SAN DIEGO — Veteran Marine Dan Lopez was awarded the Purple Heart when he was injured in Iraq but when he came home he says he felt lost. With the help of a local nonprofit, he was able to build his own business and teach motorcycling classes where he says he's found his worth.
Lopez says that his bikes are “a little rough around the edges” which is something he can sometimes say about himself.
“It’s got some issues, it's missing some parts and those are a little beat up,” he said.
When the U.S. Marine staff sergeant came home from serving three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he felt lost when he didn't have a mission anymore.
Lopez was 19 when he joined the Marines in 2003 and had spent 12 years on missions in the military.
“My uncle was a Vietnam veteran and I always thought he was the baddest dude around and I wanted to be just like him when I grew up,” Lopez said.
While serving in Iraq in 2004, he received the Purple Heart when his unit in the 3rd Battalion 1st Marines was hit by an IED. He was hit with shrapnel and gravel, everyone survived but while some were sent home, he stayed.
“If you are willing and able and still walk and carry the weight you still go,” Lopez said and he continued to carry that weight when got home in 2015.
After returning home, Lopez ended up picking up two felonies for assault and said he got into a lot of trouble.
“All of those thoughts start going through your head…suicide, you can't drink yourself away, you can't do enough drugs to make yourself feel better and that is all that I was doing,” Lopez said.
WATCH: Extended interview with Dan Lopez
When he finished the veterans' treatment court program he didn't have anywhere to go.
That's when he moved into Mia and Steve Roseberry's home until they could get him a bed at Wounded Warrior Homes, the San Marcos, CA, based non-profit they founded that provides housing and resources for post 9-11 Veterans transitioning into civilian life.
“He really wanted to move on and was willing to do the hard work to get there,” Steve said.
“We can be the stepping stone for our veterans on this side and really honoring who they are,” Mia added.
Today, at age 39 Lopez continues to lead. He's a motorcycle coach for active duty service members and owns his own dog training business called K9 Allies.
Just like his bikes, Lopez continues to work on himself but knows he's found his purpose. “This is my mission now. I brought this back to life,” Lopez said about the bike.
And hopes others will give veterans a chance to find their worth.
As we honor our service members this Veterans Day, Dan Lopez encourages people if they know a veteran is struggling, especially a homeless veteran to reach out and help.
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