Through Giving Back, Army Veteran Finds Healing

Meghan and her husband Kurt Keller who both served in the Army Reserves and were deployed to Iraq in 2003.

Sometimes it is through helping others that we can begin to heal. It is that concept which buoyed Army combat veteran Meghan Keller at her lowest moment when she lost her husband Kurt to suicide in November 2006.

“Being pregnant at the time was probably a blessing in disguise,” she said. “I had to focus on being as healthy and as stable as possible. My biggest fear was that this would affect my pregnancy. That is where all my energy went to.”

It remained that way as Meghan moved from New Jersey, where Kurt was a patrolman in the Boonton Police Department, to Plymouth, Massachusetts, and raised her daughter with the help of her parents. “The first five years of Elsa’s life was kind of a blur in some ways,” Meghan admitted. “In other ways, I had to take care of my baby. I didn’t have time to take care of myself.”

Caring for others – there is an intrinsic benefit to doing so that is immeasurable. It’s why Meghan, who had previously worked in marketing while married to Kurt, returned to school to enter an entirely different field after his death. “Being in the military, my life had bigger meaning, but working in corporate America, I didn’t feel like I had a big purpose,” Meghan explained. “When I stumbled across physical therapy, I thought it would be really rewarding because I’d be helping people.”

It is in that capacity that she has been giving back to Heroes In Transition (HIT) since 2022. A physical therapist assistant at Cape Cod Rehab in Mashpee, she volunteered with her colleagues to support runners in last year’s Ruck4HIT.

She is doing so once again this year though that support has gone deeper with Cape Cod Rehab holding weekly cross trainings, complete with classroom curriculum on a variety of topics pertaining to the Ruck4HIT since the beginning of January.

Underlying it all is the seed that helped her through Kurt’s death – being of service to others.

The two met in the Army Reserves in October 2001 after they were called up to serve following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The couple were meant to be together and that is how they were introduced when she was right behind Kurt, in alphabetical order – her maiden name is Kelly – while they checked in for duty at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The romance blossomed from there.

Meghan and Kurt Keller

Two years later, the pair found themselves in Iraq – it was Kurt’s third deployment; the previous ones were in Bosnia and then stateside in support of Operation Joint Endeavor in response to 9/11.

“He saw a lot while he was there,” Meghan said. In August 2003, Kurt helped in the recovery efforts following a terrorist bombing of a United Nations compound in Baghdad that killed 22 people.

“I arrived at the scene of the bombing within minutes after the blast to see many first responders from the U.S. military assisting in the rescue efforts of the survivors. They were real heroes in every sense of the word,” retired New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik wrote in a letter to Kurt’s daughter. “One of them was U.S. Army Sergeant Kurt A. Keller, your father.”

When they returned from Iraq, Meghan said, “if you look through the boxes we checked off, we were experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress, but there was no follow up from the military.”

She wonders what might have happened if an organization like Heroes In Transition was around for Kurt when he returned home from war. “When we came home there was nothing like this. No one was talking about post-traumatic stress,” she said. “Maybe if we were connected to an organization like that, even if we were around other people going through similar things, it might have reduced the stigma for Kurt to go get help.”

She said he was the last person you would expect to commit suicide.

What was he like? “He had that cop look – a little cop-military-unapproachable look – but then he would smile, and you could see he was really a big softy and very funny,” Meghan said. “He loved his family and was extremely close to his brother and sister and his nieces and nephews. He was a traditionalist, old-fashioned kind of guy. And he was completely loyal and very giving.”

There was so much to love about Kurt, and a future to look forward to. That may be the most difficult aspect of Kurt’s death for Meghan – what could have been.

Heroes In Transition Co-founder Cyndy Jones with Meghan Keller.

It is one of the reasons she feels so connected to HIT’s Co-founder Cyndy Jones. “Even though our situations are different – hers is the loss of a child, mine is a husband – there is great pain and loss,” Meghan said. “You don’t have to explain it. She knows. She just knows.”

And it is why the Ruck4HIT has so much meaning for both Cyndy and Meghan.

“The ruck is so symbolic for me. I feel like on a daily basis I carry around a 50-pound rucksack with all I’ve been through. I can manage that 50 pounds, in a way,” Meghan said. “Seeing that ruck, I get so emotional. I think to myself, ‘Oh my god, I can put my ruck down because other people want to be out there carrying the weight and the load of others.’ That was so huge for me, seeing how many people involved in it who really have no ties to the military and never served in the military, but who are out there carrying this load. I can finally put my load down because someone else will carry it for me.”

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