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Mike Ergo is a testimony of the familiar advice of “never give up.” Although he has struggled with the aftermath of war and readjustment to civilian life, he has found the strength and determination to push through. And now he is helping other Veterans to do the same.
Mike, who served in the Marine Corps for nearly four years, deployed to war twice and was diagnosed with PTSD upon his return. “When I came home from Iraq, I was lost. [I had] no purpose, no mission, no connection to myself or others,” he says. “I didn’t fit in at home. I was drifting.”
After a few years of heavy drinking to try to escape the pain of combat memories, Mike changed his life and sobered up. “I found connection with family, community, and a purpose – to help others heal just as my counselors helped me,” he explains.
With his newfound mission, Mike attended Diablo Valley College and then the University of California, Berkeley, to earn a master’s degree in social welfare. He has now worked at the Concord Vet Center as a readjustment counselor for five years. “I don’t need pity and I am not broken,” he says. “I just needed an opportunity to succeed.”
As a licensed clinical social worker with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Mike serves fellow Veterans each day and has been impressed by Sentinels of Freedom’s work. “I have seen the impact that Sentinels of Freedom has provided in my own community and across the country. [They] provide severely wounded Veterans with that opportunity to succeed,” he says.
Determined to help more Veterans benefit from that opportunity, Mike is raising funds and awareness for SOF in a special way: an avid participator of various endurance events, Mike has chosen us as his beneficiary for the upcoming Ironman World Championship that he will participate in later this year. To raise his goal of $18,000 – chosen because of his roots with 1st Battalion, 8th Marines – Mike has set up a fundraising page and will hold a silent auction in his community. Mike is also looking for sponsors to help any way they can, for example, matching donations or providing auction items.
With Ironman, Mike is able to help SOF’s mission through an activity that has had an enormous impact in his own post-military journey. During his recovery, Mike found great healing in triathlons, open-water swims, and trail races, and began racing to honor his fallen friends. “I wear the names of 29 Marines each race. It’s my way of honoring them – by striving to be the best version of myself,” he says. And now he wants to encourage other Veterans to learn about and participate in endurance events to help with their journeys, too. Mike is doing so not only through the upcoming Ironman competition but by coordinating activities, such as a yearly Alcatraz swim, for current and former military members and their families.
Looking to get inspired further? Head over to Mike’s blog, Transitions from War, where he writes about his past experiences and current adventures.
All images taken by Melissa Ergo Photography.