By: M.C. Reyes, Editor-in-Chief
Winter Haven - When Richard joined the Army on March 2005, at the age of 19, he didn't know what he was getting himself into... all he knew was that he wanted a better future for himself and the Army was offering it to him. After completing his basic training and graduating from the advanced individual training (AIT) course, Richard was stationed in a quartermaster unit as a 92W (water purification specialist). When it was time for Richard to reenlist, he requested to be put on terminal leave (the process that people who are getting out of the military go through while they wait for their end-of-duty orders) with the option to return to active duty, in case he couldn't figure out how to start again in the civilian world.
"The warrior transition unit command was way more relaxed than the quartermaster unit I came from," said Richard when I asked him which unit he liked better, the old one or the new one.
After being assigned to the transition unit, Richard returned home on terminal leave... and that was the moment when Richard's life turned onto a different path.
In February 2009, only weeks after returning home, Richard was involved in a horrific automobile accident when a 99 Dodge Ram t-boned him on the passenger side of a 2009 Pontiac G6 rental car, leaving him seriously injured.
After spending 17 days in a coma and on life support, Richard woke up to what, according to him, felt like "the worst hangover I had ever experienced," and as he shared during one of his public speeches... "I have been jamming with Jesus ever since."
I met Richard back in July 2018, when we both became members of the Vet Voices program, an art program sponsored by TheatreWorks FL, a theater company based in Davenport, FL.
After spending close to 35 weeks together in the program, which met every Saturday for 3 hours, Richard and I, in conjunction with six other Veterans, had the opportunity to present our creative work with the public in a two-show presentation called Breakfast in Baghdad. From day one, Richard became the "clown" of the group--keeping us entertained and making the process of dealing with strong emotions a less painful one. With his charismatic personality, he not only helped all of us in our pursuit of healing, but he also was able to use the experience for his own healing.
According to Richard, the Vet Voices program helped him in many ways, and even when his recovery gets slower and smaller as the days go by, he always has a great approach to life because there is one thing that keeps him going, and that's his strong faith. "For having the right half of my brain smashed out of my head, the spirit of God keeps me moving forward," said Richard when asked what keeps him moving forward.
For the past ten years, Richard has depended on friends and family for help with most of his needs. "I have developed a strong team of friends and family that help me on a regular basis as I progress through this life," said Richard.
When I asked Richard what his plans for the future are, he said... "I will never quit, I will never leave a fallen comrade behind, I will never give up, and I will never be forgotten."
For what it's worth, I want to tell Richard that he will never be forgotten. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever!
If you are interested in hearing more about Richard's recovery process, you can visit his YouTube page: Youtube/TRichardOttum