Iban Goicoechea

My name is Iban Goicoechea. I enlisted in the Marine Corps Infantry in 2006, at the age of 19, after college attempt part one. While Stationed with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, Fox Company (2/3 Fox), on Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay, I deployed to Al-Anbar Province, Iraq in 2008, where I served as a patrol radio operator and M1114 Humvee driver for 3rd squad, 3rd Platoon. In 2009 I again deployed with 2/3 Fox to Farah Province, Afghanistan, where I served as Team Leader for the Company Level Intelligence Cell, and as a driver on the Company Commander’s Personal Security Detail. I returned from Active Duty in December of 2010. During my time on Active Duty, I received the Iraqi Campaign Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, NATO Medal-ISAF Afghanistan, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon, Marine Unit Citation Ribbon, and Navy Unit Citation Ribbon.

After Returning from Active Duty I decided to take a year to address personal issues, and was fortunate enough to have a mentor to help me through processing those issues. I lived and worked with my mentor until September of 2011, at which point I realized that I needed structured help--despite the immense growth I went through in the previous months--and checked myself into a VA hospital to receive that help. After three weeks, in October of 2011, I left the hospital and moved into homeless veterans’ transitional housing sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs. In January of 2012 I began attending Columbia University, and studied there for three semesters before taking a break to work on personal projects to benefit returning veterans, that I had started while I was attending classes. During that time I also started learning about sailing, and realized the therapeutic effect of being out on the open water.

I’ll be participating in the VeterHands PADI/Assistant Dive Instructor program, to Open Water Diver, Advanced Open Water, EFR, Rescue Diver, and DiveMaster certifications. Having those skills and the other lessons I’ll learn in the mean time will open more employment opportunities to me that I know of at this point. After changing my mind about my major several times, I decided to turn my focus towards photography and journalism. Photography and writing have always interested me, and after leading the company’s intelligence cell, I realized the profound importance and power of both pictures and truthful reporting. Coupling journalism with my interests in travel and love of adventure, one of the paths I’d like to travel down is that of a freelance journalist...I’d love to be a contributor to National Geographic Magazine one day. That aside, this will also nourish my entrepreneurial spirit.

My own struggle made me aware of how difficult it is to return to the "American Life” from Active Duty, especially after combat. One cause that hits home for me is that of veteran suicide; too many of the Marines I’ve fought beside were killed in action, and too many took their own lives after returning home. I believe that the mainstream dialogue surrounding PTSD from healthcare providers and uninformed media has perpetuated the problem of Post Traumatic Stress, and I have publicly voiced my opinion on that matter on several occasions. In Fall of 2012 I was taken on as the Veterans Affairs Representative for the Attention Deficit Disorder Association, and have been a contributing columnist. While at Columbia, I participated fully in student life; I was elected Legislative Assistant to the University Senator for our college (General Studies [GS]) in my first semester, became active in both the U.S. Military Veterans of Columbia University (MilVets) and the Student Council Policy Committee, and took advantage of miscellaneous other involvement opportunities that arose, and in of April 2012, I was elected to be the 2012-2013 Student Body Alumni Affairs Representative on the Student Council.

I’ve learned that although there are many benefits and organizations to help veterans, many are inaccessible for the same reasons that they would be inaccessible to a non-veterans, service will vary depending on the individual employees and from location to location, that service centers are ill equipped and many run off of out-dated data management systems, making the entire system more nodal than systemic…all of these factors and more make those resources even more inaccessible. While veterans may have the benefit of returning to a “Sea of Good Will”, many times we’re left without a paddle or bearing, and in dire need of both.