We civilians can never fully understand the life of an American soldier. We have not walked in their worn boots, we have not witnessed the horrors they have seen, and we do not carry the memories they wish they could forget. We can only listen to their stories and attempt to grasp the sacrifices they made for our country.
The following story is of a Marine who lives here in Cherokee County. No one has given him anything in life, yet he has been to more than one hundred countries, obtained four degrees, including a law degree, performed top-secret covert missions, and served his country for twenty-one years.
Hear the story of Glenn “Flash” Wells and you’ll have a renewed sense of gratitude for him and all American military families.
Glenn has a broad, infectious smile; he seems like the kind of fun-loving guy you would want on your cornhole team. If you coax him to tell you about his past, though, you will understand the strength of character he possesses.
Glenn Wells was born March 2, 1976, in Chicago. His home life was far from ideal. His father was gone, and Glenn lived in poverty, feeling more like a hindrance than a child. He endured stepfathers and others who came in and out of his life, and many were abusive. It was a hard start, but Glenn doesn’t dwell on it. He waves it away and points out, “If I live as a victim, I never get ahead.” That’s all he will say on that subject, which speaks volumes.
Desperate to escape the toxic environment, Glenn moved out of his childhood house at sixteen, homeless and couch-surfing, eating when and where he could. One bright spot in that dark time was the help of two teachers at school who recognized that Glenn had potential but needed a little help, so they paid for him to go to community college to study welding.
Attending high school during the day and welding classes at night, all the while with no home, soon drove Glenn to a breaking point. He dropped out of school and was on the road to nowhere. He was eighteen and knew he had to do something, so he went to the nearest recruiting center and said, “Dude, you’ve got to get me into the Marines.”
The Few. The Proud. The Marines.
For most people boot camp is a living hell. Its purpose is to test recruits’ physical, mental, and moral toughness over thirteen grueling weeks. Drill instructors go to the extreme, screaming at recruits, purposefully treating them as though they are less than human. In boot camp Marine recruits are pushed to their physical and mental limits.
Glenn, however, revels in the memories. “I loved boot camp. I had never had food security before, but I knew I would get fed every few hours. They gave me a mattress, a blanket, and a pillow. When I got disciplined, it was to correct something I did wrong. Growing up I would get beaten up for no reason. Yeah,” Glenn says with a grin, “boot camp was awesome.” In the Marines a young Glenn felt a sense of stability for the first time in his life, and he thrived.
When the San Diego boot camp ended in May 1995, Glenn reported to his first infantry unit, 1st Battalion 6th Marines at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
When Flash Met Mookie
On a weekend leave, Glenn and some buddies headed to Myrtle Beach to meet girls. But Glenn didn’t meet girls—he met the girl. On arrival at the beach, he noticed a pretty student nurse named Amy. He had caught her eye too, and she recalls thinking he was super cute. According to both, they talked and slowly drifted away from their friends. A usually reserved Amy found Glenn “so easy to talk to.” They talked all night, in fact, and ended up on the beach. As the sun rose on the Atlantic Ocean, Glenn told Amy, “One day I’m going to marry you.” In Amy’s sweet smile, Glenn saw his home.
An equally charmed Amy went home and told her father, “I met the man I’m going to marry.” She did just that on August 22, 1998.
In their first year of marriage, the Wellses spent a total of two weeks together. The military marriage proved challenging right out of the gate.
Glenn and Amy—lovingly nicknamed Flash and Mookie—have three daughters. Glenn adopted their eldest, Allyson, when the couple married, and as Glenn puts it, “She is 100 percent my daughter. She’s even stubborn like me.” He grins. Their second daughter, Gillian, was born in 2003 while Glenn was part of the infantry pushing coalition forces through to Baghdad, Iraq. In precious family photos, Gillian’s face shows a delightful mixture of her parents. Tragically little Gillian died of sudden infant death syndrome at just nine months old. Glenn, who makes it a practice to look only forward in life, says his one regret is that he spent only three weeks with Gillian. “I never even got to know my baby girl, and then she passed away. I thought there would be so many years to do that.”
The heart-shattering tragedy of losing a child, the physical distance between Glenn and Amy, and the nature of Glenn’s job weighed heavily on the family. While deployed Glenn witnessed Special Operations Force Reconnaissance—often called Force Recon or FORECON—in helicopters going after high-value targets. Glenn felt it was where he could make the most significant impact and decided to pursue a future in Force Reconnaissance.
