Daniel Lombard found video conferencing with his peers helped his recovery. Now he aims to help others with some appointment viewing.
By Christine Graf
Just two months after he enlisted in the Army, Specialist Daniel Lombard went to Afghanistan. He completed 150 missions and was involved in several dozen firefights. Lombard describes his time in Afghanistan as the most significant nine months of his entire life. “I miss the brotherhood so much,” he says. “It was easy there. I knew what my job was. I had a purpose. I would go back in a second as long as I was with those guys.”
In February 2014, Lombard’s convoy was traveling at night through a dried-out river bed. Lombard, the driver of the convoy’s second vehicle, hit an IED as he was turning onto the main road. Memories of his life flashed before his eyes as the vehicle burst into flames. “Everyone got out except for me,” says Lombard. “Fire poured in immediately, and I was trapped in the fire from the waist down. The fire was to my left, and there was a radio mount to my left. There was only about a foot of space, and I couldn’t fit with my body armor. I was screaming and trying to move my legs out of the fire because I was burning alive.” Lombard gained enough composure to remove his body armor and was able to crawl out over the radio mount. His friend, Bravo, had been knocked unconscious after being launched out of the vehicle, but Lombard’s screams jarred him back to consciousness. Bravo jumped on top of Lombard and protected him from a potential ambush, and the two men sprinted back to the lead vehicle just as grenade bullets inside of the burning truck began to explode. “My life is forever in his debt,” says Lombard.
Lombard was medevacked back to base, where he recovered from his injuries. The explosion left him badly shaken and afraid to drive. “I was petrified I would be the cause of another IED,” he says. One month later, he was the gunner in a vehicle that hit another IED. There was no fire, and he escaped with only a mild concussion.
Since returning to Fort Bliss in Texas, the 27-year-old Lombard has struggled with symptoms of PTSD. He’s afraid to drive, has nightmares, and often feels numb and unable to experience joy. “The Army teaches you how to desensitize and turn off our emotions, but they don’t teach you how to turn them back on,” he says. “I’m no longer the person I was before I left. I’m not a happy person anymore. I feel lost and like I don’t have a purpose. I don’t care about myself. I only care about others.” Although thoughts of suicide have entered his mind, he insists he would never act on them because of the pain it would cause his mother and girlfriend.
Lombard sees two military therapists and is on a “whole cocktail of medications.” Although therapy has been very beneficial, he acknowledges that no amount of therapy will ever turn him back into the person he was. “I would need a lobotomy for that to happen.” He would like to stay in the Army, but his PTSD is considered severe enough to warrant a medical discharge.
During a time when Lombard was in a “very dark place,” an acquaintance named James Corbett reached out to him on Facebook and asked him questions about how the Army deals with PTSD. The two ended up video-chatting for four hours. Lombard says, “It was a four-hour vent session. He just listened, and I was able to get shit off of my chest. It made me feel 1,000 times better.”
From that conversation, an idea was born. Lombard and Corbett, an app developer, are now working together to establish a nonprofit called Project Refit. Project Refit will provide veterans and active-duty personnel with a platform that will allow them to video-chat with their military peers. The site will be accessible by registration only and is only for those with verified military credentials. After logging in, users will specify whether they want to vent or to listen. They will be paired accordingly. Those who are willing to listen can be on call and notified when a request had been received. Alpha testing will take place before the site goes live, and efforts are underway to raise funds to cover the costs necessary to support the nonprofit. Everyone currently involved in the project has donated their time.
Working on Project Refit has given Lombard a renewed sense of purpose. “Our main focus is to lower veteran suicide,” he says. “We want to reach into the rooms where our veterans are isolating themselves. I want people to know there are other options besides suicide.” Lombard knows that sometimes all it takes is for someone to be willing to listen.