Five years ago, Jordan Finley was learning to be a civilian again. The Marine from Lake Stevens had been to Iraq and Afghanistan. He was getting help for post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury suffered during his service.
At 23, Finley had his faith in God. He had his goals. He hoped to become a pastor, serve others and have a family.
Then a Herald photo intern, Weiser wrote about Finley carrying the Marine Corps flag in the 2011 Lake Stevens Aquafest parade. That summer, she was at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System’s Center for Polytrauma Care in Seattle when Finley had a screening to determine the severity of his traumatic brain injury.
“You have to find yourself again,” Finley told Weiser in 2011.
Five years later, the 28-year-old Finley has taken big steps toward achieving his goals.
He now lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where he is studying at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His aim is a master’s in divinity with an emphasis on Christian ministry — he still wants to be a pastor. “It’s a four-year-program. I’m one year into it,” Finley said by phone from Kentucky last week.
On March 21, 2014, he married Whitney Pahls, his girlfriend when the 2011 article was published. They are about to be parents. Their first child is due Jan. 11. “We don’t know whether it’s a girl or a boy. It’s a surprise,” Finley said. For now, they’re calling their firstborn “baby Fin.”
Has he learned to be a civilian?
“My wife reminds me all the time that ‘You’re not a Marine.’ It’s just a mentality you always have,” Finley said. “It’s not that I laugh it off, but it’s who I am.”
Finley served with the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He had two deployments, Iraq in 2008-2009, and 2010-2011 in Afghanistan.
It was in Afghanistan that Marine Cpl. Finley suffered a concussion and lost consciousness when a 40-pound improvised explosive device (IED) blew up beneath the armored all-terrain vehicle he was driving. In 2011, Finley recalled coming to and experiencing “dust and fog and confusion.” All five in the vehicle made it back to base, he said, and the turret gunner received a Purple Heart after the incident.
Finley wasn’t sent home after the blast. “It’s not that I was so damaged I couldn’t carry out my duties. I was a team leader,” he said. “As a Marine, you have responsibilities, and people are counting on you.”
Finley spent nearly a year in a Veterans Affairs rehabilitation program. “It was cool that their program was aimed at re-engaging in the civilian world,” he said last week. “It was aimed at making sure you serve a valuable part in society.”
In 2011, he described what it was like to experience post-traumatic stress disorder and the effects of the brain injury. He sometimes had trouble finding the words he wanted to say. He forgot little things. He had trouble sleeping, and at times came across as blunt or angry.
After the article was published, Finley heard from other veterans. “There was a lot of positive feedback,” he said. Veterans told him they were encouraged to know that help was available. He is glad he told his story. “The thing about transparency, it helps to foster relationships,” he said.
Finley said he truly found the Lord in his last year as a Marine — “or I should say he found me.”
“I knew what a life of service looked like, except now the service which I had been invited to was one based upon love for him,” he said. His seminary studies aren’t easy, and the transition from military life was tough. “I have faith,” Finley said.
“As a parent, it’s wonderful to see his face just come alive,” said Finley’s mother, Lisa Finley, who teaches kindergarten at Grace Academy in Marysville. “They’re just an incredible couple.”
On Thanksgiving, Finley will be working. He and his wife plan to celebrate later in the holiday weekend with extended family in Tennessee.
“Everyone is thankful for family,” he said. “I’m thankful for the new baby. And I’m thankful that the Lord gave me a second chance at life.”