Marine Cpl. Paul Wayman and former Navy SEAL Nathanael Roberti met in 2012, after finding themselves in front of a special court for veterans.
The court takes into account the specific struggles that service members face, so the judge gave each of them a choice: go to prison, or enroll in a program that helps veterans readjust to civilian life.
They chose to go through the program, Veterans Village of San Diego, located in a California live-in facility.
The road to that choice was perilous, though. Wayman, 28, served as a scout sniper in Iraq. He was deployed twice, and after each tour, he says, he would be sleep-deprived for months.
“And after I got back from my first deployment, I didn’t sleep for three days,” Wayman says. “I went to one of my seniors, and I was like, ‘What do I do?’ And he handed me a bottle of rum and a PBR, and he was like, ‘Here you go.’ “
One night, Wayman heard a friend was killed in Afghanistan. He hit the bars and was pulled over driving home.
“I was obviously highly intoxicated. I had my .45 right there, and the police found the firearm,” he says.
The incident is what sent him to the court. “And I really needed the help because you walk though a river, you’re going to come out wet,” Wayman says.
Roberti needed help, too. His troubles started with bar fights.
“I pulled a knife on four individuals, that’s why I ended up in front of a judge,” he says. “I mean, we’d come back from these deployments, and I just felt like, I cannot relate to anybody here in the United States anymore.“
Roberti had been deployed to Afghanistan and was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal. But when he came home, he found it difficult to change his mindset.
“Basically what the world’s telling us is, ‘We trained you one way to go kill bad guys, and now that you’re out, you have got to completely change your way of thinking,’ ” Roberti says. “And how do you do that? How do you switch that around?”
Wayman notes that although they “thrived in hardship,” when things become easier in a sense, “we’re our own worst enemies because we don’t live the quiet normal life.”
Wayman and Roberti connected over their war stories and began to help each other.
“If you wouldn’t have been here, I do not know how I would have pulled myself out of the situation I was in. You really came through,” Wayman tells Roberti.
Roberti says he’s seen Wayman grow, and now they’re looking forward to working together on a business to teach military skills as fitness.
Both continue to work through the program and hope to get their charges dismissed by the end of the year.
Audio produced for Weekend Edition by Yasmina Guerda.