Justin Shults was nine years old when Mount Pinatubo, just 23 miles away, erupted in the Philippines. His father, who had been a US Air Force officer, had died in an accident when Justin was seven. His mom, a filipina and a widow, moved with Justin and his brother to California.
The attacks on September 11 motivated Justin to enlist in the Air Force himself, and he flew helicopters over most of Iraq, ferrying special ops troops and civilian casualties, some of whom were children. He deployed to Afghanistan for a year, then remained in-country for another year and a half as a contractor training the Afghan Air Force. He stayed in Afghanistan, he said, because it was the only place he "could wake up and feel alive."
Though he had been an adviser to a general and had written policy for the Afghan Air Force, Justin couldn't find a job when he left the service. He battled PTSD and suicidal thoughts. Now he's a veteran advocate at Divers Institute of Technology. He says he's found salvation in helping others.
Justin's moving and powerful story is featured in What They Signed Up For: True Stories by Ordinary Soldiers.