Life After War: Valdosta veteran finds hope in helping others
VALDOSTA, GA (WALB) –
by Damon Arnold, reporter
A veteran is finding his way back to the light after being lost in a very dark place.
It’s all thanks to Veterans First Light, which specializes in helping veterans adjust to life after war.
Veterans First Light assist veterans with job placement, counseling and mental/medical health services.
War vet Michael Altepeter credits Veterans First Light in giving him a second chance, after deciding in his mind that living on after war, was a battle already lost.
From the outside looking in, no one would ever know that Michael was full of anything other than laughs and jokes, but he is.
Michael spends a great deal of his time learning how to be happy again after dealing with suicide, alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Michael joined the Army shortly after 9/11 as a combat infantryman.
While serving, many of his friends were killed.
“When you lose somebody it is crippling, the guilt that you can carry around with you,” explained Michael.
In 2005, Michael fought in Iraq for six months where he and his men were under 272 direct enemy firefights.
That averages out to more than one firefight a day.
“I felt like it was my duty to sacrifice my life versus them and that’s how each and every one of us felt to the left and to the right,” said Michael.
With many of his friend’s lives lost, the harsh reality of war began to take a toll on Michael’s mental health.
“You are deeper bonded by war with your brother and your sister then you can ever be to anybody that you share a house with and share a marriage with,” Michael explained.
It was the memories of those lost, that drove Michael to drink and even to the brink of suicide.
“When those anniversaries come around, those days are the hardest and all you want to do is do everything to not remember it, but it’s with you every day. It doesn’t matter what day it is, but the anniversaries are the hardest. But it’s still with you every day, you live it every day, you remember it every day, you see their faces every day,” said Michael.
With luck on his side, Bryan Roy, owner of Veterans First Light and friend of Michael’s was able to step in and help with counseling and other services.
Michael is now over 30 days sober and helping other vets find the help they need.
“It’s just fun watching the progress and seeing that healing take place in his life and seeing him enjoy things again,” said Roy.
Michael said his new purpose is to lead other veterans to the light.
“They need those of us who have gone through these same battles that they have,” explained Michael. “To let them know that it’s okay. That we’re here, we’re going to find you and we’re going to help you.”
Veterans First Light holds Inaugural Freedom Fest
By: Emma Wheeler | WCTV Eyewitness News
March 4, 2018
VALDOSTA, Ga. (WCTV) – Veterans were helping veterans on Sunday in Valdosta. Freedom Fest brought together dozens of local businesses and organization to support Veteran’s First Light.
The non-profit provides community support and resources for local veterans, and works to end veteran homelessness. Founded last year, the organization founder, Bryan Roy, said they have already helped over 130 veterans.
Freedom Fest is meant to serve as a continuation of that.
“It’s building community. You have an opportunity to have conversations with other veterans, and realize those folks that may live down the street served just like you did. It builds camaraderie in our town, that’s what it’s all about,” Roy said.
During Sunday’s event, a number of local veterans who lost their lives were recognized and their families honored. Madison Rising also put on a benefit concert.
One of the organizers with Veteran’s First Light is Michael Altepeter, a retired United States Army Sergeant. He completed three tours of combat and worked as private security for five years, retiring in 2014.
But upon returning to American soil, new hardships began.
“I hit rock bottom at a point. I went through a divorce, I lost a child, I coped heavily with alcohol,” Altepeter said. “At the time, I didn’t recognize I was having problems with things, but Bryan, he saw that and slowly he got me to the point where I finally accepted help.”
The Veteran’s First Light program began to blaze a new path in Altepeter’s life.
“By getting help I was able to get my sobriety, I was able to turn my life around, meet my new wife, grow my family with children, been completely blessed,” Altepeter said.
Now, he’s dedicated his life so others can find that same hope.
“It was amazing when I saw that light at the end of the tunnel, and that’s why we call it Veteran’s First Light. Now I have every reason to live. I have hope, I have desire, I have a drive that’s in me that I had when I first joined the military. And that’s what we want to give back to the community,” Altepeter said.
The program aims to show all veterans that even with tough days behind them, better days are still ahead.
“Now that I’ve been able to get myself straight, get myself sober and rebuild my life, and find that drive and that ambition, I can be that beacon of hope and light for my friends,” Altepeter said. “Just knowing that the family is still there. Just because you’re out of the service, you didn’t lose it. We’re still here, you’re still here and let’s continue to build that relationshiop. Let’s find a way to continue to serve.”
This is the first year of Freedom Fest, but organizers hope to keep it going annually.