Mopping floors at a car dealership and living in his car was not what 36-year-old Marine Corps veteran and Cal State Fullerton student Johann Wells imagined he would be doing after returning home to the United States from being deployed in the initial invasion of Iraq.
“There was a certain amount of shame being homeless. The last thing you ever thought you would do is go and fight a war, and then come back and not have a place to stay but your car,” Wells said.
In 2001, Wells enlisted in the Marine Corps and spent four years in the service. Now, he is studying at CSUF, and with his military background, he hopes to work in a naval hospital and help veteran amputees.
Wells said one of the biggest sacrifices he made while he served in the Marine Corps was the three years he spent away from his family. Since then, he has dealt with the struggles of post-traumatic stress disorder and an inability to sleep.
“You don’t sleep much afterwards. You’re always constantly thinking about past friends that aren’t with you anymore, experiences that you had throughout the day that kind of reminded you of things in the past. Your brain just doesn’t really turn off anymore. You’re just constantly thinking about the past,” Wells said.
Wells worked two jobs to save up for his own place, always keeping in mind the advice his best friend and vehicle commander told him: Always take pride in your work, whether it’s mopping floors or cleaning toilets.
He took this valuable advice to heart and worked his way up to being a service adviser at a car dealership. Although he was also working part time as a personal trainer and receiving GI Bill benefits, Wells found that the income was not sufficient to sustain his education or a place to live.
It wasn’t until the GI Bill was changed that he was able to shift his focus from work to school.
“I had to work so much to live that I couldn’t go to school,” Wells said. “They changed (the GI Bill) from doing a $900 a month payment to go to school to almost a $3,000 a month payment to go for school. So that was what allowed me to not have to work two jobs anymore.”
Feeling that his life’s purpose is to help others, Wells has decided to study kinesiology, pursuing a career in physical therapy.
“Those people go through very life-changing injuries. It changes everything about their life. If I can acquire some knowledge that will just help make any part of their life a little bit easier, even if it’s just for a couple things throughout the day, there’s no better population that’s deserving of that information,” Wells said.
Aaron Edwards, business economic student and veteran at CSUF, works for the veterans program at Saddleback College. He said Wells is always willing to give up his free time to help with events within the veteran community.
“It’s just kind of how he is. He’s always willing to help us and take time out of his own life to help us out,” Edwards said.
Wells currently works at Saddleback College where he helps give physical therapy to people who have brain injuries, strokes or multiple sclerosis.
Despite the countless obstacles Wells has faced, he continues to dedicate himself to help those who have served his country.
“I would wish people to remember me as someone who cared more about the welfare of others than about myself. Somebody who really cared about people and tried to make a difference,” Wells said.