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The Shadow of Death

Hope for the Caregiver / Peter Rosenberger
The Truth Network Radio
November 10, 2022 8:51 am

The Shadow of Death

Hope for the Caregiver / Peter Rosenberger

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November 10, 2022 8:51 am

For a special Veterans Day episode, I interviewed Fernando Arroyo. Fernando considers himself privileged to serve those who served our country, with the goal of ending veteran suicide. He works as the Veterans Program Director at Step Forward Academy as a coach and mentor for veterans transitioning to civilian life. He helps them develop a career path to a living wage and connects them to a healthy community. www.paratrooperarroyo.com

 

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As caregivers, we have so many things that hit us all the time, and we can't always nail these things down by ourselves. Who helps you?

What does that look like? I'm Peter Rosenberg, and I want to tell you about a program I've been a part of now for almost 10 years, and that's Legal Shield. For less than $30 a month, I have access to a full law firm that can handle all kinds of things.

If I get a contract put in front of me, if I got a dispute with something, doesn't matter. I've got a full law firm that can help me navigate through all the sticky wickets that we as caregivers have to deal with. Power of attorney, medical power of attorney, I will.

Every bit of it. As a caregiver, we need someone who advocates for us, and that's why I use Legal Shield. So go to caregiverlegal.com. Look on the left-hand side where it says Legal Shield. Just select it.

It turns purple. It says, pick a plan. It'll give you some options.

If you don't need any of those, don't select them. Check out and be protected starting today. That's caregiverlegal.com. Welcome to Hope for the Caregiver here on American Family Radio.

I am Peter Rosenberg, and I'm glad to have you with us. Hopeforthecaregiver.com. Hopeforthecaregiver.com. There are more than 65 million Americans right now serving as a family caregiver.

If you are one of them, you're in the right place, and we're so glad that you're with us. Veterans Day is always a day worthy of our time and attention, and there is a serious problem for our veterans today where 22 a day are taking their own lives. We have a responsibility as a country to care for these men and women who put their lives on the line and brought home devastating wounds, not just of the body, but of the soul, of the heart. And today, I am featuring an interview that I recently had with Fernando Arroyo. His new book is titled The Shadow of Death from My Battles in Fallujah to the Battle for My Soul.

And this is a powerful conversation, and I try to get out of his way and let him share from his own heart. This started for me a long time ago when I was at Walter Reed. Gracie had performed there for an event, and I was in the PT room talking with a lot of wounded warriors and their families.

And there was one particular man who lost both legs above the knee. And he was joking and cutting up and, you know, he was pretty good spirits. We talked for a while and just had a great conversation. And then I asked him, how are things at home? And his face clouded over and all the comedy and all the jokes, all the laughter left. He had somehow come to grips with the loss of his legs.

But what was going on in his relationships and his heart, the loneliness and all those things that are tied to it were also crippling him. And that stuck with me for a long time to realize what goes on in a soldier's life, trying to readjust, to come from this highly trained individual to somebody struggling to find solid ground. And when you have 22 veterans a day who are taking their lives, I come from a heavy military family. My father was a chaplain for 33 years in the Navy. The last several years of his career in the Navy were spent at Camp Lejeune working with a lot of Marines. And I've also engaged with many families and talked with them about some of the trials they're going through. Families are being woken up in the middle of the night with their loved one who was a soldier with a 45 in their mouth.

And these are horrific things for any family to go through. And so I wanted to introduce to you Fernando Arroyo. Fernando, I am so glad to have you with us today.

Yeah, it's good to be here. Thank you. You have a powerful story and there's a lot to it. So I want to give enough of a background so people can understand the journey you've had, what you've been through, and ultimately God's intervention in your life through this journey. So give us some background, if you will. I grew up in a city called Bell Gardens in California.

And Bell Gardens is a small city right outside of East Los Angeles. I grew up poor. I grew up in a one bedroom house with my parents and my brother.

I slept on the living room floor next to my brother. But I really liked my childhood. I had a lot of adventures. It was exciting. And I remember as a little kid playing with toy guns and playing soldier and all that. From a young age, my parents told me I knew this was the greatest country in the world and that I was blessed to live here because they came from Mexico and they both grew up in poverty.

