Most people feel dread when they see and hear a siren in their rearview mirror. A police stop is no joke and normally bad consequences follow. They often overthink what could happen.
The person could have been driving over the speed limit or maybe their brake lights were out? And to make things even worse, sometimes the police officer could be having a bad day and take it out on the person they stopped.
One Way To A Ticket
Once you have made your way to the side of the road there is little chance of you leaving without a ticket. But this wasn’t the case for William Jazwinski at all.
He was a war veteran, just minding his own business while driving down the road when suddenly he was pulled over for no good reason he could think of.
William grew up in Somers, New York, and studied at Arlington High School. Since he was a boy, he had wanted to serve his country and dreamed of becoming a sergeant one day.
He expressed his desire to join the U.S. Army when he was only ten years old. Naturally, his mother was concerned. And she had every right to be.
William’s chance to fulfill his dreams came in 2003, during the Iraq war. He was among the 177,194 troops who were sent into the war zone.
Leaving his girlfriend, family, and indeed his entire life as he knew it behind, he prepared for the worst. His family waited for him, praying that he wouldn’t be one of the 4,000 who never made it home.
Thankfully, William was sent home after just a year of service. But he returned a changed man. The things he had seen in the war made such an impact on him that he just couldn’t resume his normal life.
His family convinced him to seek counseling, and it seemed to be helping — at first. But William just couldn’t shake the shadow that seemed to follow him everywhere he went.
That is, until a strange encounter on a lonely road gave him the jolt he needed.
The Drive Home
After his last lackluster counseling session, William began the long drive home to his home in Lefors, Texas. With his eyes on the white line, he put his body into autopilot and let his mind wander.
He was thinking of his daughter at home and his wife. If it weren’t for them… well, he didn’t even want to think about that. That’s when he registered that the car behind him had been following him for some time now.
His eyes flew to the odometer and he breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that he wasn’t traveling over the speed limit by mistake. And he had checked that his lights were in working order the previous day, so the police had no reason to be following him.
Perhaps he was just being paranoid, he reassured himself. But the little voice in his mind egged him on, just to be sure.
William saw his opportunity up ahead and indicated at the last possible minute. He quickly geared down and turned off onto a quieter road, watching the cop car intently in his rearview mirror.
Sure enough, the car came into view again over the rise. He knew he was being followed. Any minute now, he knew he’d hear the warning siren he had been waiting for. But what followed only unnerved him more.
Panic Sets In
William’s nerves were fraying and he was starting to panic, waiting for the siren that never came. From his years of military training, he knew that knowing what’s coming is less nerve-wracking than the waiting.
Five minutes passed, and still nothing. No speaker, no sirens — just him and the cop car following him silently on an empty road.
Suddenly, he saw the flash of blue and was almost relieved. That was the sign. The cop wanted him to pull over, which he’d do. Then, he’d go through the motions. License presented, some chit-chat, and then he’d be on his way. Or so he thought.
William, slowing and pulling onto to the verge, had no idea that this strange encounter was about to become a lot stranger.
He’d Done Nothing
William’s day began to get a little weird when he rolled down his window to ask the officer outside what the matter seemed to be.
And when the officer said that he actually wasn’t in any trouble and hadn’t done anything to break the law, William noticed that his eyes had moved to the dashboard of his car — coming to rest on something they both held dear.
He Served His Country
William was a former Heavy Wheeled Vehicle Operator for the US Army. He also served in Iraq. Then, he saw that the police officer was looking at the American Flag that he kept there for remembrance.
But he never expected what happened next to unfold. It began with the officer simply wanting to give thanks, but it became so much more.
A Strong Connection
After the usual chit-chat, the officer final opened up about why he was so grateful to the war vet. He began by asking about Williams’ time over there and slowly it unfolded.
The story that the unnamed officer told him had a strong connection to everything that William had been through. And soon William would know everything.
Too Much To Handle
The veteran prominently displays two symbols from his time in the military on his car, one is an Army sticker on his bumper and the other is the American flag which the officer had been drawn to.
It was the sticker that alerted him to who was driving the car. Only then could he see who was inside. Who he saw astonished him, it was almost too much for him to bear.
Still In Pain
William told the officer a bit about his trip, “I went to Iraq. I did a 15-month stint out of Ft Benning.” And that’s when everything started spilling out.
The officer, in turn, told William some news that was still haunting him to this very day. And seeing William only brought up more unresolved pain.
