The Struggle Continues: Iraq War Vet Focused on Path out of Appalachia


A comedian, an actor and dog move from West Virginia across the country chasing big dreams. What could possibly go wrong?

A little over a year ago, we brought you the stories of six people trying to navigate their lives in and out of Appalachia. The series, which just won a national award, is called “The Struggle to Stay.”

Mark Combs decided he didn’t want to “struggle to stay” but rather, he wanted to leave.

Mark is a familiar face and voice to many of us here at West Virginia Public Broadcasting. In 2009, he was featured in a documentary of ours about student veterans.

During college, he worked with on a project in Morgantown called the War in My Words, which collected stories of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He hosted and produced a documentary about veteran suicide we featured on Inside Appalachia.

Mark is also one of the many West Virginians who has decided they have no choice but to leave the state.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting reporter Glynis Board tracked Mark’s journey as he made his decision to leave West Virginia and struggle to make a life for himself outside Appalachia.

We’ll hear from Mark as he moves from West Virginia to seek his fortunes west of the Mississippi.

"Yeah, you just miss the people, pepperoni rolls, Tudor's Biscuit – stuff like that," Mark told us when we last checked heard from him.

Inspired to Come Home

We heard from a lot of you about this series.


Many of you shared your own Struggle to Stay stories with us and we even got some criticism for not including more perspectives.

Some of you urged us to remember the unique benefits to living in West Virginia.

For one woman, the affordability of land and housing means owning a home is within reach.

We recently got a poignant message from listerer Erin Pyles


Inside Appalachia host, Jessica Lilly, reflected on the series and life in Appalachia.

“As we remember the men and women who lost their lives on the battlefield, I hope we can remember that the battle or struggle for so many are fighting right here at home isn’t physical. It is nice to know that people have your back and what I’ve found in West Virginia is that even when your closest loved ones betray you and make you doubt yourself, perfect strangers are willing to lift you up. We have our problems here, yes there are plenty of struggles to go around, but there’s also someone to encourage you to keep on hoping, and perhaps wishing for the life you want, the desires of your heart.”

Music in this show was provided by Ben Townsend, Dylan Moses McGonigle and Marisa Anderson. Glynis Board produced this show. Ibby Caputo and Jesse Wright were our editors. Molly Born is our web editor. We’d love to hear from you.  You can e-mail us at Find us on Twitter @InAppalachia.