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Years of Support Empower Army Veteran to Take Back Her Life

Woman warrior and Army veteran Angie Peacock in a field with her golden retriever.
Woman warrior and Army veteran Angie Peacock took back control of her life and future after years of struggling in the aftermath of her military service and experiences in Iraq.

First, it was the nose bleeds. Then came the fevers, the unintended weight loss, the racing pulse. Army veteran Angie Peacock knew something was wrong. The symptoms she was experiencing were more than the desert air or the constant barrage of gunfire in the distance.

When she was finally removed from the war zone because of her deteriorating condition, a slew of other struggles awaited her. There was the post-traumatic stress disorder from her experiences in Iraq and the guilt she felt about leaving her fellow soldiers. She knew she needed help but questioned whether she deserved it, whether her pain and injuries were as significant as other veterans.

Am I “injured enough?” It’s a common question among military veterans who often have difficulty asking for help. Angie struggled with that a lot. She tried masking the pain, both physical and mental, with prescription pain pills.

Angie often wondered if this day would be her last because she didn’t know if she could do it all over again. It was like an endless, vicious cycle of guilt, pain, medications, and hopelessness.

It took a lot of time, and a lot of effort on Angie’s part, but she was finally able to realize not only was she “injured enough,” but that she deserved the chance to have a full life.

For 20 years, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has worked to ensure veterans like Angie know they’re not alone and that their service won’t be forgotten. WWP™ strives to ensure that when those who serve come home, they have the tools and resources they need to succeed and thrive. 

The Desire to Serve  

Angie always adored her grandfather, who was in the military. As she was growing up, she would see him in his uniform. When Angie graduated from high school, she started community college and was waiting tables.

“It was just not the life that I imagined. I wanted to do something that meant something,” Angie said. “The Army was the natural choice. That’s a job with meaning that helps people. And it’s an honor thing. It’s an honor to be part of the Armed Forces for me and my family.”

At 18, Angie joined the Army and headed to basic training in February 1998, three years before a terrorist attack would change life for Americans and those serving in the military. After 9/11, Angie re-enlisted. In 2003, after spending more than a year in Germany, she was deployed to Iraq with the 1st Armored Division. Her unit, which was sent to Baghdad to set up a communications network, was among the first U.S. troops in the area during the early part of the war.

“This is not training. This is real. This is life or death,” Angie said. “We have each other’s lives in our hands, and you have to do what you were trained to do. There’s no room for error right now. We all took it seriously. We all realized that we were in a very risky position because it was so new into the war.”

There was danger constantly. I didn’t know from day to day if I was going to make it back.

Serving in that type of environment is an experience that is difficult to understand unless you’ve been there. The constant anxiety and threats in a war take a toll mentally, even after leaving the threat zone.

“[We were] constantly moving around Baghdad to make sure new sites were set up correctly,” Angie said. “Three or four days a week, we were driving on the roads, dodging IEDs, trying not to die.”

When they weren’t dodging roadside bombs around Baghdad, they were working 12-hour shifts setting up and monitoring communications equipment. For Angie, she looked forward to the sun going down because the darkness felt like a shield of protection.

“I didn’t want to see if something was going to kill me,” she said. “I know that sounds crazy, but I thought the night just felt safer for some reason because I couldn’t see everything. During the day, you had to look at everything and be completely hypervigilant. … There was danger constantly. I didn’t know from day to day if I was going to make it back.”

In addition to the constant fear of dying in combat, Angie also started having health issues that she couldn’t understand.

Angie Peacock participates in a WWP Carry Forward 5K with other warriors.
Angie participates in a WWP Carry Forward 5K with other warriors.

She began losing weight, dropping down to 100 pounds. She couldn’t keep any food down. Her ears started ringing constantly, and her heart was always beating too fast. She kept working and hoping it would eventually get better, but it didn’t. Then, the panic attacks started kicking in. She began fearing for her life, not from war but from what was happening to her physically.

Doctors in the field couldn’t determine what was wrong and kept sending her back to duty. After a change of command and a visit with the division surgeon, Angie was eventually medevaced to Landstuhl, Germany. The day after she arrived in Germany, an IED hit her unit’s convoy.

Angie felt guilty about not being with her fellow soldiers during that time. She heard stories about their injuries, and the guilt prompted her to seek mental health care. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and put on multiple medications, including opioids.

“That [medication] was not the help I needed,” Angie said.

The Struggles at Home

After returning to the U.S., Angie was medically retired from the Army. That brought up more guilt and a lack of direction and purpose.

“When I was medically retired, I felt like I was just dropped off and thrown away,” Angie said. “I had been in the Army for six years and nine months at that time, so that was my identity. I remember lying on the couch the day I didn’t have to put my uniform on again, thinking, ‘What am I supposed to do now?’”

