Robert Mountainspring-Wood had dreams of becoming a soldier in his youth; he even dreamed of being a martyr for his country. Mountainspring-Wood enlisted before the age of 20, but life would prove to put him on a different path than the one he desired through the military.
Myriad challenges, social, physical and personal, would define the struggle of his life that no one could have seen coming. However, the struggles that began while in the military would lead him through both some of his darkest hours and a life which he now is thankful to live.
At the age of 19, Mountainspring-Wood enlisted in the United States Army: “I had grown up with abuse. I had grown up with all that fun stuff, and had just gone through a breakup. I just seemed like, it just seemed like the appropriate thing to do.”
“I was a … we’ll say troubled youth, at the time,” said Mountainspring-Wood. “I was dealing with a lot of personal baggage, and I was dealing with some very negative coping mechanisms in dealing with that baggage. And that led to me deciding that I wanted to enlist: a)because I needed money, and b) I wanted a place that was not where I was, which was in Seneca, South Carolina at the time. And I wanted … in all honesty, part of me, part of me I think thought that I wasn’t going to make it to 25 anyways. So, if I was going to go out, I was going to go out in service to my country.”
Basic training led him to Fort Gordon and Fort Jackson. “I was Informations Systems Specialist.
“Essentially what that means is I was responsible for network security, I was responsible for certain aspects of protecting vital computer systems. Basically, I was an IT guy. I really enjoyed it because I always kind of had this thing for computers,” said Mountainspring-Wood. “Also, I had never really been in a position where I was part of something that was bigger than myself. It was really cool.”
“I felt a tremendous amount of honor being part of something bigger than myself. And being part of this amazing network of people who had come to this, this branch of service for a multitude of different reasons. It was interesting to learn about people’s different lives and circumstances. I definitely learned how important interhuman relations are, just … just everyday life in the Army, and I really appreciate that,” continued Mountainspring-Wood.
“We got word that we were sent to deploy, we were on the deployment list, and I was really, really excited. You train, you know you prepare yourself for so long,” said Mountainspring-Wood. After this point, but before his unit’s deployment, Mountainspring-Wood injured his posterior collateral ligament in his right knee and was prevented from active service.
“Then, I started getting, just awful anxiety,” said Mountainspring-Wood, who also was now experiencing a gastrointestinal issue from a rare genetic disorder, 17q12 microduplication syndrome, which also may present developmental delays and/or mental health disorders. The anxiety and the gastrointestinal issues were just the beginning of a very dark time in Mountainspring-Wood’s life.
“I was in a marriage that neither one of us were really happy or fulfilled with. And unfortunately we found that out after the fact, after getting married. All of that just led to a point to where, I guess, I kind of stopped caring. And, I went from being the little engine that could to kind of a schmuck. I started drinking really heavily. I started cheating on my ex-wife. I went as far as starting fights,” said Mountainspring-Wood.
The last straw for Mountainspring-Wood’s commanding officer was an incident in which he lied about his rank in public to individuals who knew his commanding officer.
“I was not in an emotional place to be fighting in any sense of military service. I was very, very fortunate to be given a general discharge. All in all, if it were me, if I were in command of that unit, I would have given me a dishonorable. But, I was, instead, shown grace and mercy, and it was a grace and a mercy that I didn’t appreciate for a very long time. In fact I was quite angry about it,” said Mountainspring-Wood. “I think part of me kind of just felt like I was being taken pity on.
“I had never really experienced that level of grace, compassion, or mercy, so to me it was something else, or it was insincere, and I was not willi– I was not, for the longest time, capable of taking grace and kindness at face value.”
Mountainspring-Wood described spending time in shame: feeling disgraced, jobless and homeless, facing a failed marriage, mainly living out of a library at Clemson University.
“At this point, I found myself separated from my now ex-wife. I found myself in a position where I was not going to go back home, and I found myself in a position where I was out of a job,” said Mountainspring-Wood.
“From there I genuinely stopped caring. I stopped caring about my own well-being. I stopped caring about the well-being of those around me. It was whatever I could take and however I could take it,” said Mountainspring-Wood. “I found newer and more extravagant ways to, well as I said before, be a schmuck.”
Mountainspring-Wood credits his time in the service with giving him the self-awareness of his own strength and tenacity to not end his own life at this time.
During this period of apathy and shame marked with regrettable behaviors, one of the most important and unlikely conversations of Mountainspring-Wood’s life happened upon him. He met a young woman named Angelica at a cafe who managed to start helping him change his outlook on his life.
According to Mountainspring-Wood, her patience slowly gave him enough room to look into the future rather than be consumed by his past.
“I am very, very grateful that I did not deploy, because I honestly feel that between my arrogant, youthful nature, and my desire for martyrdom, I would have gotten a lot of my brothers and sisters killed,” confessed Mountainspring-Wood.
“I cannot speak too highly of my wife because she is an instrumental part of who I am and who I try to be every single day.
This is a person who is consistently in my corner; this is a person who has seen me at both my best and at my worst,” praised Mountainspring-Wood. “Living with me for six years is not easy,” he said in summation of his admiration of his spouse.
Owning the title of “veteran” was no easy task for Mountainspring-Wood. He rejected the notion for years after exiting the military out of shame and a sense of unworthiness concerning his own time of enlistment. Fellow veterans at UCC persisted in making Mountainspring-Wood accept that he too was a veteran, whether he wanted the title or not.
The recovery and adjustment to civilian life took years for Mountainspring-Wood, but due to persistent attempts to try to accept support, let go of his own illusions of isolation, to understand that being a veteran is not a choice once a person has served, Mountainspring-Wood can now truly look forward to the days to come.
Mountainspring-Wood is looking to transfer to UO to study psychology. He hopes that this career can include helping veterans who did not leave the military in the manner that they had hoped, who did not end up in the life they planned, know that they may not be as alone as they might think.