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FREDRICKSBURG, Va. (Tribune News Service) — As an Army Ranger injured three different times in Iraq — from gunfire, an explosive device and even a grenade blast to the face — Richard Rein tried to cope with memories from battle and the loss of his buddies.

But nothing would make the nightmares go away. He felt guilty for surviving and remorse for things he’d done, even though his actions on the Iraqi battlefield earned him three Purple Hearts as well as a Bronze Star with a combat “V” for valor.

“I didn’t know how to deal with it, I didn’t know how to ask for help,” he said. “I tried to bury it, I tried to ignore it, I tried to do everything to act like I didn’t have a problem.”

When the now 37-year-old started taking more pain medicine than doctors prescribed, along with alcohol and, later, whatever street drugs he could get his hands on, things got even worse.

“That just fueled an addiction that got way out of hand and I couldn’t quit, with my best attempts,” Rein said. “I didn’t understand the power of addiction.”

The arresting officer, who charged him with two counts of possession of heroin and fentanyl, knew that those who served in the military sometimes have trouble readjusting to life outside a war zone. The officer recommended that Rein, who goes by Rick, seek help through the Rappahannock Regional Veterans Treatment Docket, an intensive program for former service members in legal trouble.

Rein did just that and graduated from the 18-month program on Thursday. The Spotsylvania County Circuit Court was filled with people who applauded his efforts, including eight other veterans in various phases of the program, former servicemembers who volunteer as mentors to the participants and even Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, who was guest speaker at the event.

“Going through this program shows a level of bravery that most people sometimes can’t face,” Miyares said as he stood in the courtroom and addressed his remarks to Rein. “Sometimes we’re not wired to admit that we need help, we’re not wired to say that we could get through only with the help of others (who are) in that foxhole figuratively with us.”

Rein certainly acknowledged those who gave him the “direction and accountability” he needed — the treatment specialists, probation officers, counselors and his own mentor, Daniel Cortez, whom Rein said was available whenever he needed help, day or night. However, Rein had to toe the line and get himself to mandatory screenings and sessions — which took place almost daily in the first year — or he would face sanctions or even possible dismissal.

“It felt so good being back with military core values,” Rein said. “You guys have truly saved my life.”

Rein served with the 75th Ranger Regiment, a Fort Benning, Ga., unit that describes itself as a “lethal, agile and flexible force, capable of conducting many complex, joint special operations missions.”

Judge Ricardo Rigual, who helped create the treatment program for veterans with Spotsylvania County deputy public defender Wendy Harris and state Sen. Bryce Reeves, reminded Rein that he’d undertaken a different kind of mission when he signed onto the veterans docket.

Rigual recalled what he told Rein the first day he saw him — that the program was designed to help him get back to the man he was and that those around him would provide guidance and coaching.

“But I want you to realize when you leave here that you’re the one who did this,” the judge said. “This wasn’t a gift bestowed upon you. You made the choice to help yourself and here you stand, the man you were before, the man you are today, the man you’ve always been.”

Rein fulfilled his obligations with such determination that “he should be the national poster veteran for our program,” Cortez said. He mentioned Rein’s work at the Oxford House in Fredericksburg, where he has led veterans and other residents trying to end their addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Ann Baker, probation program manager with Rappahannock Regional Jail, said Rein was the first one to go through the program without a single sanction.

“That is a really big deal,” she said. “He wasn’t even five minutes late to any of his meetings.”

Rein is the eighth graduate of the program that started in 2018, specifically for Spotsylvania County residents. It has expanded to serve veterans throughout the region and has worked with former service members from every locality in the region except Caroline County, Harris said.

Rein thanked his employer, Billy Kelley, also a veteran, for giving him a job and the time off that he needed to meet all the program obligations.

“The guy has really excelled,” said Kelley, who runs Tree Times in Stafford County. “It’s amazing what he’s done for himself in the short time we’ve been working together. His leadership skills are phenomenal and his work ethic’s great. Being prior military myself, I know what Rick is capable of and his go-getter skills.”

One of Rein’s three combat injuries involved being shot several times in the ankle and once in the upper right thigh, but that hasn’t kept him from physical labor. He’s a tree climber in Kelley’s company.

“It hurts some days, but I still get up,” Rein said, adding he’s not about to squander the second chance he’s been given. Plus, being high off the ground “cures that adrenalin rush that I like to feed.”

Rein also suffered serious injuries when a blast from a rocket-propelled grenade went across his face on Jan. 4, 2005. That was his third injury and the one that took him out of service. He’d resisted leaving after the first two times he was hurt because he wanted to stay with his unit.

The former Ranger didn’t go into a lot of details about the night of the grenade attack except to say it claimed the lives of his two best friends. He suffered trauma to the front of his brain and needed massive dental work to his jaw and nine plastic surgeries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

At Thursday’s court appearance, his face showed a few small scars but not the damage one might expect. Rein said skin grafts, and a goatee, helped cover the worst of it.

A more noticeable feature was a Viking braid that ran down the back of his head. His fiancée, Victoria Ratliff, braided his blondish hair for him that day. While Rein said he was “super nervous” standing in front of the court and special guests, one of the few times a smile replaced his jitters was when Cortez talked about the couple.

“It moves me every time I see them together because all I see is true love,” Cortez said.

Rein and Ratliff plan to wed in October and Cortez, a marriage commissioner, will perform the ceremony. The couple plans to live in a house they just bought in Stafford and to unite their families. Both have children from previous relationships.

“This program helped me believe I was a person worth saving and that’s the biggest lesson I learned,” Rein said. “To the others in this program, the only advice I can give you is to pour every ounce of strength and energy you have into this program and your recovery. Your future deserves it.”

(c)2022 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.)

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(U.S. Air Force)

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