ConnectOC Blog

Building a Life of Purpose - After the Military

Posted by: Orange County Community Foundation on 5/25/2016

Brent Theobald grew up digging for World War II artifacts on the beaches of Papua New Guinea, forging a kindred link with the Greatest Generation with each relic he discovered. No doubt, stories of their heroism as well as their call to do the right thing motivated him to join the U.S. Marine Corps at age 18 – an enlistment that took him to the Horn of Africa and beyond. By 20, he was fighting the War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet nothing he had experienced could prepare him for his greatest challenge: transitioning out of the military without a safety net and finding himself nearly unable to escape the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. With the help of an unlikely lifeline – a rescued shelter dog named after a military friend who died in battle – Theobald went on to build a life of purpose as a civilian, he now helps other transitioning veterans find their way.

Vanguard University’s Director of Veterans Affairs and Community Relations didn’t come to the Costa Mesa campus by the typical route high school seniors take enrolling in higher education. As a member of the elite Marine Force Reconnaissance Company, Theobald’s were among the first American boots on the ground in Afghanistan in November 2001. He dedicated more than 4 years to the Marine Corps. But despite the success and camaraderie he forged, nothing prepared him for life after the military.

On active duty, he was responsible for millions of dollars of equipment and, ultimately, the lives of men. But when Theobald moved to Orange County after leaving the military, he found himself unemployed. He lacked a community. He struggled to fit in and almost lost himself in the dark days of despair that followed. PTSD plagued him; he even thought of ending his own life before he found ways to reclaim it.

His journey home – and toward recovery – began with an unlikely relationship; he says the unconditional love of an abandoned dog rescued him.

“I thought I was saving him,” he recounted, but “Maxwell was right there at the right time with exactly what I needed.” He named the adopted the dog after one of his best friends in the Marine Corps, who lost his life serving our country.

Today, Brent understands the journey of veterans in a way only another veteran who walked in their boots – from the enormity of the battlefield through the despair of transitioning into an unknown civilian life and finally, to a life reconciled with grace – can.

“We hear Brent’s story and we know that it is similar to so many veterans,” says OCCF’s President Shelley Hoss, “it’s a story that inspires our work in helping veterans – many of whom are going through just what he went through – transition back into civilian life.”

“My story is not unique,” Theobald cautions. “There are thousands of veterans who have transitioned out of the military and faced various challenges. My hope is that one or two of them will benefit from hearing my story of healing, forgiveness, hope and purpose.”

The Veterans Center at Vanguard University not only offers resources, support and community for veterans, it provides the means for returning veterans to obtain their career goals and reintegrate into civilian life through education.

“And this is the key,” Theobald says. “We have an opportunity to solve the veterans’ issue. I don’t know anywhere else in the world that has a community that joins together like Orange County.  I am so grateful for those who have generously given to ensure that veterans are welcomed home and receive the opportunity to rebuild their lives.”

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