Brooks Herring's Story
A small number of students at the University of South Carolina balance the life of being students, and the life of being veterans of our nation’s armed forces. On top of having families, jobs, homes, and still pushing a full course load, many of them suffer from mental health conditions. Read below about student veteran Brooks Herring's life, and the family he has found in the Student Veteran Association.
""My name is Brooks Herring, and I’m an exercise science major. I’m hoping to go to physical therapy school after I graduate in May. My purpose and goal in physical therapy is a little bit different than most. This is what I call ‘Plan D.’ I grew up in the backwoods of Conway, South Carolina. When I graduated high school, ‘Plan A’ which had been my plan my whole life, was to join the Navy. There was no need for anything else - I knew that I’d either retire or die in uniform.
My dad was in the Air Force. When he got out, and came back to South Carolina, he worked at a couple of different places. My parents’ marriage fell apart when I was a freshman in high school. My life became NJROTC. I was on every single team, I went to every single meet, I did everything. I enlisted straight out of high school, and spent six years on active duty. I deployed to South America, the Gulf of Mexico for Hurricane Katrina, Iraq, and then Africa. I got out in 2011.
What really hit me was when I came back from Katrina, one of my best friends from high school came back from Iraq. He was dating my little sister at the time. He was only home for two weeks, and he asked my dad and I for our permission to marry my sister, and they got engaged. He went back, and 13 days later he was killed in Baghdad. I blamed myself a lot. A rage began burning inside of me, which I could not quiet.
The Army started a program where the Navy would basically loan you to them for a deployment. I went straight to the top to be able to go to Iraq. I felt like I needed to be over there - I needed redemption, I wanted blood. We deployed in August 2006, and I was there for a year. I spent the entire time consumed with rage. I didn’t feel like I could ever do enough.
There was a guy that I used to stand tower watch with. At least two or three times a week, he would turn over shifts to me, so we talked a lot. He started telling me about issues he was having with his wife. One night he was nearly in tears. He thought his wife would leave him, and he’d never see his little girl again. I did the same thing I always did- I listened, but I was so absorbed in my own anger that I didn’t listen enough. I didn’t see the signs. That night a single shot rang out, and we found out that he killed himself. It’s haunted me ever since.
After a couple of years, my brother suggested to me that I go to school. I thought ‘there’s no way,’ but I decided to check it out. I went to the VA - and they told me that I belonged in the medical field, which I thought was crazy. I had this dream, though, that maybe I could help rehabilitate veterans. I had this vision of veterans working out together despite their injuries, just like we did on deployment; getting back to the place they were before, when they felt like they could take on the world. When I had this vision, I felt something I hadn’t felt before. I finally felt purpose again.
There are other veterans at this school that understand everything that I’ve gone through. There are a lot of people in the Student Veteran Association that have experience with mental health. We’re there for each other. I would tell any new veteran to get involved in the Student Veteran Association. There’s a Student Veterans Lounge in the Student Success Center, so come find us. I still have my own issues with mental health, but being with them is what helps get me through."