Welcome to the Vet Safety Brief, a new (and occasional) feature at VA News. The idea of a safety brief shouldn’t be strange to those who’ve served in uniform, in garrison, prior to a long weekend. At ease, though. You’re not in formation, and this isn’t a list of “don’ts” and “thou shalt nots.” Instead, we’ll be focusing on resilience.
This weekend’s theme is “Forging friendships and building resilience,” and it comes from retired Army NCO and VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes, a skilled planner and communicator with almost three decades of service and leadership expertise.
The story Hayes shares below is heartwarming and compelling, but it also demonstrates a sense of vulnerability during a difficult time in his life. Here’s how he forged ahead, what it means to him today, and how he plans to use this story to inspire others.
I never imagined attending my first camp retreat would be as a 33-year-old man alongside military families grieving the loss of a loved one.
I had just volunteered to serve as a mentor at a four-day grief camp for military survivors in the nation’s capital over the Memorial Day weekend. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, or if I would even make an impact with these kids who were still navigating the loss of a dear family member. Hell, I had just recently and unexpectedly lost my own Veteran father and hadn’t truly grieved myself.
As an Army senior noncommissioned officer, I was coached and well-trained to lead and influence soldiers, but I didn’t know if I was prepared for the challenge of this unique weekend: I was going into this experience as blind, nervous, afraid and anxious as the children I would be connecting with—all the same emotions, but turned up to 100 degrees.
On day one, I met a young teen named David Griffith, who was shaken and hurt by the death of his brother, Marine Major Sam Griffith, who died in combat in Afghanistan just a few months prior to the camp. The pain was fresh for David, and it was tough for me to break through the wall he had put up around him. But as a former high school basketball coach once told me, “You must take it possession by possession or moment by moment.”
Over the next three days, I was able to learn about David’s amazing military family, his own desire to join the military and carry the baton that was shelved due to his brother’s passing, and his unwavering commitment to country and service no matter the pain. David had real goals and aspirations for his future and he wanted to be the best version of himself—both for his brother and for the country his brother died for.
And although I was there to mentor, I soon realized that this kid was teaching me strength, selflessness and resiliency. What started out as a volunteer event became—for me—a life-changing experience. I was unbalanced, myself, and David gave me the mentorship I didn’t know I needed.
Today, 11 years later, David and I continue a real, transformational friendship and brotherhood. Remember that desire he had to join the military? He has achieved that goal and is now pursuing chaplaincy in the Army in hopes of providing the same love and compassion for soldiers and their families that he received during that four-day camp in 2012.
And me, I’ve taken life lessons from David and applied them to everything I do. I celebrate and love my family, friends and colleagues harder. I enjoy the big and small moments significantly more. I’ve learned, through my first camp retreat in 2012, that it’s OK to not be OK sometimes, and that leaning on people in times of need is a sign of strength.
It was David who taught me that, and I am forever thankful. I’ve come to understand that we all need someone to lean on, and sometimes we find that person when we least expect it. We are not born with resilience. Resilience is something you develop through challenge, success, partnership and friendship.
So, remember: It’s OK to be nervous, anxious, afraid. These emotions are only preparing you to become the resilient individual you are destined to be. That’s what I learned from that life-changing Memorial Day weekend. That’s what I learned from my mentee, my friend, David.
Forging friendship is just one way that Hayes built resilience, and you’ll hear from him again soon. But it’s not the only way. If you’re having a tough time right now—or this weekend, for example—the Veterans Crisis Line is ready to listen and help, and it’s available 24/7. Simply dial 988 and then press 1. You can also chat online at at the Veterans Crisis Line, or text 838255.
Millions of Veterans have reached out for the support they’ve earned and you can, too.
This post, Vet Safety Brief: Memorial Day Weekend, was originally published by the Veteran's Administration.
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