Combat veteran offers solace in NC mountains for Green Berets
“Being a Green Beret is 100 percent your identity. Being a Green Beret is the proudest thing a man will do in his life.”
WEST JEFFERSON, N.C. (WBTV) - Inside Greg Peterman’s mind, a light switch is always waiting to be flipped. It holds the power to his memories of war, snapshots the 47-year-old retired Green Beret would like to forget.
“I’ve now been retired for seven years and I still can’t turn the light switch off,” he said.
Peterman spent 21 years in the U.S. Army, most as an elite Special Forces Green Beret. He admits the prestigious headgear he wore made up his identity.
“Being a Green Beret is 100 percent your identity. Being a Green Beret is the proudest thing a man will do in his life. You are a Green Beret before you are a father, before you are a husband.”
Special Forces soldiers deploy more than most in the U.S. Army - and that takes a toll on the fighter and their family.
Peterman deployed into combat in the Middle East seven times at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The brutality of battle quickly took its toll on the relationships he had with his then wife and two children.
He doesn’t sugarcoat the person war made him.
“I had become a monster. I had become verbally abusive, I was emotionally abusive. My family was falling apart.”
Green Berets have a nickname, “the quiet professionals.” They do a lot and never speak of it. But that can also apply to their struggles.
“We compare ourselves to our teammates. So, I’m just like my teammates, so I’m fine. But the ground truth is we’re all having problems because we’ve all done the same thing,” he said.
That is why Peterman started Blue Ridge Safe House, a non-profit based in the mountains of Ashe County. To him, there was no better place for a scarred soldier and their family to heal.
“I get to put all my time and energy and focus into helping others that are going through what I went through 10 years ago,” he said.
Blue Ridge Safe House isn’t a physical place - but a concept. They serve active-duty Green Berets, fresh off deployments or long training missions, offering them a long weekend and chance to recharge in West Jefferson.
“They can focus on their family and reconnecting and having an amazing time,” Peterman said.
According to Peterman, Blue Ridge Safe House operates with virtually zero overhead.
How is that possible? He says all he had to do was go door to door in downtown West Jefferson and ask businesses for help. Not a single one said no.
Mason Harris feeds Peterman’s families for free at the Backstreet Sub Shop - and so does just about every restaurant in town. Cabin rentals are donated, along with outdoor family activities.
“It’s just phenomenal. Their families go through just as much as the soldier does.” Harris told WBTV.
Peterman has also secured free counseling sessions for the soldiers and their families to take advantage of when they arrive and after they head home.
“War is going to change a person,” Peterman said.
A soldier always places the mission first, a commitment that doesn’t go away when the uniform is no longer worn.
“Blue Ridge Safe House has become my new mission,” he said.
Peterman’s new mission may not turn off the painful switch inside his head - but it certainly makes it dimmer.
For more information about Blue Ridge Safe House visit their website.
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