So whatever little I had, I knew I was blessed. Well, I remember I was maybe five or six years old and I was watching Operation Desert Storm on TV. And I'm getting ready for school, but I'm glued to the TV because I'm seeing these images of stealth bombers and Apache helicopters launching missiles and bombs and all this. And that was all cool. But the thing that captured my attention and never left me was watching the guys on the ground shooting guns and they're getting shot at and they're bounding towards the enemy.

They're shooting back. And I thought, oh man, that's really cool. That's what I want to do. And at a young age, I believe that Jesus Christ, my mom would take us to church every Sunday. And for years I prayed about this because as I got older and nothing else interested me more than serving to learn more about the military was the most amazing thing. And I wanted to join.

It was in my heart and it never left me. Well, 10 years after Operation Desert Storm, it was September 11, 2001. And I was a senior at Bell Gardens High School. And I remember walking into class and my buddy Max, he said, did you hear there was an did you hear about the explosion at the World Trade Center? And I was like, no. Well, what happened? And he says, yeah, I think someone set off a bomb or something. I was leaving my house and I saw a cloud of smoke from one of the towers.

And I didn't think anything of it. Then the bell rang and when I went to my second class, everyone from the first class was still sitting there. Some of the students were crying and they're all glued to a television set. They're just watching this. And I was like, this is weird.

The bell rang, this should be gone. Normally the class is empty when I walk in, but everybody's just watching the screen. So I walk into class and I look at what they're watching and I see smoke coming from one of the towers. Then I see the second airplane hit the second tower.

And then I'm watching on live TV as people are committing suicide, jumping out of these buildings because they would rather commit suicide than burn alive. Then I heard that America was under attack and I knew it was my time to serve. So that month, September 11, I watched these horrible things happen. By September 29th, I raised my right hand and volunteered to serve in the army as a paratrooper. And I remember the recruiter trying to talk me out of it. He's like, what do you want to do in the army? And I said, I want to be in the airborne infantry. And he's like, do you even know what that is?

I was like, yeah, I saw this thing on discovery channel, man. They like jump out of airplanes and they fight. And he's like, you're going to be out in the rain, in the mud, jump out of a perfectly good airplane.

That's stupid. And I was like, nah, man, I want to be one of the first ones in, you know, I want to fight. So he pulls out this packet and he says, look, the army needs cooks. We can pay you like $20,000 enlistment bonus to be a cook in the army. Have you ever had $20,000? And like I said, I grew up poor.

I never had $20,000. That's a lot of money. And I thought, but no, like, I don't care about the money. I want to be a paratrooper.

I want to fight. He's like, all right. He's like, don't come back to me saying how I lied to you. And I didn't warn you that it was going to suck and all these things.

So for the first time. This guy is some kind of recruiter, isn't he? I tell people, you know, because recruiters have a reputation for lying. You know, they're salesmen, right? Oh, sure.

Yeah. No, you'll have a Ferrari and all this stuff in the army for the, for the first time in American history, a recruiter was honest. Like he tried to talk me out of this. And I remember the very first time. So I signed on the dotted line. I joined, I graduated from high school and then I left for Fort Benning, Georgia for infantry school and airborne school. My very first time on an airplane, I had never been on an airplane before. And my very first time on an airplane was to fly from Los Angeles to Fort Benning, Georgia, to learn to fight and parachute out of airplanes. And I remember getting on that airplane and then feeling like on the runway, the airplane starts to shake as it's taking off. And then we're in the air and it's a little shaky and it's normal.

I understand now, but I didn't then, right? My first time on an airplane and I was like, Oh no, this is stupid. I should have not I should have been a cook, man. I don't want to jump out of airplanes. And then once we were in the air, I looked out the window and I could see the clouds and I'm like, Oh no, I can't jump out of this. There was this guy sitting next to me, an older guy, you know, I was, I had just turned 18 and he saw I was worried. And he said, are you okay? And I said, well, I'd never been on an airplane before. And he's like, he says, where are you going? I said, I'm going to, actually I joined the army. I'm going to Fort Benning for infantry school.

And then I'm going to train a parachute out of airplanes. But I think I made a big mistake. We're talking with Fernando Arroyo. His book is called the shadow of death from my battles in Fallujah to the battle for my soul for the special veterans day program of hope for the caregiver. Don't go away. You're going to want to hear more from this amazing story.

This is Peter Rosenberger. We'll be right back. Welcome back to this special veterans day episode of hope for the caregiver. And I'm so glad that you are with us. We are continuing our interview with Fernando Arroyo.

