Travis Mills Foundation Ambassador, Sergeant (Retired) Zachariah Collett served as 31B Military Police soldier in the U.S. Army for eight years, followed by two years serving in the FBI.
During his time in service, Zach was awarded the Polish Land Forces Parachutist Badge, Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal with Valor, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Joint Meritorious Unit Award, Army Good Conduct Medal (twice), National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon (twice), Combat Action Badge, Parachutist Badge, Driver and Mechanic Badge – Mechanic.
Zach joined the U.S. Army out of high school, hoping it would be able to help him afford college and land his dream job of becoming a field agent with the FBI.
“I was a hopeful high school soccer player that didn’t get that scholarship I wanted,” he said. “I knew there was no other way I was going to get through college at that point in my life.”
Multiple of Zach’s uncles served full careers in the U.S. military – so he decided to follow in their footsteps.
Beginning during Christmastime 2003, Zach was exposed to multiple blasts leading to his TBI (traumatic brain injury). Furthermore, he was involved in a high value target raid in Baghdad, Iraq.
“I lost feeling in my legs and struggled to lift my legs to get into my Humvee,” he said.
Zach had experienced a multi-level lower back injury and post-traumatic stress.
“I struggled post-injury with all the typical issues,” he said. “I became dependent on my prescription pain medications and added alcohol to cope with the mental and physical pain. My relationships fell apart due to that addiction.”
Within nine months, Zach was married and divorced.
“The only family I had at the time was my parents and my best friend whom I was deployed with.”
But even that came with struggles for Zach. Injuries are both expected and unexpected in the military life, but when it becomes reality, it can be a struggle for the whole family.
“My best friend held me accountable for my actions and was the first person to tell me that I had an addiction problem with medication and alcohol.”
Along with both addictions, Zach struggled mentally and physically.
From the brain injury, he developed a significant stutter and struggled with word recall. Due to the pain he was feeling from his back, it began to exacerbate the mood issues he struggled with.
“I struggled for years to control my anger and my impulses. Due to the lack of impulse control, I racked up large amounts of debt. Needless to say, I was an absolute mess for the better part of 15 years post-injury.”
“I rode a very violent roller-coaster of depression since my original injuries in 2006,” he added.
Five years after his injury Zach married his wife of the last 12 years, Faryn.
“Faryn has been my everything,” Zach said. “She has supported and pushed me through so many obstacles over the past 12 years. I would not be alive today if it weren’t for her.”
TRAVIS MILLS FOUNDATION
Zach was in the hospital recovering from his seventh back surgery when he got an email from Team 43 (President Bush’s group of Ambassadors) inviting them to the TMF Veterans Retreat with other Team 43 Members and his family in 2018.
“The quality time that was offered with my family was invaluable,” Zach said. “My favorite experiences have been time on the water – between boats, swimming and most of all, kayaking with my children.”
Kayaking was a new experience for Zach and his family.
“Miss Judy was on the waterfront with me and made the experience so incredibly enjoyable.”
Judy is a volunteer with TMF and can be seen helping participants in various water activities that the Retreat offers.
“The second time we came out, she and I went out fishing off our kayaks and I had one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had at the Retreat.”
Zach and his family have come back to the Retreat three total times and have enjoyed each one of them.
“I was able to reconnect with my family in a way that I have never been able to connect with them – in the course of the three weeks total we have spent here. My wife and children have been able to see who I have the potential to be on a daily basis and most importantly showed me the value of being present in each moment that I am gifted with.”
ABOUT THE TRAVIS MILLS FOUNDATION
The Travis Mills Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports post 9/11 veterans who experienced life changing injuries while in service to our country. The Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat offers our nation’s recalibrated veterans and their families a week-long, barrier free, all expenses-paid experience at its world-class retreat in the Belgrade Lakes Region of Maine. It offers various programs that help these brave men and women overcome physical and emotional obstacles, strengthen their families, and provide well-deserved rest and relaxation. The Foundation also offers Warrior PATHH (Progressive & Alternative Training for Helping Heroes) for combat veterans and first responders, the nation’s first of its kind program designed to cultivate and facilitate post-traumatic growth. Learn more >>>