He and I were talking about the word “chaotic” when he called me yesterday at TexVet. I had commented on one of his amazing Facebook posts the other night, expressing admiration for what he does in spite of what he’s suffered. I wrote that I’d like to talk about that some time … how does one who’s been through what he’s been through turn around and give his life and total being to serving homeless Veterans, getting them off the streets?
I mentioned “a record” above, because I can recall only one time I’d ever called him … back in 2010 when I first started working at TexVet. Back then, I’d been tasked with pumping Facebook with hourly posts of Veteran events, peer meetings, etc. Google was my best friend. J.D. Collett’s name kept coming up, so I tracked him down … and made the call.
Yesterday, as I mimicked our conversation back in 2010, drawling out my words, I heard him laughing. Honestly, I think I’d requested a flier during that call. And if you know J.D., you’re probably laughing, too.
He had said, “Betty (he drawled my name out into a 5-syllable word, well, almost) … I’m not your typical peer facilitator. I have long hair, tattoos, and I wear earrings. I don’t put out fliers. I go where the Veterans are, talk with them, and then bring ‘em in.”
And so, the chaotic mind of J.D. Collett is always running full-speed. And here begins the little snippet of his life that I heard yesterday and would like to share today, with his permission.
“Let me tell you, Betty, what I mean by ‘chaotic’,” he began.
On May 13, 2016, J.D. and his brother had left Dallas on their bikes to do the Run to the Wall ... a ride that would add 7800 miles on his bike.
“About 75 miles out of El Paso,” he said, “my chaotic mind, for no reason whatsoever, told me I needed to get off my bike. I radioed my brother and told him I wanted us to turn around and go back to the exit we’d already passed; that exit would take us to Van Horn. My brother didn’t understand at all. He wanted to know why I wanted to go there … to a ‘ghost town’ …”
J.D. said he really couldn’t answer his brother … only that his mind told him to do that. So, they turned around. He then described a little of what he saw there, including burned down houses and some scary emptiness. His brother challenged J.D. again, saying he saw no reason to stop anywhere in that place, but they went into a store and bought a cup of coffee.
“As we were leaving that store that was 800 miles from my home,” he continued, “I heard someone hollering ‘J.D.! J.D.’!
"I turned around. Right there in front of me stood a Navy Veteran I’d gotten off the streets back in 2010, given him a place to stay, and helped him find a job! He’d actually lived with me for 11 months in the process!” J.D. chuckled.
But as it always seems to do, time rolls on in the chaos of life, and we lose track of people because there are always more people to help. Seven years later, in an isolated town out in West Texas, two Veterans found themselves facing each other in a store.
Turns out, that Veteran had greatly excelled in the job J.D. had helped him get! He is now a District Manager over 17 of those stores out in California where he now lives and thrives.
“What on earth was he doing in Van Horn??” I yelped at J.D.
“He’d been visiting family in Amarillo and was driving back to California,” came the response.
Really now! What are the odds that something like that would ever happen?
“Has my life come down to living behind a 5-inch glass, playing bingo for Hershey bars?” J.D. had once asked a doctor of chaotic minds.
Personally, I think not. But maybe another snippet will come out later about that.
By the way, when I called J.D. a few moments ago to confirm a couple of facts about this, he said he said was getting ready to go and jump out of an airplane at 3 o'clock. I asked why???
“Because I’ve never done that before,” he answered simply ... as if I should have already known that.
That’s J.D. Collett! And that's why we love him!
Interview with J.D. Collett, March 2017 by Betty F. Sandefur, TexVet.
Photos provided by J.D. Collett.