He is the author of the new book. It's called the shadow of death from my battles in Fallujah to the battle for my soul. And I want you to just become engrossed in this young man's story and his journey while serving our country and following his service to our country. So many families right now have a veteran in the family that they don't know how to reach. They don't know how to talk to.

They don't know how to engage with. And it's important that we hear stories like Fernando's so that it better equips us to number one, be grateful for men and women who volunteered to do this. And number two, to be kind and caring for them, recognizing that some come back from the battlefield with wounds that we cannot see. Fernando's story mirrors so many other stories of young men and women who struggled to find solid footing following a spectacular military career. So I want to pick up where we left off. He is on a plane and he's thinking that he made a big mistake. The recruiter tried to get him to be a cook. And he said, no, I want to jump out of planes. And he's sitting on this plane for the first time, but an older gentleman sat next to him and saw that he was nervous. And Fernando, tell us about that encounter. I don't remember his name.

I remember he was a lawyer. He told me and he was a believer in Christ. And he said, did you pray about this decision? And I said, yeah, since I was a kid, I've been praying and there's nothing more I've wanted to do. He said, okay, well then if God's called you to this, then he will get you through.

And I was like, oh, and I felt some peace. So I get to Fort Benning, Georgia, and I made it through infantry school. And then I went to airborne school just down the street and yeah, they prepared us to jump out of planes. And then finally the last week of airborne school is called jump week.

It's a three week school. The last week you have to jump five times to include nighttime jumps and full combat gear. And I did it all and I passed. And then I was got in a bus and I went up north to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. And I was with the 82nd Airborne Division.

And there it was like, I hit the ground running. Now we're jumping all nighttime jumps, full combat gear. We were training to parachute into enemy airfields and enemy bases, parachuting into enemy cities. We're paratroopers, we're shock troops. We were on call, bags packed, ready to go anywhere in the world.

And we could be there within 18 hours anywhere, you know, so we were always training, always ready. Maybe a month or two when I got to my unit, I volunteered for a reconnaissance team. So I was in a battalion recon team called the scout platoon.

And my job would be to dress up like a tree. I call it you wear a ghillie suit, carrying out recon sniper missions. So before the lieutenant colonel, the battalion commander sends 1200 paratroopers to attack a base or an enemy target, we go in in teams of two, four or six.

Our goal is to remain undetected and gather as much intel on the enemy and everything about the enemy and report back to the commander. So it was a, you know, I was just 18 years old. And after a year of training, I had learned so much and had a lot of responsibility looking back about that time was when the invasion of Iraq started.

And we were just waiting for the call. So it came once the once the invasion was over, we got the call to go to Iraq. And I remember it was just this culture shock to, you know, I've trained for war, all the guys I served with were already veterans from Afghanistan. After 911, they had, they got they went to Afghanistan, and they were in the mountains carrying out missions with special operations units and all this cool stuff. They had a bunch of cool stories. And I was just the new guy.

This was my time, right? Like, okay, now we're going to Iraq. We landed at the Baghdad International Airport. It's about 120 degrees. It's about 120 degrees. It's the month of August. And that's not that's not terribly different from Georgia.

Oh, man. I mean, the humidity in Georgia. Georgia is like a sauna. You know, I have a child of the south. I was raised down there grew up there. People say, Well, what's the humidity?

Like I said, wash your clothes, put them in the dryer for about 10 minutes, and then put them all on. Yeah, that's what it feels like. So we get there. It's ridiculously hot. But not you know, there's no humidity like Georgia, like we talked about.

But 120 degrees. The moment I stepped off that airplane and the propellers are going so the heat from the propellers are on us. Instant chapped lips. I'm thirsty. I'm sweating. So we settle into the Baghdad International Airport for a week to get used to the heat.

I mean, it's ridiculous. They made us put on full combat gear and just go for walks just to get used to the heat and having the gear on that we were going to use to fight. But after that first week, then we started getting missions. And that was my first time doing what's called leaving the wire where the wire is the perimeter, where it's considered a safe zone. You have soldiers providing security. That's where you have soldiers sleeping and living and the chow hall everything. But then the moment you leave the wire, you're leaving that secure base. And now you're going out into the city into danger. And we're locked and loaded and ready. And our my first mission, one of my first missions was we were still sweeping up some of Saddam Hussein's officers, some captains and other, you know, colonels and such that were part of the deck of cards was no different.

