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VFW Magazine February 2017 : Page 13

Veterans participate in a No Barriers Warriors expedition in Colorado. No Barriers is designed to give wounded veterans an outdoor experiential learning curriculum. E ric Donoho believes in fate. He says all choices led him to where he is now for a reason. Participating in No Barriers Warriors out-door curriculum for disabled veterans changed his narrative for good. Donoho joined the Army later than most. He reached out to a local Army recruiter in 2004 at 26 years old. He said it was something he had thought about doing since he was 18, but his father, who served as a Ranger in Vietnam, encour-aged him to go to college. “I’d like to say it was a noble calling,” Donoho said. “But we were at war. I was 26, not married. I wasn’t happy with life or what I was doing, and it just was something that would allow me to chal-lenge myself in a way I’d never been challenged.” Donoho said he was excited to see what he was made of. It was on the plane from Atlanta to his first duty station at Ft. Richardson, Alaska, where he met his wife. “Fate,” he said. Donoho served as a radio telephone operator with C Co., 3rd Bn., 509th Inf. Regt., and deployed to Iraq in October 2006. He was part of a scout sniper pla-toon at Forward Operating Base Kalsu. Before Donoho stepped foot in Iraq, he received word that his wife had miscar-ried their son, David, at seven months, and he had to return to the United States. He immediately shipped back to Iraq after his son’s funeral. On his first night back while on his first patrol, Donoho and his fellow sol-diers encountered an improvised explo-sive device (IED). “Having that trauma of losing my first son and then showing up and getting blown up right away, I realized that I had to be OK with death,” Donoho said. Donoho, a member of Post 9981 in Anchorage, Alaska, described his expe-rience as typical for any infantryman. He was “blown up” three times during his deployment. It was after the second blast he started getting migraines. When Donoho returned home from Iraq in November 2007, he was diag-nosed with traumatic brain injury. He wasn’t ready to acknowledge that he also had typical symptoms of PTSD. “It was always present,” Donoho said. “I had trouble tracking. I was moody. [In war], you can be scared about dying, but at that end, are you going to be able to do the right thing when the time comes? I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to. I decid-ed I needed to come to grips that I was going to die. Life in Iraq, every day, I woke up and thought, ‘Today is the day that I die.’ Accepting that idea in the morning made it easier to make the most out of my downtime. If I actually cared about living then I wouldn’t be able to do my job. You live that way for a long enough period then it becomes your out-look on life.” Indeed, trauma and death followed Donoho home. In 2009, his wife was diagnosed with a rare form of breast can-cer. The couple also suffered seven mis-carriages. Several of Donoho’s military friends committed suicide when they returned from war. “It really reinforced how I had been living for a long time,” Donoho said. “I was just reacting to the situation, not really thinking about where I was.” Donoho and his wife had a daughter in 2010, and a son in 2014. But their mar-riage was falling apart. Divorce seemed imminent. “I realized it wasn’t just that I’ve experienced war, but it was also that I’ve lost my faith in humanity,” Donoho said. “I had two choices: make changes or die. Even if my wife left me, if I didn’t make changes then I might as well shoot myself. That’s kind of the way it stood for a few months.” It was the suicide of a mentor that really pushed Donoho to focus on living. “This gentleman, he was part of every adult thing that I did in my life,” Donoho said. “At that point, I realized that I don’t want my friends getting that phone call. I don’t want my kids to grow up with-out me. So I was committed to change on that day.” That was the day he applied for No Barriers Warriors. No Barriers Warriors is specifically designed for wounded veterans. Donoho FEBRUARY 2017   • WWW.VFW.ORG • 13

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