“Don’t let your story end in a negative way, through self-medication or worse.” ~Sergeant First Class Marco Garcia
Loss of purpose – a common thread among veterans who had to leave their active military service before they were ready. Sergeant First Class Marco Garcia spent 18 years in active duty, deployed to many of the most active war zones in our recent history. To have that suddenly come to a halt had a whiplash effect on him.
“You are told to leave behind your training, your platoon, your brothers in arms, and your purpose, but you really are trying not to let go,” says Marco. “You served proudly, giving up years that could have gone to your family. Carrying that guilt, plus the guilt of those you lost, and the loss of purpose makes reintegrating into civilian life extremely difficult.”
Marco joined the Army at 17 in an effort to find a path to a better life. Growing up in an impoverished area where gangs were prevalent, he saw the military as a way to gain structure while also fulfilling a goal – to travel.
The Road to Medical Retirement
Marco intended to have a life-long military career. Unfortunately, having his Humvee hit by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) started him down a different path. After experiencing multiple firefights, a roadside bomb, and numerous RPG’s, Marco’s physical and emotional health was compromised.
“I developed post-traumatic stress symptoms and also had traumatic brain injury after the first incident,” says Marco. “For years after and two tours, I experienced so many various attacks that the military felt I needed to medically retire.”
Marco was not ready to retire, and he was unaware how severe his symptoms were.
“When you are in combat, you learn to become numb to situations. You have to in order to keep going,” says Marco. “That along with the loss of purpose makes reintegration into civilian life even more tough.”
Marco made every effort to adapt to his civilian life, pushing through severe depression along with his PTSD and TBI symptoms. Unfortunately, his initial efforts were not successful.
A Path to a Different Purpose
Marco struggled to communicate with his family and others close to him. His part-time job did not work out because he felt his young manager was being “insubordinate.” After a major confrontation, he quit.
“I told my wife I felt stuck at home, that I had no purpose and was not being a good provider,” says Marco. “She said ‘let’s get you fixed first.’”
Marco began counseling and treatment through his local Veteran’s Administration for his combat-related struggles as well as his self-medication issues. His success in these programs helped him gain insights into some of his difficulties, and the difficulties of other veterans when it comes to reintegration.
“I was trying to find a place in civilian life that gave me the same rush as my military service, something many veterans try to do,” says Marco. “Letting go is a challenge and I’m just learning to admit that.”
Marco has stopped speaking to his wife as if she is one of his soldiers and is working toward finding his place within his family.
“Now I try to communicate and work with my family in more of a civilian style, rather than military style.”
It was through his VA treatment that Marco found Heroes on the Water and began supplementing his traditional treatment with the alternative therapy of kayak fishing.
“I made contact with the DFW chapter, and while I had not fished in about 10 years, it was something I enjoyed,” says Marco. “I had seen others kayak, but never thought of putting them together. It turns out it really works!”
Marco says he fell in love with kayak fishing the first day and was purchasing his own kayak within 3 months.
“I believe that kayak fishing helps you heal because not only do you get to enjoy the tranquility of being on the water, you get to focus solely on yourself,” says Marco. “I redirected my need to chase the high of finding a mission to making the mission about working on myself and using kayak fishing to do it.”
Mission of Hope
Marco’s first kayak experience was to simply paddle for an hour before even taking his first cast.
“Hearing the water come off my paddle I just kept thinking “there’s hope, there’s hope, there’s hope. This is where you start. There’s hope,” says Marco. “I still get knots in my throat when I think of that first time.”
Marco credits the caring volunteers at the Heroes on the Water DFW Chapter for his continuous positive experiences.
“We as veterans benefit from the dedication of the volunteers and are blessed to have these people put in so much work for us,” says Marco. “I hope they can see it in our faces.”
Marco describes his kayak fishing therapy this way:
“You first have the mission to kayak. Then you add to that mission to catch fish. That’s your focus. You are not worried about the bills you have to pay, who you lost overseas, that maybe you wanted two more years of active-duty. All your worries disappear with every cast you take. That’s what it’s done for me and why I’m so passionate about kayak fishing and kayaking. It gives me hope.”
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