By William Woody of THE WATCH
Army Veterans Heath and Jesse McCombs Give Back to the Warrior Resource Center
MONTROSE – Brothers Heath and Jesse McCombs look alike, and they both can disarm a person with their genuine warm smiles.
But the Montrose natives say they have been working for years to cope with the after-effects of their years of service in Iraq, turning it into a positive by working with other veterans and, at most recently, working to create their new archery business.
Heath, 33, and Jesse, 31, joined the Army after graduating from Montrose High School, well over a decade ago.
“That recruiter won’t come back to Montrose,” Jesse joked, remembering how his mother chased the recruiter from their property.
The brothers witnessed firsthand the beginning of the American campaign in Iraq, something they remember now with mixed emotions.
Heath joined up first, serving for four years as a truck driver until his discharge as an E-4 Specialist in December 2003. Jesse left two-and-a-half years later, having served for nearly six years, and rising to the rank of sergeant; upon his return to Montrose, he worked construction.
Then, when the housing market crashed, Jesse joined Heath in the hard-rock gold mines of Nevada.
Heath returned to Montrose in 2007, finding seasonal work as a heavy equipment operator for the U.S. Forest Service; Jesse returned in 2009, and now works for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
But in March of last year, after the closure of the outdoor retailer Jeans Westerner, the McCombs brothers teamed up with their cousin Zachary Johnson to create Montrose Archery Xpress, the town’s only archery dealer. To keep overhead low, the trio passed on a storefront, operating from a modified trailer instead (its mobility allows for an increased presence at local shoots and events).
The business has generated so much demand that plans for an indoor shooting range are afoot, in downtown Montrose, where archers will be able to focus on their shooting technique year-round, and with plans for both adult and children’s leagues to draw more families to the sport.
“I’ve pretty much put down my rifle and started hunting turkeys, elk and deer with my bow,” said Johnson, pronouncing archery “more satisfying” than firearm hunting.
For those who have never worn a patch or manned a post, it’s hard to fathom what the two brothers experienced in Iraq.
Back home, they found personal catharsis in talking with fellow veterans at the Welcome Home Montrose Warrior Resource Center – as well as professional help, thanks to the organization’s connections with local business owners who were happy to coach them in how make their fledgling archery business flourish.
In Iraq, Jesse repaired and maintained heavy equipment, including tanks, as part of the Third Infantry Division. Positioned on the Iraq-Kuwait boarder when the “shock and awe” explosions began, his unit made the three-week journey through Iraq to the capitol of Baghdad, providing support to forward operations as they continuously pushed ahead.
Sometimes that trek seemed more the race between the proverbial tortoise and the hare. “Many times, we had to pull over and let the infantry pass,” Jesse remembered, laughing.
Meanwhile, Heath mostly worked as a truck driver, delivering fuel to support units until his 2003 discharge. That same year, Jesse was “stop-loosed” during his Army “out-process,” and soon returned to Iraq for a second tour. In the coming years, Jesse missed the birth of his son, Tyler; the pictures and videos he received offered little comfort. “It was hard for me to miss that,” said Jesse. “I just wanted to be home and take care of my family.”
When his discharge finally came through, Jesse said, he welcomed the chance to get home to his family.
But he soon found that, after years in the military, a veteran can suffer withdrawal from its discipline and structure.
“When you’re in the military,” Jesse said, “you have structure in everything you do.” Then, “all of a sudden, all of that is gone. And you’re not really prepared.” Although today’s military is making more of an effort to readjust its veterans back into society, more programs are needed, Jesse said.
It’s a sentiment echoed by his brother. “When you come back from war,” said Heath, “and you’ve got a lot of stuff to work through, you don’t want to be out in public. You just want to be away from everything – just stay at home and lock yourself in.”
That’s where the Warrior Resource Center comes in, and the McCombs brothers say the organization has served as a gathering place for veterans to talk and communicate amongst themselves in a unique way, while at the same time providing a level of structure in their lives.
“It’s helped us,” Jesse said, of the center. “Being veterans ourselves, we were in our closet, for awhile.”
But the center, he said, “has given us a focal point to push our energy through and to come out, for the most part, of our hole. And we can hopefully help other veterans get back into society enjoying life, because that’s the biggest thing,” Jesse said, “to get them out of their house and back into activities that they can enjoy.”
“Just to be with people that know what you’re talking about makes a huge difference,” said Heath.
Each week the WRC hosts coffee meetings for veterans, where they can converse, share and learn from one another. Initially many veterans who are “having a rough time” with civilian life need coaxing, said Jesse, “to help get them to come to the coffees” and other activities. But “to get them down here is a huge improvement to their health – and ours,” he added. “Helping other people helps me personally.”
Cathy Wehmeyer, the brothers’ mother, said her two sons’ progress is visible. “They have come a long way,” she said, going on to pronounce developments at Montrose Archery Xpress “exciting” and “very rewareding.”
Montrose Archery Xpress will participate in the upcoming Warrior Resource Center’s weeklong No Barriers program (June 11-17), offering lessons and hosting a shoot for veterans as part of one of the many planned events.
For more information about MAX Archery or to book a lesson log, visit www.maxarchery.com. For information about WRC’s No Barriers week, visit welcomehomemontrose.org.
Read more: Watch Newspapers – The Long Road Home