How To Find Fulfillment Through Service With Jeremy Harrell
Jeremy Harrell is the kind of guy who is driven to serve.
“I learned at a very early age that I have a servant’s heart,” he says. He always wanted to do something that he felt was bigger than him, and he’s always been pulled to answer a call to service. He also has and adventurous, and wanted to see what the world looked like beyond his Kentucky home.
While he was still in high school, Jeremy took it upon himself to help elderly community members by running errands for them. He didn’t think much about it as he was helping his grandmother out anyway. When he noticed that many of his grandmother’s neighbors also had trouble getting out and about it just seemed natural for him to knock on their doors and offer some assistance.
The call to serve grew stronger, as did his need for adventure. So one day while still in high school Jeremy wandered to the local recruiter’s office and emerged as a delayed entry army recruit.
Within a few years he found himself on the first wave of combat deployments. He was indeed fulfilling his need to serve and satiating his adventurous appetite, just not in a way he’d imagined.
The upside of being hands on and directly helping besieged citizens in Iraq was exactly what he’d hoped it would be. The downside, however, was not. The constant awareness that they were all in mortal danger took a toll on him. The experiences he had were not ones he could shake off. It was all “really detrimental to my mental health,” he says, and more than the physical injuries he sustained, the mental and emotional ones caught him by surprise. Eventually the culmination of his measurable and immeasurable wounds meant he was deemed unfit for further service.
At first, Jeremy Harrell was bitter at the military for forcing him to accept a medical discharge.
He’d given this country a chunk of his youth and all of his inner peace. He’d seen things he could not unsee, and served with every ounce of strength he had.
Now that his body and mind were wounded, he was no longer of use? They’d used him up and spit him out? What was he supposed to do now?
His bitterness was the first of many things he’d have to overcome to build a new life for himself. It took him years to come to terms with it and even understand why the military needs to cut people like him loose.
Everyone he knew at home was getting married or climbing career ladders. Jeremy, on the other hand, was not even 30 years old and yet he felt like the best of his life was behind him.
He made an attempt to restart his civilian life with a career at UPS. It was during his time with that company that his true struggles were revealed to him.
One day it was the simple sight of an air tower near the office. The moment he laid eyes on it he was filled with a rush of memories that broke him down right there in the parking lot. The reason?
It reminded him of how he’d felt each time he was in Kuwait. He’d stare at the air tower on base and realize how close he was to just hopping on a plane and getting out of the place he refers to as “the mecca of violence and death.”
Another day it was the wake up call from his boss, reminding him he was not in the military anymore and his leadership style needed to be adjusted accordingly. Jeremy hadn’t even realized those who reported to him viewed him as “unapproachable.” He hadn’t thought twice about dismissing requests to leave work or call in sick when employees didn’t feel well. They were tired of his zero tolerance policies and so was his own boss.
Then there was the insomnia. It was normal to him but his friends didn’t appreciate 3 a.m. phone calls. On and on it went, each day seeming to confirm to him that he no longer fit into the world he inhabited.
It was his wife who “suggested” the time had come for Jeremy to take actionable steps toward his own recovery. A horse enthusiast herself, she nudged Jeremy to inquire to a local Equine Therapy program.
More out of the need to placate his wife than out of genuine interest, Jeremy made the call. To his chagrin, he was accepted into the program and reluctantly made his first appearance in the barn shortly after.
It was the first day of the rest of his life.
From the moment he set foot in that barn, Jeremy felt an awakening he could not explain. HIs depression, hyper-vigilance, anxiety, anger – all of it disappeared in the presence of the horses. Their energy had a calming effect on him and he made instant connections with his four-legged therapists.
He was smitten with all of it and there was no going back.
Today the once-reluctant equine therapy attendee heads his own nationally recognized program. The Kentucky Veterans Club uses equine therapy is its primary method of helping veterans through the same obstacles Jeremy once faced and must forever remain vigilant about. Cookouts, yoga, creative writing, and other recreational activities also offer opportunities for entire families to become connected.
Each event or activity looks on the surface to be strictly for fun, but underneath that fun there is a mission being played out; veterans are connecting, unburdening themselves of the emotional toll of service, stretching physical limits they formerly operated under, and building relationships within their communities that turn into lifelong friendships and even a feeling of family.
The ultimate goal, says Jeremy, is to combat veteran suicide. The ripple effect is that it is also healing families and helping people move forward to enjoy life in the country they all gave so much for.
Jeremy Harrell has found his own way of continuing to serve.
The 60 hours a week he dedicates to his work now is more fulfilling than any other job he’s dad, he says. Using his VA disability checks as his income, he considers it a blessing to be able to make ends meet while being of service to the people he cherishes, in a country he loves, doing something he is passionate about. It his version of the American Dream, says Jeremy, and his only path is forward.
The Kentucky Veterans Club is growing quickly. As membership grows so do Jeremy’s plans. One day he hopes to host weekend retreats of various kinds.
He smiles now as he remembers the bitterness he felt upon being discharged. Little did he know back then, he says, that it was in fact a blessing. “Learning to close one chapter and start another is difficult,” he says, but it can be done. The end to one thing is often the beginning of another, and Jeremy Harrell is just getting started on his new beginning.