Kids’ smiles lit up soldier’s darkness

July 5, 2017

What does a soldier do when he finally retires, ready to decompress from a life of service, strain and sweat, but he finds he can’t sleep at night? What does he do when his darkest battle moments keep playing across his closed eyes? When he seeks solace from drink, he gets worse. He can’t remember the good times of his life – only the military routines: work, PT, work, eat dinner, go to sleep, up again at dawn, work…

When in 2016, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Julian Mejorado took an early retirement option after 17 years’ military service, he didn’t know he had a problem. He just knew he was ready to exhale; his career had been intense. Early on, he had served as a recruiter and was never home. Later, as an administrative specialist, he joined an Infantry battalion. In Iraq, in 2006, he would go out on the range with the infantry troops, then play catch-up on administrative duties at night.

Gunnery Sgt. Julian Mejorado stands with his wife and children at his retirement ceremony.

He said, “I was always goal oriented, striving for rank. Then, when I made gunnery sergeant, I went into autopilot for 10 years. My wife took care of the kids and the house; I worked. When I did come home, the kids were asleep. I wasn’t seeing them grow up.”

His wife of 15 years knew he had a problem. He said, “She would say to me, ‘It’s time for you to get out. You’re not the man I married. It’s time to retire and work on you now.’”

When Mejorado did retire, the transition did not bring him the peace he expected. There was more time for thinking about the war; there was more time to drink. When he attempted suicide in 2016, he got the help needed for him to turn the corner.

“I woke up in the hospital,” he said, “and the VA came to my aide.”

He said, “I was in a really dark place. I had been diagnosed with a 50 percent disability involving depression. My counselors said memory loss is part of PTSD and depression.”

Mejorado was assigned a case manager whom he believes saved his life.  He said, “She threw great programs at me: AA, Semper Fi…and Our Military Kids.”

Thanks to the Our Military Kids grants, Mejorado’s two children — Savannah, age 7, and Xavier, age 9 — are taking swimming and karate at the local YMCA in Oceanside, California. Since Mejorado had contracted a sun sensitivity in Iraq, and he needed to sit in the shade, this YMCA, which had awnings near the swimming pool, was an appealing choice.

Savannah and Xavier Mejorado

“The kids love to swim, and that gives me a positive outlook too,” he said. “Knowing my kids are learning something they can use when they’re older is great. And their smiles really give me a smile.”

As to the future, Mejorado said, “I’ve been getting better.”

His wife, a substitute teacher, is hopeful she can find a full-time teaching job. The couple is hoping to buy a home.

Mejorado said, “My number 1 concern is my health and kids’ future.”