This is different. The deck of cards were the very highest the generals, the intelligence leaders, all of that. And most of them were killed or captured by the the top of the tier one unit of the US Army, the Special Missions Unit, and and other special operations units.

Now it's okay, there's still colonels and these military leaders that are still starting uprisings in cities and they're creating an insurgency. So we started going after them. And I remember a nighttime mission, we surround this.

We called it the projects. It was just this mass, just a bunch of apartments. And there were bad guys living in there and these guys that were causing trouble.

So we surround the apartment building. I'm in a sniper position on a Humvee, providing sniper overwatch, as other teams were going from apartment clearing each apartment, and, you know, capturing the Saddam loyalists. And I remember that was the first time I got shot at.

And I'm standing next to a Humvee at nighttime, night vision on, providing security, watching this team enter an apartment. And as they breach a door, this guy with an AK starts shooting. And he's like shooting right at me. And I could see his tracer rounds hitting the sand in front of me. He's like walking the bullets up to me. And I see the sand splashing as these glowing red bullets are hitting the ground.

And I just dove behind the Humvee to the right. And then right where I was standing, his bullets hit. And I was going to shoot back. And I was told, don't shoot, don't shoot.

Our guys are there. I would have shot our guys. So that team went in there and they ended that guy's life.

And I remember like, OK, I just got shot at, but I couldn't shoot back. It was just an interesting experience. After several more missions that week for like a week or two at the Baghdad International Airport, then we were told our final destination. There was the city. It was a few miles away from Baghdad. It's out of control. They're putting roadside bombs everywhere. They're harassing supply convoys.

Like it's out of control. And the city is called Fallujah. So we were going to go there. We're going to take over this compound where one of Saddam's sons used to host guests there. It had a manmade lake.

It had little huts, palm trees, you know, was made for hosting guests, but it also had tall walls and guard towers. And it was Uday Hussein's compound. He also had cages in this compound where he had lions. And what Uday Hussein would do was he would go into Fallujah or surrounding cities and he would see a woman that he wanted and he'd say, bring her to me.

I want to sleep with her. And when he'd invite the family over and then when the husband found out his intentions and they disagreed, like, no, you're not going to sleep with my wife, he would toss them to the lions and feed them to the lions. Like this guy was just a savage.

Anyone who disagreed with him was fed to the lions. And that's where we were going to this compound. We get there, we set up security. And then it was time for me to go on my first combat mission in Fallujah. My first time in Fallujah was a nighttime mission and it was called a movement to contact, which is really search and destroy.

I'm sitting in the back of a cargo Humvee at nighttime. I'm wearing night vision and I'm looking at the city of Fallujah and I could see these bullets flying into the sky. A bunch of insurgents were in the streets shooting machine guns in the air. And then we had a team of intelligence operators.

They were intercepting radio and phone call chatter. And they told us that the insurgents were saying that when we go into the city that they're going to kill us. So they were waiting for us to go in. They wanted a fight. They were taunting us. And I thought, okay, this is my first time going my first time going into Fallujah.

My friends had gone into the city before and every time they went in, they got in a gunfight and they came back with this thousand yard stare. And I thought, okay, it's my turn now. The chaplain, Chaplain Knight, he was a former operator with the army special missions unit. He gathered us around and we said a prayer. And I remember his prayer. We locked and loaded, got in back of these Humvees. And I remember we're driving to the city and I could see these bullets flying into the sky. And I was scared.

I remember I could feel my adrenaline pumping and I'm like, okay, like we're going right into this. We hit a dirt road to the east. Or I think it was the west. It was the west of Fallujah because we're trying to like not take a main highway. We want to kind of sneak up on them. But as soon as we're on this dirt road, getting into the city, all the shooting stopped.

So we knew we were being watched. We get into the city. We're driving in our Humvees up and down the streets of Fallujah, looking for a fight. And there's no one there. It's a ghost town. And I got my night vision on and we have, you know, we had infrared lasers for aiming at night. And I could see everybody's lasers. We're all aiming at windows and rooftops.

We're going up and down the city and there's no one around. We're talking with Fernando Arroyo for the special Veterans Day program of Hope for the Caregiver. We'll be right back. Thank you. Welcome back to our special Veterans Day program. This is Peter Rosenberg and this is Hope for the Caregiver.

We're so glad that you're with us. That is the Army Hymn. I am talking with Fernando Arroyo. He is the author of the new book, The Shadow of Death, From My Battles in Fallujah to the Battle for My Soul. It's hard to wrap our minds around the number of men and women in this country who are struggling as veterans to find solid ground following their service.

