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Veterans Day 2020: A Conversation with Wayne Teegardin, US Army Veteran of Vietnam, Iraq and Africa

Wayne Teegardin
Tania Ortega-Cowan
Tania Ortega-Cowan
Wayne Teegardin

This week we honor Veterans, and today Tania Ortega-Cowan brings us along to meet with Wayne Teegardin, a veteran with the United States Army in Vietnam, Iraq and Africa.

This week we honor Veterans, and today we’re meeting Wayne Teegardin. He’s the Veterans Services Manager for St. Lucie County.

He’s also himself a veteran with the United States Army having served in Vietnam, Iraq and Africa. He explains how he was able to avoid some of the trauma many Vietnam veterans experienced.

WT: I was a deep-sea diver, so I lived on a barge, so I wasn’t in the jungle. I had my Vietnam experience in Iraq. Where we were assigned was in the urban environment. We were right in a section of Baghdad.

He says everything is just so closed in that there’s…

WT: No escape, if you will. Think about Fort Pierce with 3 million people in it and that’s how compact everything was… So, it was very, very awful.

In training, they learn to look for things that might hide explosive devices. In a dense city like Baghdad? Those things are everywhere.

WT: So, you’re driving down the road and you see a tanker truck parked on the side of the road. And as you’re approaching, you think, that’s going to explode when we get next to it. Then you drive by and it didn’t explode, but down the street another 100 feet, or 200 feet, is a box truck sitting there.

And so it goes, repeating and repeating.

WT: It’s all day long. Tension, Release. Tension, Release. Tension, Release.

Which leads us to ask about hypervigilance and PTSD.

WT: So, I never had one blow up on me, but I might still feel the effects. When I drive now, I can’t be behind a truck. I have to get away from of me and things and I just know that’s an aftermath of that stuff.

Teegardin is also vice-president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 566, St. Lucie County. He says they collaborate with other veterans’ groups and help veterans of all wars.

WT: Any veteran. Whatever it is, if it’s a veteran in need who – the refrigerator broke. And they need a new refrigerator. Or air conditioner is down. And we’re in Florida – if your AC goes down that’s important, especially for an aging veteran population. And we’ll get together a volunteer force and we’ll go out and paint their house; pick up their yard. Whatever it is. Cut the grass. If they can’t do it themselves then we try to do those things for veterans that we can.

This very week in fact, his chapter is donating $4,000 to St. Lucie County to help homeless veterans.

WT: We’ve already placed 8 homeless veterans. We’ve taken them out of the woods and placed them in stable housing.

This week’s donation goes toward a new four-unit building.

WT: So, we want to get four more homeless veterans out of the woods.

As we’re leaving, we see a photo on the wall of his team in Iraq pictured with two Iraqi men dressed in regular street clothes.

WT: They were interpreters. Rihad and Ali.

They’re former Iraqi Army soldiers assigned to Teegardin’s team.

WT: Ali – He was absolutely fearless. He just – I don’t know how many times he saved our team from various things! Cause he would just run down the street ahead of us to try to diffuse whatever the situation was that we were getting into. Now he had no weapons! Dressed like that.

Wayne Teegardin
Tania Ortega-Cowan
Wayne Teegardin

He tells how one day the two were offered safe jobs, but they decided to stay with Teegardin’s team instead.

WT: Within a month they were killed after they were offered those safe jobs. He was single but he had a family, so. You know. It was an awful day for us.

This Veteran’s Day, and every day, thank you to all the veterans for the many awful days you endured for our freedom.

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