On Ben Gomm’s 18th birthday in 2004, he was sitting on a plane headed to Iraq.
It was exactly where he wanted to be. A red-haired, freckle-faced Hillcrest High School student, Gomm decided he wanted to enlist when he was 16. He spent the next year taking extra night classes in order to graduate early. He then joined the Army National Guard at 17 after convincing his parents to provide their signature.
“He was just red, white and blue to the core,” his sister Oliane Scott said.
The first year was hard. Always mechanically inclined, one of Gomm’s main jobs was to help repair vehicles. Gomm liked that; he was good at it. His other job was pulling dead and wounded soldiers off the battlefield.
“It was a pretty rough job,” Scott said. “He realized he wanted to serve (his country as a civilian) pretty quick after some of the stuff that he’d been through. But he remained very supportive of his country.”
When he came home after serving two tours of duty, Gomm got married and had two children. He grew his hair long, adopted a German shepherd and pinned an American flag to the roof of his beloved red Ford truck. He put his mechanical inclinations to good use by working at Blackfoot Brass, a metals foundry.
“He loved being a daddy; he was really good at that,” Scott said.
Despite his full life, the things Gomm saw in Iraq haunted him.
“He had some incredible jobs and was really successful, but, little by little, he just deteriorated,” Scott said.
Gomm stopped wanting to leave the house. Being out in public became increasingly difficult. His family noticed he was drinking more and more.
“Sometimes that’s the only way you can get your demons to shut off, the only way to sleep or function,” Scott said. “That’s what he did, and it just escalated.”
On Jan. 18, 2018, Ben Gomm died by suicide. He would have been 33 this year.
“We just realized that shouldn’t be the ending to a hero’s story,” Scott said.
Her brother’s death was the motivation behind creating Coming Home Inc. in July 2018, an organization Scott started alongside her mother and sister.
Coming Home Inc.’s goal is to provide support and assistance to local veterans who have come home after serving in the military. The ways in which Coming Home Inc. serves veterans are many and varied. For disabled, elderly and recovering vets, Coming Home Inc. members clean homes, run errands, do yard work, help with child care and cook meals. The organization currently has around 15 volunteers who have helped approximately 20 local veterans with these tasks.
It seems there is little Coming Home Inc. won’t do for those who have served or are serving in the military. When a local member of the military was recently deployed, she asked Scott if Coming Home Inc. could check in on her 19-year-old son occasionally to make sure he was doing well and keeping the house clean. Scott was happy to oblige.
Another way Coming Home Inc. serves veterans is by organizing monthly events. These events range from poker night, to time at the gun range, to dinners at local restaurants.
“The hardest part about coming home for many of our veterans is they lose that sense of camaraderie. They have this crazy, intense family group (while in the military) and then it totally dissipates,” Scott said. “So we’re trying to help them build relationships amongst each other. … A combat vet isn’t going to tell their war stories to their sisters or their wife. But they could to a fellow vet.”
Jeri Harwood is a veteran who served stateside in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and overseas during the Gulf War. While recovering from a recent surgery, Coming Home Inc. helped clean her house and watch her grandchildren. While there are multiple military organizations in the area, Harwood believes Coming Home Inc. is the best at bringing young and old veterans together. Its monthly events generally attract between 30 to 100 people.
"It’s very inclusive; it’s really fun to have everyone get together and get to know one another,” Harwood said.
Scott says local businesses have shown their support for the veterans by offering their services for free or heavily discounted rates.
“One of our goals is to pull as much support from the community as we can. Most of our events have been given to us for free or at very discounted rates … it means a lot for the veterans to know that the people at Garcia’s (Mexican Restaurant), for example, love and appreciate them.”
Yet the most important mission of Coming Home Inc. is the free PTSD treatment the group offers.
Bob Stahn at Well Spring Counseling, a local counselor who specializes in PTSD therapy and happens to be a veteran himself, goes to all the group events. If a veteran decides he wants to start therapy, they talk to Stahn.
An older veteran recently told Scott that he has been getting counseling from Stahn. Now, for the first time since Vietnam, he has started sleeping through the night.
Scott has no idea how many veterans see Stahn, but she is happy to get the monthly bill from him. That bill is paid through donations to Coming Home Inc.
One such recent donation came from an Idaho Falls fundraising event on Sunday organized by Dan Beck. The event was a run in Freeman Park that started at 8 p.m. and ended at 8 a.m. Beck, whose brother is in the military, christened the event “The Long Night” as a poetic tribute to the way those struggling can feel during dark times. With runners taking different shifts, Beck’s goal was that no one ran alone. He planned the end of the run to coincide with morning to symbolize the way even the longest, darkest nights do have an end.
“There’s no medal, no T-shirt, no standings, no results page … but there will be a sunrise at the end, and hopefully as a team we make a difference for those who served our country and may need help getting through their own long night,” Beck wrote on Facebook.
Though temperatures dropped to 5 below zero, Beck felt it was worth it for the more than $1,000 raised for Coming Home Inc.