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April 16, 2012

A Return to Hood

A Return to Hood

Written by Shannon P. Meehan, IVMF Media Relations & Communications Specialist

Last week I sat anxiously on a plane bound for Killeen, Texas, for what  would be my first return to Fort Hood since my medical retirement from the Army just three years ago.  As a representative of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University, I was traveling to Hood to speak with veterans and military families about our entrepreneurship programs, as part of the national “Hiring Our Heroes” job fair.  I was restless; trying to concentrate on my talking points for the job fair, but all that echoed in my head was the thought of returning to Hood.

As we approached Killeen, I saw the gentle glow of Ft. Hood’s lights tracing the main streets– roads forever etched in my mind.  Memories flooded me:  100-degree summer days, the already-warm February breeze sailing down Battalion Avenue during P.T., battling for parking spots every morning.  I felt it all deep in my stomach.

Ft. Hood was my first duty station.  And, as it would turn out, it would also be my last.

Months after I arrived at Hood as a platoon leader in 1-12 CAV (3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division), we deployed to the city of Baqubah, inside Iraq’s Diyala Province.  Twelve months into our deployment, while leading my platoon through the city, my foot caught a wire and detonated an IED just yards behind me.  Though the blast left me with both physical and cognitive injuries, I survived.

I was placed in the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) at Hood upon my return.  I conducted physical and cognitive rehab daily for the next two years, until I was medically retired and left Hood for my hometown of Philadelphia.

It has been nearly three years since my retirement.  Back in the heat of Texas, in a room I last visited years ago, before my deployment, my colleague/coworker and I set the IVMF display table.  I began speaking to soldiers and spouses interested in starting their own businesses.  With them I shared my personal experiences.  I talked about roaming career fields, unable to find that sense of fulfillment I had while serving and leading.

I discussed attending a free program for veterans interested in starting their own businesses, the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV).  My story piqued the interest of many around me, as I discussed the EBV experience and starting my own business just a month after graduating.  I conveyed how I again became a leader, managing the entire direction of my business.

The angst that I had felt deep in my stomach was now dissipating.  A quiet confidence overtook me.  By sharing the path that I was once shown, I was again serving our soldiers, simply in another way.  A sense of purpose filled me as individuals around us listened to the stories of hope and direction they could find through participation in the EBV.  It was something I had not felt since my days of leading my platoon so many years ago, at Hood and in Iraq, and it was quite fulfilling.

Despite how different the circumstances were for this trip to Hood, when compared to my first stint there years ago, I was ultimately happy that I had returned.  I could stand proud, knowing that I had served my fellow soldiers and their families well that day.  They were presented with the possibilities of a unique career path that they otherwise might not have known existed.  These soldiers, and their families, can have the confidence to pursue their dreams of business ownership, and be far better equipped, through the EBV.  For me, there is no better way to continue my service than by educating them about these opportunities.

Captain Shannon P Meehan (Ret) is a public speaker and the author of “Beyond Duty; Life on the Frontline in Iraq,” written with Roger Thompson.  Shannon also works as a communications specialist for the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF).  While in Iraq, Meehan served as a tank platoon leader in the First Cavalry Division, earning the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and a Commendation for Valor in combat.

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