Posted by Karen Chasse on Apr 07, 2021


Conrad introduced our speaker Command Sergeant Major (RET) Gretchen Evans.  Gretchen started out by thanking us for our support of Vet2Vet Maine and noted now that many veterans have received their vaccine, they are able to get out and volunteer again which is paramount to their mental health and wellbeing. 


Gretchen served 27 years in the United States Army and endured nine (9) combat tours!  In 2006, she was the Command Sergeant Major and later became the Ambassador for Afghanistan.  She painted a picture of the moment that changed the trajectory of her life at age 46.  


“The most dangerous time for a soldier is the last 30 days before they return home.  They start counting down, known as the short-timers calendar because they lose focus they are in a dangerous place.”  On this particular day, she told us of the story about getting her troops into the bunkers during an attack. Unfortunately, a rocket landed to her right and, within moments, killed her two security-detail officers. The blast flew 105-pound Gretchen horizontally onto the top of the bunker causing a serious head injury.  She was flown to a hospital and placed in a medically-induced coma. 


On the day they woke her up, they wrote on a white board, “You are deaf.” At that moment, she realized her military career was over and didn’t have a back-up plan.  She was unsure how she would take care of herself and readjust to civilian life after 27 years in the military and nine tours of duty.  She had no landing place, no permanent address, no life beyond being a soldier.  She thought, “Who would hire a deaf veteran with a traumatic head injury and PTSD despite my prestigious military career?” 


She began Rehab and did everything she could think of to get better. She was told she would be better off learning how to read lips at age 46 than learning sign language.  She did.  She tried medications, No Barriers, swam with sharks, and more.  She has a dog named Rusty who alerts her to sounds and has been a game-changer for her adjustment to living with hearing loss.  Upon looking for a job, she was right - she couldn’t secure one.  She felt she was cast aside and decided it was time for a new passion. 


Gretchen began advocating for others whose life was altered by trauma, injury, combat, etc.  to engage in their community and continue to serve their country.  She started with veterans but expanded beyond.  She formed the team UNBROKEN and entered the world’s toughest race (still viewable on Amazon Prime).  Her mantra: Don’t let your disabilities define who you are and what you can accomplish.   


If you would like to read more, Gretchen has a book on Amazon titled Leading from the Front about the soldiers she served with and the legacy she hopes to leaves about leadership.