It’s March 3, 2008, in Afghanistan. I’m in the kitchen preparing a meal for my team. All of a sudden I see a flash of white light. When I come to, I see nothing. I’m in complete darkness, and the smell of smoke and gun powder is inescapable. Then I realize I can’t move, because I’m trapped beneath steel and rubble.

As I lay there buried under a building for the next five hours with nothing but my thoughts to cling to, I realize I have a choice to make. I may be trapped in this dark place but I’m not dead, so I will choose to live, and use whatever resources I can to get through this ordeal. Eventually I hear voices asking if anyone was there, and I call out with so much pride “Sergeant Lundy, I’m here,” knowing that I made it through my darkest day. For what happened that day, I was awarded the Purple Heart, an honor I’m certainly grateful for.

But all the days following March 3 is where I believe I earned the designation. The physical recovery was beyond challenging. Over the course of the next three years, I fought every day to regain the ability to walk, while battling permanent nerve damage.

During that time, I was also dealing with retirement, which was just as difficult a process for me to process. Being injured in Afghanistan cut my military career short and left me feeling like a part of me was just ripped away that I could never get back. My father and grandfather both served and retired from the 82nd Airborne Division.

Transitioning out of the military left me feeling disconnected from peers and left without a purpose. I spent countless days sitting in my apartment in Houston with the only thought in my mind being that I had no idea of what was next for me. Unbeknownst to me, my wife had signed me up to attend a social event with Wounded Warrior Project, so I was quite surprised when I received a phone call invitation. I can honestly say that is when my recovery began.

Just by accepting that invite, it put me on a path of healing and helped me redefine my purpose. By continuing to get involved, I transformed from the quiet veteran sitting in the back of the room lost in his thoughts to an inspired character-mentor for the next generation of leaders. WWP gave me the opportunity to continue my education and prepare me for the civilian workforce. That introduced me to a number of other amazing veteran service organizations, like Combined Arms and Travis Manion Foundation, just to name a few.

TMF helped me recognize my own strengths and passions, which made me more comfortable and focused on who I was striving to become. I gained the confidence I needed to share my story, and now include this personal example of resilience when giving TMF “Character Does Matter” presentations to hundreds of school students around the Houston community. I am grateful that TMF gave me tools that I need to help me teach the next generation what it means to live a life of character.

This new direction has helped me find a career that I love, as the gym manager at Combined Arms. This position allowed me to regain that camaraderie from my time in the military. I continue to be involved with TMF as veteran mentor and chapter member, where I’m part of a team comprised of veterans and community volunteers who coordinate service projects, social events and more. Thanks to the numerous veteran service organizations who were there for me following my darkest day, I was able to see that even though I’ve taken off the uniform, I can still be of service.

It has been a long journey but I am grateful for being awarded the Purple Heart. Since that day, my outlook on life has changed dramatically. Just because I was awarded the Purple Heart didn’t mean that life as I knew it stopped. It simply sent me on a new course to keep on living, which I was able to recognize and embrace thanks to these VSOs. I have a second chance to continue to serve and I plan to take full advantage of that opportunity. I invite any of my brothers or sisters in arms who are struggling with the next step in their journey to utilize these resources, and join the ranks of veterans who continue their life of service in a new capacity.

Earl Lundy is a Purple Heart recipient and the third generation in his family to serve in the 82nd Airborne Division. As gym manager at Combined Arms, Earl brings his expertise in Exercise Science and specializes in adaptive training to the veteran community. Earl is a “Character Does Matter” mentor with the Travis Manion Foundation and is a formally trained peer mentor. He provides free fitness classes, wellness events, and seminars to help educate and encourage veterans and their families in a welcoming environment. Through teamwork, motivation, and encouragement, Earl strives to teach other veterans how to use exercise to break through their own mental barriers.