Suffering The Same
“My son went to Iraq. He didn’t make it home.” Knowing the pain and having been there first hand, William offered his condolences and, also, his help.
“I’m so sorry to hear that. I just finished a PTSD program.” PTSD is short for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, something not uncommon among military men and women.
They Both Had It
“I see you have a flag in the truck. The one we got for him! It’s at the house,” and just like that, the officer asked him a question, or a favor, that William simply couldn’t refuse.
“Can I ask a question? Would you mind stepping out and receiving a hug? You remind me of my son. You look exactly like him!”
“When I pulled you over it was because you looked so much like him. I thought you were my son. I still don’t believe he’s gone most days,” the officer said with tears in his eyes.
So did William hug the officer? You had better believe it. According to his Facebook post, it wasn’t just any old hug either.
‘With tears in both our eyes I got out and hugged that man. I’m talking about for a minute or two crying. Down to our knees crying. I needed that,’ William wrote.
Both men seemed to release some grief… With a total stranger. At that moment, William felt himself let go of something that he’d been holding onto for so long.
It was as if the hug from the policeman had dissolved William’s fears and trauma. He almost felt it evaporate and rise up into the ether as both men stood on that empty road, hugging and crying.
It was exactly the release he had needed. It was that heartfelt moment of human contact with a total stranger that had healed his PTSD far more than any counseling session could. He couldn’t wait to go home to his wife and daughter and tell them everything. But, in many ways, William was luckier than many other veterans.
Veterans In America
William is very aware of what happens to war veterans when they have to reintegrate into society, and he is actually one of the ‘lucky’ ones. Many end up with PTSD but also become unemployed or homeless.
With an estimated 40,000 veterans living on the streets at any given time, America has a huge problem. But why?
Life After Service
Those that sacrificed their lives to serve their country shouldn’t be dealing with homelessness, a lack of medical care, and neglect after they are discharged. For years, the issue of homeless veterans has been largely ignored by the government.
“It’s so heartbreaking. They served our country and America should be taking better care of them. I feel like they’re overlooked,” said Adeline Gonzalez. From Daytona, Florida.
Seeing homeless veterans is always upsetting. It’s difficult to believe that these people were tough and strong-willed at a point in their lives.
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for homeless veterans to also be disabled or mentally unstable. And not many people are aware of what former service members experience after their return to civilian life.
For veterans, the transition from service to civilian life is a tough one. Veterans often face PTSD from their experiences on the battlefield.
And they often turn to substance abuse as a way to treat themselves and forget about their problems as they struggle to adapt to their new lives – and this just compounds the issue.
William’s experiences in a war zone – although relatively short – scarred him for the rest of his life. Like many others, combat exposure, deployment, training accidents and witnessing an injury or death, and other traumatic events negatively impacted his mental health.
The symptoms of PTSD included flashbacks, negative thoughts and feelings, and constantly worrying that something or someone was going to harm him or his family.
When William came back from the war zone, he experienced terrible flashbacks, sleeplessness, and was easily startled by loud noises in his neighborhood – he’d be put right back into survival mode if he heard a firework or a car backfiring.
Thankfully, he had a wife and kids to keep him grounded and hadn’t turned to substance abuse to help him cope, unlike so many others.
The leading factors thought to lead to homelessness among veterans are PTSD, unemployment, and substance abuse.
Studies have shown that poor mental health among veterans is a common problem, and mental illness is a strong predictor of vets becoming homeless. Some of the biggest challenges U.S. veterans face, however, are social isolation and a lack of support.
Veterans Affairs Backlogs
Another major issue veterans face is a long backlog of claims in Veterans Affairs. This means that even if a homeless veteran tries to get help from the government, they often do not receive it in a timely manner.
While Veterans Affairs isn’t harming veterans directly, the lack of consistent and timely help is. The programs through VA only reach around 40% of their intended recipients. So, how do they get help?
What Is Being Done?
While homelessness is a chronic issue across America, Los Angeles seems to be the epicenter. There are around 4,000 homeless veterans in Los Angeles alone.
Decreasing this number is a painfully slow process because more veterans are becoming homeless faster than they can find somewhere to stay. So, what is being done about the problem?
The Housing First initiative’s approach is that providing permanent housing for homeless veterans is a priority. By providing housing for the homeless first, homeless people can then pursue their personal goals and improve their quality of life. And the initiative is working.
In 2014, Phoenix moved the final group of chronically homeless veterans into housing and effectively solved the problem. Now, other states have been following suit.
In order to protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.