Honoring a fallen brother is ingrained into Jeremiah Pauley’s consciousness. The former Army squad leader and Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) staff member was injured and survived an IED attack in Iraq on April 8, 2006. His Alive Day brings bittersweet memories of his fellow soldier Jody Missildine, who lost his life in the same attack.
Jeremiah has never forgotten. He recently honored Jody’s memory through a workout he created for a webinar hosted by Elizabeth Dole Foundation.
Jeremiah dubbed his April 8 Hero Workout of the Day Jody’s Workout. Every rep symbolized an aspect of that fateful day in 2006.
“I want to bring awareness, because the greatest casualty is being forgotten,” Jeremiah said. That’s why the movements of his custom workout are symbolic: four squats represent April being the fourth month of the year, eight push-ups for the eighth day, six sit-ups for the year 2006 — “because some might be discouraged by being asked to do 2,006 sit-ups,” he joked.
Jeremiah invited participants to do 14 rounds because it has been 14 years since Jody passed. And he used a weighted vest to represent carrying another warrior while doing the full workout because “we were both carried off the field that day.”
Jeremiah’s purpose was not always this clear. After partially recovering from his physical injuries, he was medically retired from the Army, moved to Northern California, and continued to struggle with PTSD, sleep issues, and anxiety.
Jeremiah felt a responsibility for what happened to his soldiers, which led to survivor’s guilt and depression. “I felt guilty that I got to live, and Jody did not,” he said. He was taking several medications and felt he was “in a bad, dark place.”
“One night, I decided I was going to take my own life.” Jeremiah went out with the intention of living it up one last time, eventually finding his way back home to a message from WWP. It was an invitation to join Soldier Ride® — something to look forward to.
“That experience changed my life,” Jeremiah said. “It empowered me to take control of my entire life again — where I had been, and where I was going.” He stayed in touch with other veterans he met during the bicycle ride, got off most of his medications, and resolved to find a way to work with an organization like WWP.
He helped a fellow veteran rewrite his resume. In turn, that veteran helped Jeremiah apply for a position with WWP in Northern California. Jeremiah started working as a spokesperson for WWP in 2013. Eventually, his new job led to an assignment in Florida. That gave him the opportunity to connect with Jody’s family in Plant City.
He had stayed in touch with the family through social media and was invited to stay at Jody’s grandparents’ home. Jody’s grandmother encouraged him to open up, and Jeremiah tearfully recounted the events of April 8, 2006. The family took him to see where Jody was buried so they could pay their respects together.
Before he left town, Jeremiah took Jody’s family to lunch to thank them for their warm hospitality. As they were saying goodbye, Jody’s grandfather pulled a Gold Star pin out of his pocket to give to Jeremiah. When he tried to refuse such a big gift saying those are only for family members, Jody’s grandfather replied, “You’re my family now.” Surrounding Jeremiah in a big embrace, Jody’s grandfather said, “Let it go, son; it’s not your fault.”
Today, Jeremiah has let go of the guilt and embraced new purpose. He is continuing to honor Jody’s sacrifice through sharing the memorial workout with others, and through speaking to groups about his experience. During the initial webinar workout, he recounted his story and invited participants to create their own memorials to lost friends and loved ones.
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