“Sorry I missed your first call-- I was taking care of my daughter. She’s nine weeks old,” says Marshall Blackmon
, speaking with courteous Southern diction, when he answers the phone.
A father of two, husband and student working towards a degree in criminal justice, Blackmon lives a busy life. Add to that an injury sustained while serving in the U.S. Army that caused him to lose function in both legs and his daily routine becomes more complicated. However, Blackmon approaches his challenges with determination and a calm focus—the kind that is learned with time.
After joining the military at age eighteen, Blackmon didn’t know any other adult life outside the army until he was hit with an IED while on tour in Afghanistan. Suddenly, he found himself in his mid-twenties, injured and overwhelmed back home in San Antonio, Texas, not knowing what his future might hold.
“After I was hit by that IED and had to leave the military, I kind of gave up and got depressed for a while,” Blackmon explains. “I hated the fact that I wasn’t in the army anymore and didn’t know what I was going to do.”
[caption id="attachment_26799" align="aligncenter" width="528"] Soldiers in Afghanistan
Blackmon became involved with the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP)
, a nonprofit that serves veterans injured in recent conflicts, and connected with other men and women in the same position as he was. It was through WWP that the kind of opportunity Blackmon was searching for presented itself. “One of my buddies, a retired marine, told me about the TRACK program for veterans looking to continue their education,” he says. “When I was young I always knew I wanted to be a soldier or a cop, and I’ve done one of those. So now my goal is to get my bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and become a police officer.”
Two semesters into the program, Blackmon is looking forward to returning to classes after the summer break. He is among the first students to join the TRACK program since WWP formed a partnership with Learning Ally
, and has found Learning Ally’s audiobooks to be a valuable asset.
“I’m one of those people who reads something on paper and has to reread it three or four times before it actually sticks in my head. But when I'm listening to someone, I can retain the information almost instantly.” He laughs and continues, “Some of my buddies back home are a little jealous and have told me, ‘Man, if I could listen to my books I'd still be in school.’”
According to Blackmon, it’s not uncommon for veterans to feel overwhelmed by college and civilian life, and at first he felt daunted by the lack of structure. “In the military there is one way of how things go and how things are done. But outside it’s an on-your-own kind of deal. At first I was terrified of college, but after my first week I was like, ‘Man, this is easy. I can do this. I don’t know what I was so scared of.’ I think the support that the other veterans and I had at the campus is what can make or break it for us.”
He says one of the best things that civilians can do to make life easier for returning veterans is to just encourage them and acknowledge their effort, even if it’s simply saying, “Hey, good job on being brave enough to face a world that is different from what you know.”
One source of strength for Blackmon in his post-military life has been sharing his story with others and connecting with people through WWP. “I now know that I can impact others and that I’m not just a broken warrior who has no use. No matter how wounded or hurt I feel every day, there are people out there who get inspiration just from me being around. That’s been very motivating for me.”
Now that he has his life back on track and is in a better place emotionally, Blackmon also has some advice for servicemen and women who are just leaving the military and are dealing with PTSD or high anxiety: “Challenge yourself. Remember how you felt when you entered the theater of war, whether it was Iraq or Afghanistan. Use that same motivation that allowed you to adapt and overcome those surroundings and bring it with you to the civilian sector. Be excited for what’s next and go achieve what’s out there for you. That’s what I would say if I could talk to me, the guy sitting there in shambles, back in 2008... That’s the advice I’d give myself.”
Through that period of darkness, Blackmon found his way, with support from family, friends and people who are trying to make life better for our veterans, and though some of the scars of war will never heal, Blackmon can now look toward his future and say that the sacrifices he made were worth it.
Veterans who would benefit from this service can contact Randy Plunkett at 904.528.6136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.