We would like to introduce you to Rodney "Lew" Lewallen, the Veteran representative on our board of directors. Lew has been a great asset to the organization in assisting with Veterans as they come our way.
How were you introduced to the organization?
It took some time to shake up my memory bank, but if I remember correctly, I was first introduced to Donna in 2013 while working for Medsynergies as a Veteran's Corporate Recruiter, alongside Patrick McAfee. While in that role, I started working with Transition Support personnel at Fort Sam Houston to find candidates. During that conversation, I was informed that a young lady by the name of Donna Cranston had a fantastic organization that helped out Veterans and she may have some Veterans looking for jobs. I believe that Patrick may have already been in contact with her, but I'm not 100% sure about that part.
How long have you been involved with Defenders of Freedom and how long have you served on the board?
I recently joined the board in August of this year, but I've been in touch with Donna since 2013. I've participated in golf outings and attended community meetings, as well.
Do you have a stand out moment you would like to share?
On Thanksgiving 2013, after spending the day with family, I came home and sat down by the fireplace, turned on the TV and waited for the coming ice storm due that morning. At around 0100, just as the fire was slowly dying out and I was getting ready for bed, I heard an odd crackling sound that seemed to be coming from outside on my porch. Assuming it was the beginning of the predicted ice storm, I decided to walk outside to see with my own eyes the miracle that is snow and ice in Texas. However, snow and ice was the complete opposite of what I found that evening. As I began to walk around to the front of my porch, I noticed a faint orange glow on the eve of my roof. To my shock and surprise, the crackling sound I had heard earlier was my attic slowly catching fire from the embers that escaped from the fireplace chimney. Within minutes my house, which protected all my hard-earned possessions and memorabilia that I had amassed from so many years of traveling the world as a Corpsman, was burning. By the time the sun came up, my house was destroyed.
As I checked into a hotel that morning, I couldn't help but think, "What's next'? I survived 12 broken bones and multiple surgeries from an IED in 2011. I even survived my own destructive path, as I allowed PTSD to slowly destroy my life. But how would I survive this? Luckily for me, the answer was presented to me. In fact, the answer to all my problems, including PTSD, were answered by the one thing that I was sure I didn't have the compassion or emotion left in me to even accept. The kind of answer that only loved ones can provide: unwavering support. Every time I stumbled, bled or wept, it was the love from my friends and family that picked me back up.
While I was in the hotel room, a Marine that I had served with in Afghanistan called me to inform me that Donna Cranston would be calling me and would like to talk. I can't remember exactly what our conversation consisted of, but I can tell you the kind of impression it left me with afterward. This woman, who I only briefly knew in the past, had a heart of gold. Not just for me, but for my entire family of Veterans.
Donna awarded me enough financial help to pay my first month's rent at my new apartment. Most importantly though, was what Donna gave me that money can't buy, which is love and support. In my lowest of times, Donna was there. In my best of times, Donna was there.
What does it mean to you to give your time to the organization?
For me, it's having a purpose. I was a Corpsman for Marines for a total of 12 years. I loved my job. It didn't matter if we were frozen and treading water off the coast of Coronado, sneaking through the streets of Hit, Iraq or even at home answering a Marine's questions about his new baby's cough; I had a purpose. I had the ability to take away someone's pain and continue life.
Now I'm retired! I'm no longer in medicine, but I still love my Marines. So how could I re-purpose myself? The answer was simple; give back in any way I can. Regardless whether it's for a day or for a minute, being involved with DOF allows me to continue doing what I enjoyed doing for most of my life, which is helping my brothers and sisters.