Preserving our nation’s interests largely lies with big decisions made by those on Pennsylvania Avenue, Capitol Hill, the Pentagon and other nearby buildings.
To alleviate stress that comes with steering America’s ship, these high-ranking officials often spend off time on Washington, DC-metro golf courses. Even after their government duties and careers are complete, they still hit a little white ball in a little white hole with regularity.
That’s golf. It often becomes an obsession and super therapeutic along the way in subduing life’s inherent personal and professional pressures.
Manuel Dukes is poster child for that statement. The 60-year-old Clinton, MD resident is a nine-year Marine Corps veteran with a fascinating military-golf story that deserves rousing applause.
Dukes grew up in Detroit in a family of four boys and four girls. He played sports, mostly baseball, but never picked up a golf club. Part was cultural, part was affordability. Ten mouths to feed gets expensive and golf wasn’t in the cards.
With a government-paid education as a perk, the military was his calling. The concept of enlisting wasn’t foreign to Dukes. His father held a combat position during the Korean war and a couple of Dukes’ neighborhood pals wearing stripes piqued his interest.
There you have it: Dukes joined the Marines in 1980 in a photo intelligence role. That seems as innocuous and easy as it gets. Not so much.
He specialized in snapping and printing aerial and still shots. The subject matters were troops and civilians who were shot to death, accidents, murder-suicides, domestic abuse, motorcycle crashes, and any and all dead bodies. To think of the horrors, Dukes wasn’t even deployed to war-torn countries. He served in Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and the Philippines.
“I witnessed dreadful sights like nobody’s business,” he said. “Although I was in a non-combat role, danger was all around me and I was always armed. It seemed that every day I photographed an autopsy used for documentation. And I took shots from air of enemy buildings for combat surveillance and intelligence purposes. At times, my life was in others’ hands and there was fear all around us.”
As if that wasn’t enough, Dukes’ photography proficiency was rewarded, so to speak. He was appointed to the team that located the Korean Air Lines 007 airplane shot down by Russians in 1983.
Upon honorable discharge in 2009, assimilation back into civilian life was grueling. To this day, Dukes’ wrestles with constant nightmares of plane, helicopter and motorcycle crashes. The PTSD was intense, notably self-management issues like mood swings and territorialism.
“My mind plays tricks every day, so I’m still on meds and I go to counseling,” he said. “Perhaps my most vivid memory is photographing a nine-year-old boy killed with a pool cue by his Marine dad. That’s very difficult to shake.”
These types of psychological (hidden) wounds are far more common among America’s troops than physical injuries. While single to triple amputees are repeatedly featured in the news, the cognitive, emotional and behavioral conditions associated with trauma invisibly cause equally if not more serious and adverse effects on living active and productive lives.
On Course Foundation
So, where’s the intervention?
In Dukes’ case, 11 years ago a friend introduced him to On Course Foundation, the organization leverages the tenets of golf as a recovery vehicle for wounded, injured and sick veterans. It conducts programs coast to coast teaching its “members” how to play golf and business skills for careers in the golf industry. On Course Foundation then places members in golf jobs with Callaway, Invited (formerly ClubCorp), golf product manufacturers and service providers, and golf courses, country clubs and resorts. There are more than 2,000 members in the U.S. and abroad.
“There was still considerable PTSD going through my brain day and night, and I had to find an outlet to help with that,” says Dukes. “On Course Foundation was and is a gift, and I haven’t stopped loving and playing golf since day one. To go from a beginner to a respectable player and enjoying the fresh outdoors to help offset anxieties is life-altering.”
The incredible camaraderie that Service men and women are accustomed to in the military rings special to Dukes.
“When I started with OCF, there was an immediate merging of the minds,” he says. “I express my feelings in a comfortable environment with people who also experienced difficult situations and love golf. Playing quality, fun golf with quality OCF members locally and elsewhere exposes us to life’s lessons and solutions.”
With the help of On Course Foundation clinics, Dukes’ handicap is an impressive seven. But his attachment to the organization delves deeper than time on the course. He’s a proud ambassador, giving back by helping others through the healing process via golf.
“OCF and I champion mental and physical well-beings. We feel a level of appreciation we may not have felt before – people care.”
In addition to striping drives down DC-area fairways, Dukes posits golf contributes to a life well worth living. His loving marriage has gone strong for more than 37 years with a 33-year-old son, a 36-year-old daughter and three grandchildren. Professionally thriving, he’s a software developer for the intelligence community, holding positions with Raytheon / Mosaic Technologies.
A sterling career notwithstanding, golf will forever be Dukes’ veins, not only to assist with lingering PTSD. Lo and behold, he started a golf apparel line, “Inspired 9,” with (naturally) military capsules. Moreover, he’s stoked to play golf and relay his story to On Course Foundation’s many current and prospective corporate sponsors which represent the lifeblood of the organization’s offerings.
“Bring them on,” he says. “The more sponsors, the more positive impact on wounded veterans’ lives. Golf is an amazing rehab tool and to do it in our nation’s capital is even more meaningful.”