Two teams comprised of Marines and Afghanistan Uniform police are high atop an elevated piece of terrain known as the Shrine. This one. We were together, had our key personnel – machine gunners and Corpsman (Our medical personnel. We affectionately call them “Doc.”). We are checking our gear making sure all of our comm is up and running. I get a radio check with higher over in headquarters. I work the boom mic that was attached to my earpiece. Radio check with first team leader. We’re good, another day at the office.
We made our way down that hill side through the adobe compounds, out across the river bed into the fields. Farmers, all day for the past two weeks, essentially, have been pulling roots and chopping down poppies leaving behind little pencil thin stalks.
First team had made their way up through the knee high drying piles of poppy. They were shaking hands with farmers. As they advanced, [the farmers] began to move out of the field into the village. Right around that time I looked up and I saw my machine gunners; I saw my corpsman, my Doc, and I glanced up at team one and BOOM they disappeared into a cloud of smoke.
“BREAK! BREAK! BREAK! Brimstone! This Cheyenne Two! Just received IED impact -10 potential casualties! Stand by for ZAP number!”
“Roger. Standing by.”
And I listened. I press hard against the headset and listen hard for first team leader… “Please.
“Give us a sitrep, Cheyenne!”
“Roger! Just… please stand by!”
Pressing against the headset again: “Tell me something. Just tell me that you’re alive.”
And finally a crackle through the smoke. “Corpsman up.”
I look at Doc taking a knee with his med bag ready. And I nod. And he runs into the cloud.
Doc had no idea what he was going to encounter in there. He just knew an IED went off. He knew he had the med bag and the training and he knew that he could add value to that situation.
No matter what; in the difficult times in life the only way to get through that situation is to add value. Add value in the difficult times and you’ll see that value turn into a moment of triumph.
Because only a year before that explosion took place, I was dealing with a personal IED, an explosion which took place in my heart. See, I wasn’t given the privilege of a giant magnificent explosion for everybody to know that I had been blown to smithereens. I was alone. Experiencing isolation, anxiety, anger, depression, guilt. I was alone.
It was only a year before this when I was an instructor in Quantico – a combat marksmanship instructor training young lieutenants how to shoot. That [is when] I felt the lowest of the low. I’d already been on two combat tours to Ramadi, Iraq. My friends, my brothers, were down range fighting.
And I drank a little too heavy and it weighed on the marriage. We got a divorce. She took the kids. I was suffering from a personal illness and I actually lost my billet, my job in the Marine Corps, from being an instructor. I had to do something else. I felt alone, I was the only person in the world who could possibly be going through that right?!
I was the only person in the world who’s ever lost a loved one. The only one who’s ever been divorced. The only one who’s ever been separated from our children. The only one who has experienced a personal illness or job loss.
You know what these are? The five common stressors that we all could experience. I wasn’t alone! These are the five common IEDs that we will all potentially have to face. And it was at that moment that I realized that I was in an IED. I was spinning out of control. I was on the merry-go-round with my legs flinging out into the air.
I had no idea what was going on, maybe you’ve experienced a similar feeling.
So tell me: What’s your IED?
Maybe a loss of a loved one, a divorce, or separation. We share in those similar experiences. I found other people who were sharing in those similar experiences. But when drunks get together with drunks they get drunker.
I needed to find people of similar values. That same good orderly direction. I had to channel it. For me it’s simple: love of life, love of family, love of country. I needed to find people who were my family not necessarily my blood [but FAMILY]. Maybe you can relate to this as well. We have family members, don’t we? They are not necessarily are blood relatives, [they are] friends, advisors, mentors, who inspire and lift you up.
You’re family. And that moment of crisis when you’re on the merry-go-round they’re the ones who are slowing it down.
“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! We’ve seen this happen before. We share in your values. Focus on what you can control. At the moment, focus on what you can control.”
Family: you can be open and honest with them. They’re the ones who are going to help you. They’re going to help you develop your strength, so long as you’re open and honest about your weaknesses.
When you come together as a family and you unite, you have the ability to talk openly with those who share similar values.
But strengths are also associated with weaknesses. There’s a balance there.
Leverage your strengths but be cognizant of your weaknesses.
I’ll give you an example. I’m strong of intellect; I’m pretty intelligent guy by that same token impostor syndrome, insecurities, creep into my mind. Like [when I’m] standing in front of the mirror getting ready for a TED talk.
“Really Marine?!?! You’re a grunt, what are you doing up here?”
Right. I am a grunt and physically strong. I’m a grunt who carried around heavy stuff on my back which, means my back ‘goes out’ every once in a while. See, I’m physically strong but that weakness is there.
The heart; empathy. I feel for other people in pain, I really do! My heart goes out to those people but by that same token I am easily taken advantage of. Who else has a no solicitors sign on their front door? It’s not because I’m mean. It’s because I probably will take that magazine subscription for $10.95.
“Five-year monthly recurring payments? Yeah! Why not? Let’s do it. I feel for ya brother. You got any pencils, too?”
That’s the thing. When we’re together as a family, those values? They [help] lift each other up. We’re strong when we need to be strong in our moments of weakness because BOOM!
IEDs will go off in life. They do. And in that moment, the only thing to do is to add value to the situation. That’s how you’re going to get through. Because in that IED Doc had no idea what he was going to do. He just knew he had the med bag and the training.
None of us did. He went running into that smoke and he immediately started treating one of the wounded Marines that was down. The first fire team corpsman was already treating one casualty. First team leader was working the scene, the situation.
Afghan uniformed police were punched out on the perimeter. Our machine gunners were in place. The landing zone was swept. I was relaying everything from my ear mic over to higher and we had helicopters coming in. Everybody was adding value to that situation.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It’s extremely difficult. That machine gunner right over there, he was the roommate of our brother bleeding on the dirt. All he wanted to do was leave his gun and go screaming across the battlefield to help his friend. But he didn’t because that wouldn’t add value.
In the moments of difficulty the only way to make it through is to add value to the situation.
We put those two wounded Marines on helicopters and they flew away. We continued to patrol for another four months. Finally at 3am on a foggy night we got home to Camp Pendleton and our loved ones and those two Marines were waiting.
I watched everybody pack all their gear up climb in their cars and take off. That was the last time I led Marines.
Six months later, I was out of the Corps and becoming an entrepreneur. I was a Marine Veteran who had evolved and I was suffering through isolation, anxiety, anger, depression, guilt…an IED went off… but there were others with similar experiences. Others with the same core values and good orderly direction. [Those] who wanted to leverage their strength to fill in my weakness. Other people who could add value.
You might be thinking to yourself, “I’m divorced, my kids are gone.” I know, because mine are.
Now, I’m not the best father in the world but when were together over those summers, I try to be the very best dad I can. That’s how I add value.
I challenge you, I challenge all of us, let’s add value to the situation.
When I got out [of the military] I wanted to become an entrepreneur. I sought out fellow veterans. Meeting them at [places like] Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans and Bunker Labs. We collaborate with one another. We work together to build a new future. To change the world again.
IEDs will go off in life… But I Challenge you, in the difficult times, add value to that situation. Add value to every situation you encounter.
You’ll be amazed at what happens when you do.
TEDx Raleigh; transcription (edited) Original talk recorded: March 19th, 2016