In September of 2010, Yomari Cruz deployed to Afghanistan, proud of herself and her decision to join the Army. “It’s such a good feeling to know that you’re protecting the freedom of the loved ones you’re leaving back home,” says Yomari. “It gives you a sense of pride and purpose. I was able to realize that I was a lot stronger than what I thought and I felt so proud.”
But not ten minutes after getting off the aircraft in Jalalabad, the base was attacked and those good feelings were replaced with intense fear. “Sirens were going off and I was trying to find cover. It was insane. I was terrified,” says Yomari.
While Yomari loved her job, the constant attacks, the loss of her military brothers, and other traumatic experiences took her to a dark place. Always on edge, she couldn’t sleep more than an hour a night. Things only got worse after a soldier she trusted was caught videotaping her in the shower on base. As a result, the trust she’d had in her battle buddies eroded and betrayal, fear, and paranoia overwhelmed her.
When Yomari medically retired in 2012, post-traumatic stress made her transition to civilian life very difficult. She had serious anger issues, feared public areas, and couldn’t handle conversations with people. She wouldn’t leave her house.
Most of her relationships with friends and family disintegrated. “You just lose everyone. No one wants to be around you,” says Yomari. “They don’t understand why you’re different, why you’re so defensive and angry.”
Everything changed when a fellow veteran took her to a Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) event. For the first time in more than three years, she felt comfortable. She saw other warriors behave like she did when they walked into a new place or were in a crowd, and she realized there were other people who understood what she had gone through – and cared.
Since then she has participated in many WWP events, including Soldier Ride® and Project Odyssey®, which Yomari credits as one of the best experiences she has ever had. “You feel like you have a support system and you become like a close family,” says Yomari. “All of the walls go down. Then, all of a sudden, it became more about how I could make others feel comfortable and support them.”
That revelation has helped Yomari find a new purpose — helping other warriors. She volunteers with WWP as a warrior leader, organizing local events and helping her fellow veterans connect with one another. “Seeing the veterans’ faces at the events and knowing how grateful they are is something that is definitely rewarding,” says Yomari.