Veteran William Hamlett inspires community

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Veteran Sgt. William Hamlett arrives with his classic Nova street rod at the car show at Anza Summer Nights Saturday, Sept. 7. Anza Valley Outlook/Diane Sieker photo

Sgt. William Hamlett is well known in the Anza Valley community as a kind man, willing to pull cars out of the mud with his big Chevy truck, speak to curious children about his off-road electric wheelchair and show off his Chevrolet Nova street rod, describing every horsepower gain and special part.

But life is not easy for Hamlett, his wife Krystle and two children, Alyssa and Wilan. Their story is inspiring.

Hamlett deals with post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain and many muscular skeletal injuries as a result of his service to the country.

“I went to Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island in 2001 officially, but was a part of the Military Entrance Processing Station from the 10th grade until I left in August 2001 for boot camp,” Hamlett said. “I was also a part of a Marine Corps JROTC program in my freshman year of high school.”

Hamlett said he knew he wanted to be a Marine even before high school.

“I joined to get away from the bad things going on in my life, even in the backwoods of Georgia things get nasty at times. My inspiration to join was wanting to get away from that negativity. I also wanted to better myself, my life, serve and protect my country and become a United States Marine,” he said.

He met his wife Krystle Hamlett through a mutual friend during his schooling while stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in early 2002. They started dating shortly after that and have been together ever since, he said.

“From the first moment Billy opened a door for me like a true gentleman, I could see the drive in him to put others needs before his own,” Krystle Hamlett said. “The same day he told me he was a United States Marine and the way he spoke showed his true desire to serve his country proud. At 19 years old, newly married and I pregnant with our first child, we were given a weekend notice that he was leaving for his first tour to Iraq. He stood proud to serve his country while I was a complete mess emotionally, not knowing what the future would hold. He went on to serve three more tours after and then held the title of drill instructor, training recruits to become Marines.”

William Hamlett served in several different fields as a Marine. His first job was as an aviation ordinance technician.

“We worked on and would troubleshoot any issues, load and dealt with all the weapon systems on the attack helicopters in the Marine Corps, the AH-1W Cobra and UH-1N Huey’s, including crew served weapons, three different types of machine guns were used,” he said.

The Marines took Hamlett across the world and on four tours to the Middle East – three to Iraq and a final and fourth deployment to Afghanistan, in just a period of five years.

“We would go forward and provide close air support for the infantry and also provided air support to motor-T convoys taking place throughout the countries we were deployed to,” he said.

Later, he became qualified on the newer Zulu-model Cobras and Yankee-model Hueys, both four-bladed upgraded attack helicopters. His Marine job title changed to helicopter specialist.

Finally, he achieved drill instructor status.

“I became a drill instructor in 2010 at (Marine Corps Recruit Depot) San Diego,” Hamlett said. “During this time I also became qualified as a first-degree black belt martial arts instructor. I wanted to train recruits to become Marines and help mold our future Marines. Be a part of something bigger than me. Unfortunately, my career ended when I was medically retired from the Marine Corps in February 2015, after my injuries from my service finally caught up to me and ultimately put me in a wheelchair.”

Tragedy struck this military family in 2012. Receiving injuries overseas, Hamlett was sent to the Wounded Warrior Battalion on Camp Pendleton for treatment. He received therapies for muscular skeletal injuries as well as post-traumatic stress disorder. He endured terrifying flashbacks and was admitted to the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, Hamlett said.

It was then that Krystle Hamlett realized that her family would never be the same, and she was determined to rise to the challenge, she said. The couple spent the next three years trying to adjust to this new way of life while William Hamlett went through intense psychological therapy using eye movement and desensitization reprocessing. Krystle Hamlett took on the role of his caregiver.

“We moved to Aguanga to get away from the hustle of the city,” Hamlett said. “Having PTSD, it helps being out here in a small town environment where I can see all angles. I know the people around me, and it keeps us out of, and isolated from, the rat race, which turned out to be a good thing. It is nice out here, and we enjoy the quiet around us. Our house is (Americans with Disabilities Act)-accessible for the most part, which is very helpful and makes my days easier.”

The Hamletts created a nonprofit organization to assist the caregivers of disabled veterans and give insight to this oftentimes difficult labor of love. The Caregiver Healing Foundation is off and running, assisting many military care providers. The foundation gives these unique caregivers the opportunity to make sure they meet their own needs and to have them realize that they are not alone.

Krystle Hamlett made a trip to Washington in October to take part in the fourth annual National Convening for Veteran Caregivers, “Hidden Heroes Among Us: Inspiring Community Action in the Caregiver Journey,” as a Dole Caregiver Fellow for the Elizabeth Dole Foundation.

Through the Caregiver Healing Foundation, William Hamlett said he wants to educate others on the daily challenges that PTSD can bring. He especially wants to share his knowledge of how to navigate the Veterans Affairs system by teaching from the perspective of the veteran.

To contact the Caregiver Healing Foundation, visit them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CaregiverHealingFoundation, on the web at www.caregiverhealing.net or donate to their GoFundMe page at www.gofundme.com/military-caregiver.

For more information on the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, visit them on the web at www.elizabethdolefoundation.org.

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at dsieker@reedermedia.com.