I proudly served in the Army as an Airborne infantryman from December 2001 until I was medically retired in August 2014. During my 12 -1/2 years of service, I traveled to many far off places. Whether I was leaving for a 30-day training exercise or an 11-month combat deployment, I became used to saying goodbye to my wife and family.
While I was gone, all I would think about was home. I would think of my beautiful wife, my adorable daughter, spending time with my family, laughing and hanging out with my friends, the places that I would want to visit when I returned, and so much more. Thinking of home is what kept me dedicated to my duty. I left to serve something greater than myself and Bakersfield is what I represented.
I changed while I was away though. My confidence grew, I became physically and mentally strong and I became a leader. But I also experienced things that took a toll on me. So when the excitement of coming home would go away, I would find myself having to deal with certain issues on my own.
In 2012, I returned home from Afghanistan with an enormous amount of guilt on my shoulders. One of my soldiers was killed in front of me, just 40 days before the deployment ended. He was my friend, I was in charge of him, and I failed him. This was difficult for me to accept. The Army doesn’t train soldiers on how to deal with their friends and subordinates being killed.
I became angry and reclusive. I also started having migraines for no apparent reason. I hid them from my leaders and my wife. Choosing to self-medicate with alcohol seemed wise at the time. Eventually, I was medically retired for Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I returned home to Bakersfield in 2014 a far different person than had left thirteen years earlier. But I was still drinking and it was tearing my family apart. In 2015, I stopped self-medicating with alcohol and began to piece my family back together. As I write this, I am two years alcohol free, have a gorgeous family, started a successful career in radio, and finally feel happy about myself. The past sixteen years have been a journey to say the least.
While I may not wear the uniform anymore, my sense of duty has not gone away; nor has my dedication to our country. So when I saw that Hurricane Harvey had destroyed a large part of South East Texas, going to help was a no-brainer. I posted on Facebook that I was wanting to head there and was joined by three local combat veteran brothers. In 36 hours, we raised over $8,000 and were on our way.
We spent a week in Rockport, Texas, handing out food and water, helping move debris from yards, and lending a hand in any way that we could. These were other people’s homes that were destroyed. Overnight their memories were washed away. They wore their pain and sadness on their faces. Their losses will take years and decades to replace.
While what we did was minuscule in comparison to what is needed to rebuild, I feel that our mission was a complete success. For the first time in years, I feel positive about what I did while away from home. I saw men and women of all skin colors, various religious views, and different political beliefs come together and help fellow Americans in need. We didn’t bother asking who someone voted for, what their sexual orientation was, or what god they choose to worship before we helped them. We just helped them.
America has a lot of divisiveness within her borders. It seems like on most days everyone just wants to argue and point fingers at one another. However, I am here to tell you that that week I saw Americans at their finest. It just took a hurricane for some of us to see it. As a man who has overcome his own personal obstacles, I truly believe that our country can, and will, overcome the obstacles it is currently facing.
Chad Garcia graduated from Stockdale High School in 2000 and immediately went to work in the Kern County oilfields. He enlisted in the National Guard in 2002 and the U.S. Army in 2005, serving as an Airborne infantryman until 2014.