Real People. Real Lives. Real Change.
Honoring the Real People Behind POW
I’m Whitney Meyers from Austin, Texas. At 19 I joined the Army as an 88 Mike (Motor Transport Operator) to make my dear old dad proud. I wanted to be able to go and protect my country. In 2003 I was deployed to Iraq with 123rd Main Support Battalion out of Dexheim Germany with First Armored Division. It was just before the surge and my first deployment. I deployed again in 2006, this time with the 96th Trans Unit out of Ft. Hood, Texas.
In 2007, my active military duty ended (ETS date) and I joined the Reserves. In 2011, I completed my military service all together. In total, I spent 8 years of my life in the U.S. Army. When I got out, I felt so happy; finally, I could do whatever I wanted.
Time went by and in 2010 I moved to San Diego, California with my husband. At this time we were both going through a lot of different things due to our time on the military. I realized that I was having problems with PTSD and was in denial (like a lot of other veterans). A buddy told my husband and I about P.O.W.
We meet Todd Vance, P.O.W.’s founder and head coach, through a friend and went and checked P.O.W out when they were still at the gym in North Park Gym. Instantly I was hooked. One of the things that really helped me was that Todd’s coaching reminded me so much of my squad leader and I just wanted to make him happy (and of course, myself). Meeting all of the people within the group made me feel as if I were back in a Platoon again. For me, this was very significant because I was having trouble not having the people whom I loved the most there for me anymore, i.e. military people. It’s very, very hard getting out and not having a ‘military family’ there anymore.
I started P.O.W while I was going through treatment for PTSD and going to school full-time. P.O.W. came along and I began feeling like I was back again, but with a lot more good times. Now, I am getting my head straight, getting all of my anger out and learning to make myself better. P.O.W. helped me get a sense of what I needed to do, and why, to stay on track. Doing that was amazing. I wish that I was still an active participant of P.O.W.
NOTE: Whitney Meyers is not related to Jordan Myers, subject of P.O.W. profile #2
In March 2013 I was honorably discharged from active duty Army after almost 9 years of service as an Infantryman. During that time I deployed once to Afghanistan and twice to Iraq for a totally of 36 months. I progressed to the rank of Staff Sergeant (E-6).
I found myself being extremely anti-social my first year out of the Army. The culture shock of leaving military life and starting civilian life was overwhelming. I really didn’t know anyone in San Diego and I found it extremely difficult to even just be around people and crowds, let alone have a conversation with them. I basically had an identity crisis and fell into a deep depression. I stayed home and drank heavily. It effected my grades and my relationships with others. Even my dog started to become aggressive because he was feeding off my negative energy.
I joined P.O.W. nearly two years ago. I hoped to gain back my physical strength, release that built-up aggression I was holding onto, and honestly, just to get out of the apartment I had been secluded to for so long.
What I found was that I was not alone in my personal struggles. These guys and girls where exactly like me. Through the training I found that brotherhood that I had previously only shared with people I deployed with. I found my strength again, both psychically and mentally. I got my confidence back. I got a better job. I got better grades at school. I was back on my feet.
I’m no saint, and I’m not completely better, but I now know who I am and what I need to do to accomplish my goals. I really don’t want to think about where or who I would be if I didn’t have the P.O.W. program and the individuals within it by my side. They mean the world to me. P.O.W. means the world to me. I would do anything to help my ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ and they would do the same for me.
I am currently attending San Diego City College as an undergraduate to complete the prerequisites required for a degree in food science with an emphasis on brewing and malting.
PROFILE 1: Jaimie Guarnieri, US Army Veteran
My name is Jaimie Guarnieri and I was born and raised in Milford, Connecticut. I joined the Army at the age of 18 in 2004 and went to Fort Benning, GA for basic training and Fort Gordon, GA for advanced individual training. I spent five years of active duty stationed at Fort Drum, NY. I was deployed to Iraq twice with 2-22 INF, 1BCT, 10th Mountain Division (Baghdad 2005-06, Kirkuk 2007-2008). I ETS’ed in 2009 and joined the Connecticut National Guard, where I deployed to Afghanistan (Mehtar Lam, 2010).
Shortly after my deployment to Afghanistan, I began having severe depression and anxiety issues. I had frequent emotional breakdowns and great difficulty managing personal relationships. I sought help at the local Vet Center and VA hospital, where I was encouraged to immerse myself in new hobbies to make new friends, develop a sense of belonging and better utilize my free time. I was a high school wrestler, and I had enjoyed training combative and Jiu Jitsu in the Army, so I decided that joining a gym could help. I began attending some classes at a Renzo Gracie academy in Connecticut, but found it very impersonal, hard to follow, and difficult to stick with.
In June of 2011 I decided to move with some friends out to San Diego, CA to start fresh. I loved San Diego right from the beginning, but my friends didn’t. A month after we all picked up and moved out here with everything we had, the only three people I knew in California told me they were moving home. The next day they were gone, and I was left by myself, one month into a year lease. Again I felt alone and had depression clouding my mind and my judgment. I was drinking heavily and rarely leaving the apartment.
Then one day in July I made my way into Undisputed Gym in North Park. After one trial class I was hooked. I started coming every day. At first I could barely last 15 minutes into an hour class a few times a week. By the end of the month I was coming for 2-3 hours a day for Jiu Jitsu, boxing, Muay Thai, and MMA classes. I stopped drinking altogether so I could train more often and I began feeling much better. I knew one of my former roommates had a cousin that was living in town, and when I contacted him he just happened to be looking for a new place. He was another Army vet and we had a lot in common, so he moved in and things started looking up.
Then in August, I heard about a group of people from my gym taking a trip a few hours upstate to support some of Undisputed’s fighters at an MMA event. I decided to tag along. One of the guys fighting for our gym was Todd Vance, and he fought a very impressive fight. I asked one of the guys who he was, and he told me the story of how this guy had organized a team of veterans who trained MMA together at the gym a few times a week. The next week I decided to try it out. The training was great, tailored to people of all fitness levels. But even better was the camaraderie. They were all very welcoming, and the group emphasized peer support above all else. I started bringing my roommate to classes and before long, he was a regular, too.
After being part of POW for two years now, I can say with certainty that my life is better as a result of POW. It’s good to have support and a network of friends who’ve been through some of the same things that I have. Everyone is accountable to the rest of the group and members are encouraged to look after one another, which keeps everyone out of trouble and on the straightened arrow. Because of POW, I’m in great physical condition, but more importantly it makes me a more complete person.