(This post has been provided by The Archangels founder 1SG Sean Stoddard, in partnership with the MPRA)

I know I am not alone when I report that Soldiers I have served with are no longer alive due a number of unfortunate circumstances e.g. combat, suicide, murder, and overdose. Those who are living have not escaped post deployment challenges as most, if not all, have dealt with a number of challenges. Some of these include financial and employment troubles, divorce, custodial issues, self-medication, and problems with the law (DUIs, Domestic Violence, etc.) resulting in jail and prison.

Some label these issues as Post Traumatic Stress; some give other labels to it. In the end, there are challenges.

We enter basic training bright-eyed, ready to defend freedom, but overtime we are punched in the face mentally, psychologically, and emotionally. Sometimes it seems the whole world is against us.

I remember returning from a challenging deployment to Iraq, finding my battle buddies going through the aforementioned battles, and doing some soul searching. What do we do when darkness seems to be everywhere we look? As I was pondering this I remember reading a story about starfish. The basic story was a boy came upon the sea at low tide and found an endless number of starfish that had been left behind from a previous storm. The boy went to work and began throwing the starfish one by one back into the ocean. A bystander walked by and mocked the boy saying you can’t possibly make a difference to all of them. The boy replied as he continued his efforts and told him, “no but I can make a difference to that one”, and sent it back into the ocean which effectively saved the starfish’s life. He threw another in the ocean and said, “and that one, and that one, and that one!”

I found my direction. We may not be able to fix all of the issues in Iraq or Afghanistan or even fix every issue in our sacred and good country. What we can do, however, is make a difference in ourselves, our families, and our communities. This focus will change our reality, which is our world. As we do this individually, we will create overlapping sectors of fire and eventually change the world as a whole.

Our organization, The Archangels, seeks to connect service organizations with military members, veterans, and first responders who need the support these organizations provide. We offer scholarships for those looking to advance themselves through education and to develop and heal themselves through other programs. We have found deep meaning and purpose through our work and we know that service to others can help heal.

I want to impart this truth, you cannot be happy without service. It is critical that service be a part of your daily life. Seek opportunities to serve, seize them, and feel the benefits. Find service in your own homes, non-profits, churches, hospitals, and others.

If you can’t find what you are looking for don’t wait, start one! Remember, your scars from divorce, prison, combat, bankruptcy, and being homeless give you gravitas and the ability to look in the eyes of a fellow Soldier and tell them with strength ‘you can make it’. Don’t let your scars destroy you, let them define you. One Team, One Fight!

About the author:

Sean Stoddard (email: [email protected]holds two Military Occupational Specialties including 31B Military Police and 38B Civil Affairs. He is currently serving in the United States Army Reserves as the 1SG for a Civil Affairs company. He has deployed four times including three deployments as a Military Police Soldier/NCO to Cuba, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He serves as a civilian police officer for a large city police department. He is the founder, president, and CEO of The Archangels, a non-profit that assists military, veterans, and first responders. He is an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America, earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Criminal Justice and Criminology from Arizona State University (Summa Cum Laude) and serves in his local church.