Signature Wounds and Silent Suffering
Force Recon is for the toughest and the bravest. Its motto is “Swift, Silent, Deadly.” The training is so intense that out of eighty Marines chosen to train, Glenn was one of only three to pass. When asked how he made it through the physical and emotional exhaustion and extreme pain, he chuckles.
“Truthfully, I hated those guys who were testing us so much there was no way I was letting them win. I didn’t say it out loud, but I was thinking I will never quit in front of you people.”
The following years were a blur of deployments worldwide and tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. During his career Glenn shot hundreds of thousands of bullets from various weapons systems and says each shot felt like small explosions to the body.
In the line of duty Glenn was knocked unconscious three times. The physical and emotional tolls on Glenn were staggering. He lost numerous friends, many right before his eyes in combat and many to suicide.
Glenn grimly discusses the statistic that twenty-two U.S. service members commit suicide daily. In an attempt to explain the hopeless feeling behind the rising number of suicides, Glenn looks away and says, “Society needs to understand they pay you to be a soldier; your job is to be a brutal and violent person. Then you come back home and are expected to go back to being a person you aren’t anymore, and you don’t fit in, and you have all this pain, anger, and physical damage no one can see—and no one wants you to talk about it. I was in a lot of pain and didn’t understand I had a traumatic brain injury [TBI].”
TBIs have been called the “signature wound” of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The symptoms include psychological problems, headaches, nausea, seizures, communication aphasia, coordination problems, vision problems, and more. Glenn was also suffering from survivor’s guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]. Back then, mental trauma and disorders carried a heavier stigma and weren’t often discussed, for fear of backlash, discrimination, and expulsion from the military—often the one place soldiers felt that they fit in.
All these events looked different to Amy, almost as though she were an outsider looking in. Slowly Glenn had changed. He became angrier and distant. She recalls starting to look forward to his deployments, so she didn’t have to deal with his emotional state. Amy shares, “I never feared him personally, but I was afraid for the drywall. I was working and raising two kids and trying to grieve another. I just wanted things to be peaceful. It was easier when he was gone, even though I had to be a single parent.”
When talking about all the things Glenn went through on his deployments, Amy pauses and says, “Glenn saved people too, you know. I bet he didn’t tell you that.” He hadn’t.
What pulled Glenn back from the brink? Glenn credits Amy for being rock solid. He also says you need to take the help people offer you.
The military offered free college classes while he was in the service, so Glenn earned four degrees between 2013 and 2020—an associate of science, a bachelor of business administration, a master of science in organizational leadership, and a juris doctor degree. He later went on to pass the Georgia bar exam.
All of Glenn’s academic achievements were hard won. The damage he suffered from deployments had been cumulative and the changes were slow, so Amy and Glenn didn’t fully grasp how significant his PTSD and TBI were until he met the right people. He had been suffering silently, soldiering on like he was trained, despite tremendous pain.
Toward the end of his service Glenn asked to be stationed without his family in Okinawa, Japan. Things at home were tense. Amy had mentally packed her bags, and Glenn felt sure the marriage was over. Luckily Glenn landed under the leadership of Battalion Commander Eric Thompson, who Glenn remembers as the best battalion commander he ever served under.
Glenn felt comfortable enough to seek help under the colonel’s firm but compassionate leadership.
Amy recalls she could see the difference in him. “When he came home for our daughter Allyson’s high school graduation, I was surprised to find out I enjoyed his company again. He seemed different.”
The Road to Real Recovery
Upon his retirement, Glenn returned to the United States and continued his schooling. He was starting to feel better, but not great. Still challenging himself academically, he enrolled in law school. The rigor of school kicked Glenn’s TBI symptoms into overdrive. His headaches grew worse. He was dizzy and nauseated all the time. During his first exam he passed out halfway through and had to sit in a chair for four hours until he could see and stand and felt well enough to go home.
Thankfully for Glenn, a fellow student—a medical doctor in a wheelchair—observed him and felt sure that Glenn had suffered a traumatic brain injury. He told Glenn, “You need to go to the Shepherd Center and go through the SHARE program.” SHARE stands for Shaping Hope and Recovery Excellence.
Glenn was skeptical. He didn’t have time; he was in law school. Besides, who would pay for it?