As you're getting a picture of Fernando's journey, this man was highly trained, highly specialized at what he did. He was put into this nightmarish situation where we sent so many young men and women over to Iraq and Afghanistan. And yes, they volunteer. We have an all volunteer service. And I met so many of them coming back at Walter Reed and their families.

By featuring his story here on the program, it gives a glimpse into the lives of so many soldiers, so many of our servicemen and women and the challenges their families have in helping them readjust, deal with their experiences. As we return to the interview, Fernando and his team are heading into combat. And as he gets there, it's eerily quiet. They don't see anyone. Fernando, take us back to that point where you're driving through and it's deathly quiet.

You don't see anybody. And you guys are at high alert. Your adrenaline is pumping. Take us back to that point. And what happens next? We get into the city. We're driving in our Humvees up and down the streets of Fallujah, looking for a fight. And there's no one there.

It's a ghost town. And I got my night vision on. And we had infrared lasers for aiming at night. And I could see everybody's lasers. We're all aiming at windows and rooftops.

We're going up and down the city. And there's no one around. But then I remember seeing a guy. We're driving by and there's a guy in an alley with a cell phone. And I reported this.

And they said, yeah, he's a spotter. We're going to get hit. Get ready. So we're just waiting. Driving up and down, waiting for this fight that we know is going to happen.

And there's just this tension in the air. We know we're about to get in a gunfight. But we don't know when. And we don't know where.

But it's going to happen. So after driving up and down the streets, there's no one. There's no one in the streets. So then we go to the outskirts of Fallujah towards the Euphrates River. And there's some homes there. And there's tall grass.

It's like a swampy area. And we get on this road and we're just cruising real slow, maybe like 10 miles per hour. And then I hear two explosions. And I felt the blast in my chest, just like, boom, boom. It was loud.

It was overwhelming. And it was two RPGs, two rocket propelled grenades were fired. They flew like five feet over my head. And then all these red and green trace around start flying towards me, just bullets whizzing by me. I could hear the sonic boom from the bullets going past me.

And it was like an out of body experience. Everything I was trained to do, it just happened. And I start engaging and I'm shooting at where the muzzle flash is coming from. I'm shooting at windows, guys through second story windows shooting at us. I'm shooting back and we start driving out of there. It's an ambush.

And we are in a bad spot. It's called the kill zone. That's where all the bullets and the attack, that's where it's all directed. So we're driving out of there. We have about 10 Humvees and we're just trying to get out of that spot fast as we're shooting.

And I'm remember that night was the first time I shot a human being. To my right of the Humvee was Corporal Maguire and he was shooting his M203 grenade launcher. And as he's reloading with another grenade, this guy gets up and he's running.

And this is all happening so fast. And he says, there's a guy running. This guy has an AK and he's running to get a better position to shoot at us. And I just aim my infrared laser at him. And I put about five bullets into him and he falls into the swamp grass and he disappears. By then I fired my 30 round magazine. I said, I'm changing mags, drop the magazine, put in a fresh mag, let the bull go forward. I'm ready to fight again.

And then ceasefire is called ceasefire, ceasefire, ceasefire. This all happened fast. I heard reports. We killed like eight or more guys that night.

And this all just happened fast. And I remember reflecting that night. We stayed out in the desert. We slept on our Humvees.

We just circled the wagons out in the desert. And I remember being in Iraq, being in Iraq and later in Afghanistan, I saw some of the most beautiful skies ever. There's no city lights for miles.

We're out in the desert. And then I have night vision on. I could see the entire galaxy.

There's a shooting star every five seconds. It's like just amazing. But as I'm looking at this sky, I remember reflecting on the ambush, reflecting on everything I just faced. And then I thought, man, I just shot somebody and I'm getting pats on the back and I'm being told they did a great job for it because that's what we were trained to do. And the thing I thought about and reflected was on how I didn't hesitate.

There was no hesitation. I just acted and I had no remorse. And that was one of many events in Fallujah. I was there for seven months, but I also deployed when I came back from Fallujah, I noticed some signs and symptoms of PTSD. Anytime someone slammed the door, I thought it was an explosion.

I might, you know, I wasn't I wasn't right. But then I went to Afghanistan and I did more missions there. Then I came back from Afghanistan and then I went back to Beijing, Iraq for 15 months of 15 month deployment. There's one event that stands out in Beijing, Iraq, where a suicide car bomber packed a truck full of two thousand pounds of explosives.

