SPECIAL REPORT: Warrior Outreach

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - The traumatic experiences of war can be unbearable for the many soldiers returning home.

According to the National Center for PTSD, 30 percent of soldiers who return from war have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Besides the alarmingly high number of soldiers who suffer from the mental illness, an even more shocking number is the amount of men and women who choose not to seek help mostly out of fear of being stigmatized, or hurting themselves, their careers, and the people they know.

As a military community, Columbus and the surrounding areas is home to countless individuals who have PTSD.

That's why one man is making it his mission that no soldier has to suffer in silence.

Korea, Iraq, and Afghanistan are just a few of the places men and women went in order to protect our nation.

On the front lines of combat, thousands gave their lives but for the men and women who returned home, the number of people affected is much larger.

And the impact of the war lasts a lifetime.

"When I first looked at it, I was kind of embarrassed. I didn't want anyone to know I had challenges, and kind of handled it on my own," said retired Command Sgt. Major Samuel Rhodes.

Rhodes knows all too well what it's like to suffer from the memories of war-related trauma.

"Came to Fort Benning, then shipped me right off the Fort Campbell, went to Germany for a few years. Numerous assignments within the army," said Rhodes.

He slowly built his status within the military ranks, but, after getting deployed to Iraq in 2003, his whole world changed.

"Everything that was important to me before I deployed, was kind of not so much anymore," said Rhodes.

Reflecting on 30 straight months in combat. His life quickly taking a turn for the worse, getting so bad he even had thoughts of suicide.

"Because of how bad it got, and thinking about it, these guys made the ultimate sacrifice, and I'm still here. So, it kind of makes you feel like, hey! Why not me? I was finding things to do. Finding too much time to really remember some of the events, and it caused a lot of sadness," said Rhodes.

Rev. Thomas Waynick has been providing counseling for soldiers at the Pastoral Institute in Columbus for years.

"What happens in post-traumatic stress disorder is because my sense of safety in the world has been turned upside down, I feel the world is unsafe, or not safe. And therefore, the very thing I need which is safe caring relationships, I distance myself from. I push back from. Because you're not safe anymore. Nothing is safe," said Rev. Waynick.

Waynick says the first step is healing. While many soldiers will still need prolonged help through training and other exercises, Waynick says you can get better.

"We get better, and we're wired to get better. The vast majority of people will get better," says Waynick.

For Rhodes, his solace was his horses. A distraction to his PTSD symptoms, Rhodes, started caring for horses, leading him to start his own outreach program for fellow soldiers, called, "Warrior Outreach."

"We do Veterans Home assistance, we get them involved with community service, you know, everything that we do revolves around family, and Veterans, so, it's quite dynamic, and it takes up all your free time," said Rhodes.

For some it may be horses, for others it may be time with family, or even working out. But Rhodes says, you should never suffer alone.

"If you got post-traumatic stress, you've got to seek help. You can't just sit back and wait for help to come to you, even though we've got a lot of great people looking to see if you do, but you got to seek out some folks to help you," said Rhodes.

Warrior Outreach is not only tailored to horse therapy, they also offer music therapy, and other family counseling sessions, all free of charge.

Trauma comes not only from combat, but people can experience trauma from traffic accident, and even natural disasters.

If you, or anyone you know suffer with PTSD, doctors urge you to seek help.

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