Christopher Goehner, currently a sales finance manager for Swire Coca-Cola, can tell you exactly how long he served in the U.S. Navy as a paramedic.

Three years, four months, and three days.


He can tell you the number of patients he cared for during that time.

More than 1,200 trauma and 450 operating cases, most of whom he saw in emergency room tents during his second deployment in Iraq.

He can also tell you the name of one patient who would forever change his life.

Doug.

Goehner had never known Doug. Never even heard his voice. But, in 2005, he held his dog tags in his hand as he and his team decided his life could not be saved with the resources available.

That memory continues to impact Goehner. “You don’t forget what’s written on a dog tag when you let someone go," he recalls.

At only 21 years old, Goehner had to make such evaluations about people’s lives – an experience that left him with Post Traumatic Stress.

Now, he’s using Doug’s memory and art to heal and inspire.

Art as Healing

Through CreatiVets, a nonprofit that provides veterans with art-based healing and empowerment opportunities Goehner was able to work with songwriters to write a song to honor Doug’s memory, using information learned through research and conversations with Doug’s brother, Paul.

“With CreatiVets, I had the opportunity to walk into a room and talk about my darkest, worst day. And then it allowed me to forget about it. There’s a song that captured those memories, so if I want to go back to remember, I can," he siad.

His own wrist bares an artistic ode to the man whose dog tags he held: a tattoo of Doug’s name and Nov. 30, 2005 – the day he died.

Goehner has been the subject of art, as well. Since leaving office, former President George W. Bush has painted portraits of men and women injured during service. This past year, he selected Goehner as a subject in his book, Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors. He was also featured in a recent TIME magazine story and video. 

 


Considering the resulting painting, Goehner reflects, “The way he painted my eyes reminded me where I was at in those dark times. He painted the anguish accurately.”

Goehner, though, insists that it is not his story that has impact, but instead Doug’s, which he feels obligated to share.

He often refers to Doug when he speaks with other veterans about post-service suicide rates. “Doug didn’t get to make the choice of when his life was over," he said. "We don’t have a choice of when to end ours.”

Civilian Life

Goehner spent his years post-service advocating on behalf of veterans in Washington, D.C. He also spent time in South Africa where he supported a nonprofit with business development, before getting his certificate in finance from Harvard Business School.

After then moving to rural Wenatchee, Washington, it seemed too good to be true when, shortly after his completion of the finance program, Goehner came across a newly open finance manager position at the local offices for Swire Coca-Cola.

He started at Coca-Cola in June. After his first day, he got a call from CreatiVets to see if he would be interested in coming to Nashville over the 4th of July for a songwriting workshop.

Goehner, nervous to come into his second day of work and ask for time off during one of Coca-Cola’s busiest periods, brought a copy of the painting Bush had made in his likeness to help explain.

“My boss looked at me and she said, ‘That’s far more important than anything we’re doing here. You’re definitely going',” he recalled.

Though Goehner is adamant that he not be defined by his military experience, it has shaped how he perceives and interacts with his communities.

One of the first things he did after becoming a part of The Coca-Cola Company was join drivers on their routes and meet with account managers to understand how the operation works.

“I did it because I don’t think you can get a firm grasp of the company unless you see what happens on the front lines,” he explains.

“When I was deployed, I got put in situations where decisions were made by those above us, who often had no idea what happened on the ground. I never want to forget about the front-line people and what it’s like to be in the thick of it all. Leadership does not begin from above, but on the front lines.”

Just as his time in the military shaped him, these experiences will continue to influence the person Goehner is becoming.

After all, he's not only a veteran, but a veterans’ advocate; a husband; a Coca-Cola employee; a golfer and mountain biker; a fisherman; a beginner guitarist; a man who does not fit into a boxed identity.


 “I don’t want to hold myself in a single bubble,” he concludes. “We are able to find out so much more and move forward by discovering the things we have in common.”