How to Pull Yourself Out of a Dark Place – A Journey with Veteran LaHarold Woodhouse
How do you pull yourself out of a dark place? We ask veteran LaHarold Woodhouse to share his journey. A journey that begins in a dark place but now finds LaHarold in the bright Florida sunshine spending countless hours with other Tampa Bay veterans, teaching them how to manage anxiety through the game of Golf.
I was born and raised in Memphis Tennessee with the “Grit and Grind” mindset, which helped me to become the man that I am today. Most of the time, when I go back home, it’s to support the Memphis Tigers basketball-football or Memphis Grizzlies Basketball teams. When I do get back home, I spend as much time as I can with family members I love.
I was in Cuba in 1995 in the middle of the Cuban \ Haitian migration crisis in Miami, Florida. After returning to Fort Hood, I began to notice some leadership seemed to be moving every three to five years. I had a family by that point and didn’t want that type of life for them. I craved more stability and decided to get out and go into the Reserves back in Memphis.
After 6 years in the Reserves and working in the civilian sector, a time came when I looked at the promotions I was receiving, without a college education, and realized there wasn’t much advancement opportunity. I once again found myself looking to the Military as an answer. Back on active duty I found myself in the middle-east working at the Kuwaiti Armed Forces Hospital. My time in Kuwait, included a TDY to Afghanistan teaching local hospital staff. After that tour, I returned to my unit in West Virginia, and attended Drill Seargant School at Ft. Jackson SC. During that time, I completed my college degree and was promoted to SFC and sent to a unit in Anniston Alambama serving as the Operations Seargant followed by promotion to MSG with assigment to Ft. Leanonrdwood MO. While at Ft. Leanordwood MO, I was promoted to SGM.
My service officially began in 1988, and my first duty assignment was in Germany. After a few years in Germany, Desert Storm kicked off, and I was deployed. Upon completing that tour, my unit was deactivated, and I went to Hinesville, Georgia, at Fort Stewart. After Fort Stewart came Fort Hood, and from there, I was mobilized to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. My final assignment landed me in Greenville, SC as an Operation Officer.
We came straight to Tampa, Florida after my retirement. I actually wanted to live in the Dominican Republic or the Bahamas and be somewhere warm and near the water. I had recently married my second wife and we decided that my kids had just graduated high school and were starting college and really needed their dad. . We still wanted to be somewhere warm, and near water, so we focused on finding a place along the American Gulf Coast. We eventually settled in Tampa, Florida, because it was day’s drive to our extended families.
I have chills right now because my transition story is crazy! I knew this question would come up, and I’d have to open up about that time in my life. We are about to get to the Nitty Gritty right now. When I left the Military, it was a very hectic time. I had been successful in the Military and believed I wouldn’t have a problem being successful in the civilian sector. I spent a long time planning exactly what I would do once I left the Army.
My initial goal was to open a Tropical Smoothie franchise in Florida. I was apprehensive about the time I knew it would take to get the franchise up and running. I wanted to open the franchise in Riverview, Florida. But, at the time, Tropical Smoothie was not interested in opening a Riverview franchise. It’s funny because right about that time, Tropical Smoothie opened here in Brandon, and then another one opened in Sun City – I was like, what the heck happened to Riverview?! When the franchise didn’t work out, I felt lost and my transition downslide started to hit me. I thought I had everything figured out. I even prepared a backup plan to be a JROTC Instructor. But, right about that time a local JROTC Instructor was being sued by some parents for stopping a fight at a high school. He had tried to break up the fight, but the parents were suing because he ‘put his hands’ on the student. I thought, oh no, that is not for me. My hat is off to any Senior JROTC Instructors. It is a fine line they have to walk in schools today.
Life After The Army
I started to do some real soulsearching. We had transitioned out of the Military, to Tampa, Florida, with no family, and from single to newly married – it all took a toll on us both. I didn’t see how this ‘transition’ would happen, and I ended up at a very depressed stage in my life. All of my goals had fallen through and I was thinking, “What am I going to do now?” I remember being at my church (Love First Christian Center). I don’t remember what the sermon was about, but it just really hit me. I had contemplated suicide during this time. I was mentally and emotionally depressed. I didn’t feel like I was worth anything after leaving the military. That day, I went up to the alter and spoke to that Minister, he asked me, “What do you need me to pray for?” I told him I was having suicidal thoughts and just needed prayer and strength to make it through this. That day, he prayed for me. He just prayed for me, you know. The plans I had made for my civilian life had not worked out, and it just hit me hard. Ultimately, these experiences sparked my desire to start my non-profit to help other Veterans. I have a clear understanding that when your mental health is not where it should be, things can spiral. Your mental health, physical health, spiritual health, financial health, all of it – it just trickles down. Once I realized where I was, I told myself, look, this is nobody else’s fault. YOU chose to leave the Military, YOU chose to move to Florida, YOU chose to get married, and I chose all of that in the span of 3 to 4 months. When I look at someone who is successful and suicide and mental health can impact them, it can impact anybody.
