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Veteran who once contemplated suicide is now a Warrior Games winner

Navy vet back from the brink

Every year since 2010, the Department of Defense's Warrior Games bring together wounded service members in a supportive and competitive environment to enhance their recovery and rehabilitation. This year, 300 athletes from all branches of the armed forces came to the Air Force Academy for the event. CBSN brings you five stories of these "American Warriors."

PTSD. Traumatic brain injury. Patellar tendon injured by a stingray. Years of rehabilitation, both physical and mental. These are the sacrifices Chief Navy Diver Julius McManus made while serving his country over the course of his career, for 21 years and counting. 

Ask him about it, and he says he would do it all over again.

"There's nothing about my service I would change," McManus says. "I've had some great opportunities with repatriation of remains — bringing missing brothers home — to combat tours where I'm supporting the guys doing the hard business, and leading my sailors. I wouldn't trade it for the world."

Chief Navy Diver Julius McManus has served his country for 21 years and counting. Julius McManus

Those are are very humble descriptions of the incredibly dangerous and challenging work he's done while in service. When McManus agreed to be interviewed by CBS News at the 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games, it wasn't because he enjoyed the spotlight. It was because he wanted others who had gone through the same things he had to find hope and seek assistance. He'll tell you he's come a long way since allowing others to help him.

"I was in some dark places," McManus says. "I was looking at avenues to end my own life without causing harm to my family."

With the support of his wife and three sons, McManus says he has now come back from that dark place. He credits the camaraderie and competition he's found with other wounded service members at programs like the Warrior Games for helping change his outlook on life.

"It gave me light at the end of the tunnel," he says. "It showed me that I am worth something, that I'm not alone."

And aside from his family and his fellow service members, there's a new addition to his life that has deeply affected him — his service dog, Phoenix.

Chief Navy Diver Julius McManus and his service dog, Phoenix, at the 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games. CBS News

When McManus was stung by a stingray in service, he initially thought the injury would quickly heal. But after six patellar tendon repairs and years of wear and tear, his mobility is now permanently limited. Phoenix not only helps him physically — like helping him brace to stand up and get up and down stairs — he also provides emotional and anxiety support.

"If I go to a restaurant, he's watching the door so I don't have to," explains McManus. "He's always got my back."

McManus has set new goals for himself both in and outside of competition. He's seeking a sponsor or grant to help him buy a racing wheelchair, with the goal of completing an Ironman competition. At home, he says he'd like to be "the husband and father my family deserve."

He implores his fellow active service members and veterans to seek assistance if they're feeling lost. And his message to a wider audience is simple yet powerful.

"Recovering from the injuries I've sustain, the visible wounds are fairly easy. I pushed through them with a lot of physical training," says McManus. "The invisible wounds are a little bit more difficult. They're more challenging. There's a stigma that comes with them."