A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Veteran Terry Flannery looked to find his place after serving in military and he found it in making things

By Maridith Yahl
NKyTribune reporter

Sitting in his high school Senior English class on September 11, 2001, Terry Flannery watched the first Twin Tower fall. Later, he saw the second tower do the same. He immediately wanted to go to New York and volunteer in the recovery efforts. Not able to, being only 17 years old, he signed up to enter the Army after graduation. He proudly served 12 years.

Terry Flannery

Flannery was in an artillery battery. When serving in Afghanistan, they worked as security forces, training police, and doing anti-terrorism missions. He said it was slow at first, offensives were just transitioning from Iraq to Afghanistan.

“Nobody paid attention to Afghanistan back then, it wasn’t in the news until we got there,” he says. Offensives began to ramp up against the Taliban, making it increasingly more intense.

“It was busy, it was rough, but it was fun,” Flannery says. The fun for him was climbing mountains in Afghanistan. “I saw stuff I never thought I would see, some stuff I didn’t really want to see,” he says. “That’s just part of it. I just focused on the good times.”

The U.S. was building schools in Afghanistan. “Women didn’t have rights over there, didn’t have really much schooling for women,” Flannery says. “To see that girls were being able to start going to school,” even persistent about it in the face of opposition, he says was exciting. Women were beginning to be employed, trained, and empowered to become the “breadwinners” at times for their house. He said that had not happened since the Taliban took over in the 1970s. It was especially touching to him, as he had just had a baby girl.

Flannery was forced into retirement for medical and mental health issues. He had gotten a brain injury from an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) but had hidden it from the Army. It was a struggle. “I was in my dream job and then somebody tells you that you can’t do this anymore,” he says. He did not realize the toll it would take on him mentally, until a year or so after.

When he returned home to Northern Kentucky, a big obstacle was not seeing the guys he served with every day.

“That’s really the main part, you miss the camaraderie of other soldiers, the relationships you build and the bonds that you have,” Flannery says. Not having them around was hard.

Another obstacle for Flannery was finding purpose. After retirement, everyone told him he had to go to college. He was three-fourths of the way finishing a business degree when he decided it was not the right fit.

For a wedding anniversary gift, Flannery made a wood box for his wife.

“I found purpose. I made something,” he says. Woodworking brought the spark back into his life. His family had always been Do-It-Yourselfers. He remembers as a kid helping his dad and grandad rip out cabinets and remodel. He and his wife had renovated a 1940s Sears and Roebuck house.

“That was a lot of getting back into working with my hands, making stuff, just creating,” he says.

His workshop

So, he completed the University of Cincinnati’s (UC) certification program for woodworking. Planning to open his woodworking business in March, it was put on hold when COVID hit. While his wife, a nurse, worked long hours, he stayed home with his kids. After being a dad all day, he spent another eight hours every night in his garage, getting his business ready to open for whenever that could happen.

He thinks it is “super cool” his 14-year-old daughter has taken interest in his work. She helped get the shop ready and is learning his craft. She may follow in her father’s footsteps. “That’s awesome. There’s not a lot of women in the trades, especially in metalwork,” he says. He tells her that while talking about finding her purpose.

The business, Wiseman Crossing Designs in Union is named after the road his grandmother grew up on in Eastern Kentucky. His family and roots are important to him. He wanted the childhood memories of family acceptance to be abundant in his work and company. He works to make his art, make houses feel like a home, he says.

His creations are diverse. All hand-made, he crafts jewelry, coffee tables, cutting boards, small boxes, knife handles, and more. His favorite is an ashtray for cigars made of staves from old bourbon barrels. He puts inlays and accents in like Buffalo nickels. Look for them on Facebook or Instagram.

It took some time, but Flannery found his way, he found his purpose. “When veterans get out it can be hard to find their way. It can seem impossible to a lot of us because that was our dream job,” he says. Adjusting to civilian life can be rough. The best thing you can do to help veterans is to ask them about their service. Get them to talk. Allowing veterans to share their experiences will help them in adjusting and finding their purpose, says Flannery.




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