“THAT’S RIGHT, KEEP RUNNING! RUN FROM YOUR PROBLEMS YOU FUCKING PUSSY!” Sounds harsh, right? Six months ago, I was standing on top of a picnic table in a park outside of Washington D.C. yelling this statement as Chris Vaughn ran by me. He gave a little head nod along with a whimsy smile, but that is about all he could muster. Chris was somewhere in the middle of a 50-mile ultra-marathon race. He knew that what I was saying was an infantry Marine’s way of encouraging a fellow brother. It’s how we talk to each other. Civilians around me flashed some harsh looks and certain ones mumbled to friends under their breath. But a retired Green Beret and Navy Seal standing beside the bench chuckled and continued watching as Chris ran off into the tree line. They understood what was taking place. Chris was doing the exact opposite of running from his problems, he was running straight into them. For 11 hours and 47 minutes he faced those thoughts in his head and continued to pound them out, one step at a time.
Four months prior, in January, Chris had called a member of 38vfr.org. He was at the end of the road. Chris was homeless and suffering from PTSD, substance abuse, depression, and suicidal thoughts. He felt that he could no longer tackle these issues alone. He had heard of the organization but didn’t know if or how we could help. At the very least, he could talk to a friend, someone who loved him unconditionally and would offer some words of guidance.
At this time in our organization’s history, we had a solid network built to help Veterans with behavioral health issues, but we had never fully utilized it. A flood of phone calls went out in all directions. The response was enormous. Claire White from the Smedley Butler Veterans Justice Project offered guidance on how to navigate through any legal issues that could arise and homeless shelters we could contact. Members of the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society offered help in longtime recovery options. But more impactful than any other would come to be Frank Lasch with Azalea Charities. We had found an excellent rehab facility in Maryland by the name of Tranquility Woods. We knew this was the place that we needed to get Chris into but the cost was steep. Our network was built and had worked, but our operational budget was not high enough to support the associated costs. Graham Platner had an established relationship with Frank and reached out to him. Frank, a veteran himself, and a man of great generosity approved a vote that would fund Chris’s rehab.
The end of February had come and gone and Chris was out of rehab. For the first time in a long-time Chris had a renewed sense of life. He knew the path to recovery would not be a yellow brick road, but rather an IED laden street in the heart of central Ramadi. Chris needed an outlet that would keep him on the right path. While at Tranquility Woods, he had met an energetic and charismatic female that had similar life struggles. She and Chris had become close friends and that friendship extended outside the walls of the rehab facility. Chris had the opportunity to meet his friend’s sister, who was an ultra-marathon runner. She invited Chris on a jog with her one day and the rest is history. Like Forrest Gump, he had found his reason to run.
Three days from now, Chris will embark on his next journey. He will build a lather on Saturday in Baltimore while running a half marathon and then on Sunday, October 22nd, he will participate in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. Chris will run for Azalea Charities and the opportunity they provided him through funding his rehab. Chris will run for 38vfr.org; an organization that will exhaust every resource available to them to provide their members with a means to finding peace in a life after war. Chris will run for the twenty-five brothers he lost in Fallujah and Ramadi, a solemn tribute to the price they and their families paid for the citizens of this great country. Most importantly, Chris will run for himself. He will run with a renewed sense of purpose. Each step will be a reminder of the struggles in days’ past. Each deep breath will remind him of the horrors of war and the toll it takes on a man. But he will fight through those dark times, like he has done in his own life. He will cross the finish line and embrace those who care for him most. He will live in this moment of joy and embrace it for what it’s worth. But as time passes, he will tighten his jaw and prepare for the next race. He knows that in running, just as in war, the moments of jubilation will always be equally opposed by the moments of pain. It’s the dynamic tension that is necessary. It’s the tension that drives us all.
Board Member (Director of Outreach/Hardship) 38VFR