Before its closure this summer, Comstock’s Bindery & Bookshop offered something of a sacred space off Auburn’s busy East Main Street, into which lovers of books – in particular of military publications – could step away from the stress and angst for a moment and engage with solace.
Now, Aaron Quinonez, a former U.S. Marine sergeant, and his wife, Holly, are transforming the iconic bookstore space into a nonprofit they call Q-Missions, which will provide an entirely different sort of stepping-off place — one dedicated wholly to the healing of military veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
Quinonez — “Sarge Q” as he is known to his friends and former mates — is a veteran of Iraqi Freedom. He sports an impressive ZZ-Top-style beard, flashes a ready smile and brims over with unshakable confidence in the program he has developed.
“It’s worked for me and for hundreds of other guys,” said the Ravensdale resident.
Even though he was a radio operator and never a front-line warrior, he said, he found himself after his one tour wading through the hell of PTSD, self medicating with alcohol, even contemplating suicide, before he found God and a new purpose in his life.
“I was nothing special, just an ordinary guy,” he said of his service.
Quinonez has since made it his life’s mission to help those who served their country get the help and support they need to wrestle with and best the demons that followed them home from their tours of service.
“We teach that there is healing through serving other people,” Quinonez said. “As veterans, we all joined the military to serve our country, and we have that servant’s heart. I don’t really teach the guys anything new. I just remind them of the stuff that they learned in the military, and that helps them overcome PTSD.”
At the old bookstore site, Quinonez will teach veterans how the human brain works, why PTSD exists and what it is, how to overcome negative bias, and the difference between the conscious and the subconscious mind
Finally, how to use all they have learned for their benefit and the benefit of others.
“Every year we take teams of up to 18 veterans at a time to Mexico to build a home for a homeless family. We have partnered with YWAM (Youth With A Mission) to provide a home for a family in need. Not only are we building a home for this family, we are building relationships. The veterans on these trips will have the opportunity to heal, and to get to know other veterans,” Quinonez said.
One of the key components of Q-Mission’s program, Quinonez said, is the “squad mentality.”
“The Department of the Army did a study over 40 years, trying to understand why we were so effective on the battlefield, and they pinned it down to one single element, which is the squad. When we fight in a war, our military fights in small units called squads, and we fight together. And the reason it works is because every member of the unit values the squad over themselves, so they fight harder and longer because they don’t want to let the squad down.
“When we leave the military, that squad disappears, and many guys struggle, trying to adjust and fit in. So, I remind them, ‘Hey, this is what made us successful in the military, so how do we re-purpose this for civilian life?’ So, I put them back in squads. When we go to Mexico, they operate in squads and we show them how effective that is. They then take that back to the civilian community, they do things together, they live their lives together. It gives them that sense of community back, which they didn’t have before because they like to isolate, a lot,” Quinonez said.
Quinonez, a California native, enlisted in the Marine Corps just out of high school. He was trained as a radio operator and took on additional schooling in radio antenna theory and field expedient antenna construction. He was cross trained as a forward observer, controlling artillery and aircraft in combined arms techniques.
In 2003, Quinonez volunteered for a tour of duty in Iraq during the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Although he only served that one tour in Iraq, his short time in a combat zone weighed heavily on his heart and mind.
He was diagnosed with PTSD and spent several years at the Veterans Administration, undergoing a variety of treatments and medications. None of it seemed to have any effect on his recovery and, in some cases, made it more difficult for him to get through the day. He was so used to operating at such a high level in the Marine Corps that when simple, everyday tasks pressed on him, he felt useless, he said. In mid-2008, he came close to committing suicide in the parking lot of a church, where he would eventually come to know his Lord.
In the spring of 2009, Sarge Q went on his first mission trip to Mexico, he said, and it transformed him in ways he could never have imagined. He spent the next seven years as a short-term missionary. traveling three or four times per year all over the world. Working on the mission field in service to others promoted healing in his heart and gave him back a sense of purpose.
Quinonez is certain the late David Comstock would approve of what he is doing with the old bookstore.
“I never met Mr. Comstock, but in talking to (his ex-wife and business partner, Anita Comstock) … she said, ‘If there are military things around here you like, you can keep them.’ I found a photo of her husband. He was a Marine, and in the photo he’s with his platoon at Camp Pendleton on the exact same training area I was on.
“The Marine Corps is really big on tradition, so it’s especially neat for me, knowing that he and Anita built such a wonderful place, because I feel that in launching this organization to help veterans in the community, I am standing on the work he did,” Quinonez said.