chance to continue to serve and I plan to take full advantage of that opportunity. I invite any of my brothers or sisters in arms who are struggling with the next step in their journey to utilize these resources, and join the ranks of veterans who continue their life of service in a new capacity.

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