In any clime and place, Marines have persevered through many battles that forged this nation. Every Marine’s deployment experience is different. For some, deployments are exhilarating, while for others they can be stressful and traumatic.
Retired U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darron Dale faced a number of emotional and physical challenges while deployed and unfortunately, a lot of those challenges continued after returning home.
Dale, a Houston, Texas native, enlisted into the Marine Corps in 2006 and is currently with Wounded Warrior Battalion-East (WWBN-E).
During 14 years of active-duty Marine Corps service, Dale deployed six times. In 2009, Dale deployed to Afghanistan with 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, where he was immersed in a chaotic, uncontrolled environment.
“We lost a lot of our guys on that deployment,” Dale said. “I left with injuries on my left eye and got two rounds on my back.”
When Dale returned home he was numb and emotionless. He struggled to process information; he wasn’t sleeping and experienced memory loss and flashbacks.
“One day, my commanding officer pulled me aside and asked me if I was OK, I completely broke down,” Dale said. “I was crying, shaking and I felt embarrassed. I felt like I failed everything, but in my head I always promised myself if there was ever a point at which I was either a danger to myself or to my Marines, it was time to get help.”
In February 2018, Dale checked into WWBN-E. Dale did not know what to expect.
Wounded warriors can suffer from external or internal wounds that can be either combat or non-combat related. On their road to recovery, some Marines lose more than physical strength; they can lose hope, faith, perseverance and more. WWBN-E supports service members by providing a central location for family support, mental health care, medical case management, recovery care coordinators, education specialist, chaplain programs and transition assistance.
“Our mission is to rehabilitate Marines,” said Capt. Mathew Mckinnon, operations officer with WWBN-E. “We provide athletic training, athletic reconditioning program, transition readiness and a dedicated team of mental health professionals. We try to get them 100 percent healthy both physically and mentally. I say everyone leaves in better shape than when they began.”
According to Dale, it has been a long road to recovery. From the group sessions with WWBN-E, to the art therapy at Laurel Ridge, Dale found things that have helped him cope with the trauma he experienced in his past.
“My family and command have been beyond supportive,” Dale said. “Having that extra layer of support has given me a second win, to never worry about being judged and feeling like I can still be a Marine.”
Dale retired June 29, and plans to find employment with a federal agency or hospital administration. With his greatest passion being his Marines, Dale intends to give back to the community.
“I think Dale has had a large impact on the battalion just based on his experiences in the Marine Corps,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Bussman, a section leader with WWBN-E. “To me he is a hero and gives other people hope. He is humble, a hard worker and a professional in all he does.”
Like Dale, many Marines are living with invisible wounds. Regardless of the career field, invisible wounds can be caused by any type of traumatic experience, including combat exposure, physical and emotional abuse, sexual assault, blast exposure, serious accidents or the death of a loved one.
“The worst thing you can do is to keep it to yourself and continue to suffer,” Dale said. “Throw your hand up and ask for help. There will be a lot of people who will understand what you are going through. It is a layer of comfort.”
Dale’s story is just one of the many experiences from those on the road to recovery with WWBN-E. Whether one has PTSD, a traumatic brain injury or an amputation, each Marine has their own journey and their own path back to health; for most with these type of conditions, their paths will likely converge at Wounded Warrior Battalion East.
For more information about WWBn-East, visit https://www.woundedwarrior.marines.mil/WWBn-E/.