Transitioning out of the military and into civilian life: My family’s story

My name is Dan Lasko. I am a combat wounded veteran, husband, father of two, dog lover, and adaptive athlete. I was a Corporal in the United States Marine Corps from 2001 and retired in 2005. Here is my story.

As a senior in high school back in 2000, I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go in once I graduated. I knew I wanted to serve in the military in some way, and decided the Marines to be the best choice. Why? Because they have the hardest basic training of any branch (I’m competitive) and their uniforms are sharp.

Fast forward to September 10, 2001, when I heard a knock at my front door. My recruiter picked me up and drove me to Harrisburg Military Entrance Processing (MEPS), where I would swear in and leave for Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, South Carolina for basic training. The following morning was Tuesday, September 11th, and I raised my right hand at 7:30 in the morning. It became official — I was on my way to becoming a Marine. An hour later, our nation was under attack. No one knew at the time what was happening, and it was decided to send me home as all flights were grounded. I remember listening to the radio and learning terrorists had attacked the United States. Did I have a chance to change my mind? Yes, but I did not, as I felt my country needed me more than ever.

Three years later, I deployed to Afghanistan with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. On April 24, 2004, my convoy was ambushed — the armored truck struck two improvised exploding devices, resulting in the loss of my left leg below the knee, a back injury, and a head injury. I was driven almost two hours to where a medivac could land in the mountains. I was sent by helicopter to Kandahar Province for care. I was then flown to Landstuhl, Germany for more care, before returning back to the United States.

I went through a full year of recovery at Bethesda National Naval Medical Center and Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which included prosthetic fittings, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. I was retired from the United States Marine Corps in 2005. When I received my discharge papers, I was excited yet nervous about entering back into the civilian world. I was accustomed to life in the military (especially the Marines) and was lucky enough to have a great support system as well as several organizations to help with the difficult transitions that lay ahead.

My next big life event was marrying my high school sweetheart, Jess, who was there for me every step of the way. I was very fortunate to have Jess push and encourage me — not only back then, but today. Today, my wife and I have two amazing boys — Lucas and Benjamin — who keep us active and busy! We also have two Labrador Retrievers who complete our family.

I went to college soon after retiring, which was much harder than I expected since my class mates had very different experiences than I had at 22. I obtained my Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice. I then decided to get some working experience and have been afforded different opportunities as I’m figuring out this thing called life. Isn’t that what we are all trying to do? I am just getting a later start than usual, I guess.

I am very thankful for sports, because they’ve been a huge part of my transition and recovery. After losing my leg, I didn’t know if I would ever be able to walk or run again. Luckily, due to modern prosthetics, I was able to do more than just run. I have completed over 30 triathlons, six marathons, (including this past year’s Boston Marathon), and play on several adaptive sports teams, including the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team. This gave me a chance to be “back on the battlefield” with my fellow warriors, while giving back to the community, especially children with disabilities like my own. One of my favorite events is the annual Kids Camp hosted by the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team. This gives us a chance to teach and mentor children with amputations similar to ours through the game of softball.

Sesame Street has helped me with its many wonderful tools and resources for transitioning military families. My family and I were fortunate enough to watch the Sesame Street special on PBS called “Coming Home: Military Families Cope with Change” back in 2009. It was a wonderful way for our sons to watch their favorite characters talk about something familiar to them. It hit home in many ways!

The work that Sesame Street does for veterans and their families is extremely important. Their programs and resources dedicated to our military and veteran communities help relay the message to the children of military families. I encourage you to check them out. Sesame Street is able to address issues that many military families face at a children’s level, using their friendly and lovable characters.

Sesame Street programs are very popular in our household. Whether it be a funny book with Super Grover, a game with Elmo, or a video of Count von Count singing his numbers, we know we can always rely on Sesame Street to teach the importance of education and kindness to our kids.

Click here to view Sesame Street’s resources for families transitions out of the military. If you have questions or comments about this post or our resources, don’t hesitate to reach out to veterans@sesame.org.

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