During Brian Goodhart’s service as a paratrooper medic, he saw combat in Panama and Iraq. He also made 89 parachute jumps.
The biggest jump of his life, however, took place right here in Rhode Island, in 2019. At the age of 49, he jumped back into school to complete the degree he started some 20 years earlier.
In May, Goodhart graduated from Rhode Island College with a B.A. in liberal arts and sciences.
“I came back to finish what I started,” he said. “If I didn’t do that, how could I tell my kids to go to school?’’
Making this nontraditional achievement that much more challenging is the fact that Goodhart, now 52, is medically retired from the Army due to a combination of severe PTSD and complications from a leg injury sustained in a 1992 accident.
“The biggest lesson I learned was to never give up,” Goodhart told The Journal. “No matter what, keep fighting.”
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From Central Falls to Desert Storm
Sports was a huge deal in Goodhart’s Central Falls household.
“I was born in 1970, number eight out of 12 children,” he said. “We played football and baseball, and we wrestled all the time.”
Despite earning decent grades to accompany a stellar high-school athletic career, Goodhart had little desire to continue his education.
“I wasn’t ready for college then,” he said.
But after reading Army recruiting material, he saw a path forward.
“I feel like I was made for the Army.”
Two days after graduation in 1988, he was in the military, where he trained as a medic. He also volunteered for jump school.
“In high school I realized I had a fear of heights,” he said. “I heard the best way to overcome a fear was to confront it. So I did.”
He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 325th Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Having overcome his fear, he came to love parachuting. His goal was to become a jumpmaster, supervising the training of other airborne soldiers.
In December 1989, a sister unit, the 4th Battalion, was ordered to Panama as part of the mission to overthrow dictator Manuel Noriega. Short of medics, they asked for volunteers. Goodhart raised his hand, and jumped into Panama with 4th Battalion.
In June 1990, Goodhart and his unit went to Egypt for the multinational training exercise called Operation Bright Star. Their plan was to transition to winter training in northern Italy, but with war clouds threatening in the Middle East, the battalion was held over in Germany.
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Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. The entire 82nd Airborne was mobilized at Fort Bragg and ordered to Saudi Arabia. Since Goodhart’s unit was already in Europe, they became the first American troops deployed in Operation Desert Shield.
The battalion played a significant role in the ensuing Desert Storm ground campaign, the “100-hour war” that forced Iraqi troops from Kuwait the following February.
A life-altering injury back home
Having survived combat unscathed, Goodhart sustained a life-changing injury back home.
While driving a motorcycle to Fort Bragg in 1992, Goodhart collided with a car on a two-lane highway.
“My body flew over the car but I landed on my legs and shattered them,” he says. “For a year I was in and out of the hospital. Overall, they performed eight surgeries on my legs.”
Goodhart rode a desk as he went through physical therapy. He also took courses, including some EMT classes, at Fayetteville Technical Community College.
By 1994, he had recovered well enough to return to parachuting. He went to Afghanistan for training later that year.
After battling his way back to jump status, he reinjured his leg, bending a rod and snapping some screws that had been surgically installed.
Goodhart was placed on the Temporary Disability Retired List in 1996. That gives soldiers up to five years to determine if they can return to full duty.
During that time they perform no military duties, they receive benefits, and are reevaluated periodically.
Fortunately, Goodhart was not disqualified from civilian employment. He returned home and he landed a job with the Postal Service.
The timing gave him an opportunity to pursue another passion: coaching.
“My first job was a wrestling gig at a middle school in Lincoln,” he said. “In 1997, I heard they needed a wrestling coach at my old high school in Central Falls.“
The Goodhart name was well-known in the annals of Central Falls sports. Brian, his older brother Andy and their half-brother, Jay Gagne, are all members of the Central Falls Athletic Hall of Fame.
Brian got that wrestling job, which quickly led to coaching football as well.
“I coached those sports at the school for 10 years,” he said, adding in baseball for the final two years.
He later coached freshman football at Cumberland High School, varsity football at Smithfield High School and finally softball at Lincoln High School until 2021.
In 2000, he went before an Army medical board and was given the option of returning to duty or accepting medical retirement with full benefits.
“As much as I loved the military, I was doing well with the Postal Service, and I had reestablished a life back home,” said Goodhart. He took the retirement.
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Back to school the first time, and PTSD
In 1998 he started classes at CCRI, using his GI benefits to obtain his associate’s degree.
In 2000 he entered Rhode Island College as a physical education major. He attended classes for parts of three semesters, but the demands of his job along with his coaching duties made it impossible to give his coursework the attention it needed.
At the time he rationalized: “What do I really need this for anyway?”
