VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) - Since September 11, 2001 thousands of American troops have deployed to serve in the war on terror overseas.
Each time we see them depart we're literally viewing one of the greatest sacrifices our service members make, leaving their families behind to serve our country. For many of them, the wounds of war seen and unseen still haven't fully healed.
Taniki Richard has truly been to war and back, fighting first for her country, and then to be the best version of the woman she was before she left.
"I get the famous ‘well, you don't look like anything's wrong with you.’ Well, you haven't walked in my shoes," said Richard.
Back on September 11, 2001, those shoes were in a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) for Taniki to take an oath to protect our country, when it became increasingly evident we were under attack.
"All of sudden, right on television I saw the towers fall," said Richard. "My heart dropped into my stomach but I knew that I signed up for this. It wasn't an option for me to back out at that moment; there was so much pain and tragedy and shock going on."
She left her young child and put her life on the line. She spent 13 months in Iraq serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was time that led to more life-changing, life-threatening moments along the way.
"I was flying a night mission over to another operation base when we were shot at from enemy ground fire," she recalled. "It changed my life forever. It really sent me on a course that I would never have thought."
The signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder began to slowly invade her life in the form of night sweats, insomnia, and anger. Reality was slipping away. She says she just couldn't make her brain work the way it once did.
"I would feel like I was back on the aircraft being shot at again," said Richard. "In the middle of the stop light people would honk their horns and say ‘come on, come on,’ and I would be back in Iraq."
But after years of suffering and medically separating from the Marines, she found help that not only lifted her spirits but had her lacing up her soles to accomplish new goals. The Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) helped her to become a motivational speaker and she says encouraging others now helps her to get out of bed each day.
"When I showed up to WWP events they received me with love, understanding, and I had that comradery again."
It's a journey she never thought she'd take. But she says she would do it all over again.
If you or a service member you know needs help dealing with the wounds of war, the Wounded Warrior Project has several programs available. Click the link here to find out more.