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Finding 'Courage After Fire'

By Megan Workman
Courtesy photo
Capt. Rechelle Hall and her friend, Spc. Regan Gillespie with the Kansas Army National Guard, pose for a photo during an overseas deployment.
Courtesy photo Hall said that when soldiers return home from a military deployment overseas, they think they should "fit back in where you were when you left, but you don't."

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When Capt. Rechelle Hall returned from serving in Afghanistan in February 2011, she came home to an empty apartment. The unmarried, now 36-year-old Scott Depot resident said she felt numb, lost, and different.

While overseas, she had a close-knit group of friends in the National Guard. But when she arrived back in the Mountain State she realized not only had she changed, but so had her hometown friends.

"You're used to having your buddies around. It's kind of like losing your family because they're no longer there," Hall said.

It took her a long time to sit down in her apartment, she said. The silence was too much. She was a "hermit," she said. When friends would call her, she would let it go to voicemail and then reply with a text message. She didn't want to talk to anybody.

Hall said many soldiers think that they should "fit back in where you were when you left, but you don't."

"You're different whether you want to recognize it or not. You have grown quite a bit. Things are so much more magnified," Hall said. "When you come back you realize responsibilities [here] aren't as crazy as they were over there. You have a hard time dealing with that."

Hall has a message for her fellow veterans: "Let's get help."

For the past few months, Hall has organized an outreach event, "Courage After Fire," to let other veterans know that help is out there.

The two-hour event is scheduled from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Bible Center Church at 100 Bible Center Dr. off Corridor G. Everyone is invited to attend the free event.

Hall chose the name for the event based on a book written by two psychologists and a social worker who have worked "with hundreds of veterans over the years, including men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan," the authors wrote on their website, www.courageafterfire.com.

The self-help guide acknowledges "the many challenges faced by Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans, and to support our troops and military families in their transition home," the website states.

Hall wants other veterans to know that they are not alone. Trying to acclimate to the new "normal" is hard enough, she said. Courage After Fire is a way for veterans to reach out to other veterans, she said.

"Part of soldiering is getting back into life again," Hall said. "This outreach event is to reach out and pull somebody up because I know I had several people pull me up."

Hall, a physician's assistant at Charleston Area Medical Center's Teays Valley Hospital, said counseling has helped her.

Courage After Fire attendees can learn more about getting counseling through Military OneSource, a U.S. Department of Defense program that provides resources and support to active-duty National Guard and Reserve service members and their families.

The program is one resource that will be available at the Oct. 16 event.

Representatives from the Military Family Assistance Center and veterans center will also have tables set up to answer any questions.

Courage After Fire will also feature three veteran speakers.

Master Sgt. Ruben Gonzales has served in the U.S. Air Force for 21 years, including 20 years in Special Forces. Gonzales is currently serving in the West Virginia Army National Guard.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mark Prosser has served in the military for 26 years and is also serves in the state's Army National Guard.

Sgt. Matthew Pennington, who served six years in the military and is an honorable retiree, will also speak at the event. Hall said she has heard Pennington speak before about post-traumatic stress disorder, his injuries and "trying to get back into the real world."

Both Gonzales's and Prosser's wives will talk from a spouse's perspective about being married to a soldier, Hall said.

Two men who were deployed with Hall in Afghanistan will provide music at the event.

Maj. John C. Wilkinson, who has 26 years of service in the military, and Sgt. 1st Class Timothy R. Kyer II, who served in the military for 14 years, will perform. Both men are serving in the West Virginia Army National Guard.

The master of ceremonies will be Lt. Col. Carl Kinder, who is retired from the Army.

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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