Adam Harris experienced some of the worst fighting of the war in Iraq over three consecutive tours as an infantryman in the United States Marine Corps. Despite this, when it was time to leave, he wasn’t ready to go home.
“I remember looking out the back of that helicopter as I left Ramadi and feeling sad to leave Iraq,” Adam says. “There was a weird sense that I was leaving when I shouldn’t be.”
A big part of that reluctance came from the unknown he saw back home in Boise, Idaho. He had little work experience beyond bussing tables, and being a Marine gave him a sense of purpose. Adam separated from the Marine Corps with no physical injuries, but his mind was burdened with survivor’s guilt, depression, anxiety, and anger. Going into public places without body armor and a weapon made him nervous. He responded to the stress by using drugs and alcohol and indulging in risky behavior on his motorcycle to reproduce the adrenaline rush of combat.
“After everything I had gone through, I was just trying to find a challenge to see what could take me down,” he says.
Adam also sought relief by taking frequent snowboarding trips up the mountain from Boise. On one of his trips, a lift attendant asked if he was a snowboard junkie looking for a job. After Adam shared some of his challenges with adjusting to life after Iraq, the lift attendant introduced him to another warrior. That warrior was Jason Braase, a former Idaho National Guardsman who served in Iraq, was injured, and now serves as a Warriors Speak® spokesperson for Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP). Adam and Jason soon met and quickly understood each other’s stories, providing Adam a bit of relief.
“With Jason, it was like instant friendship,” Adam says. “I didn’t need to explain myself or the military terminology. I could just talk and not get so down on myself. One day, out of the blue, Jason came over and just knocked on my door and said he thought I needed a friend right then. That’s the bond we share.”
Together, Adam and Jason attended a Project Odyssey® in Park City, Utah, at the National Ability Center. The event, which combines outdoor activities and peer support groups, was a turning point for Adam. He gained a different picture of his deployments and was able to forgive himself for actions that had haunted him for years.
“Some of the activities sent me into such an emotional whirlwind I had to leave the room,” Adam says. “Until then, my life was an uphill battle all the way. If it hadn’t been for Project Odyssey, it would have been even more difficult.”
Adam’s family sensed a change in his behavior after his participation in Project Odyssey and encouraged him to continue seeking treatment. Adam used the momentum to get his life straightened out and to embrace his role as a father to his two sons. He received an official diagnosis for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and found help through the Department of Veterans Affairs. That, combined with his own therapy of disc golf and fly fishing, has gone a long way toward diminishing the power of his combat memories.
“I realize these feelings I have will not go away, but I can manage them now,” Adam says. “I understand I can’t go back and change things. I’ve got to move forward.”