Part 1 of 3 parts
Society is filled with stories of overcoming. From modern music like Rise Up by Andra Day to ancient Greek stories like the Phoenix – the legendary bird that dies and rises up from its own ashes to experience a new life. These songs and stories often become a source of inspiration to those who are looking for a reason to push on or push through the trials of life.
Sgt. Noah Galloway could very well be the inspiration behind Andra Day’s song or our own modern-day Phoenix story. This very humble and unassuming Birmingham, Alabama father of three — who served our country with honors — will not stake claim to either but his story is one that is providing inspiration to thousands, whether they’ve served our country or not.
I had the opportunity to sit with Sgt. Galloway while he was attending the 2017 Points of Light Conference on Volunteering and Service, the largest gathering of volunteer, national service and civic leaders in the world to talk “veterans stuff.” What surfaced in our 30 minutes wasn’t how to fix policies or politics, but his “why” — his inspiration for living and his push for a “rebirth.”
Over the next month or so, I’ll share some of the moments from our time together to provide both inspiration and hope as a reminder to press on and to not allow circumstances to define who we are.
Sgt. Galloway’s story may initially seem like dozens of others that have been featured over the years. He was assigned to the 1st of the 502nd Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Just three months into his second tour of duty, he experienced a life-changing injury in an improvised explosive device attack – losing his left arm above the elbow and left leg above the knee, and sustaining severe injuries to his right leg and his jaw.
In a sudden moment, his goal to be a career soldier was over.
“I was going to retire from the military. I had all these goals…all these different things that somebody was takin’ away,” he said. “And I think that when that happens, when suddenly that future is gone and we don’t know where we’re going, that can send us into depression because we’re, we’re lost.”
He got a divorce from his wife while recovering. “I remember thinking it was all over. I was very physical. I’d lost two limbs, a wife. You know, I remember thinking I much rather had died than wake up like this,” he told CNN in 2012.
Sgt. Galloway fell into an unhealthy lifestyle and became withdrawn, out of shape and depressed. Dancing with death – the thought of suicide – was very real.
More than 20 veterans a day commit suicide.
And this is where Sgt. Galloway’s story begins to separate him from many who allow their circumstances to define them and those who take their lives.
He took the hard path. He set a new goal: To get back in shape, to be healthy, and to inspire others.
“That one thing that I have found through my depression, through my darkness, that one thing that I held onto…I’m a father of three children…I’m passionate about that. I’m very close to them. They got me through that depression.”
Know your “why.” Sometimes this is easier said than done. It can take soul searching and the search can be painful. We rarely know the “real story” behind the eyes of those we meet on the street. Social media posts often share the happy moments and not the real moments – which is the very reason we should be quick to listen and slow to speak.
In the coming features, I’ll share Sgt. Galloway’s rise from the ashes. His journey from depression and suicidal thoughts to becoming a fitness guru, motivational speaker, and his appearance on the hit TV show “Dancing with the Stars.”
Bottom line: We all face trials – knowing your “why” will help you rise up.
— By Mike Schindler
Edmonds resident Mike Schindler is the founder and chief executive officer of Operation Military Family Cares –– a 501(c)(3) veteran service organization and technology provider that combats veteran homelessness, while working to strengthen relationships and equip communities and families for success. He is also the Program Manager of Community Engagement & Innovation for the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University. He is responsible for fostering and maintaining a relationship with community agencies that provide services to veterans, service members, and military families in Washington State, particularly, with WAServes, an IVMF AmericaServe’s network.