Veteran Tells His Story Of Leaving Appalachia, And Why He Came Home


In this episode of Inside Appalachia, you’ll hear the story of Iraq War veteran Mark Combs. A few years ago, he recorded his journey as he left Appalachia to become a comedian. He and his friend Cameron tried their luck first in California, then in Colorado. Along the way, homesickness hit Combs especially hard as he struggled to find a place where he felt he belonged.

His story is part of a long-term reporting project called “The Struggle To Stay,” which has won awards including the Regional Murrow awards and the national first place for Best Series from the Public Media Journalists Association (formerly PRNDI.) This award is particularly noteworthy because in this category, entries compete across all divisions – large and small – so the story was up against very stiff competition.

This week, we listen back to Combs’ story, and we’ll hear an update on where he is today.

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Mark Combs, from The Struggle to Stay series.

Many veterans suffer not only physically, but also mentally, from their service. Combs faced these struggles personally after serving in Iraq in 2007-2008.

When he returned home, he worked on a project to help document the stories of his fellow veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He even hosted and produced a documentary about veteran suicide that we featured on Inside Appalachia.

Combs eventually decided to leave West Virginia to pursue his dreams of becoming an actor. He was one of the many West Virginians who decided they had no choice but to leave the state. West Virginia Public Broadcasting reporter Glynis Board tracked Combs’ journey.

Since this story originally aired, there have been more changes in Comb’s life.

Inside Appalachia host Caitlin Tan spoke with him to get an update. Listen to the episode to hear a surprising twist to his Struggle To Stay story.


Need To Talk?

Here’s a number that any veteran can call if you need someone to talk to: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

And for anyone out there who is having thoughts of suicide, here’s a number you can call: 800-273-8255

Music in this episode is by Ben Townsend, Dylan Moses McGonigle, Little Sparrow Marisa Anderson, and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, as heard on WVPB’s Mountain Stage.

Roxy Todd is our producer. Eric Douglas is our associate producer. Our executive producer is Andrea Billups.

Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Zander Aloi also helped produce this episode. You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia.

You can also send us an email at

Inside Appalachia is an award-winning production of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.