The Desire To Keep Going Back For More
David was born in Chicago, the youngest with four older brothers. “My parents decided when I was 9 or 10, that the gang activity was getting bad in the neighborhood that we were in, making walking in the streets or simply going to the playground more dangerous. We moved to Cicero, a suburb on the Chicago border. My dad worked for Xerox for more than 30 years. And my mom, who had worked for a nearby Boy’s Club of Chicago, stopped working after the move. But after a few short years of peace, the gang activity started reaching beyond the city limits. Eventually, in Cicero, the gangs started to become a problem when I was in the 7th and 8th grades. In my freshman year of high school, my friends and I had to walk home in groups, always looking over our shoulders. You could not walk alone.”
When a Navy recruiter asked David in his junior year of high school at an ACT college practice test what his plans were after he graduated, he told her: “I don’t have any plans, and I didn’t know what I would do.” He was a good and knowledgeable student but didn’t like doing homework, which often hurt his grades and GPA. “I honestly didn’t have much of a desire to go to college because I didn’t enjoy a lot of my time in school. School had always been like a bad rollercoaster ride for me, with more downs than highs. But I tried applying for colleges and scholarships anyway because everyone kept telling I should go to school.” But David was not sure if his parents could afford to send him to college, and he didn’t get any of the scholarships for which he had applied.
“I had no thoughts about a military career after I graduated, but she told me to come in and talk to her about my future. A week later, I did, and we had a two-hour conversation about what I wanted to do. I had never traveled, and she made me realize by enlisting in the Navy, I could see the world. She came from my same lifestyle and told me to ‘have a dream’ and follow it. Get out of the neighborhood. After several meetings over the next couple of months, I decided to enlist in the Navy. It wasn’t until the middle of my junior year that I would inform my family of my decision, which took everyone by surprise.”
David had problems with the military even before he formally swore into his enlistment. His original recruiter was transferred four months after he signed up and all the extra work she advised him to do for early advancement was gone. “The new recruiter was only interested in quotas. Also, my weight became an issue, one that followed me through my fours years in the Navy.” At 5 Ft. 8 in., 225 lbs., David had to worry about body fat measurements. During the fitness portion of his MEPS processing, David was 0.5% over the Navy’s fitness regulations and lost the original contract he had signed to become a Master-at-Arms (Navy Police Officer) to train with a drug dog.
When the date for starting boot camp in June of 2001 was delayed because of his fitness issues, his new start date for boot camp was Sept. 11, 2001. Because of 9/11, his ship out date was postponed again. He finally started boot camp in December of 2001. He went to the Great Lakes Naval Station just outside of Chicago to train in a new job path: Gunners Mate.
“After boot camp, during my schooling to become a Gunners Mate, my superiors noticed I had good ‘people skills’ and sent me to the Sigonella Naval Air Station in Sicily, Italy, where I stayed my whole 4-year Navy career. It was the hub for the majority of the forces going to the Middle East. I worked for the Weapons Department, where I was charged with armory duties including firearms, firearms training, ammunition, and ordnance. I also was responsible for transporting firearms and ordnance, keeping them safe in different modes of transportation. I traveled to other countries where I would have to work with foreign militaries, diplomats, and local nationals, hence where my ‘people skills’ came into use.”
Thirty days before he was ready to reenlist, two of his superiors refused to sign off because of his weight, which again was a body fat issue. “I did my job very well at the best that I could do, and I felt successful in my achievements, which included making E-4 before many of my peers, being eligible for E-5 in less than four years, and being one of the most highly qualified personnel in my department. My departmental officers saw all this. They encouraged me to reenlist, going so far as to make personal recommendations to have my fitness failures waived. But my achievements were not recognized by two of my immediate superiors, and I was not allowed to reenlist. I took it very badly and had an emotional breakdown. I was on the verge of tears when I called my mom, telling her I was coming home. I felt cheated, disrespected, and angry. I took the reenlistment denial very personally because even though it was only for four years, I gave the Navy a lot and gave up a lot. I received an Honorable Discharge and returned home with no plan of what I wanted to do next. It was around the holidays, and I had 2 ½ years of vacation pay coming, so I took a couple of months off to get myself in a better situation.”
“I started looking for a job in February 2006. It was hard to find a job using my Navy skills because what I had done in the Navy didn’t translate into the civilian world. In June, I found a job with an armored truck company—first as a driver then as an Armed ATM Technician servicing ATMs. It was a strenuous and high-risk job, very exposed while working alone, that I kept for 12 years.”
