It seems that Corp. Chris Bemiss has been fighting battles most of his adult life.
Bemiss, who served six years as a member of the United States Army Rangers, 1st Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, before receiving an honorable discharge in 2007, saw five tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, including being a part of the U.S. Special Operations team that rescued prisoner of war Pvt. Jessica Lynch.
For Bemiss, his combat experience was only the beginning of his fighting; both with Veteran’s Affairs to receive adequate medical care after his injury on a mission in Mosul, Iraq, and for his post-traumatic stress and inner demons he fought after a single-vehicle accident near Louisville, Kentucky, left him a quadriplegic.
Despite his battle with the VA, the end of his marriage, his paralyzation and being on the brink of suicide, Bemiss has fought his way back.
His journey back is thanks in large part to the support of a fellow Army Ranger, Jay Granger, and Bemiss’s undying belief in helping and supporting other wounded military personnel.
“I love my country,” Bemiss said in a phone interview from Arizona. “There is nothing I love more than my country and my flag, but this epidemic of veterans taking their lives everyday has got to end.”
Each day, 22 veterans take their own lives. It is that number that has led Bemiss to devote his life to helping save America’s military personnel.
“If 22 people died every day from the flu, everyone would sit up and take notice,” Bemiss said. “America has to step up and end this. We have to stop it now.”
To make others aware of the struggles both he and his fellow soldiers in service have fought, Bemiss recently allowed a documentary, “The Ranger,” to be filmed detailing the story of his plight.
“The Ranger” is a 30-minute documentary, produced by Robert Ham, an Emmy Award-winning producer. The film, since its release two months ago, has been viewed more than 121,000 times, reaching every continent with the exception of Antarctica.
“Chris’s story is one of forgiveness, redemption, and the will to survive,” Ham said in a press release. “From the moment he told me his story, I knew this had to be shared with as wide an audience as possible. It is not the typical hero story. He is flawed like most of us, but he drives on to do something greater than himself.”
The documentary begins with Bemiss’s youth.
“I realized in kindergarten, since I was a little boy, I had the fire in me.” Bemiss said. “I knew I wanted to go into the military or construction.”
After a discipline matter removed him from public school, Bemiss was home-schooled until he graduated and entered military service.
Bemiss spent six months in the Army before the first day of his Ranger indoctrination on Sept. 11, 2001, the day of the attack on America’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon at the hands of Osama Bin Laden.
As one of his first missions with the Rangers, he and a team were sent to rescue prisoner of war Pvt. Jessica Lynch and those who were taken hostage with her.
In the documentary, Bemiss states, “When we got there the doctors said we buried the bodies days ago.
“We (the rangers) began to dig with our hands. The bodies were falling apart and missing limbs, but we kept on because you never leave a fallen comrade behind.”
Throughout the mission, Bemiss said he felt selfish because he “thanked God” he was not one of the dead.
He continued with his military service and in 2005 was sent to Mosul, Iraq. On Jan. 28, two days before the Iraqi’s were allowed to vote for the first time, Bemiss was a gunner for Task Force Delta.
“One of my closest friends, Sgt. 1st class Mickey Zaun, was driving.” Bemiss said. “There was an accident and Zaun was killed on impact.”
Bemiss was thrown from the tank and injured his knee.
“Mickey saved the lives of the rest of the men by his actions,” Bemiss stated in the film.
The resulting accident and injury started a downward spiral because of the guilt Bemiss felt. He underwent surgery to repair his knee but was unable to train or return to combat.
“I drank,” Bemiss said. “Nothing but hardcore alcohol from February to May; all I did or wanted to do was drink.”
At that time, he felt the only constant in his life was his girlfriend, Tonia.
“She was my common denominator,” Bemiss said. “One night we were at a party and I was drinking. She knew I had too much to drink and so she told me she was going to go home and her friends would drive her.”
According to Bemiss, that triggered an episode of PTSD to occur.
