Elite Navy SEAL sniper Howard Wasdin survived the infamous battle made famous in the hit movie “Black Hawk Down,” but medical retirement and coming home presented him with challenges he never expected. He shares a poignant tale of triumph and survival in his new book, “The Last Rescue: How Faith and Love Saved a Navy SEAL Sniper,” and in this article.
The Last Deployment
“I had more deployments than I can count,” says Wasdin, whose last tour of duty in Somalia left him with a severe leg injury, inflicted by three gunshot wounds from an AK47. No longer able to serve as a SEAL, Wasdin returned stateside to endure multiple surgeries and a leg that would not heal. “I was sitting in a wheel chair and the doctors were talking amputation. Those were dark, bleak days,” he says.
Compounding the problem was a failing marriage and the realization that he had been more married to his SEAL team than to his wife. “I went from rock star to rock bottom, almost overnight. After dealing with complications from a mrsa infection, the bone in my leg healed but my marriage didn’t. In many ways, that was the end of one chapter, but the beginning of another one,” he says.
Newly divorced but able to walk normally, Wasdin found himself careening from one job to the next. A single dad raising a young son, he sold cars for awhile and then tried his hand at selling body armor. He became a police officer but could not make ends meet. “I wandered around in outer darkness, looking for something worthwhile. I needed to make a change due to finances and was motivated by the desire to help people, which is all I have ever known,” says Wasdin.
Lonely and drinking heavily, Wasdin found himself plagued by survivor’s guilt. He watched his best friend die in Mogadishu, along with other men he loved and respected and could not shake the memories. He found that chiropractic care helped him sleep, which slowly helped dissipate his post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. “I was still selling cars in Georgia and trying to earn a living when my cousin said ‘Howard, you need a woman.’ He and his wife conspired to set me up on a blind date with Debbie, who had been through some hard times herself. We were compatible immediately and married a year later,” he says.
Wasdin credits Debbie for picking him up and dusting him off. “She talked me into getting a degree,” he says. Motivated by his medical struggle and ongoing desire to help others, Wasdin found himself drawn to chiropractic care and slowly realized this was the vocation he wished to pursue.
A New Beginning
“The U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program sent me back to school and paid for my schooling, many years after my last deployment,” he says. “I did not want to ask for a handout but my wife insisted that I deserved help and she was right. I know you hear all these horror stories about the VA, but from day one, I was always treated with respect and integrity. Voc ReHab approved me and I became a student. Now, as a chiropractor, I see 150 patients a week, mostly young people from Fort Stewart in South Florida. I learned that chiropractic care can help them get the sleep they need to combat PTSD. It’s not a cure, but it helps. My son is my office manager and we have gone full circle. There are days when I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming,” he adds.
The Last Rescue
Wasdin says there is a big difference between the old Howard and the one he is now. Acknowledging his own need to be rescued, not only in battle but also in life, he now knows he deserves happiness and a future filled with family, success and purpose. “The last rescue I went on as a SEAL was a failure,” he says, “but luckily, faith and the love of a good woman saved me.”
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.