COLORADO SPRINGS, CO — Army veteran Nikki Gibson was on her second deployment as a military police officer in Iraq when a 60 mm mortar landed right next to her and her gunner.
"(My gunner) shoved me inside the humvee and then jumped on top of me," she said. "I remember kicking my legs under him being like, 'It's on fire!' I thought maybe something caught fire and he was like, 'No, no my leg is on fire.' We got out of the humvee and ran to the building. Our platoon was running down the stairs and they just kind of stopped and looked down at us, at our legs, and their faces (showed) this isn't good."
Shrapnel had pierced through their legs. Add to that a traumatic brain injury, injuries that earned her a Purple Heart. Two months later she was out of the hospital and ready to get back to work.
"I did argue my way back to my unit to finish my deployment," Gibson said.
When she finished her military career, Gibson was faced with the long-term side effects of PTSD and a traumatic brain injury. She said functioning in society was a struggle, especially when she heard fireworks at a nearby stadium.
"I went full-blown panic attack," she said. "I tried to get into a business because I just wanted to be indoors somewhere. Thankfully I had my sisters because I was almost arrested that night. My sisters were like, 'She just got back from Iraq we don't know what's wrong.' "
Gibson is now getting her degree in social work and spends her time helping other veterans like her as a case manager at Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center in Colorado Springs.
"I get to help organize people's most chaotic moment," she said.
Her husband, Don Knight, is a Marine combat veteran. He also helps out vets who show up to Mt. Carmel with questions about Medicare. Knight says he first came to Mt. Carmel in 2018 needing help finding a job.
"I had some family and friends strongly recommended I walk in the door," he said. "They believed I had the potential to do better and Mt. Carmel could really help me with that."
What Knight found was so much more. He got help, too, for a TBI and PTSD from combat.
"I've been lucky enough to go on hikes and fishing trips and hunting trips and art classes and meeting all the people I met through (Mt. Carmel)," he said. "It gives you back that sense of bond we had in the military, the brotherhood, the sisterhood."
The couple is now passionate about making sure all first responders and any active-duty military or veteran know Mt. Carmel is ready to help.
"You can walk in the Mt. Carmel to the front desk and say, 'I need help with the food pantry, or I need help with clothes, I need help with financial stuff.' Just do it. Just come in. There is nothing we have heard that we haven't heard before."
Mt. Carmel is about to have its biggest fundraiser of the year on Friday, November 4th at Boot Barn Hall in Colorado Springs. KOAA News Anchors Dianne Derby and Rob Quirk will serve as the emcees. For tickets click here.
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