She still had multiple medications to treat her pain and PTSD. But the anxiety, fear, and depression were still there.

“I needed to control my environment constantly. It needed to be quiet and dark and not a lot of noise,” Angie said. “I attribute it to the combination of thinking I was dying from some disease with thinking I’m going to die from a gunshot, a mortar, an IED, a kid with a bomb. Just living like that for six months straight, every single day, every single minute, thinking today could be the end, just does something to you.”

Those things that kept Angie alive in Iraq were now suffocating her back home.  

“In a war zone, you should be full of anxiety because anxiety keeps you energized, keeps you awake, and on your toes,” she said. “You can’t tell somebody to just turn it off. It just doesn’t work like that.”

Finally, Angie connected with a VA doctor who convinced her to go to a treatment facility and get off several of the medications. She began working with a to deal with her trauma. During her treatment, she ended up sharing her story in an online documentary about veterans transitioning from military service and coping with trauma. It was through this documentary Angie found a path to carry herself forward.

“Somebody put in the comments, ‘Angie, you’re a post-9/11 vet, and you were made injured or ill while in service. You’re eligible for Wounded Warrior Project.’” Angie said. “I [thought], ‘No, I’m not really wounded.’ But I went ahead and signed up, hoping they had a program for PTSD.”

From Seeking Help to Seizing Opportunities

Sometimes, in the difficult days after leaving the military and being separated from your brothers and sisters in arms, it’s easy to forget that you’re not alone. There are other veterans out there feeling the same way.

Angie Peacock takes part in a whitewater rafting adventure with other warriors during a WWP Project Odyssey.
Angie takes part in a whitewater rafting adventure with other warriors during a WWP Project Odyssey.

When Angie attended her first WWP Alumni event, she questioned whether she belonged there. She wondered if she was “injured enough” to be accepted among the group.

When she shared her feelings with a peer group leader, she recalls being told, ‘Don’t you ever say that again. PTSD is just as real as losing a leg.”

She grabbed the opportunities offered through WWP’s programs and services and began rebuilding her confidence and strength.

She credits WWP Talk with giving her a lifeline to share her worries, anxieties, and goals when she felt she couldn’t go out into the world. WWP Talk is a nonclinical, telephonic program that connects warriors and family members with a dedicated and empathetic listener.

“It was lifesaving because, at that time, I couldn’t really leave to go to a program,” Angie said. “I could barely get to a therapy appointment. I was that agoraphobic. [My Talk partner] calling me every week was something to keep me looking forward.”

She participated in Soldier Ride, a unique, multi-day riding event that builds confidence, improves skill, and fosters connection. Soldier Ride helped propel a love of cycling that Angie still enjoys today.

She attended an all-female Project Odyssey, a 12-week mental health program that uses adventure-based learning to help warriors manage symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, and depression. The program helped Angie feel more connected to fellow women veterans, who may have different experiences and needs after military service.

“It was the sense of belonging that I had never felt anywhere since or before [joining the Army],” Angie said. “In my unit, we only had around three females, and I didn’t even work with the other two closely. So, to see we went through the same [stuff], we lived the same hell, and we’re trying to get better because of it that was really healing for me.”

She also got involved in WWP’s advocacy efforts, including attending a roundtable at the White House to discuss the opioid crisis and its impact on veterans. She became a peer mentor to support other veterans the way she was supported.

“Witnessing someone else’s healing is really healing for me,” Angie said. “It gives me hope that, even if I’m struggling with stuff, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.”

In 2015, Angie won WWP’s Courage Award, given to a warrior who exemplifies bravery, courage, and strength.

Coming Full Circle

Angie Peacock travels the country and shares her experience to help other veterans find help and heal.
Angie Peacock travels the country and shares her experience to help other veterans find help and heal.

The Angie that exists now is a far cry from the Angie who came back from Iraq. From the Angie who had to take medications just to get through the day. From the Angie who questioned whether she deserved help.

“Around 2016, I took full control of my mental and physical health back,” Angie said. “Wounded Warrior Project was absolutely instrumental in doing that.”

After 18 years, Angie is not just surviving but thriving. She has a master’s degree in social work. She travels the country in a van, sharing her story and helping others work through trauma and life’s challenges.

“I wanted to be a partner in somebody else’s healing,” Angie said.

Angie’s made it her mission to be there for other veterans who are in the place she was; to make sure they don’t feel alone and to encourage them to know that it does get better.

“Wounded Warrior Project gave me those tools and resources to say, ‘You do have the power. You can do it,’” Angie said. “Even though life can be scary, facing trauma can be scary, and getting your health back can be scary. I can do it. We all do have that courage.”

Find out how you can help warriors like Angie thrive.

Contact: — Paris Moulden, Public Relations, pmoulden@woundedwarriorproject.org, 904.570.7910

About Wounded Warrior Project

Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.

 

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