MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Former Staff Sgt. George Young hasn't had the best run of luck. After being blown up twice in Iraq in 2005 he has had three surgeries on his shoulder, was left with two blown out knees, a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. He lost his eight-month-old baby girl and is the father to three children, two of which are disabled.
At one point in his life, he felt like he had nothing.
He wanted to give up.
But one thing turned everything around - a program known as Manpower to Horsepower, located out of Mooresville, N.C.
"I wouldn't be here without this program," said Young. "With all of the things that have gone wrong within my life, this is the one bright spark that I look forward to."
Manpower to Horsepower is a nonprofit organization meeting the transitional needs of combat veterans. The organization creates an atmosphere of mentoring, friendship and rehabilitation through the sport of racing.
The center serves not only as a full service, hands-on facility but a place where veterans can work together and receive a different type of therapy. It serves the dual purpose of helping them regain acclamation back into a productive society from post-combat stress and injury while affording them real-life racing exposure both at the shop and the tracks.
"Due to my traumatic brain injury, I forgot everything I used to know (about cars) in the past," said Young. "I was really big into cars. The program is designed to take (service members) that have been injured and are in similar situations as mine and give them the skills they need in order to be successful in the workplace once they get out (of the program)."
Veterans with injuries ranging from TBIs and PTSD to those who are missing one or all of their limbs learn everything from the history of automotive sports and engine building to exotic metal fabrication and welding.
"They're giving a good foundation for (veterans) that wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to go to school and learn these traits and actually be successful," said Young.
Sue Roberson, founder of the program, created Manpower to Horsepower to not only give them vocational training, but also a therapeutic environment to transition them back into society.
"I've got three kids to take care of," said Young. "My oldest son is autistic, my youngest son is blind in his right eye and I have a daughter that's 11. I wasn't doing anything. I would wake up and sit on the sofa all day. I didn't care about anything, I didn't care about life. With this, I've got hope for the future for the first time since I was hurt."
While most veterans suffering from combat injuries feel hopeless and helpless, Roberson helps them take responsibility for their own lives, she said.
"(Young) almost wasn't here because he had given up," said Roberson. "With this program, service members like him are able to make their own way and get back their own sense of pride."
Many of the students don't feel comfortable in large crowds, are on a slew of medications and struggle with hypertension but somehow the cars help them get past all of that.
"They suffer from never feeling like they could fulfill everything and be the men they used to be," said Roberson. "They build these cars, go to the tracks with them, they babysit them, they race them. It's theirs to own as far as their responsibility."
However, the car isn't the only thing that pulls these guys out of their rut.
"When they start working together in the shop, they almost turn into their own platoon again," said Roberson. "They become each other's support system. They refuse to talk to the psych, but they will talk to each other because they know that they understand what they're going through."
Roberson has no psychological training - just real-life exposure, and she says that's all her students need.
"I don't paint them an unrealistic pretty picture, but I do have one rule," said Roberson. "We do not contemplate or commit suicide because there is nothing we cannot do as a family, and that's what we are here, a family."
For more information on Manpower to Horsepower, visit Manpowertohorsepower.com or call 704-664-1674.