VA Assists Afghanistan Veteran during Darkest Hour - Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
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Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System

 

VA Assists Afghanistan Veteran during Darkest Hour

A Soldier

A photo of Army Specialist David Jarboe at Combat Outpost Michigan in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. This photo was taken on February 7, 2010, a week after Jarboe was shot in the chest by the Taliban. (Photo Credit: Harry Sanna)

By Nathan Schaeffer
Wednesday, April 2, 2014

When David Jarboe enlisted in the Army in 2007, his motivation was simple. He wanted to get out of his hometown of Leitchfield, Ky.

“I didn’t want to die 30 miles from my house,” said Jarboe, who is 26 years old. “So I joined the Army to see the world.”

But with the Nation fighting two wars, he knew a combat deployment was inevitable.

In June 2009, Jarboe deployed to Afghanistan for one year with the 4th Infantry Division, 12th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Battalion. The 16 soldiers of Delta Company lived in a remote outpost in the Pech River Valley in Kunar Province and helped defend the Afghan people from the Taliban.

“We were there for the population,” said Jarboe. “We were putting up schools, helping them protect themselves. Taliban forces would come in and kill the school teachers just because they were teaching kids.”

On Aug. 20, 2009, Jarboe helped play a pivotal role in the history of Afghanistan when the nation went to the polls to freely elect their first president. Throughout that day, the soldiers fought the Taliban.

“People were getting shot by the Taliban just for voting,” said Jarboe. “We rolled back and forth for 12 hours straight down a route defending the polling places. We were constantly under fire. We couldn’t stop. The only time we got to stop was when we pulled in to get more ammo.”

While serving at Outpost Pride Rock on Jan. 30, 2010, the Taliban attacked the outpost and Jarboe helped fend off the attack.  During the firefight, Jarboe peered over the wall to make sure no one was approaching on their flank and was shot in the chest.

While his body armor saved his life, the bullet also hit a D-link carabiner on his vest which shattered into pieces. Shrapnel hit his arm and neck and he didn’t notice he was bleeding until after the fighting stopped.  Almost two months later, Jarboe was awarded the Purple Heart.

Soldiers in Afghanistan

Soldiers from Delta Company scan the horizon for the Taliban on February 6, 2010 at Outpost Pride Rock in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. (Photo Credit: Harry Sanna)

While engaged in daily combat overseas, Jarboe also had to deal with turmoil at home. His first wife got pregnant with someone else’s child and asked for a divorce.

“We were together for two years,” he said. “I came home and had nobody.”

When Jarboe returned home, he transferred to a different unit and received orders to redeploy to Afghanistan - six months after returning from his first deployment. During his brief time home, he also met his second wife and the couple decided to get married the day before he deployed.

In January 2011, Jarboe left for Afghanistan and was stationed in the Khost Province near the Pakistan border with the 3rd Infantry Division, 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion.

“We were right there on the Afghanistan and Pakistan border,” said Jarboe. “We went out and checked on a nearby village and they reported Taliban movement across from Pakistan to Afghanistan coming down over the foothills. We got rocket attacks every single day.”

No place in Afghanistan was safe and not even the Afghan allies could be fully trusted.  Jarboe personally witnessed Afghan soldiers kill two Americans.

To prevent attacks by the Afghan Army, walls were built to separate the allies. When the Americans went to meet with the Afghan Army, they had to go in two and three-man teams.

During the tour, Jarboe mainly served as a driver for his battalion commander who routinely met with local Afghan leaders.

“Anywhere he went, I usually went,” he said. “He would tell us if he wanted to go out. We’d suit up and roll out with whatever unit was going out. If there was a shura (meeting), I’d be there.”

Reintegrating Back Into Society

After 24 months in combat, reintegrating back into society was not an easy task.

“I had real bad depression,” he said. “Seeing some of the stuff that you see in combat, you never forget that stuff. It doesn’t go away. I constantly have nightmares.”

Jarboe began drinking heavily and his second marriage deteriorated.

“She made it through a deployment, but I came back and I was real messed up,” he said. “I didn’t go to counseling. I tried to self-medicate by drinking. I wasn’t using drugs, but I was drinking every night.”

In March 2013, Jarboe left the Army a decorated soldier with an honorable discharge. But he was unable to begin moving forward until he got help. In June 2013, Jarboe and his second wife separated.

“When I got out, I was supposed to reintegrate back into society,” he said. “I didn’t know how to do it. I started drinking heavily and I started using drugs and this went on until about June. It felt like the world was coming down.”

At that time, his sister was his only solid support system. His mother had passed away and he didn’t talk with his father. So he moved to Louisville to live with his sister and her husband.

After a few weeks, his brother-in-law got him a job working for a heating and air conditioning company.

“I liked it, but I was still having problems,” he said. “I went to work and I came home and got drunk. That was the routine for the longest time and then I started missing work.”

