A Father, Son, and Brother to All - Christopher Rodriquez, USMC
Born and raised in New York, I enlisted in the Marine Corps after I graduated high school in June of 1997. After serving four years I was lost and confused trying to transition to civilian life. I spent the next several years earning my degree from the University of Washington in Psychology and an elementary teachers certification. As my service connected disabilities started to worsen I found myself at a crossroads on what I wanted to do and what I could do. Lacking a clear vision I landed in several career fields that ultimately just made my life feel empty. Worse, my kids felt it too. Recently, I had a life changing opportunity to join the Veteran Conservation Corps sponsored by the Dept. of Veteran Affairs in 2017. In the past 16 months I have received love, mentorship, training and more importantly, the drive to keep going. I have learned that I am a life long learner and have a strong desire to help other Veterans. I now lead a crew of fellow Veterans in local conservation efforts.
I have a mission and the tools to help guide and mentor other Veterans.
Being part of the Veteran Conservation Corps gives me an opportunity to ground myself in a career field that will support my being a disabled veteran in the workplace by capitalizing on my skills, education, and military training.
A Day of Healing and Learning
On August 16, 2018, I had the pleasure of attending the Veterans Peer Corps Mentorship training hosted by the Department of Veteran Affairs and the King County Veterans Consortium at Ballard-Eagleson VFW Post 3063. I was skeptical at first wondering, “What would I learn?” I had all sorts of emotions running through my head. Having a service connected 100% disability, I felt inadequate and was concerned about trust issues. I thought to myself about all the fears and doubts I had when I finished my enlistment. To my surprise I was greeted at the door at VFW Post 3063 by the keynote speakers, welcomed with breakfast, and started to feel relaxed. They even saved the first hour for everyone to get to know everyone. Tables were spaced out to allow room for Veterans to form small groups and give each other breathing room. Some brought their service animals.
Throughout the day we got information and materials on leadership, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Military Sexual Trauma (MST), Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS), as well as available resources like housing vouchers, stand down events and compensation. To my surprise, many of the attendees were employees that continue to serve Veterans in their careers.
What started out for me as information session soon became a day of healing, personal growth, and mentorship.
At one point, I broke down and cried because it was the first time in many years I felt like I was at home. Peter Schmidt, Director of Behavioral Health for the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, took me aside and spent time with me listening to my concerns and pointed me in a direction that reminded me of who I was and my greatest strength as a United States Marine: Perseverance. Jason Alves, program manager of the Veterans Conservation Corps, who happens to be my boss’s boss, gave me a hug and reminded me, “You are not alone. Welcome brother.”
As the day went on, I met people from all branches of service who reminded me of what family is. We shared many similar interests and had the opportunity to open up and share some of our deepest fears. Some of us cried, some of us laughed, but as we finished off the day with a closing ceremony, I felt empowered by my certificate, challenge coin, materials, t-shirt and water bottle I received. This training stirred up a new passion I never knew was there. I am and now will always be a life-long learner and Veteran advocate.
In my free time, I’m either fishing and swimming with my two kids, Gabriel and Emmalyn, or visiting local bookstores to find diamonds in the rough. Being a father, a son, a brother all the while coupled with working full time and managing severe health issues can be complicated at times, but with the the love and support I have found at the King County Veterans Consortium, Veterans Conservation Corps, and Veterans Benefits Administration, I know I am not alone and don’t have to tackle whatever life throws my way by myself.
The King County Veterans Consortium Veteran's Log (VLOG) is where we deepen our relationships to our military family through authentic storytelling and creative expression. If you would like to share your unique gifts and wisdom with the KCVC community, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.