BLUFFTON, S.C. (WSAV) — For many veterans, the fight doesn’t end on the battlefield, and the people they love the most can be left out.
“He would walk out the door and it would be like ‘I don’t know how this is going to end,’” Stephanie Brown said. ”I don’t know if he is going to make it back at night, I don’t know what condition he’s going to be in.”
That’s how Stephanie remembers the time after her then-boyfriend, now husband JR came back after being injured in Iraq.
“Within seven days I was in a gunfight,” JR said. ”Then seven days later, I was sitting home on my mom’s couch. I felt more comfortable going to these places because I had 3-4 friends with me. That if anything happened to me they had my back.”
It was an ultimatum from Stephanie and an admission from JR that changed all that.
“We need to have a talk about this. Is this the direction you want your life to go? Because we were engaged, we were planning a wedding. I said, ‘I am not comfortable living on a couch the rest of my life.’”
“Drunkenly, I brought up the worst day I had in Iraq,” JR said. “But I look back on that because I couldn’t imagine what she was thinking because we had only been together a couple of years at that point. But I put it out there, so she knew.”
“It’s easy to jump to a lot of inaccurate conclusions,” Stephanie said. “So the more he is able to open up to me and explain that he had a bad night on something particular that day was going on, it helps me be more sensitive to the situation.”
The honesty led to another big change. Moving from New York to Bluffton, creating Operation Forward Operating Base (OPFOB). Finding JR’s happy place outdoors with other veterans, bringing those struggling together to heal — to potentially stop someone from taking their own life.
But never forgetting the family back home.
“Don’t use it as an excuse,” JR said. “Don’t think I was an a**hole this day or I did this because I didn’t care. Because don’t feel bad for me. It’s the exact opposite. Share your story so it can help lift you up.”
“There’s no handbook on how to be married to a combat veteran or how to come back to civilian life after you’ve been to war,” Stephanie said. “So it’s going to be different for everybody and it’s not going to be pretty. But hearing those other stories, it brings a sense of normalcy to it. Like it’s going to be OK, we are going to be all right.”
OPFOB has a location in Ridgeland where veterans can meet, gather and talk.
Since the suicide prevention program began, no veteran that visited the site or has taken their own life. That’s what the Browns are most proud of.