During four tours of combat duty in Iraq, Bobby Champagne survived two blasts from improvised explosive devices and a fall from a second-floor balcony that would lead to seven knee surgeries. After he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), however, the U.S. Navy Seabee was ready to accept his honorable discharge. Or so he thought.
“For 15 years, I wore the same thing everyday, so just picking out an outfit was a challenge,” shares Champagne of the transition to civilian life. “Most vets don’t know what to expect when they return home. I want to help vets who are lost like I was.”
In therapy for two years, Champagne refused to take any medication to help ease the anxieties caused by PTSD. Instead, he followed his therapist’s advice and confronted each one head on, including taking a college class to quell his uneasiness about public places.
“I did some research,” says Champagne, “and Macomb had the most veterans’ support.”
He has since become a full-time student, made the dean’s list every semester, switched his interest from social work to organizational psychology and plans to transfer to Wayne State University to earn a master’s degree. And, he is in the process of adopting a service dog, who will stand guard against the inevitable nightmares that accompany PTSD. The Dutch shepherd, says Champagne, “will sleep by my bedside and be trained to turn on the light.”
In addition to Ramadi and Fallujah, where he led patrols, Champagne’s military career also provided opportunities to travel throughout Europe and Asia. And for three years, he was stationed in Hawaii.
“I enlisted at 19 to see the world,” acknowledges Champagne, a New Orleans native who met his Michigan-born wife, Nichole, while he was stationed in California, where she was attending college. “Looking back on it, my years in the service were some of the proudest of my life. But once my son was born, my perspective changed and I was more grounded.”
Son Aiden is now 12 and daughter Olivia, 7. Nichole works as a behavioral analyst, and Champagne credits her support and encouragement for helping him find his niche in civilian life. He also gives credit to Macomb’s Office of Veteran and Military Services, where he knows the director on a first-name basis.
“We can register for our classes there,” says Champagne, of the South and Center Campus locations that provide free resources to veterans. “They make things so much easier for us. And you have the opportunity to meet other veterans. It was another vet who told me about the service dog program. We already have two dogs, but he will be a nice addition to the family.”