Drove it into an Iraqi police station, wiped it out. Then we were in an hour long gunfight and. And yeah, after that one hour of fighting, wave after wave of insurgents.

In that one hour, we killed reports that we killed over 150 insurgents. Take that, you know, deployment after deployment, you have now compound trauma that I was not aware of and then. Losing my friends, you know, friends being killed in action and watching them being put in body bags covered by the American flag and loaded on helicopters, I come back home.

And when I got out of the army, I started college and I remember. Anytime I was out in public, it was like a record that played where I could hear gunshots. I could hear gunshots. I could hear the radio of like me being in the army and the radio calling in airstrikes or mortar and artillery fire.

It was just something on repeat. And I remember just any time I was out in public feeling anxiety, watching windows and rooftops, not feeling safe. Whenever I would come home. After being gone for a certain amount of time, I had first I carried a gun with me. I had a pistol.

And when I would come home, I would enter my house like I was entering a house in Iraq, open the door, clear my corners, search every room, look under my bed in the closets, looking for an enemy hiding in my house. And that was just a program, you know. Then as time went on. The nightmares started. And I remember these nightmares were so vivid, so real. Most of these nightmares were me fighting for my life. And it was like me fighting a monster or demon, something evil.

And I wake up soaked in sweat, pistol in my hand, looking around my house to see if there was someone there in my house trying to kill me because it felt so real. It got to the point where sleeping, I hated, I was afraid of sleeping. And I was working a full time job. I was going to school. And I wasn't sleeping. I was falling apart.

And I wasn't telling anybody about this. I had a friend that I knew from high school and he he also served in the army. And then he got a job with the VA. And his job was to help veterans get help. And he would call me, you know, periodically.

And he would insist and tell me, like, dude, you should see somebody. And I was too prideful. And I said, no, I did what I was trained to do. I'm good.

That's just for wussies. I don't need it. You know, I don't need help. I'll be fine. But inside I was falling apart. And I remember having, you know, dreams, having goals. And it all just fell apart.

The girl that I had been dating that I thought I was going to marry, she broke up with me. I thought I was going to be in law enforcement. No one would hire me. I found myself with a bachelor's degree and having no direction.

I was working at a at a retail store, collecting shopping carts. And I just felt like a failure. And I remember thinking, like, why won't anybody hire me?

What's going on? I feel like a failure. And I just thought, I question whether my life was worth living. I'm so miserable.

I can't sleep. I just feel trapped in this life that it probably would have been better if I died in Iraq or Afghanistan. I would have died a hero, I told myself. You know, I would have had a nice funeral. It would have been nice.

And that would have been the end. Instead of collecting shopping carts, and just feeling like I just failed at life. And I'm having nightmares. And, you know, I'm just so miserable. I felt surrounded by the enemy and all alone. I lost the brotherhood I had as a paratrooper. I've had several friends commit suicide. And the statistic is that 22 veterans commit suicide every day.

And I, I thought, maybe it's time for me to do the same. We're talking with Fernando Arroyo. His book is called The Shadow of Death, From My Battles and Fallujah to the Battle for My Soul. This is a special edition of Hope for the Caregiver for Veterans Day, because I know there are so many in this audience who know a veteran who is going through this. So many are struggling with a nephew, a brother, a sister, a spouse, a parent. And so I want you to listen to the conclusion of our time with Fernando in the next segment. Don't go away. There's more to go.

This powerful story I know is touching your heart like it has mine and so many others. This is Hope for the Caregiver. This is Peter Rosenberger. We'll be right back. We'll be right back. Welcome back to this special edition of Hope for the Caregiver. This is Peter Rosenberger.

This is the program for you as a family caregiver. That is, of course, It Is Well With My Soul. I played that with my friend Daniel back in Nashville live during a communion service.

So you can hear a lot of the stuff in the background kind of clanking around. But it was just such an exquisite performance from Daniel on the violin. And I felt it would be appropriate to where we are right now in Fernando Arroyo's amazing story. I would be stunned if virtually everybody in this audience didn't know someone connected to a veteran going through something of what he has described here. A grandson, a nephew, a son, a daughter, a cousin.

And so I want you to hear Fernando's heart and what happened as he went into the literal valley of the shadow of death. I started self-medicating in order to cope with not being able to sleep. I would drink alcohol.

