After ten years serving as a Military Policeman in the United States Army, Ariel Morales returned home and settled into his new civilian life in Las Vegas. Ariel soon managed to find meaningful work as a funeral director, despite the tough economy. “I accepted the job and the new challenge,” Morales says. “It was very rewarding that I was able to impact the lives of so many families who were going through difficult times themselves. I feel my commitment to service and helping people carried over from my service in the Army into my new field.”
While on the surface Ariel’s transition seemed to be going smoothly, he was silently struggling inside. “I was drinking heavily. I was self medicating. But, I was a Staff Sergeant in the United States Army, and we are taught that weakness or failure is not an option,” says Ariel. “I continued to believe that I was strong enough to take on the world, and did not need to burden anyone with problems I felt I could deal with on my own.”
Soon, Ariel’s family and friends began questioning how well he was actually doing. “After spending so much time in the Army, and with two overseas deployments over my head, many close friends and relatives advised me that seeking help for any issues I would face transitioning into civilian life should be addressed immediately. My family urged me to seek professional help, whether it was medical, emotional, or mental troubles that became too overwhelming to deal with on my own. Obviously they were noticing things about me that I myself refused to see at the time.”
In late 2011, after chasing long hours of working with long hours of drinking, Ariel crashed his car and was charged with driving under the influence. Fortunately no one was hurt, but Ariel lost his job, and shortly thereafter, his home. “My pride and my ego were hurt,” he says. “I was angry, primarily at myself. I was embarrassed. I began to shut out my family and those in my life who truly loved me and cared for my well being. I gave up. I gave up on myself.”
With nowhere else to go, Ariel began couch-surfing. He slept most days and spent his nights at the bar. By October of 2012, he had worn out his welcome and no longer had a couch to crash on. “After stumbling out of the bar one night with nowhere to go, I found an apartment complex near the bar with a laundromat that was unlocked. That night I slept on the floor there.” That was the night Ariel realized he had to make a change. It was the night he realized he needed help. “I realized that this is not what my future had in store for me. I accepted the fact that my life was in shambles, and I couldn’t find a way out.”
The next day, Ariel came to U.S.VETS. Just a few short months later, on January 31, Ariel had the opportunity to share his story with the employees of the Infinera Corporation at their sales conference in Las Vegas.
When Infinera employee Thomas Frisch saw a news story about homeless people in Las Vegas who were living in storm drains, he wanted to do something about it. He encouraged his company to hold a fundraiser, and Infinera chose to donate the proceeds to U.S.VETS – Las Vegas to support programs for homeless veterans. Infinera sales teams from around the world competed and raised over $11,000. Additional contributions from the Infinera Community Fund, CEO Tom Fallon, and Infinera employees brought the total amount raised to $18,195. The funds will be used to provide case management, counseling, temporary housing, and employment assistance to Ariel Morales and other veterans like him at U.S.VETS – Las Vegas.
Infinera presented the check to U.S.VETS at their sales conference, and Ariel was there to tell the story of his transformation and express his gratitude for generous contributors who make it possible for U.S.VETS to continue our mission. It was a touching experience as Ariel spoke about his service in the Army, the difficulties he encountered after returning home, and the hope he has found by setting his life back on track. Since entering U.S.VETS last October, Ariel has resolved his DUI charge and has gotten involved in volunteering in the community, helping other veterans in need. He is sober and getting ready to enter U.S.VETS’ workforce program, which will place him back in a job. Perhaps most importantly, he has repaired the damaged relationship with his parents, and was able to spend the holidays with them.
“U.S.VETS and its amazingly dedicated staff of men and women have transformed my life,” Ariel says. “Each and every one of them has become mentors and family to me. They gave me back my life, my family, and my pride. They helped remind me that I still have so many great things to offer this world. But the most rewarding blessing is that I once again care about myself, something I lost and thought I would never get back.”