Veterans have overcome many obstacles when returning home from serving our country. From being away from their families for months at a time, to constant movement, and fears of injury or death. These traumas can be devastating.
The mental and physical injuries troops bring home with them, like traumatic brain injury, loss of limb, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, can present challenges when transitioning into civilian life. Even with the help of the military in assisting the veterans for transition, the veteran needs to find support when he or she comes home.
For 30-year old Iraq war veteran Dave Hillary, dealing with the psychological issues was the hardest, and he said, “Golf saved my life”. Hillary explained, saying, “I fell on hard times back in Houston when I returned. But before it was too late, I made a decision to get help and began finding the real me again.” Hillary then found strength and support through other veterans at the Military Warriors Support Foundation, and met another war hero and Purple Heart recipient in Chad Pfeifer, who won the first Wounded Warrior Open in 2011.
Pfeifer, a Golf Academy of America – Phoenix graduate, told Hillary about the school and how it had helped him achieve a sense of normalcy in his life. That’s when Hillary also decided to start playing golf again, just like he did as a youth growing up in Dallas at Prestonwood Country Club.
“Golf is at first an escape and a release for many veterans,” said Pfeifer, who today works as an assistant golf professional at Tatum Ranch Golf Club in Cave Creek, Ariz. “You find a new love for the game. It is very rewarding to me that I can have a second career opportunity in something that I have become passionate about.” Like Pfiefer, Hillary decided to pursue golf as a career and is currently attending the Golf Academy of America in Dallas and will be graduating in 2013.
When 26-year old Jonathan Gernatt was discharged from the Navy after 5 years of service, the hardest part of transitioning to civilian life was losing the steady paycheck and health benefits. Gernatt said, ”I had 100% medical and dental insurance and received a paycheck on the 1st and 15th of every month. Giving that up and having to find a new source of income was very intimidating and deciding what to do with my life.”
Gernatt pointed out that when he started to play more golf after returning home, he started to pay attention to the people working at the golf course, observing them in conduct of their duties and responsibilities. “I began to notice golf professionals who were enthusiastic about their job and I could tell who enjoyed their job. I made a point to try and ask them questions about the golf industry. Ultimately I decided to pursue a career in golf” said Gernatt.
Gernatt, Hillary and Pfiefer are just a few of the many military veterans enrolled across the five Golf Academy of America campuses that stretch from San Diego to Phoenix to Dallas to Orlando and to Myrtle Beach, S.C. Fully one-third of its 1,400 students are veterans, and they are put through a rigorous 16-month program that trains them for a variety of jobs within the $76 billion-a-year golf industry.