Taniki Richard enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 2001 and immediately loved it. Not only did she cherish the family-like relationships she created with her fellow marines, she also enjoyed all her duty stations — even, to some extent, Iraq. “Everything made sense in Iraq,” says Taniki. “You had a routine, you had your friends, and you knew what you had to do every day.”
Though she normally had a routine, things didn’t always go according to plan. One night, while riding in a helicopter to deliver classified equipment to a base in central Iraq, her team came under fire. They completed the mission, and everyone returned safely; but her life soon spiraled out of control. She stopped sleeping. On the rare occasions she was able to fall asleep, she was woken by terrifying nightmares.
When her deployment ended, she returned to her base in North Carolina — and things got even worse. The stress of combat had brought out memories of an unreported military sexual assault Taniki had endured a few years earlier. Despite being a suicide awareness facilitator and a sexual assault advocate on the base, Taniki began considering suicide herself. One day, Taniki purposefully crashed her car into a pole outside the base gates. “I didn’t want to die,” admits Taniki. “I really wanted to live. That’s why I was so sad. I wanted help, but no one seemed to want to help me. I made a decision after I crashed to get help — and I think that’s the first time I was ever a true leader.”
Despite getting some help to learn to live with post-traumatic stress, Taniki still felt alone and isolated — until she attended a Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) event that changed her life. When she arrived, a WWP staff member looked at her in a way that showed love and acceptance. “I cried, because I knew that love,” says Taniki. “You didn’t have to say much; you just knew. You could express yourself and people just understood.”
An experience at a WWP mental health workshop called Project Odyssey® cemented Taniki’s recovery. When she explained to the group that she missed being a sergeant in the Marine Corps, others in the group shared similar feelings. “No one judged me,” says Taniki. “They validated me. Their stories included similar instances of pain and anger, and it helped me realize I wasn’t crazy. It was empowering, and it was a real turning point for me.”
Since that time, Taniki has been empowered to start her own business and lives a life full of love with her husband and two sons. Though she stays busy, she always finds time for her passion — inspiring people to live better lives. “I want to make sure my fellow veterans have everything they need to play out the next part of their lives and not just live, but live well,” says Taniki. “If I can be part of an organization that helps people heal and find peace, then the end of my service is not the end. I’m just serving in a new way now.”