On Thursday August 16, 2018, I had the pleasure of attending the Veterans Peer Mentorship training hosted by the Department of Veteran Affairs. I was skeptical at first wondering, “What would I learn?” I had all sorts of emotions running through my head. Having a service connected 100% disability; I felt inadequate and was concerned about trust issues. I thought to myself about all the fears and doubts I had when I finished my enlistment. To my surprise I was greeted at the door in Seattle at the VFW by the keynote speakers, welcomed with breakfast, and started to feel relaxed. They even saved the first hour for everyone to get to know everyone. Tables were spaced out to allow room for veterans to form small groups and give each other breathing room. Some brought their service animals.
Throughout the day we got information and materials on leadership, TBI, MST, PTSD, as well as available resources like housing vouchers, stand down events and compensation. To my surprise, many of the attendees were employees that service veterans in their careers. What started out for me as information session soon became a day of healing, personal growth, and a mentorship. At one point, I broke down and cried because the first time in many years I felt like I was at home. Peter Schmidt, Director of Behavioral Health for the Department of Veterans Affairs, took me aside and spent time with me listening to my concerns and points me in a direction that reminded me of who I was and my greatest strength as a United States Marine, perseverance. Jason Alves, program manager of the Veterans Conservation Corps, who happens to be my boss’s boss, gave me a hug and reminded me, “You are not alone. Welcome, brother.”
As the day went on, I met people from all branches of service who reminded me of what family is. We shared many similar interests and had the opportunity to open up and share some of our deepest fears. Some of us cried, some of us laughed, but as we finished off the day with a closing ceremony, I felt empowered by my certificate, challenge coin, materials, t-shirt, water bottle I received. This training stirred up a new passion I never knew was there. I am and now will always be a Life-Long learner and Veteran advocate.
Christopher E. Rodriguez
United States Marine