On Difference Maker Evan Ahlin’s home office walls, there are photos of friends and family members. And then there’s a picture of a vehicle. It is hard to visually decipher at first — it’s tilted, twisted and parts of it are missing.
“That’s my M-ATV minutes after we hit an IED (improvised explosive device),” said Evan, a retired U.S. Marine Corps gunnery sergeant. “I keep that up there to remind myself things could be worse when I’m having a bad day.”
Evan, a junior majoring in Communications, said life shifted in that moment. Though he did not realize it at the time, the May 22, 2010 blast in Afghanistan was the start of a new role for him: advocate.
Everyone survived the blast. But there were life-lasting injuries, including Traumatic Brain Injury and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
Connecting with the community
In the video above, Evan shares why he’s so passionate about connecting veterans with the community and being vocal about the silent unseen struggles veterans can face.
“I am very open about my struggles with PTSD, my Traumatic Brain Injury, and my many other injuries. I do this so I can be a voice for veterans that are not as open to hopefully educating individuals about combat-related injuries,” he said. “I had a very difficult time transitioning out of the military to civilian life. But I soon realized why I struggled that I didn't have a mission or purpose. Right now my purpose is to make a difference within the veteran community here in Dearborn. I also look at myself as an advocate for younger veterans.”
Evan is active in veterans organizations, including the Dearborn Allied War Veteran Council and UM-Dearborn’s Student Veterans Association. In the SVA, he serves as president.
Evan is impressed with the level of support UM-Dearborn — and in particular, Veteran Services Program Manager Tom Pitock — gives veterans. He said Tom is involved in community veterans programming in addition to campus veterans services. “Tom goes above and beyond helping all veterans and their family members who attend this college.”
As the City of Dearborn’s veteran liaison, Evan is instrumental in organizing the city’s Memorial Day parade, one of the oldest in the nation. Ahlin also plans the City of Dearborn Veterans Day ceremony, which is a tribute to all who’ve served in the U.S. military.
He works to bring together several veterans organizations like the Student Veteran Association, the Dearborn Allied War Veteran Council, the Dearborn Vet Center, the Veteran of the Game, and the 19th District Veterans Treatment Court to make a larger impact. He’s also working to create PACT Act screening, which helps veterans learn if they are eligible for federal Veterans Affairs benefits and which ones. He’s also exploring ways for veterans to channel stress into creative outlets including a glass-blowing therapy program where the final piece of artwork will be on display at Dearborn’s City Hall.
Evan hopes more people become involved in veteran service organizations. He said the camaraderie gained provides benefits like career connections, mental and physical health support, and more.
An emphasis on inclusivity
Working with his wife Fatooma Saad, a Marine Corps veteran who graduated from UM-Dearborn in 2018, Evan is looking for ways for veterans organizations to be more inclusive.
“I’ve realized that not all veterans were being represented. This led me to push to have this year's theme for the city's 97th Memorial Day be Arab American Veterans Who Served,” he said. “This hits home to me because my wife is Lebanese and also a Marine veteran. I realized in a city of roughly 42% Arab population, little to no Arab American vets are involved in veteran service organizations.”
Reflecting on his past, Evan said he’s realized that some of the most horrific life experiences can lead to positive outcomes.
It's been 20 years since he enlisted and Evan said he wouldn’t change anything. He’s traveled the world, met his wife and experienced events that are now featured in movies and documentaries, like the removal of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the rescue of a merchant vessel from Somali pirates.
Most importantly, it gave him the foundation of his mission now