I would be fine Monday through Thursday. But come Friday, Friday night, I drank booze to pass out just to try to get some sleep because I was averaging like three hours or less of sleep a night. Well, one night I drank alcohol and I was in my studio apartment and I decided I was going to take my life. I was sitting on my couch in my studio apartment and I had my pistol in one hand and a beer in the other. And I chugged the beer and I had tears rolling down my cheeks to my chin. I checked to see if the pistol was loaded.

It was with 45 ACP hollow point rounds. And then I said, okay, I'm going to take my life. I'm going to end it.

It's going to be, I won't feel anything. At this point, I had been going to church, but I didn't tell anyone at church what I was going through. My family didn't know what I was going through.

I was isolating like so many people do. I put the pistol in my mouth. And I remember I said a prayer and I said, God, if you're there, save me.

And there was no answer. So then I said, okay, it's time for me to end my life. I put the pistol in my mouth. I took the safety off. I closed my eyes and I put my thumb on the trigger and I said, okay, I'm just going to squeeze and this is going to end. And when I put my thumb on the trigger and I was going to start squeezing the trigger, I heard a bang. I dropped the gun and I looked around and I didn't see any blood. And then I checked my head and there was no wound.

There was no blood. So I was scared. I was freaking out. I was like, man, what happened? And then I saw that the Bible I had on my desk, it fell off to the ground.

That was the bang that I heard. God showed up. So I said this prayer, God, if you're there, save me. And there was no response at first, but then God intervened. He brought me to this point where I just, I surrendered to him.

I remember falling on my knees and praying. And I said, God, I can't do this anymore. I need help. I need help.

Help me. It was my pride that had kept me from getting help, thinking, oh, I've gone to war. I've done all these things. I was in a recon team.

I graduated ranger school, served three deployments. And I did what I was trained to do. And I don't need help.

I could handle this. And really I was carrying all these wounds, the invisible wounds of war, of the loss of my friends, of all the things that I saw and did, and all these things that came back to haunt me. And I was just carrying this.

And that's not what we're called to do. And God brought me to that point of complete surrender, where it was only him who, he's the only one who could save me. And I remember that I said, Lord, I need help. And then my buddy, the next, I don't know if it was the next, I think it was the next day, my buddy reached out to me again. And he said, hey, how about you? And I said, Lord, I need help. And then my buddy, the next, I don't know if it was the next, I think it was the next day, my buddy reached out to me and he said, hey, how about that VA visit? You know, you need help. I know you've seen some stuff.

And I said, yes. I love that phrase. How about that VA visit? It's so simple that we can say to veterans who are struggling and may not have the vocabulary or like you said, the pride or whatever, it doesn't matter, whatever is the inhibitor, how about that VA visit?

In our closing moments here, I just got a few moments. What would you like to leave with people of what to say to a veteran? You're on a mission now to help veterans just like you who are struggling with these things. What would you like to say or have people say to them to be able to penetrate through that to say, you know, how about that VA visit? It's listening.

Listening is huge. Something that bothered me so much, and it bothers veterans, is when people find out that I'm a veteran and then they start just trying to pry into some of the worst experiences of my life. Did you kill anyone? How many people did you kill?

Did any of your friends die? I mean, you don't, that's not how you started off. That's wrong. Don't do that. I don't know you.

Why are you trying? Why would you think that I would just share that with you? You know, how about just being a friend? How about just being there to genuinely want to get to know someone like you would anyone else?

And as you build that relationship, these stories will come out and you'll hear. And when you find out that they've served, you don't need to pry into these details. But it's like, okay, you're a veteran, you served. You could even, you know, thank you for your service.

That's fine. You could ask, are you connected with the VA? Right? Simple question. Are you connected with the VA?

Do you go to church? You know, just asking questions that kind of help engage someone and encourage them to connect, you know, church, the church needs to step up. I love the fact that your friend didn't give up on you. He kept asking. He kept asking.

He kept asking. And this is, this is why I wanted you to be able just to have the time and space to be able to tell your story. You know, I love the title of your book, Fernando, The Shadow of Death.

And in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, God assures us of his presence. As a son of a military chaplain, I understand that whole work with chaplains, they do with ministry of presence, being there, just be. And I love the fact that your friend didn't give up on you.