David had suffered from many injuries from an early age, especially a lot of broken bones. Having four older brothers, it was pretty much inevitable. But his first major injury came when he was 12 years old when he tore an ACL in his knee. After that, he had multipleserious knee injuries throughout his younger years. During his time in the Navy, he tore both rotator cuffs in his shoulders, which never healed properly. But his worst injury came in 2006 at his new job with the armored truck company.
“My first year on the job while loading a large shipment of 50 lb. boxes of coins, I suffered a herniated disc in my lower back. The next morning I was in so much pain it took me an hour to get out of bed. The company doctor sent me to physical therapy for a month and then sent me back to work. But in reality, I wasn’t receiving the proper treatment that I needed. I ended up herniating the same disc five times in 6 years. After the fifth time, I was fed up with the company doctors and got a second opinion from the VA. By the time I went to the VA, the disc was in extremely bad shape. The VA doctor said there was a good chance it could be repaired with a particular type of back surgery, but the recovery time would lay me up for a minimum of 6 months. Plus I didn’t know if I could afford it, and my job would not give me the time off to recover. So I was unable to get the surgery and ended up gaining a lot of weight. I couldn’t work out, I couldn’t play sports, and some days I couldn’t even do simple tasks because of the extreme pain.”
“When I needed to renew my Medical Drivers License to be allowed to drive large vehicles in April of 2018, I was denied the license because the State of Illinois had begun cracking down on physical health requirements. Again in my life, my weight became an issue. My company decided I couldn’t drive or be around trucks anymore and they used it as an opportunity to get me off their financial books. So I was ‘unofficially terminated’ by my company. I didn’t collect unemployment benefits until May or June and finally received a termination letter in December.”
“I had bought a house with my brother in 2009. After losing my job, I started having serious financial problems and was falling behind in the mortgage payments. In August 2018, the house was foreclosed on, and I became homeless. I went to the VA for housing assistance, and I was referred to Catholic Charities, to assist me in securing a place to live. But I was getting denied every place I went: I didn’t have a job, my credit rating was poor, and now I had a foreclosure on my credit record. There was also the challenge of finding a place that I could afford and bring along my cat. I refused to give him up because he had become my ‘support cat.’”
“2018 was one of the worst years of my life. I lost my job in April, lost my home in August, and lost one of my brothers in October. I became sad all the time because of all the things I had lost. I seriously doubted myself and my abilities because I still had not found a job. I was ashamed and disappointed in myself because of what I put my family through and how I put them at risk with losing our house. I felt like I lost my integrity and my honor because I was not informing my family what was going on, and I let so many people down. I was ashamed of myself and my actions so much that I started to hate myself. I felt myself becoming unstable, emotionally, and mentally. I decided to go to the VA to talk to someone about my mental state because I realized that I had gone way beyond my limit for dealing with it myself. After being diagnosed with severe depression, I was asked to start attending therapy at the VA Mental Health Clinic.”
After not being able to get an apartment, he was taken in by his best friend, where he still lives while trying to rebuild his life. In February of 2019, he started working as a security officer at Confederate Mound, located in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois where the end of the Civil War led to the abandonment of Camp Douglas and the transfer of the Confederate dead to Oak Woods Cemetery in 1866.Currently, he’s working part-time hours that is less stressful on his back.
“I happened to see an article about MVP in the American Legion Magazine. I first went to see what it was all about before I joined. I had a long conversation with Bobby Wise, Chapter Coordinator, about the program. I was in a bad place at the time and couldn’t start attending right away. I was broke, depressed, sad, unmotivated, and still jobless after ten months. When I started going to the meetings, I found that the exercise was more valuable and important to help me get physically mobile again. The ‘huddles’ have been helpful occasionally when I need to vent, and I feel comfortable in this environment among fellow vets. Recently I’ve let a lot of people down in my life in many ways. So much that it feels like I’ve ‘lost my honor.’ At MVP, they get what that expression means and understand how it makes me feel.”
“My goal is to lose weight to help my back, and I’m learning a new skill set every week. MVP has provided something to me that no other gym or program has ever given me: the desire to keep going back for more. I want to keep going to these meetings where I’m not judged, the motivation is real, and the variety is FUN. Talking and listening to people with the same mentality who can relate to my experiences is a huge benefit. I’m still trying to pick up the pieces in my life and dealing with my issues. MVP is a pleasant distraction, and at the same time, has provided me with tools to help me with these difficult times in my life.”