Roane State student veteran battles PTSD through charity runs

By Bob Fowler

Roane State staff writer

Roane State student Barry Floyd was twice on the frontlines of war as a Navy Fleet Marine Force Hospital Corpsman. He says some of the experiences during his service left mental scars. Now, he’s helping others cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), both in a profession and by raising funds for the Wounded Warrior Project.

His classes at Roane State are leading to an associate’s degree in social work. He’s in a vocational rehab education program funded by Veterans Affairs and wants to help others with PTSD as a certified peer recovery specialist.

Floyd, 52, of Harriman, served in Iraq in 2003 and in Afghanistan in 2010, providing the first and second levels of medical support to Marines and soldiers as well as civilians and even at times, the adversaries.

While enemy bullets whizzed overhead, mortally wounded Marines on occasion died as Floyd frantically tried to save them. Those memories, he says, are seared into his mind and at times are overwhelming.

He also remembers better outcomes. There was Fatima, the 3-year-old Afghan girl hit by a bus. Floyd’s team of medical professionals were able to stabilize her for further treatment.

Fatima’s family and the village elder returned with the child three months later to express their gratitude. “She had bright blue eyes and a beautiful smile,” Floyd recalled. “She always sticks out in my mind.”

Other medical outcomes remain unknown, like the fate of the 6-month-old baby deliberately burned with chemicals after his father was killed for refusing to join the Taliban. The baby was the family’s sole heir. “They (the Taliban) were trying to end the bloodline,” Floyd said.

His experiences in two war zones left Floyd with recurring emotions ranging from anxiety to depression to rage. He says he often exercises to stave off those reactions and also writes in a journal. There’s no bandage for PTSD, he told an interviewer. “Not all wounds are visible.”

Suicide is all too often a tragic response to PTSD, Floyd said.  He lost a fellow sailor and friend to suicide two years ago. “He lost his battle to his demons,” Floyd is quoted as saying. Two other sailors who were his friends died in combat.

To pay tribute to those sailors, Floyd has been participating for the last two years in the Wounded Warrior Project Carry Forward 5K, an annual fundraiser for that national nonprofit.

In September, he carried the American flag as he ran the 3.1 miles on graveled pathways at Oak Ridge’s A.K. Bissell Park. Family and friends sent more than $1,000 to the Wounded Warrior Project to support his run.

Floyd enrolled at Roane State in the fall of 2019 at the community college’s Roane County campus. He completed two semesters before he left to tend to his wife, Terri Floyd. She died this past September after an eight year battle with cancer.

Floyd, who served 24 years in the Navy and retired as a Chief Petty Officer, is now planning to re-enroll at Roane State for the spring semester. He offers this advice for students about to go to college: “Be your own advocate for your education.”

Floyd said two Roane State educators stand out in his mind after his first year in in-person classes: Associate Professor Valerie Herd and Assistant Professor Melanie Hildebrandt.

Floyd said he was impressed by Herd’s “passion for sociology” and how her students helped facilitate her class. Hildebrandt provided invaluable advice in public speaking, he said. “Barry is a hard worker,” Hildebrandt said of her former student, “and he’s passionate about helping others.”

“Most of the classes have been really enjoyable,” he said of his Roane State experience. “The professors are great to learn from.”

About Bob Fowler

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