“Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.” –Heraclitus
I didn’t know what the word warrior meant before April.
Ok. I thought I did. To me it conjured images of vikings and yoga classes. But I didn’t understand its implication before then. I think this quote is a pretty great one. And now I feel like I am closer to understanding it, or maybe giving the term the respect it is owed.
There are some people who come into your life at just the right time. I personally don’t think that’s an accident, but that’s another post. Some people shine quietly, without saying anything. Some people emit a frequency that I hear more readily than others. Scot Spooner is like that. Like all of that.
I was introduced to Scot by my brother Michael. He and Scot are really close. They met first through business and went on to forge a great friendship. When I arrived in Costa Rica last spring break with the big boys, Scot was among those celebrating Mike’s birthday. We got to know each other, and stayed in touch afterwards on a daily basis.
Scot is the type of guy you want to hitch your wagon to. When someone like him tells you his story, not the just highlight reel but the low light one too, you listen. His sincerity emanates from every pore, and his story is astounding. He enlisted in the Army at 17, and crushed it. He was promoted to Sergeant Major after 15 years. For people like me who might not know, that usually takes 22 years.
Scot’s a leader. I knew that right away, but of course there is a back story. During his time in service, he was assigned to top units including: The 82nd Airborne Division, 3RD Special Forces Group, John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center, and finally the US Army’s 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta (Delta Force).
Yeah, he’s a grade A bad ass. (He hates when I say that btw)
Fast forward a bit. Or maybe it’s rewinding.
After 17 years in the Army, with 13 as a Green Beret, 6 in Delta Force, and several combat rotations, he left. He wanted to pursue his dream of becoming an entrepreneur, and now owns and runs Reflective Leadership Solutions, a successful company which provides private sector leadership training. But he also left, before retirement I might add, because he had to.
Scot described his decision in his own words in an article called One Warrior’s Perspective on PTSD (http://chairbornecommandos.com/one-warriors-perspective-on-ptsd/):
In the end, I was miserable. I hated the idea of going to work. I had stomach issues that no one could explain. I had widespread chronic pain no one could explain. I had anxiety attacks that I did not know were anxiety attacks. I would often get lost driving back to my house at the end of a long day. I broke out in crying fits all alone in my truck, or when watching a sappy movie. I was short-tempered with the team leaders that served under me. I was in constant turmoil with my superiors. It was all coming to a head and I punched out.
It doesn’t take a tremendous amount of insight to imagine that life after mortal combat the likes of which no one other than those who experience it can fathom, Scot might have had some post traumatic stress issues. He did. And he was very open with me about them. And when he spoke of his experiences, I thought of his mother.
A couple of years ago, the NRA did a short documentary on Scot and his brother Tom, who is also a warrior. You can watch the trailer here ( 2 min) and I hope you do. I defy you to watch it and not feel real compassion for them. (a link to the full version appears at the end of this post) If you are like me, and not necessarily in line with the NRA, look beyond that at the real message here, as I did. It’s not hard.
When Scot asked me to help him establish a non-profit organization to restore the ability for guys like him and his brother to come home and become healthy, functioning members of society, to choose their version of the American Dream they fought so hard to protect and pursue it, I said yes. Not right away, and not before a lot of soul-searching, (was this the right time in my life to do something of this magnitude? Was this my cause? Can I do this justice?) but I had to say yes. I actually tried to imagine not accepting and there wasn’t one moment that it felt like the right thing to me.
I am sure I was guilty of a misconception that precipitates the current state of affairs with regard to all veterans. Honestly, I’m more certain I didn’t think about it enough. But when I did, I think I presumed, as many might, that our government had this covered. We like to conjecture that this is the military’s issue, and that with all the money going towards our defense budget there should be wonderful, thoughtful government subsidized programs available to our veterans, and more specifically our front line warriors. I am here to tell you they aren’t doing enough. And while we wait to hash out who’s problem that is, roughly one veteran an hour commits suicide.
Scot tried the treatment available to him via conventional avenues. He found little relief in the medications and ineffective therapists offered. Yes they helped in the short-term, but they were not a long-term viable answer to his issues. Eventually through an advocacy group within Special Operations Forces, he was tested for PTSD. Scot had chronic and severe PTSD, along with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic prostititas, as well as unknown joint and muscle pain all over his body.
Of course he did.
