As I write this, men and women from the United States military are in harm’s way. Some of them may be on a night patrol up a mountain in Afghanistan, tired and hungry yet pushing forward. Others may be on a ship in the middle of an ocean working in a confined space and missing home. They are in harm’s way because they have answered our nation’s call of duty. Like past military veteran’s, they are the reason we enjoy the freedoms and liberties that we do. I feel that it is our responsibility as American’s to celebrate their service and honor their sacrifice.
My name is Patrick Nelson and I am the Executive Director of Real Combat Life. We are partnered with a non-profit development organization called Region IX Area Inc. out of Mankato, Minnesota. Our mission is to provide an online place for our veteran’s to share their stories from combat with possible therapeutic results and to educate the public on what life is like in combat from a firsthand perspective.
I started this web site when I got out of the Army in December of 2008. I was in the Army for almost 7 years and spent the majority of my time as a paratrooper in the 173rd Airborne Brigade. I completed 3 deployments for a total of 39 months between Iraq and Afghanistan. On June 8, 2005, I lost a great soldier, Emmanuel Hernandez. A total of 8 soldiers were wounded, including myself. Along with Emmanuel, Michael Kelley also paid the ultimate price that day.
Leaving the Army was not an easy decision for me. I had re-enlisted twice while I was in, including once after I was wounded. Part of me felt like I was letting our country down and my fellow soldiers. I struggled with the decision for about a year but ultimately the physical impact of my wounds and the mental aspect of spending the majority of my time in combat factored into my decision.
When I got home, everyone wanted to know what it was like “over there” and had a lot of questions. Sometimes I did not want to talk about it but also did not want to be rude. With the help of a good friend, I started Real Combat Life to share my individual stories from combat. That way, I could just tell people to check out the web site instead of answering a ton of questions. Soon after I started the site, I thought it would e a good idea to open it up to other military veteran’s as well. I invested some of my own money in to making the site more professional and began to seek out contributors.
In January of this year I heard about the Pepsi Refresh Project. I had always envisioned great possibilities for Real Combat Life but as a college student, I was very limited in my resources to make that leap. Using a grass-roots campaign via Facebook and Twitter, and I was able to place in the top 10 in votes for the month of February and won a $25,000 grant. That money has helped me redesign the site again and partner with Region IX Area Inc.
Every contributor to Real Combat Life receives a free t-shirt as a way of saying thank you for your service. Everyone loves a free t-shirt but I wish that I could give more and hopefully in the future I will be able to do that. I have received a lot of great support from people all over the country who have helped me progress this project forward.
In June of this year, I found out that I was named a Pat Tillman Military Scholar. I am extremely humbled to be associated with the Pat Tillman Foundation and I am excited to connect with the other recipients; many of whom are veteran’s that are continuing to serve our country by reaching out to those who are returning from combat. Through this great foundation, I have been able to connect with Rich Blake and his current endeavors in Baltimore as well as Jon Wei and his “The Telling Project.” I am excited about the possibilities of us helping each other out and helping serve our veterans.
In the past, many of our brave men and women came home from combat and were mocked and ridiculed. Thinking of that brings a very sick feeling to my stomach. The mental effects of combat often go unseen until it is too late. Many veteran’s, myself included, are suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). There are several great programs out there to help our veteran’s and I hope that Real Combat Life can be an outlet for our veterans to have their voices heard.
It may not be Veteran’s Day today or Memorial Day, but thank a veteran anyway. These men and women have sacrificed their personal lives and time with their families to put the needs of others above their own. We need to take care of them when they return home and we can help do that by continuing to reach out through great programs such as The 6th Branch and The Telling Project.