He left RIC in 2003, not to return for more than 15 years.
During this time, the PTSD he had suppressed while still on active duty resurfaced with a vengeance.
“I had Gulf War Syndrome,” he said. That condition results in multiple medically unexplained chronic symptoms such as headaches, joint pain, insomnia and memory problems.
“My coping mechanism at the time was to stay active, and I also became a serious drinker. It took a lot of whiskey to get me to sleep.”
As the years passed he married and fathered three children — just adding to the time pressure and pushing school to the far back burner.
The PTSD and the drinking finally caught up with him, and he sought help from the VA.
He received prolonged exposure therapy, which the VA describes as “an evidence-based psychotherapy for PTSD. The therapy allows you to work through painful memories in a safe and supportive environment. It also allows you to participate in activities you have been avoiding because of the trauma.”
“It really helped me a lot,” Goodhart said.
Finishing what he started
After 20 years in the Postal Service he was able to retire at age 48. That’s when he decided he was ready to go back to college.
Lisa Levasseur heads up Rhode Island College’s Military Resource Center. In an interview for RIC’s newsletter she said, “From the moment I met Brian I knew right away that he was committed to being a successful student while juggling the extraordinary job of parenthood.”
The respect is mutual, and the reference to parenthood is especially meaningful to Goodhart. “My wife and I divorced in 2020, and Lisa helped me juggle my schoolwork while I tried to be a good father,” he said. “She guided me through various support programs, and even hosted movie nights for the kids.
“Lisa has been a tremendous help from the time I first met her until graduation,” he said. “Due to another surgery I had to go across the stage in a scooter, and she organized that for me.
“She is one of the most people-friendly individuals I have ever met.”
On the academic side, Goodhart had no real idea what he wanted to do.
“I switched from phys-ed to nursing, but that still was not right for me,” he said.
Goodhart credits professor Tom Schmeling in RIC’s political science department with getting him on the right path.
“He gave me some really good advice and assistance, and got me into a liberal arts major, with a concentration in science.
“That gave me a wide selection of courses to choose from, which will benefit me greatly in life,” he concluded.
He fell in love with film study. His mentor is assistant professor Rosalind Sibielski.
“She has been absolutely terrific to work with.”
Goodhart says he’d like to put his film knowledge to work producing videos to help high school athletes land sports scholarships.
The Goodhart brothers, along with Gagne, also run a nonprofit in Pawtucket that trains young women in fast-pitch softball. Three of the players are Brian’s daughters: Jacey (15), Aundrea (13) and Chloe (9).
Goodhart also has a 24-year-old stepdaughter, the mother of his first grandchild. After serving four years active duty in the Air Force, she continues the same work as a civilian, assigned to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.
When asked to provide advice to older veterans contemplating a similar path, Goodhart offered, “Go at your own pace; a slower pace means better focus.”
Mondays,4 to 8:30 p.m., Narragansett Bow Hunters, 1531 Ten Rod Rd., North Kingstown are offering an opportunity to learn archery at no charge. Everything needed will be provided (bows, arrows, arm guards, targets, finger tabs and instruction) No RSVP needed. For further information call (401) 295-7228 or visit www.narragansettbowhunters.org.
Saturday, 9 a.m., Deer Creek Farm in Foster, Dare to Dream Ranch and DEM‘s Aquatic Resource Education Office offering a one-day course for veterans and families on how to tie flies and fly fish. All tying materials and fishing equipment provided. To register call Cyndi, (401) 871-2332; leave your name, phone number, email and how many people you are registering. Vet Center eligibility is required. Interested Veterans should contact Paul Santilli via email at Paul.Santilli@va.gov or by phone at (401) 739-0167.
Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., annual Calling All Veterans Day; 2111 Plainfield Pike, Johnston (Plainfield Pike Flea Market, plenty of onsite parking). RI Elder Info sponsors this event, which provides information and resources to allow seniors to remain independent and connected with the community as they age. Contact Deb@RIElderInfo.com, or (401) 585-0509.
June 25, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Battle Buddy Retreat, Dare to Dream Ranch, 12 Snagwood Road, Foster. Exchange experiences, resources and tactics to live life to its fullest. Archery, hiking, yoga, tai-chi and equine therapy provided. Call Dare to Dream Ranch, (401) 919.2059.
June 25, 9 a.m., Rhode Island Remembers COVID-19 Memorial, Rhode Island State House south lawn. Veteran help requested by Rhode Island State Council of Churches to install close to 4,000 flags in memory of all COVID-19 victims to date. Blessing of the Flags will take place at 11AM. Contact Fred Faria, at (401) 743-5548, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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