After Glenn was evaluated and officially diagnosed as suffering from a TBI, he found out the SHARE program would be paid for entirely by Shepherd’s Men, and the program was customized to fit Glenn’s schedule and needs. The SHARE military initiative is a comprehensive eight- to twelve-week rehabilitation program that focuses on assessing and treating service members who from military service have symptoms of PTSD or who have sustained a mild to moderate TBI. The SHARE team rehabilitates injured veterans and facilitates their return to their families and communities. The program covers a wide range of care, including housing, physical and occupational rehabilitation, speech pathology, recreation therapy, nursing, case management, neuropsychology, psychology, counseling, chaplaincy, and counseling for substance abuse. Glenn is one of more than 750 service members who have benefited from the SHARE program so far.
The Shepherd’s Men volunteer group raises awareness and funds for the program, to help service members afford the care the SHARE military initiative provides. Made up of active and retired servicemen and civilian volunteers, the Shepherd’s Men understand the need for the program and have raised more than $6 million in their efforts to support the program.
While Glenn was working toward his juris doctor degree, volunteering, and spending much-needed time with his family, he lived at the Shepherd Center for six months. He returned for subsequent treatments after leaving the center. A life coach also often continues to work with clients after their discharge to ensure the soldiers have the resources to continue their recovery.
Home in a Hallmark Town
Today Glenn is amazed by what the SHARE program did for him, “God bless them. They took me and addressed every part of me—physical, mental, and emotional—and got me to a great place. My knees and shoulders had been badly damaged from explosions, carrying heavy weights, and jumping out of helicopters. I’m not sure what would have happened if it weren’t for them. After I went through the program at the Shepherd Center, my suicidal ideation finally went away.”
After passing the Georgia bar exam, Glenn worked as prosecutor assistant to the Cherokee County district attorney. Glenn loved the job and says he learned a great deal about ethics and morals in the role. The Veterans Administration then called and offered him a job with too many perks to turn down, so Glenn became an attorney-advisor at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, where he works today.
When Glenn retired from the military in 2016, he and Amy could retire anywhere they wanted, and they chose Woodstock, Georgia. They call it their “Hallmark town.” It does feel like a Hallmark town while Amy, Glenn, and I sit outside on the Reformation Brewery lawn, chatting under the shade of a giant tree.
This military family’s story has a happy ending. Unfortunately the same is not usually the case, as statistics show 85 percent of marriages in the military end in divorce. Glenn makes it clear that Amy is the main reason he is still here and they are still married. He says she is the rock that held the family together.
Amy gave a speech when Glenn retired from the military, and her words best characterize their relationship with each other and the country they both served.
“When you are a military spouse, you plan for the unwanted, the unexpected, and the terrifying reality that your husband could die. You know exactly what he wants in the way of a funeral. Being a military spouse requires mental strength you never knew you had until you deal with matters as fragile as this. And with every death that surrounds you, you are secretly grateful that it isn’t your husband that got killed, and an instant after that thought, you are ashamed you were grateful. But aside from all the bad that comes along with being a military spouse, there is also much good. Nothing beats the feeling of a homecoming when your man has been away for many months. Up through his very last deployment, I still got butterflies, knowing I was going to have those strong arms wrapped around me again. It was the best feeling in the world. Knowing your husband did courageous, brave, and honorable work to protect our country and our freedom is also the best feeling in this world.”
Life for the Wells family is on a nice even keel these days. Amy is a registered nurse at Northside Heart, an outpatient cardiology clinic for Northside Hospital. Glenn works remotely for the Veterans Administration. The Wells girls are thriving. The youngest, Mairin, is graduating from high school in May and plans to become a pilot. Any chance they get, the family goes exploring the country in their RV.
When asked what they hoped would come from this article, their answers were similar. Glenn reflected, “Nobody owes me anything. I would just love for people to come on out to MilVet community meet-ups on the first Monday of every month, meet the veterans, and hear their stories.”
Amy says this about sharing her family’s story: “Military families and hurting veterans need to be heard.”
It is an honor to have the Wells family in our little Hallmark town. As a couple Glenn and Amy have sacrificed greatly to protect our country and all the little Hallmark towns like ours.
Learn more about the MilVet Community group, which Glenn helped to cofound, in our story MilVet: Lead, Serve, Community.
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Leana Conway has been a Cherokee County resident for 22 years. Leana is originally from Canada but calls the South her home now. When she’s not writing about the fascinating neighbors she meets for Enjoy Cherokee Magazine, she’s busy as a full-time caregiver to her husband. Leana is also a blogger, mom, and new Oma (grandma in Dutch). Her life philosophy is “Find your calling, and you will find joy.”