Some stress in military life is healthy. It can motivate you to develop skills in emergency preparedness and response. But in some cases, the body and brain continue to maintain that state of high alert long after the danger has passed. In this edition of Veterans’ Voices, Army veteran Eric Kelley of Dayton tells his partner, Stefanie Kelley, about serving during the time of 9-11, and how it affects him today.
Eric Kelley (EK): I enlisted on February 24th, 2001. My orders for my first day in the military had me report to what's called MEPS, it’s the Military Entrance Processing Station, on September 11th, 2001, at 6 AM in the morning. So that’s where I was at when the attacks happened. I was wrapping up with the physical and I was kind of leaving the clinic area for a lobby that they had. So, I’m walking out into the lobby and I can see that one passenger jet had already hit one of the Twin Towers. You know, people were just kind of going about their business, people think it's an accident, or something like that. But then the second one hit. I'm watching it happen on TV, like on The Today Show or something. And it was like, Whoa! I couldn't even tell you what I thought. It was just like, What? That that had happened. And so, it seemed like minutes, but it could have been like two hours. But they took these bleachers, from like from high school football fields and stuff, and they surrounded the office park with them, like real close to the building. And there was like SWAT-type people. I don't know if they were military or local law enforcement, or what. But they were just like walking around in the parking lot with like all this stuff on. So, it became post 9-11, real fast. At least at the MEPS, right?
Stefanie Kelley (SK): So, is there anything about your military time where you said, Wow, I really learned something about myself that kind of carries through to today?
EK: Usually, when things are tense, I'm pretty calm. Just in life, whether it's when you lose somebody or something else. It’s a real intense kind of moment where you have to like, Hey, I got to leave work now, or I have to pack up the kids and we have to go, or like, Hey, we're at dinner and something happened, and we had to leave the house. I'm pretty good under pressure and so people, you know, have told me, you've got a pretty chill way about you. So, I've found that out. But what I've also found out is when there's nothing to be tense about, I can be pretty tense. So, it's like I'm always kind of like… It's this weird situation where it's like, Hey, if things are pretty tense, break the glass because Eric's inside. But if things aren't tense, the glass is already broken and Eric's sitting there all, you know, raring to go for something that's not there.
SK: Yeah. It's like you're always ready for an emergency. If one happens, you're going to be great. But if not, you’re always ready, bracing for it.
EK: Yeah. So, I hope that doesn't bother you too much.
SK: It's worked so far. So, let’s keep it going.
Air Force veteran Eric Kelley and Stefanie Kelley spoke at WYSO as part of StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative which visited the Miami Valley last summer. Veterans’ Voices on WYSO is presented by Wright-Patt Credit Union with additional support from CareSource. This story was edited by Tony Holloway and Will Davis and created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.