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U.S. Army Sergeant Shaun O’Brien enlisted as a combat medic in 2008. Prior to serving, O’Brien worked as a graphic artist – a passion he developed at 17-years-old as a method of coping with his mother’s health issues. However, he felt a calling to help others and make a difference. After a chance meeting with recruiters, the New Jersey native enlisted and left for basic training in Fort Benning, Ga., just three weeks later to begin his career with the Army.
O’Brien was sent to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, for Advanced Individual Training (AIT). Three months after AIT graduation in 2009, O’Brien married his longtime girlfriend, Jesyka, and the two were transferred to Fort Knox, Ky. He was deployed to Afghanistan from 2011-2012.
O’Brien was stationed in Afghanistan and served on the sweep team, clearing areas after breaches in the perimeter. The team was hit by a HEAT (high-explosive anti-tank) rocket, landing only about 25-feet away. After shouts for a medic jolted him back to reality, it wasn’t until he stopped attending to the wounded that he realized he was one of the wounded himself.
O’Brien was moved to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda and was treated for a traumatic brain injury, herniated discs, and compressed nerves in his spine, for which he has undergone three back surgeries. The TBI, along with a later diagnosis of PTSD, impacted his short-term memory along with his ability to control his emotions. For his service, O’Brien received the Purple Heart.
Despite these obstacles, O’Brien enrolled in a vocational rehabilitation program and plans to return to college to pursue a bachelor’s degree in industrial design. Art continues to serve as therapy for O’Brien, particularly as he copes with the cognitive effects of his injuries.
Operation FINALLY HOME and Lewes Building Company, with support from Southern Living, are thrilled to provide the O’Brien family with a home to call their own in Milton, Delaware by 2018.