Jesse Ede, Berlin, Connecticut
U.S. Army Combat Veteran, Operation Iraqi Freedom
Specialist/E4, 2002 – 2006
Like so many young Americans, Jesse Ede struggles with the everyday challenges of being a parent with a growing family: Making ends meet, planning for the future, working tirelessly along with his wife to keep his two young children on the straight and narrow.
But such struggles are, in fact, a walk in the park compared to the daily challenges Jesse faces reconciling the memories of and emotions tied to his two tours in war-torn Iraq.
The now 38-year-old Berlin resident and House of Heroes Connecticut beneficiary will be the first one to tell you he is the fortunate one, that his experiences and issues pale in comparison to those of so many comrades like him dealing with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). He’ll tell you others saw more pain, experienced greater loss, lived through greater hell.
But the funny thing about PTSD is, it takes no measure. There is no PTSD barometer. War is absorbed and its painful memory packed away in the recesses of the mind in a highly individualized way unique to every military veteran who experiences it.
“It was really hard fitting back in to civilian life,” says Jesse, who served two tours of duty between 2002 and 2006 and was a QRF (Quick Reaction Force) gunner on a U.S. Army gun truck leading convoys in Northern Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. “When you come back here, you see the lives we live in America, and there is just such a stark contrast. There is a lot of anger, a lot of emotions that are difficult to manage, and people just don’t understand.”
Jesse’s unit endured plenty. ”We had been blown up so many times, I guess thankfully and un-thankfully you get conditioned to it,” he says. On one convoy, an IED hit home a little too close and chaos ensued.
“We got hit real bad. My NCO (unit commander) was hit badly in the leg by a large piece of shrapnel. Our driver was only 18 years old and he was in shock, it was the first time he had seen anything like it.
“I got hit and my hand was bleeding, but the first thing I did was count my fingers and they were, luckily, all there,” Jesse continues. “But we were able to call for help, clear out our weapons, carry our NCO to another truck and get out of there.
“We were lucky.”
For his service, Jesse was awarded the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. Upon his return to the States, he settled first in Arizona and finally in Connecticut. Thanks to the post-9/11 GI bill, he received training as an automobile technician, worked for several years as an auto technician with Gengras Volvo, and today, with the support of his wife, is pursuing his dream of completing his master’s degree.
Jesse feels blessed to enjoy the life he leads.
“I’ve seen a counselor for years and it has really helped,” says Jesse, who completed undergraduate studies in psychology at Albertus Magnus College last year and has another year and a half before finishing his master’s in social work at Quinnipiac University. “I am so much happier today than when I first came back. If it wasn’t for my wife and family….” Jesse’s voice trails off as he talks of his wife, Elissa, and his growing sons, Landon, 11, and Evan, 7.
Jesse hopes to use his education to help those, many like him, who are impacted by PTSD.
The small home in Berlin that Jesse, Elissa and their sons have occupied for years has always had more than its fair share of challenges. At first Jesse tried on his own – with varying degrees of success – to take on the significant repairs and upgrades needed.
Then in 2013, House of Heroes Connecticut (HOHCT) stepped in to help. The Connecticut Chapter of the non-profit organization, part of a national Veterans Service Organization dedicated to recognizing, honoring and serving military and public safety veterans and their surviving spouses in need with one-day home repairs, has completed more than 130 projects since its 2012 founding. Jesse Ede was the 10th veteran to be served by HOHCT.
A team of HOHCT volunteers descended upon the Ede homestead in May of 2013 and got to work, the most significant task being a complete overhaul of the home’s electrical system which was in dire need of an upgrade. Significant work was also done to repair and stabilize the home’s foundation, and the volunteer crew added some interior painting, ceiling repair, a new kitchen floor and some outdoor yard work to top things off.
The late Bill May, who was House of Heroes Connecticut Chairman and Co-Founder at the time of the project and who lost a two-year battle with cancer in 2016, said at the time that the Ede project epitomized the work of House of Heroes. “Helping someone like Jesse, who had plenty on his plate after returning from service, and providing him and his family with the kind of safe home environment they deserve is what House of Heroes is all about,” he said. “There are so many of our veterans out there suffering from both physical and non-physical wounds. It really does take a village.”
“The help House of Heroes provided to me, at such an important time in my life, was so special, so cool and so important. It helped stabilize our lives and was one of the things that inspired me to move on and pursue my dreams,” says Jesse. “I look back now and think of all the people who just came by our home, volunteering their time to help, to truly make a difference for us. It was really awesome. It showed me that there are people in the world who care, and that maybe there is a future out there for me.
“We are so thankful for House of Heroes.”