Jarboe began using drugs again and was also gambling. When he won a $3,000 jackpot at a local casino, he decided to leave Louisville and visit an Army buddy in Tucson, Ariz.

He needed to be around a fellow soldier he served with in Afghanistan - someone who understood what he went through.

“My buddy Shane, he was in Fox Company,” he said. “We went to Afghanistan together. We had each other’s backs. We went through the same thing. I got to him and I was like ‘man, what do I do? What do I do now? And he said, ‘you make money and you live your life.’ I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I started drinking again.”

With almost no money left, Jarboe decided to drive back to Kentucky. But he knew he didn’t have enough gas money to make it. His vehicle ran out of gas in Miami, Okla.

He called his sister and several friends to ask for money, but no help came.

“No one would send me money because they figured I would use it for drugs or alcohol,” he said. “I was stuck. I went to a church and they told me they didn’t do gas vouchers.”

A New Start in an Unexpected Place

Jarboe ended up spending the night in Miami at a homeless shelter and stayed there for several weeks trying to figure out his next step.

“I just remember staring in the mirror and saying ‘how could you get this far,’” he said. “It was my own doing. It was my fault in every situation. I was the cause. It’s because I didn’t seek help.”

At his darkest hour, Jarboe decided to finally ask for help. He called the Veterans Crisis Line after noticing a VA poster for the helpline at the shelter.

“I had never asked for help,” he said. “I never thought I would. I figured I could do it all on my own. I called this number and I started talking to people. People started talking to me.”

Then his world began to change for the better. He quickly received a phone call from Phillip Wynn, an RN Case Manager with the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center (JCMVAMC) OEF/OIF/OND Combat Care Team.

“Phillip said ‘we need to get you into a VA clinic and get you seen by a doctor and get your housing situation figured out,’” he said. “He said ‘we’re here to help you.’ He came up and picked me up and brought me to Muskogee.”

Before Jarboe even arrived in Muskogee, Nanette Waller, the OEF/OIF/OND Program Manager, called a local apartment complex in Muskogee that agreed to rent an apartment to him in one month when a unit opened.

“I came down here and met with Phillip and Nanette and Louis Gibson (OEF/OIF/OND Transitional Patient Advocate),” he said. “They started getting me to the places that I needed to go for help.”

The Combat Care Team, along with the JCMVAMC Homeless Program, helped Jarboe get a voucher for his apartment deposit and first month’s rent through KI BOIS Community Action, Inc. in Muskogee. In the meantime, he stayed temporarily at the Gospel Rescue Mission in Muskogee.

Jarboe also began treatment for substance abuse and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at JCMVAMC.

“My life has done a 180 since I’ve actually been getting help,” said Jarboe. “I’m actually a nicer guy. I joke more. I get along with people. I try to make new friends.”

Jarboe also met with David Berry, the JCMVAMC Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) Program Manager, who offered him employment at the hospital as part of the Incentive Therapy program. Incentive Therapy is one of five CWT programs and provides a diversified work experience in a VA medical center for Veterans who exhibit a mental illness and/or physical impairments.

Two men perform maintenance

Afghanistan Veteran Dabid Jarboe performs maintenance on the JCMVAMC Heating and Cooling System under the supervision of Jeremy Echols, an A/C Equipment Mechanic. Photo by Nathan Schaeffer

In early January, Jarboe was assigned to the Engineering Department. Because he had experience with heating and air, he was given the opportunity to work alongside the hospital’s A/C equipment mechanics.

“I have amazing people that I work with and they give me advice and show me stuff that I didn’t know,” said Jarboe. “I’ve been watching these guys left and right, every time we go do something. I’m learning more and more about the commercial side of heating and air.”

The Combat Care Team also helped Jarboe figure out a plan for the future and helped him enroll for the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

Jarboe was accepted to Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology in Okmulgee where he plans to complete an Associate’s Degree in Applied Sciences specializing in Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Technology. He starts the program in May.

“After two years, I’ll have my journeyman’s license and my contractor’s license,” he said. “I’m also going to take a small business course there so I can own my own business. Everybody loves heating and air. You can’t go wrong with it. It’s a job that will never go away.”

While Jarboe never expected to get stranded in Miami, Okla., he said his call to the Veterans Crisis Line probably saved his life.

“I probably wouldn’t be here,” he said. “I thought about suicide. If I had continued down the path that I was headed, I’d probably be in jail or worse.”

He is grateful to VA and the VA employees who have helped him turn his life around.

“Within a month of me being down here in Muskogee, I had an apartment,” he said. “I had a job. I had a plan to go back to school. All these people down here at the VA hospital have been a big help. They’ve given me a chance to do something again. Coming from the lowest point in my life to where I am now, it’s just amazing how many miracles that have happened.”

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