Vet­eran finds con­fi­dence, mo­ti­va­tion through mil­i­tary ser­vice

Newark Post - - LOCAL NEWS - By MAR­CUS DIETERLE mdi­eterle@ches­pub.com

It was a long road for vet­eran Kevin Bar­nett to build his self-con­fi­dence — even longer to chron­i­cle that jour­ney in a book — but he cred­its the United States mil­i­tary for giv­ing him the op­por­tu­nity to find him­self and to turn the neg­a­tiv­ity in his life into some­thing pro­duc­tive.

In his book, “Liv­ing My Shad­ows: Dreams Do Come True,” Bar­nett shares his ex­pe­ri­ences in the foster care sys­tem, liv­ing in a trou­bled neigh­bor­hood, join­ing the mil­i­tary and search­ing for his birth fam­ily.

Bar­nett said he liked books’ abil­ity to trans­form ideas into some­thing tan­gi­ble on the page and to pull read­ers into the author’s story.

“I just like the process: how you can put your thoughts down on pa­per, write a story,” he said.

Of course, Bar­nett didn’t think that story would nec­es­sar­ily be his own.

“I al­ways knew I wanted to write a book, but I didn’t think it was go­ing to be about my life,” he said.

Af­ter Bar­nett was born in 1960, his birth mother placed him for adop­tion. For the next 10 or 11 years, Bar­nett spent his child­hood in the foster care sys­tem un­til he was adopted by his fam­ily, the Bar­netts.

Bar­nett grew up in East Or­ange, N.J., where he said he en­coun­tered a lot of neg­a­tiv­ity. But he re­sisted those temp­ta­tions and used mar­tial arts to cope with the prob­lems in his com­mu­nity.

“As I grew up, I started learn­ing how to use neg­a­tiv­ity to build my house,” he said. “I call ev­ery neg­a­tiv­ity a brick, and you just lay brick by brick by brick un­til you build that house of suc­cess.”

Still, there was some­thing miss­ing from Bar­nett’s life: he wanted to see the world.

“I knew there had to be more than where I was liv­ing,” he said.

Bar­nett dreamed of vis­it­ing Eu­rope where he could ex­pe­ri­ence a dif­fer­ent way of life.

“I’ve al­ways been fas­ci­nated with go­ing over­seas,” he said.

There was just one small snag in the plan, how­ever: nei­ther he nor his par­ents could af­ford to send him to col­lege.

Bar­nett worked for a while in what he called “a pretty good job” but even­tu­ally he just got “fed up with what was go­ing on in the area where I grew up in.”

So at 28, Bar­nett en­listed in the U.S. Army and was sent to Ger­many for his first duty sta­tion, where he spent nine years.

He said he loved liv­ing in the com­mu­nity in­stead of the bar­racks, speak­ing the Ger­man lan­guage, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the fam­ily at­mos­phere and be­ing able to travel to dif­fer­ent coun­tries.

“It was laid back. It wasn’t a lot of ur­ban life, so to speak. It was dif­fer­ent,” he said.

Be­ing part of the mil­i­tary helped Bar­nett gain con­fi­dence in him­self while also giv­ing him a sense of pride by serv­ing his coun­try, he said.

Dur­ing his time in the army, Bar­nett be­came a drill sergeant — an ex­pe­ri­ence that he said par­tic­u­larly stands out to him as an im­pe­tus for strength­en­ing his self-es­teem.

“That right there helped me to be­come a leader, build my con­fi­dence up and be a per­son who af­fected over 5,000-plus sol­diers,” he said.

Three years be­fore Bar­nett re­tired from the mil­i­tary, he was de­ployed to Afghanistan for a year.

“I re­ally wasn’t ex­pect­ing that,” he said. “No­body wants to go to war.”

A cou­ple years af­ter re­tir­ing, Bar­nett be­gan search­ing for his birth fam­ily. He found his birth mother in Septem­ber 2016 through Face­book groups and DNA test­ing. While he never met his birth fa­ther, Bar­nett was able to find out who the man was. Bar­nett said his birth mother, birth fa­ther’s fam­ily and his sib­lings had a fam­ily union in the Po­cono Moun­tains.

Since be­gin­ning his search, Bar­nett has dis­cov­ered fam­ily mem­bers across the world from the United King­dom to An­guilla to Florida.

That search even­tu­ally in­spired Bar­nett to write his book to share that jour­ney with oth­ers who can re­late to his strug­gle.

“When­ever I get to talk to in­di­vid­u­als that have been in the same sit­u­a­tion or are cur­rently in the same sit­u­a­tion, that’s re­ally the driv­ing point of me do­ing all this,” he said.

Bar­nett also founded his com­pany, Liv­ing My Shad­ows LLC, where he serves as a mo­ti­va­tional speaker. The com­pany is based in Peo­ples Plaza.

He wants peo­ple, es­pe­cially youth, to never let go of their dreams and know that they, too, can turn those “bricks of neg­a­tiv­ity” into the foun­da­tion for their hard­earned suc­cess.

“No mat­ter what peo­ple tell you that you can’t do, you can do it. But it’s go­ing to take hard work … Any­thing is pos­si­ble. You just have to put your mind to it,” he said.

Bar­nett also ac­knowl­edged the men­tal health strug­gles that some vet­er­ans and ac­tive-duty mil­i­tary per­son­nel face.

“The main thing I sug­gest is if you have an is­sue or some­thing, you’ve got to share it with some­one. You’ve got to share it with an­other vet­eran,” he said.

Whether it’s vis­it­ing a Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs cen­ter, call­ing a hot­line or shar­ing one’s ex­pe­ri­ences in vet­eran Face­book groups and in-per­son with vet­eran friends, Bar­nett said it is im­por­tant for those peo­ple to find a way to speak their mind.

“I think that’s the hard­est thing about be­ing a vet­eran, es­pe­cially in­di­vid­u­als that are ac­tu­ally in com­bat; they’ve seen some hor­ri­ble things,” he said. “You can never for­get it and it’s some­thing that stays with you. But you have to talk it out. Talk it out, seek help and don’t be ashamed of do­ing that.”

As young peo­ple work to­ward their dreams, Bar­nett said he wants youth to know they can do any­thing they want to do as long as they put the work in.

“No mat­ter where you come from or how you got here or what dif­fi­cul­ties you are fac­ing, the bot­tom line is you have con­trol of your life and you just have to make the right de­ci­sions,” he said. “If you make a mis­take, you have to pick your­self up and don’t blame no­body and just tr y to get back on that road.”

Those in­ter­ested can buy Bar­nett’s book on Ama­zon and visit his web­site at liv­ingmyshad­ows.org.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF KEVIN BAR­NETT

Through mil­i­tary ser­vice and the search for his birth fam­ily, Kevin Bar­nett built the con­fi­dence he strug­gled to find ear­lier in his life. Now, as an author and mo­ti­va­tional speaker, Bar­nett shares his jour­ney with oth­ers to show them that dreams do come true if you put in the work.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF KEVIN BAR­NETT

Kevin Bar­nett en­listed in the U.S. Army at age 28 and was sent to Ger­many for his first duty sta­tion. He later be­came a drill sergeant and also was de­ployed to Afghanistan for one year.

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