Living in Eagle Nest helps veterans adjust to civilian life

Eagle Nest resident Lisa Sparks, top, holds part of uniform from her days as a petroleum supply specialist in the U.S. Army. (Chronicle photos by Gabriel Weinstein)

By Gabriel Weinstein, Staff writer

Lisa Sparks almost left Eagle Nest. Sparks put her house up for sale after her first winter in the village. She thought the cold weather wasn’t for her. But she decided to stay.  Two years later, the Army veteran cannot think of a better place to live for someone with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It was by accident that I got here but it’s the best thing that ever happened. I am so embraced here. The veterans are embraced here. This is the best place for a veteran with PTSD. It really is,” she said.

Sparks was a petroleum supply specialist in the Army from 1976-1978. She received a full honorable discharge in 1978 after experiencing trauma.

A native of upstate New York, Sparks moved to Texas after the Army and spent the next 35 years in the Dallas-Fort Worth area working in information technology. From Texas she moved to Albuquerque but struggled in her new home. Looking for a change she decided to move to Eagle Nest where she had a longtime friend.

In Eagle Nest, Sparks found a community where many residents could relate to her experience in the military. The village has provided her with a community that has helped her battle through struggles and rejoiced with her in times of personal triumph.

The community’s warmth has helped Sparks grow and thrive. She said she would have never sat for an interview with a reporter when she first came to the village.

“I’m a totally different person,” she said.

Jim Ouellette

For longtime Eagle Nest resident Jim Ouellette, the camaraderie among veterans in the Moreno Valley has helped him adjust to civilian life after a long career in the Army, including a tour in Vietnam from 1966-1967 as a combat medic. In the Moreno Valley, Ouellette has formed bonds with fellow veterans that are as strong as the friendships he formed in Vietnam. The citizens of the area make life easier for he and his fellow veterans, Ouellette said.

“There is a corps here that I really trust. There are other Vietnam veterans that I know if anything ever happened to me, I still have my friends here. Those soldiers that will do anything and everything for you. They will go beyond every bound,” he said.  “We call this the padded valley. This is like a protective place for us. Everything is softened for us here.”

Ouellette too also struggled with PTSD. In his case it was the Army that helped him confront his struggles with PTSD. The Army provided the structure, discipline and sense of purpose he often struggled to find by himself in the civilian world.  His peers in the Army understood that his PTSD episodes were rooted in the sacrifice he made for his country. Many were also Vietnam combat veterans.

“I couldn’t cope with civilian life. I couldn’t find any security in civilian life. It was always disruptive. Civilian life was very disorganized. The Army was structure for me. It was security,” he said. “ Within the Army they knew how to cope with me without punishing me. I think that’s why I kept going back in.”

Ouellette left the Army for the final time in 1992 after serving as a military police officer. He arrived in Eagle Nest in April of that year and purchased his property in Lakeview Pines from a woman whose son he picked up as a hitch hiker.

A native of Detroit, Michigan, Ouellette has enjoyed Eagle Nest. He said the residents of the village are  the reason he endured long, fear filled nights in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.

“The people that live here full time they are true Americans . These are the people that I went to war for. It’s a good place to live.”

For Ouellette and Sparks Eagle Nest has been the ideal place to live their post military lives. The support of the community, the snow capped peaks remind the two why they sacrificed for their country.