Harvey Paige: A Man of Many Hearts
Riding with the Wounded Warrior Project’s Rolling Project Odyssey
This piece was originally published in H.O.G. Magazine and written by Peter Jones. Photos by Josh Kurpius.
H.O.G.® member Harvey Paige was deployed six times to Afghanistan and Iraq. After being discharged from the service, he returned home suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI), with no idea how to fix himself. Paige has since been able to regain his life through work, family, and Wounded Warrior Project (WWP)® and its programs, such as the Warrior Care Network and Rolling Project Odyssey.
WWP was founded in 2003 and organizes numerous Project Odyssey programs featuring different activities for post-9/11 veterans who work together in adventure-based learning programs. Harley-Davidson has been a sponsor of the Rolling Project Odyssey since 2015.
Project Odyssey helps warriors manage PTSD, TBI, and other combat stress through adventure-based learning that encourages a connection with fellow veterans and nature. In Rolling Project Odyssey, motorcycle riding becomes the catalyst for the program to provide mental health education. Regional rides bring wounded warriors together, where they tend to connect with new comrades who share the same issues, proving to each other that they’re not alone in suffering.
Born in Blackwell, Oklahoma, Paige now lives outside of Little Rock, Arkansas, and is a master technician at Toad Suck Harley-Davidson® in Conway, Arkansas. Paige enlisted in the Army in January 2001.
“I joined as a 20-year-old after getting in trouble in New Orleans and being offered a deal by a judge,” he recently explained. “He said, ‘You like to fight? Join the military.’”
Paige was deployed into combat in October 2001, leading to a total of six deployments, six Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detonations, and six Purple Hearts. He suffered eight concussions, six from those IEDs, one from a bomb that bounced after him before exploding, and one from getting hit in the head with an armored vehicle door. Although his story is intense, it’s right in line with those of so many other veterans.
“After the second time, I just thought getting blown up by IEDs was part of it,” Paige said. “I always felt fortunate because I wasn’t hurt, per se; I was wounded, but just a concussion and maybe broken bones. I’ve seen a lot worse. After the sixth time, they said I was done; my leg was messed up pretty good.”
Asked why he reenlisted so many times Paige said, “It was an adrenaline rush. For the comradery, the passion. I wanted not so much to serve my country but to serve my brothers in arms. I don’t know if it’s bad to say this, but I never felt that I fought for my country. I fought for the guy next to me. I never wanted to let them down or abandon them.”
Paige didn’t know he was suffering PTSD/TBI until he returned home.
“As far as PTSD, I never thought about it while I was in,” said Paige. “The combat was there in my dreams, not nightmares. It was more like wondering how I could have done things better. Once I got out, I learned that that’s what PTSD is. I could cope with it while deployed because trying to do better was part of my job. When I got out, I had no job to apply myself to, so I lost who I was. I was scared of myself. It all started coming back, and at first I was still in a wheelchair so I couldn’t go anywhere. The walls were closing in, and I was trapped. I had no use for myself. The Army said I was broken and that they were done with me,” Paige continued.
They never prepared us for life after we get out. We had to do things in war we were taught as children to never do. I don’t blame the VA. There are so many of us [that] they are understaffed.”
When Paige reached the bottom, he tried to kill himself, but the pistol he used – which had never misfired in combat – on that day misfired. Then his 8-year-old son walked in on him and asked him why he was so sad. That was Paige’s turning point. He knew he couldn’t get better on his own, knew he needed help, and knew he wanted to get better. So after three years of “really dark times” he finally sought that help.
Needing a new passion, Paige went to school for small engine repair. That led to entering the SkillsUSA technical competition. He won a state contest, then earned third place in the nationals in his second year of competing. Through that he also won a scholarship to the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute (MMI). He was hired at a Harley® shop, working his way up from sweeping floors to changing oil and more. He then enrolled in MMI in Orlando, Florida, graduated in the top of the class, and was hired back at that same shop as a staff technician.
While Paige was finding himself through his work, he was also taking part in WWP. “When I went on my first odyssey, in 2015, I learned different tools to cope with things,” said Paige. “I learned how to open up and talk about it. Before that I was taught to keep it inside. My daddy taught me not to talk about it. All of us in the program have a bond that doesn’t need to be spoken. We’re like a big family because of that. We can let our guards down.”
Paige knows that every day is an opportunity to work toward the future. He said that he now has the same drive and passion as if he were putting on all of his gear and rolling out on patrol. “When I fix a bike I get to test ride it,” said Paige. “I get to be who I once was. When I ride, when I’m on my Harley, it makes me normal.
“During the time I was in the service, I lost 12 guys,” said Paige. “I was there when they died. Since I’ve been out and home, I’ve lost 14 comrades to suicide. I want to show others there is a bigger purpose, and ways to deal with it and cope with it. Four years ago, I never could have been able to open up to you about any of this.”