Sgt. Josh Hopper

A real hero knows when to ask for help. Sgt. Josh Hopper, who sustained a TBI in Iraq, is one such hero.

[♪upbeat music♪] [Real Warriors - Real Battles - Real Strength] [♪mellow music♪] I'm Sergeant Josh Hopper, United States Marine Corps. I've been in for five and a half years. I've had one deployment to Africa and two deployments to Iraq. [♪upbeat music♪] [male speaker] It was while I was in VMFA-115 as the executive officer that I knew Sergeant Hopper. He did two tours in Iraq as an infantry Marine and as a SAW gunner. On his first deployment he fired thousands and thousands of rounds from his weapon, saw lots of casualties and experienced battle on a daily basis throughout his deployment. On his second one he employed his weapon only one or two times but saw more and more IEDs. In fact, he received a Purple Heart for injuries he sustained as a result of an IED. [♪♪] [female speaker] We've been married a little over four years. We have two children. I've known my husband since I was probably nine. And actually, he chased after me for quite a few years before I'd have anything to do with him. And then we got married when I was 17. Can I have a kiss? >>Give Daddy a kiss. [Mrs. Hopper] Before the PTSD, Josh was very social. He liked people. He was very friendly, very affectionate and showed his affection. If he loves you, he loves you, period. You knew it. After the PTSD, he was really distant. He didn't have much to do with me. Of course we had a newborn baby, so that was all on me too. He almost, like, didn't care. He would go to work before the sun came up; he would come home after the sun came down. He would eat, drink and go to bed for eight months. Then he deployed the second time. Then when he came back from that deployment, it was worse. [male speaker] Sergeant Hopper when he joined the squadron came to me as one of my S2 intel clerks. He was a lat move from the infantry. He gives you his heart, puts everything into anything that he does and gives you a lot of confidence. Not only was he this big, physical specimen of a Marine who could push around more weights than just about anybody else in the squadron, but he also was a kind man. He was always very professional, did his job and did it well. [♪♪] [A. Hopper] To the outside world, he could hide it. To my family, to his family, close friends of the family, he couldn't hide it. He always had that, when you looked at him, a distant look. He never looked like he was actually in the same room with you. You could look at his face and know he was in another country; he wasn't here anymore. I was distant not only from my wife but everybody in my family. Where it would be I'd call my mom and dad two or three times a week, they would call me two or three times a week because I wasn't calling them. And I'd just hit the Ignore button. Mood swings was a big thing, drinking a lot. I really just pretty much wanted to stay to myself. If I had a bad day at work, I wouldn't take it out on anybody at work or anybody I worked with. I'd come home and I'd take it out on those who were closest to me. We fought constantly. I couldn't even enjoy being around my own kids. I couldn't enjoy going out for a walk anymore. Pretty much all I did was I'd come home from work, pour a drink of some sort and just sit there till I fell asleep and wake up and go to work the next morning. He came to work every day. We talked about baseball, talked about the squadron, talked about deploying, where we were going, what we were doing. Even the deployment to Iraq never seemed to raise any concerns with him that I saw. But it was not until the day that we gave him that award that the light went on in our head that he may be dealing with something we need to help him with. As the sergeant major was reading the award, I realized that Sergeant Hopper was reliving what had happened at that time-- shaking, cold sweats--and it was all happening there within 30 seconds of reading the award. And I realized that I needed to engage him and make sure he was good and make sure everything was going fine. And that was kind of the first presentation that I saw of symptoms or something that wasn't quite right. He approached me just like any other Marine. We sat down on a picnic table. He was right in front of me. He goes, "What's bothering you?" He knew something was up. I told him, I said, "I'm about to lose it, sir." I started telling him everything that had been going on and I said, "I've got to do something. I've let this go too long to where I can't sleep." "All I think about is these negative thoughts. I've pushed my family away." I said, "I've been getting up every morning, coming to work, "making y'all think everything is fine, but really I'm just putting a mask on "and you're not seeing what's going on in the inside or what's going on at home." I said, "I've got to do something about it." And he was nothing but supportive of it. The CO actually personally picked up the phone and started searching for the experts. The medical care specialists right here at Beaufort Naval Hospital knew exactly who to point us towards, and the CO lined up inpatient treatment in Martinsburg, West Virginia. It seemed like from that day on, I would go to get treatment, go to my classes, things like that and things started getting better. After my three months was up there, I came back. He was on his way to returning to full health and clearances and everything else, and I said, "Bring him back. He's part of us. Let's go." And he came back in and checked in at my door and I said, "All right. Get to work. Let's go." [chuckles] And it's been great. [J. Hopper] I knew if I didn't have a CO like him and a command like I had and the kind of family I had, that I might have not made it through this and gotten better. My wife supported me basically by being there. She straight up told me, "I've never been in your shoes." "I haven't went and done what you've done." And she goes, "I never will. All I can tell you is I'll be here when you get back." "I'll be here if you need me and so will the kids. We're only a phone call or a flight away." [A. Hopper] Having my husband back is a great thing because I can actually have a relationship with my spouse and not with the wall because that's pretty much all I talked to before he decided, "Hey, I do need help "and I can ask for help." That was probably the hardest thing for him. It wasn't that I was afraid that my command was going to look down on me or they weren't going to be there to support me or I'd be black labeled or nothing like that. I think I basically had to swallow that lump they call pride in your throat. I haven't thought any different of him. As a matter of fact, I actually respect him and trust him more now because of the fact that he had a problem, he had an issue, he brought it to me and together we figured it out. We fixed it, and he's as good or better a Marine now and in the future. I mean, he's a trusted agent for me. [Sobkowski] Sergeant Hopper has been an inspiration. His actions, how he dealt with this like a man, like a Marine, as a noble Marine, inspires us all to do better. Right now he can do whatever he wants. He's got an unlimited future in the Marine Corps. There's not a commanding officer out there or a leadership staff out there that doesn't want to help. It's sometimes challenging for a young Marine to come to a senior staff member or senior officer in the unit and tell him he's got a problem. We're all Marines. I'm just like the rest of them. I just want to help, just like they do. So don't hesitate. Come ask. I think it takes real strength for anyone to go get help for psychological issues. Being active duty in the military, you're kind of branded with, "Oh, he's the tough guy." "He's either the Marine, the soldier, the sailor, the airman." "They go fight our wars and keep our country free." You've already kind of got a chip that's been put on your shoulder that those kind of things aren't supposed to bother you or get to you. So it all comes back to it takes real strength to swallow your pride and to say, "I need help," and to go actually get the help. [♪mellow music♪]
Posted on BrainLine January 31, 2011.

Used with permission from Real Warriors, Real Battles, part of the Real Warriors Campaign, an initiative launched by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.