It took being deployed to another country on a medical mission for Lt. Cmdr. Carlos Fairley, 47, to wake up to his potential and the opportunities he had.
During his military career with the Navy, Fairley served in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan.
But it was serving in a medical unit in Haiti, set up to handle emergencies after the 2010 earthquake, that changed his life.
“I saw how smart the kids were,” Fairley said. “They spoke two and three languages, but they couldn’t go to school.”
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That’s what us vets do. We look out for each other. We’re one big family.
David Biggs, Navy veteran
He said only the rich could get an education there, not the poor children he was exposed to. He was an enlisted man at the time and was stationed with Marines, which also gave him discipline in his life.
“I realized I was wasting my life,” he said.
So he went back to school in the Navy. He got his bachelor’s degree in health care administration and worked with hospitals, and then he got an MBA.
Now the Navy veteran, fresh from retirement, is an NJROTC instructor at Pascagoula High School.
He attended the Jackson County Veterans Day program in Moss Point on Friday at the Riverfront Park with his students.
“I had to go to another country to find myself,” he said.
And he passes on his awakening to the importance of education to his students.
Parker came home with difficulties
On the edge of the crowd celebrating veterans Friday, Staff Sgt. Richard Parker, 45, stood with his service dog at his feet.
He was wearing a Wounded Warriors Mississippi hoodie and was relying heavily on a cane.
Parker has never gotten over Iraq and Afghanistan.
He was sent home in 2013 with a broken back and post-traumatic stress, his military career over.
The dog, a hound mix called Sgt. 1st Class Dixie, is trained to cushion his fall when his leg gives out.
“She allows me to put my weight on her if I’m about to fall,” Parker said.
And even though he can’t get her certified for it, he said, she also helps him with his PTSD, almost as crippling as the nerve damage in his leg.
While he talked, she sat patiently wearing an olive drab vest that alerts people to her status as a service animal.
Parker joined the Army right out of Pascagoula High School. He didn’t even walk to get his diploma.
He saw combat. He carried a weapon and went on missions where he saw friends die.
Later in his 12-year career, he deployed as an electrician and HVAC specialist with the National Guard and flew to front-line bases of operation, something he said was as scary as combat at times.
Caught by surprise
Halfway through the Veterans Day ceremony, the gun salute caught him by surprise and he hit his knees.
Fellow veteran David Biggs, a Navy retiree standing nearby, came to his aid instinctively, grabbed him by the shoulders and held him quietly until he could get up.
“That’s what us vets do. We look out for each other. We’re one big family,” Biggs said, and then slipped back into the crowd.
Parker continued his tale. He broke his back when he was blown off a roof in Afghanistan. Fellow soldiers were getting rid of confiscated explosives and set some off 20 meters away without warning him.
Since his return three years ago, he has had multiple surgeries and sees a psychiatrist and a psychologist.
His family has learned to adapt. He got Dixie last year.
He and his wife and son decided to come for the ceremony honoring veterans.
But really, he said, he likes to keep interaction with folks to a minimum.
“I feel more comfortable behind my privacy fence, doing woodwork in my shed, away from people,” he said.