All I Know Is Change

Donnie Nicholson, US Navy Veteran

Donnie Nicholson, US Navy Veteran

In April of 2000 I came home to my mom from the US Navy after three years of service. Earlier that year I was honorably discharged early but re-enlisted because I wanted to be in service to my country for a while longer. The transition to my new duty station was difficult and when I asked for help, I was given none. I experienced anxiety and depression and spoke with the Chaplain and Medical many times, telling them about my insomnia and lack of energy. At my prior command I was highly valued, but I felt completely useless at my new command.

So I took matters into my own hands and paid a price. I self-medicated to deal with symptoms. Major Depression was a life-long battle I thought I’d won before entering into service — was even granted a Psych and Drug Waivers at MEPS to enlist. One night I stayed out and when I came back was met by the ship’s Master At Arms. They said I would be drug tested but I didn’t argue about being tested or the results. I waived my right to council and requested a Closed Mast. I never got an answer. Fair enough, but professionalism is to be maintained on all sides. 

Paperwork I received at my home of record, Texas, stated my character of service with the US Navy was Other Than Honorable; insult to injury after having given so much and having received so many accolades for my efforts. 

As a former military dependent (Air Force Brat), all I knew was military life. My home was always somewhere you never lived and then on to the next place after four years; all I knew was change. At 24 years of age I would be completely civilian, surrounded by civilians for the very first time. 

Discharge upgrade letter

Discharge upgrade letter

Veterans organizations offered no help or guidance due to the character of my discharge. The VA turned their backs. I was pissed and didn't know what to do. So I decided to pick a fight. Ten years later that fight brought me to New York City (the place where all things are possible). Change is difficult, but inevitable — this letter was in the mail last week.

Thank you to friends who stuck around or gave help. Thank you to Urban Justice Center. Thank you to my pro bono lawyers at Deutsche Bank (yes, Deutsche Bank). And thank you to the Military Resilience Project. It is a fantastic story, almost unbelievable. But you listened, and you believed. 

Honor, courage and commitment are Navy core values. 

Sixteen years of arduous work. This was my plan the whole time.

Donnie Nicholson is a Freelance Professional Photographer, whose story begins in the land of the rising sun. He was born in Misawa, Japan to two American military parents, and has been traveling the world since first memory. Donnie served in the United States Navy from 1997-2000. Donnie currently resides in the NY metro area. He has a particular expertise in capturing sports events, public events, corporate and landscape photography. He has directed segments for an independent documentary mini-series, internationally. His professional website is