They don't have to come in and try to fix wounded warriors, soldiers, deal with all these kinds of stuff. Just be, just be with you. And I'm deeply moved by your story. I wish we could, I may have to have you back on and tell more of it because you have, you're just such an amazing representative of so many who are struggling with this. And you've walked through this, you've come out through this and you're now strengthened to go into other people's lives. And you're that guy now saying, Hey, how about that VA visit? You're that guy that they listened to. And we, we, I know that I speak for this audience when we want to be a part of that. I'd like for you to go get his book.

It's called The Shadow of Death from My Battles and Fallujah to the Battle for My Soul. Would you get this book, read it for yourself and get another copy for a veteran that, you know, you know, maybe give it to your pastor, somebody that is going to be engaging with, or a counselor, you know, just to have it to read as a resource. It's very, very important that we understand the journey that these young men and women have gone through.

We have a responsibility to them as, as citizens of this country. And thank you Fernando, for taking the time. If people want to get in touch with you, what's the best way to do that? You could visit paratrooperoroyo.com. And you can find everything from my social media there, and even a link to the copy of my book and even the audio book, which is available as well. And also Step Forward Academy is a nonprofit I work for.

So if you need help with career development, Step Forward Academy, all that is at paratrooperoroyo.com. If there's anything that Fernando said that is registered, I hope it's that we engage. Don't passively let folks just, and don't pry, just engage.

Don't pry, engage. And we have a responsibility and Fernando, thank you for this very special Veterans Day program. And I am, we're going to have you back on. Okay. Yeah. Yeah.

Sounds good. And you know what? I'm glad you're here. Thank you. We're going to end the program with this performance that Daniel and I did of It Is Well With My Soul some years ago.

You can even hear the clattering of people with the communion trays, but it doesn't matter because I want you to know that it is well with your soul because of what God has done through Christ. And for you veterans that may be struggling and this program hit a nerve, how about that VA visit? What do you say? How about that VA visit?

Make the call. This is Peter Rosenberg. You've heard me talk about Standing With Hope over the years. This is the prosthetic limb ministry that Gracie envisioned after losing both of her legs. Part of that outreach is our prosthetic limb recycling program. Did you know that prosthetic limbs can be recycled?

No kidding. There is a correctional facility in Arizona that helps us recycle prosthetic limbs. And this facility is run by a group out of Nashville called Core Civic. And we met them over 11 years ago and they stepped in to help us with this recycling program of taking prostheses and you disassemble them. You take the knee, the foot, the pylon, the tube clamps, the adapters, the screws, the liners, the prosthetic socks, all these things we can reuse and inmates help us do it. Before Core Civic came along, I was sitting on the floor at our house or out in the garage when we lived in Nashville and I had tools everywhere, limbs everywhere, and feet, boxes of them and so forth. And I was doing all this myself and I'd make the kids help me.

And it got to be too much for me. And so I was very grateful that Core Civic stepped up and said, look, we are always looking for faith-based programs that are interesting and that give inmates a sense of satisfaction. And we'd love to be a part of this.

And that's what they're doing. And you can see more about that at standingwithhope.com slash recycle. So please help us get the word out that we do recycle prosthetic limbs. We do arms as well, but the majority of amputations are lower limb.

And that's where the focus of standing with hope is. And that's where Gracie's life is with her lower limb prosthesis. And she's used some of her own limbs in this outreach that she's recycled. I mean, she's been an amputee for over 30 years.

So you go through a lot of legs and parts and other types of materials, and you can reuse prosthetic socks and liners if they're in good shape. All of this helps give the gift that keeps on walking. And it goes to this prison in Arizona, where it's such an extraordinary ministry. Think with that. Inmates volunteering for this, they want to do it.

And they've had amazing times with it. And I've had very moving conversation with the inmates that work in this program. And you can see, again, all of that at standingwithhope.com slash recycle. They're putting together a big shipment right now for us to ship over. We do this pretty regularly throughout the year as inventory rises and they need it badly in Ghana. So please go out to standingwithhope.com slash recycle and get the word out and help us do more. If you want to offset some of the shipping, you can always go to the giving page and be a part of what we're doing there.

We're purchasing material in Ghana that they have to use that can't be recycled. We're shipping over stuff that can be, and we're doing all of this to lift others up and to point them to Christ. And that's the whole purpose of everything that we do. And that is why Gracie and I continue to be standing with hope. Standingwithhope.com.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-11-10 10:20:21 / 2022-11-10 10:40:49 / 20

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