Marine sergeant finds purpose in recovery from PTSD

Published 10:12 am Tuesday, November 14, 2023

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Each year communities around the United States celebrate Veterans Day on Nov. 11 to recognize the brave men and women who help defend our country. LaGrange held its annual Veterans Day service inside the parking deck next to Troup County Veterans Memorial due to a rainy morning on Saturday.

Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day, in honor of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 that signaled the end of the First World War. President Dwight Eisenhower later officially changed the name of the holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954 to recognize all veterans.

Veterans from all military service periods, wars and conflicts were recognized at the service, going back as far as the Korean conflict. 

“This is the first year we have not had a World War II veteran,” Marine Corps Veteran Bernard Bledsoe said. Bledsoe has helped organize the event for two decades.

U.S. Marine Sgt. Steven Cheek served as the keynote speaker for the annual service and talked about the mental health struggles of veterans after retiring from the military. 

The retired marine served three tours in Iraq and two tours in Afghanistan.  Cheek left the Marines in 2012 as a sergeant and currently serves as the pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church and is the owner of Holy Roller Painting Co.

Cheeks said that after his service he hasn’t participated in a lot of veterans events and doesn’t like to do so.

“There’s nothing personal about that. Just a lot of emotions come up with that. When you think of Veterans Day, we may be excited, we may be filled with pride, we may have remorse at times, feelings of loneliness, or forgotteness,” Cheek said. “These are a lot of emotions that we go through on a day like today.”

“Over five tours and eight years, I lost 27 friends in combat operations with another 22 to suicide since 2012. Veterans Day can be a hard day at times,” Cheek said. 

Cheek said he “got out” in 2012 to answer God’s call to preach, leaving camp in North Carolina to pursue a bachelor’s degree and work at Home Depot. He would water flowers at Home Depot and work as an evening janitor while getting a degree on the weekends. Everything was going well, he said.

“But I was getting phone calls here and there about buddies of mine that I served with that had lost their battle with PTSD and chose to go the suicide route. I was always wondering, how is that how is that possible?” Cheek said.

“In 2015 was the day I had my battle. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed — veterans,  we’re filled with pride, and we should be thankful for the memories that we had and the opportunities that we had to serve — but there it was a different animal coming out of the Marines being filled with pride and then watering flowers and cleaning toilets. Is this really what’s in store for me and my wife? I sat on the edge of my bed with a pistol in my hand just ready to be another statistic,” Cheek said.

“I just remembered hearing someone saying, ‘Our role is not determine our purpose.’ If I could share anything with you today, whether you’re a veteran or whether you’re a family member or a spouse,” Cheeks said. “My encouragement to you today is that your role does not determine your purpose.”

“We’re going to go through different roles in this life, and that’s not a bad thing. Because we need to understand God still has a purpose for us in all of this,” he said.

“Don’t look back on your service and say that was the highlight of my life because that’s where a lot of veterans failed. That’s where a lot of veterans succumb to suicide because they say … that was a highlight of my life. But to have that mindset for the next 40 or 50 years to say that’s as good as it gets, I refuse to do that,” Cheeks said.

Cheeks said it was discovering his purpose in life that helped him win his battle with PTSD.

“I understand that God is not done with me. As long as I have breath in my lungs, I have a purpose in this life. Part of that is speaking at events like this now and telling people about that. And so, be proud of your service. I want to thank you for your service. Be proud of it. But understand that you still have time to serve. Your country is not done with you yet,” Cheeks said.