JACKSONVILLE, N.C. – A voice emerged amongst many to stand for a few.
Dwight Bletcher, a Marine veteran, discovered he had a knack for advocacy in the unlikeliest of ways. The 31-year old recently transitioned out of the military and found himself on a path of politics and community engagement. While his days in the Marine Corps were spent in Motor Transportation, he spent little time thinking about a post-military career. He was so focused on the present that he put little effort into planning. His retirement ceremony was a wake-up call.
“The Marine Corps plays a toll on you. Growing up as a young man, maturing from a lot of the combat experiences that I went through … definitely set me up for success in life. However, nothing prepared me for that retirement date,” he said. “Because you never expected it to end the way it did.”
On January 17, 2011, Bletcher was injured while on deployment to Afghanistan. The MRAP vehicle he was riding in rolled over and eventually he was transferred to Wounded Warrior Battalion. The initial introduction to the unit includes educating Marines on resources. It was then that he learned about Disabled American Veterans (DAV) – they had local chapters around the country, to include outside the gates of Camp Lejeune. He began talking to a veteran who worked for them about the challenges he was having in finding a job.
“Here is a veteran, a Purple Heart recipient, he’s telling me about all the things he had to overcome just to find employment,” Bletcher said. “He was talking to me about how the DAV helped him and what the DAV did for him and I thought that sounds like something I want.”
Veteran Finds His Voice in Community Engagement
The process of setting up life outside the structure of the Marine Corps was overwhelming. The father of three had a wife and family to take care of. He began to lean on the services offered through DAV to help him get established. Specifically, Bletcher utilized the spiritual counseling the organization offered. It allowed him to connect with his family in a way that he couldn’t while on active duty. It also provided him with clarity on what he wanted to pursue in his life.
Next, the chapter helped him navigate Veteran Affairs by processing his medical paperwork, which streamlined his ability to receive care. However, one of the most impactful services they provided was transportation to the VA facility hours away. Because of the injuries he received from the rollover incident in Afghanistan, Bletcher had anxiety over long, unknown drives. By offering to transport him, they put him at ease.
“They have been there every step of the way,” he said.
He has stayed actively engaged in the organization since his first introduction and says life looks much different today than it did when he first entered the unknown world of civilian life. He would advise his fellow service members to put more attention to getting ready for life outside the uniform so that they can achieve their own personal victories.
“I can honestly say, just like every other Marine, I did not plan ahead. What I was doing was planning for the short-term. Planning ahead was something my wife did for us. I still had that inner-Marine ‘I’m going to continue to fight, I’m going to continue to rehabilitate myself’ and eventually I tried to fool myself into thinking I was capable,” Bletcher said. “It is hard to accept the fact your fight is done. If I had to go back and do it all over again, I definitely would have made wiser decisions about planning after the Marine Corps.”
He credits DAV for providing him and his family with the support they needed to get to this new chapter, one they felt unprepared for. And, one he is now optimistic about. Currently, he is attending school to finish his Bachelor’s degree. He and his wife Krystal are expecting their fourth child next month. Further, he took a leap into local politics and ran for a Board of Commissioners position. He wants to bring those forgotten veterans to the forefront of the conversation.
“When you are getting ready to leave the military, you are led to believe the world will lay out the red carpet for you – and that’s not how it happens,” Bletcher said. “I believe I can make a difference. I can care when others don’t care. I can be that voice to say we are only putting a Band-Aid on a bigger wound. That’s how we say thank you to those veterans – by remembering them.”
One of his proudest accomplishments after the Marine Corps has been the active role he has taken in fighting for his fellow veterans. He created a Veteran’s Proclamation, which focuses on outcome versus output. He has met with elected leaders at all levels of government to discuss the lack of follow-up care veterans receive. Bletcher believes simply providing a service to someone and sending them on their way is not enough. A value instilled in him by the way the DAV stayed engaged in his own transition from the military.
The retired sergeant plans to run for office in the next term while continuing his fight for the forgotten veterans, which will include a trip to DC to discuss his Veteran’s Proclamation.
Learn more about how DAV supports transitioning veterans achieve their goals at: Victories for Veterans.
DAV (Disabled American Veterans) is a non-profit organization that is on a mission to help America’s veterans achieve more victories. To learn more about DAV, visit dav.org.
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of DAV. The opinions and text are all mine. While I am proud to support DAV and their mission, I have not been a beneficiary of DAV services.