Bryan Noyes holds three degrees from the University of Southern Maine – political science, international relations and sociology – has served in combat, trains military cadets, and works at Easter Seals and Portland's Veterans of Foreign Wars, where he is the post's service officer, helping veterans receive their benefits, among other duties.
He sees things organically and philosophically: what kinds of change in attitudes could improve society, the justice system, the educational system. He's willing to disclose his strengths, his accomplishments and his success.
But he knows that his vulnerabilities and his challenges are just as important to who he is and what he can contribute.
"It can take time to find common ground, to get a dialogue going and gain trust with people, and with vets it can take a lot of time," said Noyes, 33. "Letting them know that I've been there makes that connection much easier than expected – that I also have disabilities, I also have been homeless, I have also had PTSD, I've struggled with college and still struggle with relationships, that I go through that same pain. I'm no better than you are, this is where I've come from, and I'm able to move on and cope.
"I stress this with vets I work with in all various stages: Getting up is important, your life matters and people would like to know."
Noyes knows well that moving on takes concerted effort and a willingness to take care of oneself. That can be difficult for someone who is used to the structure the military provides.
"Learning to being a veteran can be very hard, it can be very hard to get over that pride. A lot of times even I forget that," he said. "When any person comes out of the military, they have a grand vision of what their plan is. For any veteran that plan is structured, and when that falls apart they don't know what to do. My own idea of staying with my family and going to school – that didn't work out."
SERVED from 2003-07 in the U.S. Army; achieved the rank of sergeant.
RECEIVED Army Accommodation Medal, Combat Action Badge and Iraq Campaign Medal.
Some things that Noyes didn't anticipate when he returned were practical – much of the money he'd saved up was quickly drained by rent and getting a car. He tried to go to school and find work, but he says he wasn't acknowledging that he was also suffering both physical and psychological wounds that he wasn't dealing with.
The death of his brother, whom he calls his hero, was further debilitating, and cast a dark shadow on his whole family. For four months, he didn't have a place to live.
"The contribution to serving my country meant being a soldier on the ground. I went with my gut and my heart, but those things don't always work," he said. "I didn't realize I had issues, and when you don't realize you're actually facing some trauma – seeing a dead body or being in combat, that's trauma – when you don't deal with it, then when you get back if you don't have a support system, it's not going to work."
His own experience was compounded by the fact that he was adopted into a non-military family that tended to choose professions in the medical and dental fields, so they weren't able to understand what he was going through. "They didn't really recognize the military issues dealing with my post-traumatic stress, dealing with my mindset," he said. "It doesn't click for civilians."
Noyes believes that veterans have much to contribute, whether it's in a classroom, a business or within a community. But it does take a level of understanding and open communication on the part of employers and others. "When you hire them, that's when you see they're hard workers," Noyes says of veterans. "They'll do whatever it takes to get the mission complete."
Noyes is well educated in a variety of fields, and he can talk about current events, the problems facing police and communities across the country, and a host of other issues.
But he retains a basic confidence in society because he has seen that change is possible as long as people are willing to communicate.
"I'm a person who tries to stay open minded, both on the macro and micro level," he says. "It takes open-mindedness. Educate yourself, learn about it. Nobody's perfect, nobody knows everything. It just takes time to admit that, no matter what position you're in. If you really want to be successful, you need to get in that mindset of wanting to work together."