Jesse Gladney was guarding a bridge in western Iraq when a mortar blast changed his life forever.
Fifteen years have passed since the attack near the al-Asad Airbase. Gladney survived the assault, but the blast left the Army National Guard staff sergeant with a traumatic brain injury and years of painful memories.
Post-traumatic stress disorder caused from his wartime hardships hasn’t gone away, but until 2017 he found comfort in the partner who had been by his side through everything.
“She was my best friend,” Gladney said of his wife, Tonjia Gladney. “We grew up in the same neighborhood. Childhood sweetheart from third grade. She was everything to me.”
Even after developing Stage IV breast cancer, Tonjia Gladney helped her husband through the nightmares. She held his hand, hugged him to comfort, talked him through his pain and stood by his side through every unsure moment.
Tonjia died in September 2017, and her husband soon lost the will to go on.
“I was already dealing with PTSD and struggling with depression and anxiety,” Gladney said. “So me staying there where I was, it was tough. It was causing me to be in a position where if I had a say I wouldn’t be where I am today. It caused me to kind of lose my way of life.”
Gladney, a Chester, South Carolina, native then living in Charlotte, sought out an organization called Purple Heart Homes for help.
During his wife’s cancer battle, the group had replaced the carpet in their home. After her death, he wanted something different.
And thanks to a donation from Bank of America to the veterans service group, he’ll get that fresh start.
Workers from TruGuard began the process of installing a roof on a Bessemer City home Monday. According to Purple Heart Homes project manager Jason Schumacher, the South 11th Street house will be a “total rebuild.”
But when it’s complete, it’ll be home to Gladney.
“To have Purple Heart Homes come in and help me get a fresh new start on life,” he said. “It’s just a blessing, and TruGuard coming in to replace the roof. It’s just a blessing to be able to have all of this to happen. It’s mind-blowing.”
Schumacher, himself a veteran and former beneficiary of a Purple Heart Homes project, called the group a “blessing.”
“This is not a selfish organization,” he said. “This is a selfless act, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Standing outside the home in 90-degree heat Monday, Gladney proudly sported a Purple Heart hat, a long-sleeved T-Shirt commemorating his military service and fatigue pants. The heat caused the veteran to be coated in sweat.
Gladney’s dedication to service came from a childhood spent in the Boy Scouts. He enlisted in the National Guard in 1987, as soon as he graduated from high school.
Gladney watched as most of his friends exited the service after finishing up their six-year contracts. But Gladney re-upped each time, before retiring in 2007.
The battlefield gave Gladney everlasting pain and brutal memories. But it also gave him an extreme sense of pride that hasn’t faded.
Knowing what he knows now, he’d not only do it all over again. He’d sign right back up at a moment’s notice.
“I’m ready to go right now,” he said.
© 2019 Gaston Gazette, Gastonia, N.C.
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