As Manny Colón saw his dream of a lifelong military career in the United States Army come to an unexpected halt, he slowly became entangled in a nightmare of bitterness and depression. There were feelings of rage and estrangement that Manny says he simply couldn’t explain to himself.
Everyone Manny knew was proud of his service -- and for good reason. He received a Bronze Star, two Meritorious Service Medals, six Army Commendation Medals, four Army Achievement Medals, and six Good Conduct Medals.
In spite of these achievements, post-Army life was at first a bitter experience for Manny.
“I medically retired from the Army, not by choice,” says Manny. “When you transition out of the military, you can experience some dark moments confined within the four walls of your home. The Army was my team for 20 years. I missed being a part of a team, but I didn’t know how to find another one.”
Like many warriors, Manny often chooses to downplay his injuries. He will tell you it’s all part of the job, the mission he signed up for in life.
“I endured numerous attacks like many warriors. There was head trauma, but I stayed on and did my job. When the bumps on my head got so swollen that my helmet didn’t fit, I knew something was terribly wrong, and I had to have it checked out.”
Doctors diagnosed Manny with stage IV follicular lymphoma, a cancer diagnosis with a low survival rate.
“They found it in my head, in my neck, my bone marrow, my abdominal layer – pretty much everywhere. That explained what I was going through physically. Later, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which explained why I was going through such dark emotions. Deep inside I knew I needed to have that team concept in my life again.”
Manny says he found that new team when he discovered Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP).
“The Combat Stress Recovery Program (CSRP) immediately made a positive impact in my life. It really connected the dots for me with how to cope, manage, and deal with issues like PTSD. My wife Jeannie says she sees how my connection with WWP has made me whole again.”
But healing wasn’t enough for Manny. He wanted to give back and help other warriors find their own emotional wellness.
“I became a Peer Mentor with WWP because warriors helped me, and now I want to help them, especially those suffering from PTSD. It’s a conflict in your mind between what you have experienced, how you have been trained to react, and what you are experiencing now. When I share my experiences of PTSD with the warriors I mentor, it can change their perspective on their own experiences, and that can make all the difference.”
However, Manny will stop you short if you hear his story and start to feel sorry for him.
“No, no, don’t feel sorry for Manny,” he says about himself. “I’m lucky I found WWP. They became that bridge for me from military life to civilian life. I have learned not to look back. I’m moving forward, and I want to help take as many wounded veterans with me who want to move forward too.”