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U.S. Army reservist pulls self up by his bootstraps

Mark Goodnight, once homeless, focuses on family and education

January 09, 2012|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • Mark Goodnight is a Hagerstown Community College student and U.S. Army reservist who once was homeless.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — Mark Goodnight has served in Iraq and is expecting to be deployed to Afghanistan in the future. In the meantime, he is taking classes at Hagerstown Community College.

A U.S. Army Reserve member out of Fort Meade, Md., Goodnight, 47, has served in the military for 26 years. His career has alternated between active military, the Reserves and the National Guard, allowing him to travel extensively overseas.

Goodnight said he reached a low point after returning to the Washington, D.C., area from Iraq in 2007.

“It was more of a mental hardship than a physical hardship. I thought I was ready to deal with coming back after Iraq,” Goodnight said.

Instead, his anger issues were attributed to post-traumatic stress disorder. He sought help at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va., where he was hospitalized. Not wanting to return to the D.C. area, he weighed whether he wanted to stay in Martinsburg.

He chose Hagerstown, instead, and lived at the Turning Point veterans home, before ending up at the REACH cold-weather shelter. He didn’t tell his family he was homeless, he said, because it was something he had to work out himself.

Goodnight lived at the shelter for several months and with the help of the staff there, moved into an apartment at Douglas Manor off North Avenue in March 2011.

“I like Hagerstown. It’s a little bit country, little bit city, with a lot of growth potential,” Goodnight said.

Even while living at the REACH shelter, Goodnight started taking classes at HCC, although having to be out of the shelter by 7 a.m. and back by 7 p.m. created some scheduling difficulties for projects.

The noise in the shelter also wasn’t conducive to effective studying, but Goodnight endured.

“There was no peace of mind. I basically treaded water the first couple of months. I spent a lot of time at the Student Success Center” at HCC, he said.

Goodnight is now a full-time student, studying alternative energy technology. Most of his civilian jobs related to construction.

He said he’s older than many HCC students, but admits that has its advantages.

“I’m more grounded now than when I was younger. I have a little more patience,” Goodnight said.

He estimates he has about 1 1/2 years of full-time studying left to earn a degree from HCC, but expects to be deployed before he’s finished.

“I know it’s coming up eventually because of Afghanistan. It’s my job, and I’ll go,” Goodnight said.

Goodnight has enjoyed some celebrity on campus. He was featured in his military uniform on the cover of the Spring 2012 HCC catalog.

“One instructor calls me ‘Hollywood,’” Goodnight said.

Goodnight doesn’t dwell on the publicity, although he hopes it helps other homeless veterans get help.

What’s more important to him is the recognition that his life is back on track thanks to the support of family, church and HCC staff.

Goodnight, who has a 5-year-old son, said, “As for celebrity, I’m Christopher’s father, and Willard and Patricia Goodnight’s son. That’s all the celebrity I need. It’s not about me; it’s about vets, the homeless and students. Hopefully, this is just the beginning,” Goodnight said. “I’ve been blessed.”

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