Home Base, surfing help heal veteran suffering from PTSD

An Afghanistan veteran who struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder said he is healing with help from an organization for veterans and through a sport he loves.

For Thomas Gillis, a surfboard has been a critical part of his healing from the horrors of war. Gillis was serving in the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan in 2003 when he was shot in the chest.

“The next thing I know, I was looking at the sky, and my guys were standing over me, and the first thing I thought was, ‘I’m dead, and they don’t know what to do with me,'” Gillis said.

After 22 years in the military, Gillis was honorably discharged for medical reasons, but the mental baggage of combat caused more problems than the physical pain. He said he tried doctors and counseling, but nothing really worked until he heard about Home Base, a two-week, intensive program for veterans with PTSD.

“I came back from that after I graduated, and two days later, I was in the water surfing, and I couldn’t believe how happy I was,” Gillis said.

One day while he was renting a surfboard, Gillis ran into his old friend Mike Paugh, who runs Zapstix Surf and Skate. They decided to build a surfboard honoring Gillis’ service.

“It’s just you and the water and that board,” Gillis said. “So I don’t know. It’s almost like you’re safer out there than anywhere else.”

In a tiny surf shop just off the strip in Seabrook, not far from the beach and the constant roll of the waves, Gillis said he’s putting his life back together with friends, family and a group of people who saved him.

“I found peace right here, and through Home Base. I would have never found it without them,” he said.

Learn more about the work Home Base is doing and how to support its mission in a TV special from 7:30-9 p.m. Friday on WMUR.

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