Being a Sergeant Major in the Military, I knew the programs were out there. But when you get into that stage, none of that matters. At the end of the day, you are looking at yourself as the family’s male figure or role model.
The resources are out there, and most veterans know the resources are out there, but it takes the veteran going to the resources themselves or having a brother to say, “Hey, you don’t look right. Let’s go”. We all need a battle buddy who can recognize those triggers. In the Military, everything is HOOAH! You gotta be tough and strong. “Don’t you think about going on a sick call” was the attitude. That messed up many people in the Military because you were looked down on if you went to sick calls or reached out for help or assistance. You would have been labeled weak by your peers or Senior NCOs. The new leaders in the Military, the community, and veteran organizations need to set the atmosphere that ‘NO,’ what you learned in the Military was incorrect. Once you get emotionally broken, it is hard to rebound. Some people don’t rebound, and I consider myself lucky and fortunate I was able to. A lot of people have suicidal thoughts, they come up with a plan to harm themselves, and then they take action. You have to catch someone in the planning phase because if you don’t, that’s it; that’s a wrap.
When Golf Found Me
I had no interest in Golf. I did 27 years in the Military, and when I went to the Sergeant Major Academy, I quickly learned that it was the home of Golf in the Military. That is where all the enlisted bigwigs go for training. All they would do is be on the golf course. I didn’t drink coffee, I didn’t smoke, and I didn’t play Golf, so they told me I would never make it at the Sergeant Major Academy,” he says with a bellowing laugh. Now, I play Golf, drink coffee, and smoke cigars from time to time. I’m just being genuine. How I found my love for the game of Golf is an interesting story of its own.
It was April 2021, and my wife and I pulled into a Waffle House. A man was there with his daughter; he was a Veteran. The man noticed the license plate on my car and knew I was a Veteran also. He asked if his daughter could take a photo with my car, and after, we all went inside for breakfast. I shared my business card for my travel business, and he began telling me about a trip he coordinated that took 15 Veterans to the Dominican Republic to play Golf. His story was fascinating. We scheduled another meeting to talk about it some more. The second time we met, he told me more about what he was doing and trying to do with Golf and veterans. I told him I would love to tour the golf course in the Dominican Republic and plan an outing for 50 Veterans to go.
As it turns out, the first time I ever hit a golf ball was at Casa de Campo, in La Romana, Dominican Republic in June of 2021. Casa de Campois where Sammy Sosa, the baseball player, and Yankee, Alex Rodriguez; all of the prestigious people hang out or have a place. It’s one of the top golf courses in the world, and that is where I first tore up some greens. I mean, I literally tore up some greens. My wife had joined me on that trip, and we had a one-hour lesson with a PGA player. When the training session was over, he said, “now go out there and hit some balls.” I call it, ‘chasing balls’ instead. I always hit the ball and then I go and try to find the ball, that is my level of Golf.
This Veteran I had met, who introduced me to Golf, wanted to do these golf trips for veterans, but needed to charge about $1500 for each veteran to go, I knew that would be out of reach for most veterans. I decided an alternate choice was to develop a non-profit organization for veterans and by July 2021, I had filed my 501c3 to startup my non-profit. From there, I just started practicing playing Golf, and now, I chase balls two or three times per week.
The first Tuesday of each month I take Veteran members to the golf course at MacDill AFB for a mini clinic and 9 to 18 holes of golf. The second Tuesday of each month, we meet at Pop Strokes, which is a mini-two putting course designed by Tiger Woods. There, we work on putting skills. On the third Tuesday, we meet at Rogers Park Golf Course. I chose that course because of its history as the first non-segrated golf course in Tampa. At Rogers Park, we practice our skills on an actual course. We round out the month with a visit to Top Golf on the fourth Tuesday. At Top Golf, we can practice on driving and precision targegting.
I designed this process to help veterans work on their game of Golf while focusing on their mental health through commeraderie in a social setting. Each Tuesday, we spend four to five hours with eachother. We learn from eachother and help eachother with pointers, tips, and resources. Sometimes, veterans will share their struggles with getting their disability benefits. Having worked at the Regional Benefits Office in St. Pete, I am able to give advice and suggestions to help them overcoome obstacles. I have been blessed to witness new friendships develop within the program, and the great strides made by those who had suffered with mental anguish or anxiety.
Can People Donate?
Absolutely, Veterans enter the program for free and proceeds donated would help support our weekly events and our scheduled tournaments throughout the year. I want to get the word out about the impact this program is having on local veterans. If we were to acquire corporate sponsorship, there is no limit to what we could accomplish. If there is a company out there who would like to support they can submit an inquiry through our website.
We helped a veteran in our program suffering from a traumatic brain injury. His wife had shared that getting him out of the house was difficult; he didn’t like to be around people. His work with iGolf4Vets has helped get him out of his shell. Another guy, retired Military, was spending his days drinking while his wife was at work. He is the reason I started the weekly events to get him out of the house once a week. His wife loves our program and is grateful her husband has a new outlet.
I am starting to help, change, and impact other veterans’ lives. At the end of the day, that makes me feel like what I’m doing is a great cause and thriving. I can now help others and do it all from the heart.