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Connor Moore gives the “thumbs up’’ while fully armored on his deployment. Moore, a native of Delano and now of Paynesville, served overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan. Living with a brain injury himself, Moore serves as a volunteer peer mentor with the Wounded Warrior Project to help other veterans recovering from injuries. (Submitted photo)

Wounded warrior leads others through the 'roughest patch'

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PAYNESVILLE -- Connor Moore endured nine blasts from improvised explosive devices while serving in Afghanistan.

He returned to Paynesville with a Purple Heart after surviving the last.

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Fortunately for him, his wife, a military veteran too, knew that a very dangerous battle still awaited him. "Because of her military experience, she knew what to do, and because of my previous experience, she knew what she didn't want,'' said Moore.

His wife, Monica, lined up appointments for her husband with veterans services and others to assure that her husband re-engaged in civilian activities, and that he had the support to do so.

"A lot of veterans find themselves in a very dark period of life,'' said Moore of those returning home. They can isolate themselves and become depressed, and let the otherwise innocuous pressures of daily life grind them down.

Moore had fallen victim to some of that after he returned from a 2005 - 2007 deployment to Iraq. The transition from being a warrior in a unique group to just another guy on the street is far more difficult than many might realize, he explained.

Now, he serves as a volunteer peer mentor with the nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project to help other veterans.

"We took the mentality that vets will no longer forget vets,'' said Moore, 32, of the Wounded Warrior Project.

As its name tells, the Wounded Warrior Project serves returned veterans who were injured in service. Many deal with amputated limbs and other obvious physical injuries.

Many also manage the kinds of injuries that Moore knows all too well after nine IED blasts. He has been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and a compressed spine with nine bulging disks.

"I don't know if it is directly related, but when the shock wave hits you, it's like being hit by a freight train. It's not pleasant. You can feel it in your chest cavity. All of your organs start to hurt,'' said Moore.

Moore served as a mine sweeper with the 309th Engineer Company of Brainerd, Minn., in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, during 2010-2011. On May 9, 2011, an IED with 60 pounds of explosives detonated under his vehicle.

Moore said traumatic brain injury will sometimes cause him to stumble in mid-sentence and derail his train of thought. But those who encounter his quick wit, and ready smile, would have no idea of the bruising his brain experienced.

It's not as difficult to see the consequences of the compressed spine and bulging disks in it. Moore tried to return to work in construction after his return home, but constant pain put a stop to it.

Today, he owns and operates The Purse Place in downtown Paynesville. The store specializes in women's accessories, such as purses, jewelry and scarves.

He enjoys being in business, and loves his role as husband and father to two daughters, ages 7 and 9.

There is also no hiding his passion for his role as a peer mentor with the Wounded Warrior Project. Moore said the organization offers a wide range of services at no cost to wounded veterans, but is probably best known for its Odyssey programs. The programs lead wounded veterans on activities ranging from hunting and whitewater rafting to skydiving.

Moore's role as a peer mentor is not quite so adventurous, but no less important: He's there to make sure a veteran gets out and does the things he or she enjoys, whether that is a trip to the Walker Art Center or the chance to roast s'mores with the family around a campfire.

"I'm not (there) to tell them what to do. I'm just there if they need me to walk them through this rough patch in their lives,'' said Moore.

Or as he explained: "You'd be surprised how therapeutic it is just to talk to someone who has been there.''

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Tom Cherveny
Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.
(320) 214-4335
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