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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Warrior Pointe

By John W. Kennedy and Anna Webb
Nov. 9, 2014

In the summer of 2012, U.S. Army veteran Reed Pacheco prepared to commit suicide.

Close to the anniversary date when he had lost comrades 19 years before, Pacheco felt helpless. He had shut down his landscaping business because he couldn’t physically do the work anymore. He felt stymied in efforts to obtain disability benefits from the Veterans Administration and Social Security Administration. In a vicious cycle of anxiety, migraines, and insomnia, Pacheco took a dozen medications a day.

Pacheco didn’t want to kill himself in the same house where his wife and four children lived. After a weeklong episode of depression, Pacheco arranged a cocktail of pain medications to end his life.

But at 4 o’clock one morning, something else happened instead, something Pacheco attributes to God.

He picked up paper and a pen, not his gun. He wrote down a list of problems veterans face when they come home from military service.

“We call them our demons,” says Pacheco, 40. “Insomnia, drinking, broken relationships, remorse, guilt, unemployment, navigating the VA, suicide.”

He picked up the phone and called his friends — fellow veterans. Pacheco says that morning God gave him an outline of how he could help fellow veterans facing the same overwhelming problems he battled.

“We started just meeting to support one another, our brothers and sisters together,” Pacheco says. “War fighters supporting war fighters. We speak into their lives and help them.”

Warrior Pointe, the group Pacheco founded, meets every Monday on the main campus of Christian Faith Center, an Assemblies of God church in Nampa, Idaho. The group welcomes veterans of all ages, from all branches of the service, and all faiths. No dues are required.

Warrior Pointe has grown through word of mouth and social media. In only two years, the group has blossomed to 153 chapters in 15 states. Many churches allow the group to meet in their buildings for free.

At Christian Faith Center, a couple dozen veterans show up on a typical night. The oldest among them fought in Korea. The youngest are back from Afghanistan.

Meetings are low-key. Sometimes they just consist of simple conversation, nothing too heavy.

“Over time, these guys get to know each other,” says Pacheco, who spends most days on his computer or phone connecting with other veterans who may not have another outlet for counsel. “They begin to share things about themselves.”

He and other group members want Warrior Pointe to be a never-ending network that exists outside official channels, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, to connect veterans to mental health resources in the community, to clergy, and to each other.

One participant is Fred A. Thompson, a retired Assemblies of God chaplain who also attends Christian Faith Center.

“We basically provide a safe place for vets to meet so they can talk to other vets who understand some of the things military people go through,” Thompson says. As command chaplain of the USS Iowa in 1989, Thompson coordinated an onboard memorial service for 47 sailors killed in an explosion on the ship.

Thompson notes that Warrior Pointe serves as a place where vets can continue to relate to one another after counseling and group support programs offered by the VA expire.

Warrior Pointe partners with another veterans group called Battle in Distress, which assigns a response team that includes trained psychologists and crisis negotiators — virtually all of them veterans — to those who have signaled they are about to give up. Battle in Distress members try to infuse hope in those who believe their situation is desperate.

As a Warrior Pointe state chaplain for Idaho, Thompson recruits other veterans who could become chaplains for units of the expanding organization. Many of those providing the greatest help have, like Pacheco, been on the brink of suicide.

“It’s basically friendship evangelism — touching people where they are,” Thompson says.

Tim Burrus became friends with Pacheco a year ago, after a Battle in Distress crisis negotiation team answered his call when a suicide attempt went awry. Burrus, an active duty career Army recruiter stationed in Madison, Wis., felt alone and isolated after his wife left him in 2010. He says he found little support on base, where superiors suggested he toughen up because others had survived worse troubles.

Rather than put it out of his mind, Burrus put a .45-caliber handgun to his head and pulled the trigger. He flinched when firing, and the bullet grazed the back of his head. He bled a lot, but the bullet lodged in a wall. Burrus, who carries a scar from the shot, believes God providentially saved him so he could assist others.

“I didn’t have anybody,” says Burrus, who revealed issues to Pacheco he had kept bottled up for years. “I can’t let this happen to somebody else.”

The Christian Faith Center pastoral staff has been wholly supportive of his efforts, Pacheco says. He knows of five participants in the local chapter who are alive because they talked to someone else in the group rather than committing suicide.

Pacheco served with the Army for eight years, finishing in 1998. The most traumatic episode involved his role in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu when U.S. forces staged a raid to capture Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.

It took years for Pacheco to verbalize the trauma he experienced providing cover throughout the night for Army Rangers and Delta operators trying to rescue crews from two Black Hawk helicopters that had crashed in the city. In all, 19 U.S. soldiers died. Pacheco had friends die in his arms.

In August 2011, Pacheco says the Lord radically saved him after he started attending Christian Faith Center, which averages 1,375 attendees each weekend. But stress and troubles continued — from war memories and present realities.

“I really felt demons starting to haunt me with all I had seen and done,” Pacheco says. “But God had a divine plan to spare me.”

Pastor Monty Sears heartily endorsed Pacheco’s request to provide a meeting space for troubled vets at Christian Faith Center. Pacheco calls Sears his spiritual father.

“When Reed shared his struggles with me and the struggles of fellow veterans, our staff was all in,” Sears says. “We really prioritize and honor our veterans at every opportunity.”

In addition to returning to the U.S. with post-traumatic stress disorder, Pacheco broke his neck and back in a bad fall from a helicopter during his military service. Today he walks with a cane.

“I don’t believe Reed Pacheco would be alive today if Jesus had not rescued his soul three years ago,” Sears says. “Through his scars he has a tremendous platform. God is bringing healing and hope to other veterans who struggle with horrible things they have been a part of.”

Pacheco wants to establish a Warrior Pointe chapter in all 50 states by the end of next year.

“I feel blessed that God left nothing to chance during the darkest time in my life,” says Pacheco, who has personally helped 500 besieged veterans. “It’s very rewarding to help people, not as a counselor, but as someone who has been down the same path.”

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

ANNA WEBB is a reporter for the Idaho Statesman.


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