“Being stationed in the Sunni Triangle was the beginning of the end of my personality, my emotions, and my mental state,” Rory told me on the phone. He recounted instances of being inches away from death, the way it felt when a car bomb goes off and suddenly everything becomes slow motion, like in a movie. He remembers the nightmares more than anything. The noise. The gut-wrenching fear. “Our base was hit by mortars 139 times in 120 days,” he said. When I asked what a mortar was, he told me it was a miniature bomb.
Big things come in small packages, he said.
One night, he felt like he was out of options. He was having one of the worst panic attacks he’d ever had, and he wasn’t able to snap himself out of it. Watching his three young daughters sleep didn’t have the same curative effect it usually did… he just felt empty, gutted, defeated. He felt like he just wanted it all to be over. “I was tired,” he remembers. “I was tired of locking up all my sadness, anger, depression, and anxiety and pretending like it didn’t exist. I thought about becoming one of the 22 a day because I didn’t think I deserved to be here anymore and I was just a burden to my family.”
As a last ditch effort to find comfort and solace, he posted about these suicidal thoughts on a veteran support group. It was the middle of the night, but he hoped someone would respond. Someone who had been there, who could pull him out of the trenches. Out of the 12,000 people who belonged to the support group, only a handful were online at that time. And of the handful who saw Rory’s cry for help, only one responded. And only a few months before, she had been contemplating the same dark thoughts. But in her case it was a charity, not a person, who came to her aid…
After serving in the Marine Corps and returning to civilian life, Rachelle felt there were too many demons to deal with. She felt like there was no way out of her despair, and made the decision to take her own life. She had a plan in place, but at the eleventh hour, knew in her heart of hearts that she could not do that to her friends and family. She knew she couldn’t rob herself of a second chance. So she reached out to an organization that was known to help the underdog, an organization that had helped veterans like her get back on their feet. She contacted Chive Charities for assistance, and they responded with a $12,000 grant for a service dog, Nala. But Nala was more than a service dog, she became Rachelle’s best friend. And she saved her life.
So when Rachelle reached out to Rory, she knew how high the stakes were. She knew that this was do or die, and she knew of the charity that could give him the second chance at life that had been given to her.
Here he is (top right) during training in Lackland, Texas, before being deployed to Iraq.
Returning home was bittersweet. For the first time in a long time, Rory knew he was out of immediate danger, but he still had trouble with anxiety, insomnia, and panic attacks. The birth of his first daughter in 2009 was “a turning point,” but even that unconditional love couldn’t keep his fear at bay. He still had issues, and the longer he ignored them, the worse they became…
After a few difficult years in his personal life and a nasty divorce, Rory moved to Florida in 2011. It was there that he met his current wife, Stephanie. She encouraged Rory to seek help or treatment for his PTSD, but when Rory decided to accept help it was like “unlocking the monster.”
“My girls know there’s ‘something wrong’ with Dad,” Rory said. “I want to take them to amusement parks, I want to take them to Disney World, but it’s so hard for me because there are so many people there. They can’t even run up behind me and jump on my back or startle me because it will trigger one of my attacks.”
Rory wants to be a better father, a better husband. He wants to be able to work to support his family, but due to his anxiety and post traumatic stress it is impossible for him to work. He wants to walk into Disney World holding his children’s hands and feel the electric magic instead of crippling fear.
That lonely night that Rory seriously contemplated ending his life, when Rachelle was the only person to reach out and comfort him in his pain was not coincidence. It wasn’t even luck. It was fate. Rory was meant to find Chive Charities at Rachelle’s introduction, he was meant to have a service dog give him a second chance as they have done for so many struggling veterans.
When Cooper is through with the rigorous service dog training, he will faithfully serve Rory for the rest of his life. “Knowing I’ll always have a buddy there with me,” Rory said, “that will change everything.”
Big things come in small packages, Rory had told me during our first phone call. I see now what he meant. The chance at the life he wanted, the chance at being the husband and father he knows he can be, the chance at finally putting his past behind him, the chance at salvation… is all resting on Cooper. He is going to help Rory have a better life, and there is nothing bigger than that.
Now pregnant with their fourth child, a boy, Rory looks forward to the future. “They say having an animal can add years to your life, and with my son due in July, I’m looking forward to all the time I can get.” Chive Charities gave Rory the gift of time with a $16,000 grant that will change Rory’s life forever.
A note from Rory to the Chive Charities members: “Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I never in a million years thought this was going to happen, when I found out that this was going to happen… when I found out everything was going to be taken care of, I thought they were joking. This kind of stuff never happens to me. We’ve been down on our luck for a long time, but our luck is finally starting to change, thanks to you.”
Join us today at 5PM EST to raise a glass to our heroes and use the hashtag #KCCOSALUTE.