Peter Herrick lived a “normal” life as a self-employed carpenter, a husband to Diana, a father of two and an active member in his church. But, having concerns about the future led him to find a way to have financial security for his family and to honor his country. At the age of 34, shortly before the 9/11 attacks, Peter enlisted in the Navy Reserve as a Seabee.
“I have always had love for the military. I was fascinated by the Civil War, the terror and emotion the guys must feel when you go through that situation,” he said.
"We build, we fight."
Peter's unit was deployed to Iraq in December 2003. Embodying the Seabee’s motto: “We build, we fight,” Peter had two main duties as a member of the tactical movement team (TMT), to build schools and other structures for the citizens of Iraq and protect his convoy on the way to a job by operating the 50-caliber gun.
On May 2, 2004, Peter’s unit came under enemy attack. A mortar shell hit their unit killing five, wounding 33. Shrapnel pierced his body, one large piece breaking his neck; others causing multiple abrasions on his right arm and leg. His left leg had to be amputated above the knee and his lungs were damaged. His severe injuries resulted in tetraplegia, paralysis from the neck down.
“You talk about fear—I got my taste of war,” Peter said. “When the mortar round hit, I was completely knocked out. I didn’t wake up until 6 days later.”
After being stabilized in Germany, Peter was transported to Bethesda Naval Hospital, outside Washington, D.C., where he spent two months in recovery before being transferred to the James Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa, FL, and stayed for treatment for 11 months.
My very first thoughts were I was glad to be alive and home. But how was I going to heal and get healthy?
“I have always been able to beat stuff in the past, and when the doctors said I was going to be paralyzed, I was trying to prove them wrong,” Peter said. “My last thought was how was I going to support my family?”
Confronting the next chapter.
At the Tampa VAMC Peter met Ramond Bruce, national service officer with Paralyzed Veterans of America.
“I saw Peter when he was at his worst,” Ramond said. “He didn’t know if he was going to be able to live to see his daughter graduate from high school.”
Peter said Ramond instinctively knew he needed help figuring out where to go and what do. “Ramond stepped in and handled things for us; he was a friend to us and let me know that everything would be all right.”
Ramond educated Peter and his family on situations in the process of obtaining benefits that they could encounter and how to address them. He obtained Peter’s power of attorney within the VA to help secure the benefits he was entitled to, made phone calls about their children’s educational benefits and introduced the family to people in various aspects of care and benefits that would be helpful to them.
Currently, Peter speaks around the state to veterans and their families. Using specially adapted equipment, Peter has begun to enjoy some of his favorite past-times, hunting and online investing.
Peter and his family reside outside Lake City, FL.