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Mike Heller Bio

“Thanks to Wounded Warrior Project, I have friends I can fully lean on when I need support.”

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Mike Heller

Mike Heller will never forget joining the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating from high school in 1999. Along with the births of his three daughters, it ranks as one of his proudest moments. “Knowing what it took to become a marine is pretty amazing,” says Mike. “You walk a little bit taller; you’re giddier in your step, knowing what you went through. Plus wearing dress blues and having people stare — that’s an honor, in and of itself.”

Mike won’t forget April 26, 2005, either. By that time, Mike was a rifleman squad leader to 11 Marines – leading his team as they faced mortars, suicide bombers, and attacks from insurgents in Iraq. But on that fateful day, Mike’s Humvee hit a landmine. He was knocked unconscious and ended up in the back of the vehicle with shrapnel wounds and damage to his back. But his physical wounds weren’t what worried him; two of his marines had been thrown from the vehicle and were more seriously injured. “Not knowing the severity of the injuries, you usually have one hour to get to the hospital,” says Mike. “It took us three and a half because of a sandstorm. The helicopter medevac couldn’t land.”

Tragically, Corporal Joey Tremblay died as a result of his wounds. He was only 23 years old, and he was one of Mike’s marines. When Mike returned to civilian life, he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “I have moments where it just hits me hard and I can’t figure out why,” says Mike. “You replay that day over and over. Still to this day I remember stepping in the back of that Humvee and looking at both seats — the one Joey sat in and the one I sat in. Why did I choose the seats? Why am I here today and he’s not?”

At first, Mike didn’t seek help; he pushed down his emotions and tried to deal with them on his own. Then one day he pulled into the driveway and was so angry he ripped the gearshift out of his car in anger — with his daughter in the back seat. That moment was a turning point for Mike. “I was determined to ensure one thing: I would never put my daughter through an experience like that ever again.”

Mike followed through on his commitment and was embraced by a community of other warriors thanks to Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP). Through WWP, Mike re-incorporated physical activity into his daily life. He also used the Warriors to Work® program to craft the perfect resume, which helped him secure a great job. While he’s made significant progress, he still remembers Joey on a daily basis — striving to live a positive life in his honor, and ensuring the next generation properly honors veterans. “I talk to my girls about him all the time,” says Mike. “I want them to grow up knowing that it’s very important to remember those who have given so much for what we have.”


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