Every veteran faces challenges upon arrival and Joshua Eckhoff is not an exception. While serving during one of his tours in Iraq, he suffered a traumatic brain injury. This was due to an improvised explosive device which made contact with the vehicle that Eckhoff was riding in. “The projectile concaved my Kevlar helmet into the right side of my skull. And they had to surgically remove it,’’ he said. The right hemisphere of my brain was injured, so my injuries are very similar to a stroke. I can't use the left side of my body very well.” Eckhoff shares. The result was an injury so severe, his comrades thought he has passed away and proceeded to share that information with his family back home.““I call that my ‘alive day,’ ’’ said Eckhoff, 33. “The anniversary of my injury every year, we celebrate it like a birthday.” And this past “alive day” is especially one to celebrate. As of December, Eckhoff graduated with honors from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. In terms of growth and recovery, how far he has come certainly comes as a surprise. Eckhoff joined the Missouri Army National Guard while still in high school. His 18th birthday was spent during his first tour of duty in Iraq. At 23, he suffered his life-altering injury. Eckhoff has been awarded a Bronze star as well as a Purple heart.
A decade ago, Eckhoff started his treatment at Minneapolis VA Medical Center, which has the capabilities to help patients with debilitating brain injuries. After Eckhoff awoke from a medically induced coma, he was faced with the only option had: to relearn everything he knew. That can be an emotional process as much as a physical one and Eckhoff began to suffer the effects of depression. Therapy was a grueling process, one that exacerbated his struggles and taught him so much about his body and the way his life would now be. As he shifted expectations and perspectives, he realized what he was able to use: his voice. “It's taken a lot of time for me to feel like I can speak confidently,’’ he said. “But I always told myself these abilities were retained for a reason. I've got to find a way to use them to the best of my ability.” Eckhoff went on to realize that his duty is now to share about his experiences to the best of his ability and knowledge. From interviews, to being a spokesman with the Joshua Chamberlain Society, a local St. Louis nonprofit, to talking to the public whenever possible, Eckhoff has maintained a presence that serves other people since leaving the Army.
“It's hard for me to really fathom what my life could have been like had I not been injured because at this point, it's what I live,’’ he said. “I came home after my injury and a number of my friends already had jobs and they were building families and it's almost like my life was ‘pause’ and then ‘reset.’ It's been trying to view my experiences through the lens of my peers’ experiences, and I constantly have to remind myself that I have my own journey. I never really intended to live the lives these people did because from day one I knew I wanted to serve.’’ As he began to set new goals, college was a part of them, but it happened to be different take than originally thought.
Eckhoff has consistently remolded the way his life is going to be and while taking it by the stride is frustrating at times, it carries the weight of growth and responsibility. He now encourages everyone to engage with a service member.