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Random act of kindness plucks vet's heartstrings

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Cochran with the American Flag-decorated guitar gifted to him. Submitted

A local veteran diagnosed with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is feeling hopeful these days thanks to a random act of kindness.

Ryan Cochran spent 13 years in the military as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne. The single father was deployed five times to the countries of Iraq and Haiti - for 8 months in 2003; 12 months in 2005; 15 months in 2007; 3 months in 2010; and 12 months in 2011.

Wife Ashley Cochran met Ryan after he had been discharged in July 2014 through friends in a motorcycle club in North Carolina - where they both happened to be living.

"When I met him, I just knew he was the one," Ashley said. "I can't explain it."

The feeling was mutual. The couple married just a few months later in December - and after an attempt to move to Ashley's native New York, which didn't quite pan out - they decided to relocate to Lebanon, where Ryan's mother had a home.

Although very much in love, the Cochrans have struggled with Ryan's PTSD.

"I am not a military wife. I wasn't with him when he was deployed. I don't always know how to handle these things," Ashley explained, adding that no matter what, her husband will always be her hero.

The couple has made numerous calls to the VA in Murfreesboro to seek treatment for Ryan's PTSD and have been discouraged, to say the least, that he cannot get in to see someone for at least three months because of backlog.

"Some days are better than others, but some days he is very depressed and just doesn't want to live," she said.

Luckily, the couple came in contact with "an angel" on earth - Larry Harper.

Ryan is a professional truck driver, making deliveries throughout the southeast. Ashley accompanied him in late October on a delivery to Larry Harper's Auto Sales in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

After unloading the truck, the Cochrans went inside of the shop. According to Ashley, Harper and Ryan had an immediate bond over their shared political views - in particular how they both felt that President Obama "isn't doing enough for veterans."

"He shook Ryan's hand and just said thank you from the bottom of my heart for your service," she said. "As we walk out of his office, I spotted this guitar on the wall and I asked him where he got it, because I was thinking I could get one for Ryan. He used to play the guitar in Iraq and had a guitar that was lost in our move."

As they were leaving, Harper took the guitar - which had an American Flag design on the exterior - and handed it to Ryan. While Ryan said he couldn't possibly accept the gift - Harper insisted.

"I couldn't fight back the tears. I went back in and told him the last two weeks had been very tough. I told him, 'You saved my husband and you don't even realize it,'" Ashley said. Harper responded that while there are folks "who don't care about veterans, there are a whole lot more, like me, who do."

Ashley said that since the incident, Ryan has felt much better and is ready to work through his PTSD. They still plan to pursue treatment at the VA, but in the meantime, the guitar has given him a beloved hobby and put a smile on his face.

"We need more Larry Harpers in this world."

Ryan is the proud father of 15-year-old son Kristofer Cochran; and is the son of Patricia Cochran and the late David Cochran, who served 31 years in the military.

Staff Writer Sabrina Garrett may be contacted at sgarrett@wilsonpost.com.

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