Jeremiah Pauley grew up in the blue-collar town of Massillon, Ohio. The soundtrack to his childhood memories includes countless renditions of the National Anthem being played at sporting events and community celebrations.
“I come from a very patriotic family,” he says. “I remember watching television during Operation Desert Storm, and how much I admired those men and women who served. I figured I owed it to them—and the many who came before them—to dedicate myself to our country.”
In 1996, he enlisted in the Army, requesting to join the airborne infantry. Ten years later, he was deployed to Tal Afar, Iraq. Four months after that, the unthinkable happened: A roadside IED detonated in his immediate vicinity. The explosion sent shrapnel through his right arm, just above the elbow. Another soldier was killed by the bomb.
“If it weren’t for the medic’s immediate action, I probably wouldn’t have survived, either,” Jeremiah says now. He was first treated at a hospital in Mosul before being transferred to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. After a week, he was finally stable enough to be flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he spent another three months recovering physically. But that was just the beginning of his journey. His mental recovery would take even longer.
Due to his injuries, Jeremiah medically retired from the Army in 2007 as a Staff Sergeant. The trauma from his experience, combined with survivor’s guilt and the sudden end of his decade-long career, left him lost in a dark place.
It took years of wandering through that darkness before Jeremiah was able to adapt his mindset and overcome his own negativity. In 2011, he first shared his story from a stage during an open mic night called “War Stories, Welcome Home.”
Jeremiah credits his family with his own inspiration and perseverance. “I see my kids smile, and it motivates me to be even better,” he says. “I remember not being a very good father. I’m so grateful I have the opportunity to keep improving.”