Combat veteran Andrew Berry spent almost six years in the Army in the Infantry, Airborne, Air Assault and then as a sniper. He survived two bullets and eight bomb blasts when deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, but the last Improvised Explosive Device (IED) left him too injured to continue his military career.
Like many combat veterans, Berry misses the sense of mission and the feeling of brotherhood he experienced while on active-duty.
It took a few years, but he’s found his “mission” in the civilian world thanks to the Mission Continues, an organization founded by a veteran Navy SEAL that emphasizes community service and helps returning veterans use their military training to become civilian leaders.
Berry was in Tampa Tuesday representing Mission Continues at the Home Depot Foundation “Celebration of Service” project – doing repairs and renovations at the K-9s for Veterans facility. It’s one of 200 service projects for veterans nationwide that Home Depot and Mission Continues are completing between Sept. 11th and Nov. 11th.
“I have four young boys at home, so it takes me to be a leader and show my kids that if I can adapt and overcome everything that happened to me, they can do anything,” Berry said.
Here’s just a short list of what Berry has had to overcome. He is blind in his right eye, deaf, suffers from seizures due to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). His right leg was crushed. He wears a brace proudly. He has three slipped disks and a hematoma on his brain.
“Since I’ve been retired September 09, I’ve had seven friends, seven who served with me in Iraq, that committed suicide and that’s something I don’t never want to hear from someone else,” Berry said adding that he tried to commit suicide twice.
“For a while, I told my wife the best thing that could have happened to me was dying in Iraq,” Berry said. “I know how much it hurt her. She’s been with me before the military. She’s been with me after.”
And like many veterans, he said, he “would go back to Iraq in a heartbeat” because he misses having a mission and feels he should be there to support deployed troops.
But by helping with service projects like the K-9s for Veterans renovation, Berry is developing a new “civilian” mission as a veteran helping other veterans.
That’s what motivated Vietnam veteran Mike Halley and his wife Pam to start the K-9s for Veterans program. They say they’ve trained 50 service dogs for 50 veterans over the past three years. Sitting in a wheelchair with his service dog Porsche next to him, Halley thanked the Home Depot volunteers and veterans who came to help fix-up his kennels and surrounding buildings.
“All of this is for the veterans and we can’t do this without your help,” said a tearful Halley. “When Mission Continues and Home Depot got together, it’s just like God came down here and he’s in this crowd somewhere.”
There were almost 100 volunteers dressed in orange Home Depot t-shirts.Tampa district manager, Pat Dixon offered the crow a pep talk shortly after 8 a.m.
“Ready to have long fun day,” Dixon asked? “We’re here today to make a difference.”
They broke up into teams. One group laid sod and landscaped around the flagpole, others put up fencing while another group laid-down a deck.
Army veteran Berry, despite his leg brace, was ready to grab a hammer and start working, but he was in demand. Touched by his story, volunteers kept approaching him, wanting to talk and to thank him for his service.
“I know my place now is here helping other guys,” Berry said, “because not every person can understand where a veteran is coming from.”
Berry’s favorite saying is one he learned in the military – Adapt and Overcome – and he’s now applying it to his civilian life.
Filed under: Health - Physical and Mental, Non-Profit Organizations, Radio, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), U.S. Army, Veterans Tagged: | Home Depot Foundation, Improvised Explosive Device, K-9s for Veterans, Mission Continues, postaday2011, Posttraumatic stress disorder, Traumatic brain injury, Vietnam veteran