He sought alternatives. He had that fire in his belly that made him look harder, dig deeper and accept nothing less than what he needed to get better. It took acupuncture, holistic medicine, massage, chiropractic care, Accelerated Resolution Therapy, spiritual healing, energy work, as well as medication and therapy with people who didn’t pretend to know or understand but could listen and support nonetheless. One of the most effective healing techniques for Scot was the powerful act of telling his story to the general public in effort to share the pain and burden of his experiences with those he served and protected. Storytelling helps unburden the soul. I believe that. It’s why I write this blog.
Enter The Warrior’s Bridge.
Scot and I want to build a bridge. Actually bridges. To where? To you. To the community at large. Let you know about what is actually going on, and hopefully affect positive change for these elite soldiers. We are creating a network of health care providers to offer the same kinds of therapies that worked for Scot, in an anonymous and cost-free setting. Because no one is. We also hope to connect our ‘graduates’ with the corporate sector. These guys are the best and brightest. They are independent, confident leaders. They are trained to be resilient, tough as nails. The very thing that makes them good at what they do within Spec Ops makes it hard for them to seek out and accept help afterwards. It also makes them incredible candidates for future work opportunities. As leaders. Who better to contribute in the corporate sector than these guys? In very simple terms, it just seems like an incredible waste to not facilitate bridging the gap between where they might be mentally when they return, and that potentially limitless future that awaits them should they connect with real help.
Why me? I care a lot about this issue. Meeting Scot and hearing his story was an incredibly moving experience, and as I said, it spoke to the mother in me. And not to draw any kind of comparison between what he has endured to my own life, but in my own way I do know what it is like to be forever changed by a traumatic experience. To live in a new normal and make it into something inspiring. After I lost Axel the world became divided into two groups: those who said the most absurdly insensitive things (out of a sincere desire to help) and those who just understood that I would never again be the woman I once had been. People who allowed that, and made space for it. Made me feel like I wasn’t a freak for feeling the things I was even though they might not have understood where I was coming from, people who wanted to say “don’t say such horrible things” but didn’t.
Beyond this, the emotional health of my own boys is the dearest cause I have. The real splendor of being their mother is the chance to make a soft bed for their feelings. To allow them their vulnerability, to represent something other than the constant, ear-splitting message to toughen up and take it like a man. At their tender ages that mantra is diluted of course (be a big boy, boys don’t cry!, you’re ok, it didn’t really hurt) but it’s just a kindergarten version of the same bullshit. I know they will be strong, I witness their strength constantly not to mention I can count on the entire world, the media, and our society at large to remind them at every turn to man up. But I also want them to have language for their feelings, to know that they are all important, and to learn coping strategies to move through the more difficult ones and on to a solution to whatever challenge presents itself. I think there is true honor in raising men who can openly experience feeling good and bad, and make thoughtful choices based on those acknowledged feelings. It took me years of therapy to figure that out for myself. It’s really hard to sit with uncomfortable feelings, to resist the urge to force them down or out. As people we want to act, not ruminate. And sometimes that is the right thing to do. But I figure I can’t be wrong in teaching them that all of their feelings are valid and interesting to me, and that they are just feelings after all, and what you do with them is up to you.
So again I think of Ms. Spooner. I think of her brave, strong boys. They did right, they worked hard. They finished up. And then they came home. Changed forever. I think of the heartache she must have felt, the faith she must have relied on to get through all that sacrifice. I think how if I sent my boys off to war (and just typing those words makes me shudder) I would presume there would be a lot of people ready to help them with their rehabilitation process once they got back. That isn’t the case, not in a meaningful, long-term sense. Ms. Spooner must have been so proud when she watched her son take ownership of his treatment and seek out whatever worked for him. Figured it out, regardless of stigma, cost, inconvenience. Scot did whatever it took.
We want to make this easier. Build as many bridges as we can from here to there. Point our guys in the direction of healing and say “you earned this, its hard but not too hard, come with us and we will help you figure this all out, slowly but surely.” The first step is health and wellness. But the next could be a bridge to Fortune 500 companies, business schools, or politics. There is no limit to what they can become. They have already proven themselves, we just want to help them get to the place where they can access all that hard work and talent again.
My purpose today is to start a conversation with you, my circle of friends. My team. I’m fired up and I want you to know. You will be hearing a lot more about this from me, as we progress towards our launch date. If you are lucky you will meet Scot, and like me you will be forever changed. You will take this cause into your heart in some way, that’s my goal. Stay tuned, we will speak again.
For those interested here is a link to the full length mini documentary on Scot and Tom: (about 14 minutes)