Jeff's Story

"When I came home from Iraq in 2007, I faced a challenge that was, in many ways, tougher than being in combat: Fitting into a civilian world that no longer felt like home. People and places I left 18 months earlier seemed foreign, and I found myself increasingly isolated from others. In Iraq, I was surrounded by my battle buddies, and absolutely certain of my responsibilities to them and to the mission. Back home, I had neither my military family nor the same clarity of purpose. Confusion over my new identity turned into depression. Depression often led to intense anger.

"As difficult as reintegration was for me, it was even harder for my three children. Deployment and divorce left them confused, fearful, and sad. As their primary caretaker, they desperately needed me to be a strong, stable father. When I finally admitted to myself that I wasn't that man anymore, I reached out for help. Fortunately for us, there were people in our community who cared. 

"The help we needed came from an equine wellness program that introduced me to the healing power of horses. My family's experience working with the horses was so positive that I decided to go back to school and get my master's in counseling - with emphasis on veterans' issues and equine therapy.

"Since last September, I've had the privilege of working with other veterans in Equest's Hooves for Heroes program. Men and women who have come home and struggled with many of the same challenges I faced are finally healing. By working with the horses, these warriors are building their confidence, enjoying the camaraderie of their peers, and learning to open up emotionally.

"All of these things help our veterans find new meaning in their civilian lives and draw on the strengths that made them successful in the military. As a community, we are stronger when our returning warriors are given the support they need to heal. These veterans have so much more to give; so many valuable contributions to make. Sometimes, all they need is the support of a program like Equest's Hooves for Heroes."

There are over 400,000 veterans living in the DFW area, representing 7 percent of the population.

These numbers will continue to climb as more than 600,000 troops are released from active duty.

Jeff's story appeared in Equest's 2012-13 Annual Report

CJ Bankhead