Wounded Veteran Speaks at Rotary - Hopes to Help Other Veterans
By Robert Haugh
While patrolling in Tal Afar, Iraq, Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Pauley stood in reflection for what seemed like forever. While clearing a home in April 2006, resting in a courtyard was a small garden, with a long green vine growing on a white lattice fence. There, Pauley stared in amazement as he saw one of the most beautiful red and yellow flowers he’d ever seen. “How could something so beautiful grow and thrive in such a horrible, disgusting place,” he pondered.
After the home was cleared, he stepped in and looked longer, before moving on. At that moment, a roadside bomb exploded - sending a shockwave through Pauley’s body. “The dust was so thick you could cut it with a knife,” he says. The smell of sulfur engulfed his nose, a metallic taste lingered in his mouth and blood poured over him and the ground surrounding him.
The explosion killed 19-year-old Private First Class Jody Missildine. He was “one of the men I promised to protect,” says Pauley.
While in surgery, Pauley felt a splashing on his neck and liquid in his ears. That liquid was a pool of his own blood. His right arm was severed and an exterior limb was attached. There, he was presented with the Purple Heart.
Pauley’s father told him that the flower had saved his life. Spiraling into years of guilt and depression, Pauley blamed that flower for killing Missildine.
After being medically retired from the Army after serving 11 years, Pauley hit rock bottom, “And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life,” he says, citing J.K. Rowling.
For years, Pauley struggled to cope. “Much like my arm lay limp in Iraq, I turned into an angry, bitter person,” recalls Pauley. From 2007 through 2010, Pauley worked five different jobs. “I couldn’t find a job where I fit in at - I hated my life.”
Avoiding leaving the comfort of his home, he says his couch became his comfort zone. Sinking further into despair, Pauley says his depression and struggles cost him relationships and friends, while he gained over 60 pounds. “I hated who I became - I was negative about everything.” One night, Pauley came close to taking his own life.
In the Fall 2011, Pauley received a call from Wounded Warrior Project asking him to participate in the Soldier Ride in Arizona. “It was quite interesting that they wanted to send me into the middle of a desert,” says Pauley. Reluctantly agreeing to attend, Pauley met wonderful people, and was surrounded by hugs and high fives. “They said they believed in me,” recalls Pauley. There, at the retreat, Pauley met other wounded veterans with inspiring stories, such as a Marine leg amputee who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Inspired by that weekend, Pauley went home, realizing he had alienated all the good things in his life.
Stepping out his comfort zone, Pauley found his flower in Arizona thanks to the Wounded Warrior Project. Reliving a quip from his 7-year-old daughter reminds Pauley of the great things to live for. “God made a lot of great things, Daddy, but everything else is made in China.”
“Moments like that are what I cherish now, says Pauley. “This organization saved my life - it gave my kids their father back.”
Concluding his speech, “A flower looks perfectly in a beautiful place, but the ability to thrive in the deepest and darkest places - what’s your flower?”
Pauley is a spokesperson for the Wounded Warrior Project (www.woundedwarriorproject.org), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization celebrating its tenth anniversary. After his speech at the Santa Clara Rotary Club meeting on Aug. 7, Rotary president Steve Rainbolt and Guest Speaker Coordinator Andrew Ratermann presented Pauley with a check for $1,500 for the Wounded Warrior Project.
Upcoming Santa Clara Rotary speakers include Robert Cartwright Jr., Consul General Iceland (Aug. 14), Christian Albrecht, Assistant Director State Alcohol Control Board (Aug. 21) and Max Noel, FBI Retired, Unabomber case (Aug. 28). Santa Clara Rotary meets each Thursday at 12:15 p.m., Bay Club Santa Clara, Vista Room. For more information, visit www.santaclararotary.org.