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Dear combat veterans, this is the mantra I want you to remember

To: Combat Veterans

From: Allen Levi Simmons

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To Combat Veterans who are struggling, 

Never stop. Never quit. Repeat.

That’s my mantra. I tell it to myself over and over again and I want to share it with you as well. 

I started saying it at a time where I was tired of dropping out of school. I was tired of giving up on myself. I was tired of asking myself, “What if?”

Sound familiar? As a combat veteran, my life has taken some very dark turns, which, at times, made it nearly impossible to see my dreams. 

Every night, I used to search my apartment, looking for anyone who might have come inside. I would leave chairs in the hallway, so if someone came in, I would know. One night, I didn’t want to do it anymore. 

I had the pills lying on my bed and the gun in my hand, as I thought to myself, “This is it.”

At the moment, I didn’t know how I had gotten to such a bad place, but looking back, it is so clear to me now.  

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See, about four years prior, in 2007, when I was 18 years old, I entered the Marine Corp. Boot Camp was a culture shock for me. It felt like I was going through three months of hell. 

I remember calling my dad and saying, “Dad, take me out of here. I don’t want to be here.”

He responded, “No, son, you got to stay.”

When I made it through, I felt a great sense of pride and even a sense of belonging. 

I became an electrician in the Marine Corps. In 2008, I went to Iraq, but it was my second deployment in Afghanistan, where my life began to change. I went to Afghanistan with the EOD, Explosive Ordnance Disposal, company,

One day, via an interpreter, a child told us the Taliban put a bomb in the road. I ended up finding the bomb underneath a haystack. It led to an exchange of fire. My fellow marine told me we had to get back with the rest of the platoon. So, amidst fire, I start running. Out of nowhere, there was an RPG, rocket-propelled grenade, flying in the sky, and it landed a few feet in front of me, which caused me to fly backward and land on my back. My ears were ringing, and my heartbeat slowed down until it stopped. 

In a panic, I thought to myself, “I did not get to talk to my parents. No one knows I’m dying right now.”

Then, I woke up screaming. I grabbed my leg and my arm. My sergeant was on top of me, shaking me while there were still gunshots going off. 

Ultimately, we got air support, and we all made it back safely. But right away, I wasn’t the same. 

I started having problems with my memory. The following day, I walked outside to get food. I didn’t have my hat or my weapon. When people made any sudden noise at night, I would get up. I became narcoleptic, falling asleep mid-day – mid-conversation. 

When I came home in 2011, at 22, I didn’t feel that I had the right to be sad or anxious. Some people lose their legs and arms at war, which made me feel like I had no reason to complain. Meanwhile, the anger, the fear, the sadness, the losses, and the overall trauma continued to brew inside of me. 

I didn’t feel that I had the right to be sad or anxious.

I couldn’t control my anger. I told my professor I would stick my hand down his throat and do some crazy stuff because he got on me for being late to class. Another time, I was at a party having fun until the music thumped and I hit the ground. 

I screamed, “Get out! get down!”

I started crawling on the ground. People looked at me like, “What the heck is wrong with this guy?”

Then that night came – the night that I had the pills on my bed and the gun in my hand – the night that I thought, “This is it.”

All alone, I put the gun in my mouth. But then, I noticed a light hit a bible that I keep next to my bed. My grandmother gave me this Bible when I was a child, and my granddad told me it would keep bad spirits away. 

As I looked over to this Bible, I heard a voice say, “Who are you to take your own life when I brought you from the land of your enemy?”

I broke down crying and cried myself to sleep. When I woke up the following day, I felt so free. That morning I went to the pawnshop down the street from my house and gave them the gun.

From there, I began to find people and places that allowed me to express my pain and pursue my purpose. 

I went to a prayer night at a church with friends. Immediately, I started to feel connected to my spirituality. I moved to Charlotte and met my now wife, who encouraged me to go back to school. Ultimately, I enrolled in UNC Charlotte, where I received a degree in electrical engineering technology. Now, I am a software support professional for IBM. Also, I am a soon-to-be father and a motivational speaker. 

While I have so much more I want to do with my life, I am content with where I am at right now. 

But it took a lot of work.  

There is a thin line between suicide and depression, so if you’re feeling depressed or outside of yourself, I want you to know that your feelings are entirely valid. I want you to seek help and find ways to release your thoughts. Talk to someone and start journaling. 

As you heal, I hope you begin to see your dreams again and lean into them. And in the tough moments, in the moments that you feel like you have nothing left to give, please borrow my mantra and tell yourself to Never stop. Never quit. Repeat.

If you do, you will see it can get better. 

USMC, Veteran. Motivational Speaker and Author.  

Allen Levi Simmons
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