Forging Forward After Trauma with Veteran and Comedian Bobby Henline
Bobby Henline was not old enough to legally have a beer, but he was an alcoholic. He was also a veteran of the United States military with one divorce under his belt. He may have thought things would never get better, or that they could not get worse – but he would have been wrong on both counts.
His uncle had been the one who pointed Bobby toward the military. He was 17 years old and beginning to consider the Hell’s Angels as candidates for his new friends. “I was not on the right path,” Bobby explains. He’d dropped out of high school with no clear vision for his life and no clear vision of who he was. His uncle, who is just 6 years his senior, convinced him it would be fun to join the military together, instead. It may have been fun, if that’s how it played out. But his uncle failed the ASVAB and Bobby found himself without his company when he signed on that dotted line.
Before he left, he hopped on down to the bank and married his girlfriend. It just felt like the thing to do, he laughs.
One month after his 19th birthday, Bobby deployed to Operation Desert Storm. He had no idea that he and the rest of those he deployed with were being offered up as sacrificial bait.
“We were the decoys,” he later realized. “We were supposed to die.”
Fortunately for Bobby and the rest of his Unit, a detour around Kuwait foiled those plans, and they lived another day.
Bobby Henline checked another box on his life’s experiences and separated from the military shortly after.
He followed that up with separating from and divorcing his young bride. Drinking became his new job as he contemplated the ramifications of his life’s choices.
He had no formal education and no foundation of his own. He had a baby, too. Moving back in with his mom and stepdad presented itself as his best choice.
Bobby strung the days together working four jobs and figuring himself out. He remarried and tried to ignore the regret he felt about leaving the military. His wife wanted nothing to do with military life. Bobby understood that and respected that decision – until 9/11.
“The very next month,” Bobby says, “I was back in basic training.”
On his third deployment in that war, the humvee Bobby was in drove over an IED. The four men in the vehicle with him were killed in the explosion.
No one really understands how Bobby Henline survived.
Factoring in his previous deployment to Operation Desert Storm, this was his fourth deployment. “It took me four deployments to figure out 3 is my lucky number,” he jokes.
The best way he can describe the sensation he had when waking up from a two week coma is like being on a giant iceberg, with stars everywhere. A lapsed Catholic. Who had turned toward being an atheist, Bobby recalls that he found God again through that experience -or God found him. “I felt like I was in heaven,” he remembers, “and God was telling me I’m not done yet.”
Bobby had to rely on the information he gets from others to know what happened that day. The last memory he has is of getting coffee that morning. He pieced enough together from firsthand stories and official reports to know that he wasn’t even supposed to be in that Humvee. He’d been filling in for someone else. He learned the four men with him had died.
While everyone else focused on healing or mitigating the damage done from the severe physical injuries he’d sustained, the aftermath of trauma and intense survivor’s guilt stealthily overwhelmed Bobby from the inside out.
He felt like he did not deserve to be alive. He prayed every night for a year, for God to take him.
The obvious losses Bobby suffered were many: he lost an arm, he lost massive amounts of flesh from deadly heat and flames. His face was unrecognizable. He would never look “normal” again.
He entered into years of rehabilitation and surgeries as teams of professionals did their best to help him reclaim his independence and recover from his injuries.
Still, the internal anguish continued. His marriage suffered and he divorced again.
It took him about 4 years, he says, to learn how to get past most of the hurdles he faced. He even began to feel good about himself again. He became comfortable with how he looks and went so far as to turn his tragedy into comedy -literally.
One of his therapists challenged him to take his wicked sense of humor to the stage. Bobby picked that gauntlet up with the intention of proving to her that professional comedy was not his jam.
That gauntlet came flying back in his face after his first open-mic night, when he discovered he actually enjoyed it. He’s now turned that challenge into part of his purpose.
Comedy is one of the outlets he’s chosen to channel his pain and flip it into a positive purpose. He uses it not only as a tool to connect with audiences and teach valuable lessons he’s learned, but as a way to distract himself from the never-ending ripple effects of trauma and Survivor’s guilt.
Bobby has grown familiar with people telling him they could never go through what he’s gone through and come through it like he has. He patiently tells those people that they don’t know what they are capable of until they have been tested, themselves..
If someone had told him, “Guess what? You’re going to get blown up. Your head will be burnt to the skull. You’re going to lose your left hand, and have all these issues…. But you’re going to survive it all. And you’re going to travel the world making jokes about it,” he says he would never believe them. But here he is doing just that and more.
Today, Bobby Henline is a professional speaker and comedian.
He is engaged to a woman who has experienced her own share of tragedy, and understands its ripple effects. Jamie Burton’s son Brian, also a veteran and, died in a plane crash. Jamie knows all too well that things like grief and Survivor’s guilt are not finite challenges. Together, she and Bobby built the Bravo 748 Speakers Bureau. Bobby also launched his own nonprofit. Forging Forward’s primary mission is elimination of suicide among our active duty and Military and First Responder Veterans.
He’s come a long way from that 17 year-old who had no direction in his life. Bobby Henline has been through more than his fair share of trauma and challenges, and emerged on top. One day, he says, he’ll retire to a beach house and spend his time with his family. But for now, he’s still got work to do.
FOLLOW AND LEARN MORE ABOUT BOBBY HENLINE
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