We Returned Changed Men: A Veteran’s Story of Hope, Healing, Camaraderie

By Family Wellness Warriors Learning and Development Associate Jean-Paul Roulet

SCF Family Wellness Warriors Learning and Development Associate Jean-Paul Roulet and his family on a walk.

I am a combat veteran and Tlingit from Southeast Alaska. In 2006, I deployed for 15 months in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I was a part of a group of soldiers who came to a hardened place, yet we became a unit, a family – comrades. We experienced victory, loss, fear, and moments where we – privately – questioned everything. We also supported each other through some of the most difficult things humans experience in combat.

Our unit was a well-oiled machine, a group of men who had sharpened their skills and understood the mission. We were tasked with route clearance and traveled high-traffic areas in search of roadside bombs. When the deployment ended, we returned to our homes changed men who were now struggling to exist in environments that were once familiar. There was a looming fear that everything could crumble to chaos. There were sleepless nights and unhealthy coping with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

Post-traumatic stress is a normal reaction to traumatic events and affects up to 20% of veterans today. Symptoms can last days, weeks, years, or a lifetime, and can disrupt lives through elevated stress responses, sleep disturbances, and unhealthy patterns, often leading to substance use and suicidal ideation.

Some of us, including myself, left the service with the hope of living our normal civilian lives again but found the symptoms of post-traumatic stress weren’t going away. I was far removed from the support system that I had built and felt like I couldn’t talk to people about my experience. There was a whole other part of me that had no more relevance in everyday life.

Then one day in 2018, hope showed up like a comrade in an arid desert when I walked through the doors of a Soldier’s Heart training at Southcentral Foundation. I found a program that offered me the resources to address the symptoms of post-traumatic stress. The training, which is developed and led by veterans and first responders, brought me on a peer-led journey with those who had similar experiences. I was able to explore my story with them in a way that felt safe and understood.

Soldier’s Heart truly saved my life. It helped me show up for myself and others in new and healthy ways. Today, I have a deeper understanding of post-traumatic stress and how it affects my life and relationships. As I continue through this journey, I am surrounded by people who have had similar experiences and desire healing for themselves. Not all days are perfect, but I have the tools and an established support system of people to which I can relate. I once again have found a well-oiled machine – camaraderie — at a level I haven’t felt since I was in the military.

If you or someone you know is struggling with symptoms of post-traumatic stress as a veteran or first-responder, there is hope and SCF’s Family Wellness Warriors offers resources to assist.

For more information on how to be part of a journey toward wellness, contact Soldier’s Heart at (907) 729-5440, soldiersheart@southcentralfoundation.com, or click here.