“In my mind she was going out with some frat boys,” he recounted on the film. “Even though I was drunk, I got behind the wheel of my car and got on the main road.”
Bemiss encountered a hill while driving; he went airborne, hit a tree, a concrete embankment, flipped his vehicle and was ejected from the car through the back window.
He passed in and out of consciousness before he woke up in the hospital with a broken neck and was told he would be paralyzed for life.
That began his 19-month long battle with the Hines VA Hospital in Chicago, Ill.
Bemiss endured 13 surgeries and suffered a great deal of neglect. At one time he described lying in his own blood on his pillow with no medical personnel there to attend to his needs.
His parents, Democrat reporter Faith Bemiss and her husband Roy, were driving weekly to Chicago from Sedalia to care for him. Tonia was there as well to care from him as they had married in the intensive care unit of the University of Louisville on May 23, 2005.
On Dec. 1, 2006, Bemiss was released from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He had been sent there by the military after requests from Bemiss’s mother to the White House for help for her son.
His release from the hospital was not the end of his battles.
He went on an eight-year downward spiral of self-medication with pain pills and alcohol.
“I began abusing my wife,” Bemiss said. “All I had to do was give a little effort. I never put forth any effort to help save my marriage.”
Tonia eventually divorced Bemiss. It was shortly after this that he attempted to take his own life. To this day the bullet hole remains in his truck marking the location it lodged after he tried to take his own life.
It was shortly after his suicide attempt that another Ranger friend of Bemiss’s contacted him; Sgt. 1st Class, Jason “Jay” Granger contacted Bemiss and asked him to come to Arizona for a visit.
“Jay called me and told me to ‘suck it up,’” Bemiss said. “He told me to grow up and leave my old life behind.”
“He had an expression, ‘forgive and float,’” Bemiss added. “What he meant was that I needed to rise above it all and forgive.”
To help Bemiss accomplish the goal of letting it float, Granger took him on his first sky dive since Bemiss became paralyzed.
“I found a sense of peace,” Bemiss said. “It was just me, all my problems and God.
“There is an expression the Rangers have,” Bemiss said. “We fight on each day, even though we live with broken hearts.”
Bemiss said he realized at that time he had no choice in the matter.
“I’m not quitting now,” he added. “We do this fight alone 90 percent of the time.”
There is one final battle that Bemiss still needed to fight.
On December 27, 2013, Bemiss was home in Sedalia visiting his parents when he experienced what he describes as the worst day of his life.
“I was sitting in the parking lot at Westlake’s” Bemiss said, “When I got a phone call. A friend told me something has happened.”
The news Bemiss received would once again alter the course of his life.
“My best friend, the person who saved me, Jay, was killed in a skydiving accident,” Bemiss recounted. “In some respects it is as if Jay had to pass, to leave, so I could stay.”
The lessons Bemiss learned from Granger have now become his life’s work.
“We’re all going to survive this war: this fight of the mistreatment of veterans in America.” Bemiss said.
He now speaks on behalf of veterans to organizations across the United States, including an upcoming speech next week to the California Association of Hostage Negotiators, the Los Angeles Police Department, and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department on how to de-escalate situations with individuals suffering from PSTD.
His most rewarding work though is counseling veterans on an individual basis.
“Since November of 2014, I have put 79,080 miles on my truck helping as much as I can,” Bemiss said. “I will go anywhere to help one of my brothers in need.
“The big organizations and the VA aren’t the answer,” he added. “They turn their head and don’t want to hear what is actually happening. We need a new system. The problem isn’t going to get solved in the Marble Hallways.
“I’m not sure what the answer really is,” Bemiss said. “I know it is going to take everybody though. We all need to be in this fight together.”
Individuals wishing to view “The Ranger” may do so online on the All Warrior Network, Hulu, or YouTube.
To offer support for veteran’s causes, Bemiss suggests visiting www.gallantfew.org.