The combination of misfortune and a little bit of luck experienced by Jamel Daniels on his last day in Iraq left him a confused and troubled individual.
Now living in Glenville, happily married and the father of two, Daniels’ experience in Iraq as a member of the U.S. Marines and his long road to recovery from an improvised explosive device blast will be broadcast at 1 p.m. Sunday in “Jamel: Operation Honor,” part of the documentary series, “Wounded: The Battle Back Home,” being broadcast on MSNBC.
On Jan. 12, 2005, Daniels’ last scheduled day in Iraq, his unit stumbled upon an IED while on patrol. When the bomb went off, it killed three fellow Marines and destroyed Daniels’ left leg.
“It was my last day in the country, after eight months and 11 days in Iraq, and I was heading back to the States the next day,” said Daniels, who has lived in Glenville the past three years. “We were on our last patrol, on our way back to the base, about three miles out, and we got hit by a roadside bomb. It was unbelievable.”
Daniels slowly recovered from his injuries and was given a prosthetic leg that helps him get around pretty well these days, but a complete recovery meant tackling more than just physical issues.
“I did 13 months of physical rehabilitation and spent 11 months in a wheelchair,” said Daniels, a Queens native, “but it was a strange transition coming home, and I was denying that I had any kind of problem. I didn’t know that I had [post-traumatic stress disorder]. People would say to me, ‘You looked worried, you look stressed,’ but I didn’t want to admit that to myself.”
Daniels, who married the former Audrey Bush, a Scotia-Glenville High School graduate, on April 2, 2012, has seen a final version of the MSNBC film and gives it his approval.
“I watched it and thought they did a pretty good job the way they pieced it together,” said Daniels. “I thought it was interesting, so yes, I was very happy with it.”
The film describes much of Daniels’ life after he returned to this country. Along with the physical disability, Daniels said he had a case of “survival guilt” that added to his PTSD.
“I wanted to serve my country, and if I was going to get into it I wanted to serve with the best, the Marines,” said Daniels. “When I came back to Manhattan, I just didn’t know what to do with myself. When you’re in the hospital, you’re with a bunch of other vets who are missing arms and legs, and you feel like you can lean on their shoulder and ask them, ‘I have this problem. How do you deal with it?’ But then when you come home, there’s nobody like that. You feel like you’re all alone.”
Daniels nearly hit rock bottom before he started getting involved in the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit veterans organization with a mission to “honor and empower wounded warriors” of the United States Armed Forces, as well as provide services and programs for family members.
“I finally got to the breaking point where I said, ‘This just doesn’t feel right, I have to get myself together,’ ” said Daniels. “I was homeless, I was drinking and taking medication. That’s the way I dealt with it. I’d drink alcohol and then take advantage of my medication. Then, I started going to counseling with the Wounded Warriors Project, and it was the best thing I ever did. It opened so many doors for me.”
Now 35, Daniels works as a studio mechanic in New York City, building television and film sets part of the week before returning to Glenville to be a stay-at-home dad for his two sons, Finnegan, 16 months, and Sullivan, 5 months.
“I have a wonderful wife, two great kids, and I have to say I also have two great in-laws,” said Daniels, referring to his wife’s parents, Warren and Claudia Bush, owners of Oliver’s Restaurant in Glenville. “Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am.”
While Daniels feels his life is on firm footing these days, there are still daily reminders of his earlier troubles.
“We don’t live too far from the Stratton Air [National Guard] Base, and sometimes one of those C-130s will fly over and trigger a little something in me,” said Daniels, “but it’s nothing crazy. I know how to deal with things now.”