049: Joshua Mantz: Military Veteran Overcoming Trauma And Cheating Death

May 11, 2018

FYS 049 | Overcoming Trauma

Having a career in the military means you’re always going to be overcoming trauma and cheating death in order to survive. Joshua Mantz’s career in the military started when his step-father planted the seed in his mind when he was twelve years old. He was already in the academy as a freshman when 9/11 happened, and it took everything he had not to drop out so he could enlist and fight the fight down range with the larger team. After graduating from the academy, he was sent to Iraq where the fight for his life began. Joshua and his senior officer were engaged by an enemy sniper on one of their patrols when a bullet ricocheted into his thigh and severed his femoral artery. Discover how Joshua was able to overcome trauma and cheat death as he shares his life and death experiences.

I interview a guy named Major Joshua Mantz. I’ve done a lot of pretty incredible stories on amazing people overcoming whatever their adversity is, but this was emotionally charged and heartfelt. Imagine this: you’re in Iraq and you’re on a patrol and your buddy gets hit by a sniper fire which goes through his heart, out his back, and into your knee, which was the case of Joshua Mantz. A 19-year-old medic has the quick decision to save only one. Who’s that going to be? Joshua ultimately ends up flat lining for fifteen minutes. We’d go into heavy duty depth about what that’s like to feel like death is coming upon you, and then did you see the white light and what happened after that? As you can imagine, there was about ten years of this emotional struggle that he had to go through on so many different levels. It’s a riveting episode and I encourage you to hang in there and see it through. This guy is amazing. He’s a deep thinker, and it was so rewarding for me. I totally appreciated on that.

As always, go and rate and review on iTunes. I will have some shout outs going forward for people who do those ratings and reviews. It does help elevate us in the right way. If you want to know what’s going on with my climbs coming up on Denali, trying to tag the top once again. Last year pushed back by minus 60-degree weather, not fun, so I have to do the whole thing again. I’ve been in intense training here in Sun Valley, Idaho. You can also find out more about what’s going on on my website and MarkPattisonNFL.com. Public speaking, I’m out there, and telling the story of how I had to overcome my adversity to move on and get to where I am today. On that note, let’s go talk to Joshua.

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Joshua Mantz: Military Veteran Overcoming Trauma And Cheating Death

Josh, how are you doing?

I’m doing great, Mark. How is everything going on your end?

It’s going great. I am broadcasting from Sun Valley, Idaho. My new spot I’m doing these podcasts. You’re in San Jose, California. How’s it going up there?

It’s good. We got a little bit of weather coming through, which is nice. California is getting a decent amount of rain this year.

The day I actually left California, Hermosa Beach to be exact. It was an absolute deluge of water coming down. If one day you don’t want it to rain, of all the days it doesn’t rain. It sunned out there. That was the day. I left California in a rainy spot and landed in Sun Valley, Idaho. It seems sunny every day, 300 days a year. It’s pretty sweet. Let’s get into this. Your story is absolutely fascinating. I want to do a little bit of into thin air type of storytelling here where the author actually starts off where they’re at 27,000 feet and all hell is breaking loose.

They back it up from there in terms of what happened and how all those guys on Everest came to be a part of that tragedy up there. In your case, I was reading a lot about your background and your history, you served in the Iraq war. You were in a situation where you were shot, and you actually were clinically dead for fifteen minutes. I want to go back to back what led you to sign up and go and protect our country and end up in that war. Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, which is a small town in northeast Pennsylvania. It fast forward to very influential people in my life growing up through high school. One was my stepfather, who was a police officer and former infantry officer in the army as well. The other was a recently retired Special Forces sergeant major, who had a huge impact on me in high school and took me under his wing. He’s the one that got me to internalize it a very young age, the capacity and the power of the human spirit. Irrespective of culture or where you live in the world, never underestimate the human spirit.

He deeply ingrained the values and the importance of understanding language, understanding culture, and demonstrating respect for people from a variety of settings. That proved invaluable. After graduating high school, I went to West Point, and 9/11 happened my freshman year at the academy, just 50 miles away from us. West Point is in New York, just north of New York City. That drastically changed the tone of the entire core of cadets and the entire academy. It prompted my decision to major in Arabic at that time, because I knew I’d be on the ground as an infantry officer.

How difficult does that language to pick up?

It’s pretty brutal. To a native English speaker, there’s a couple of languages that are called tier four languages, which means they’re the hardest to acquire for a native English speaker because they’re so different. Arabic is one, the others are Chinese, Japanese, Korean. Down to level one languages would be Spanish. It’s an interesting language, phonetic alphabet, 28 letters written right to left. What’s interesting is that it operates on this root system. Every word can basically be deduced down to three letters, and that letter carries a general connotation and general meaning. All the characters that you add in between those letters basically shift and mold the meaning of the word. That’s what you spend your life trying to figure out, is how to assess that very quickly.

FYS 049 | Overcoming Trauma

Overcoming Trauma: Irrespective of culture or where you live in the world, never underestimate the human spirit.

How long does that take for you to learn, at least get somewhat profession where you can communicate with others?

Being “fluent” in a language that is a very fluid term. When I left West Point, I was okay. In Arabic, I get by on basic conversations. Unfortunately, that’s predominantly what’s needed to establish trust with people. They’re not looking for you to have a mastery of the language. They’re looking for you to have the respect to attempt speaking to them in their language. That was invaluable. Three years at the academy, studying a year and a half in the Middle East, being immersed in it, and then later in my career going to the Defense Language Institute or for a robust year and a half, it wasn’t until that point that I came out fluent.

Let’s go back to your high school. Obviously, you did well enough to get into West Point. As you’re looking at the landscape of colleges out there and you’ve probably had some different choices that you could go to wherever you’re looking at that time, was it those mentors that shaped you in terms of, “This is the path that I want to go down?”

Yeah. It was my stepfather. I can actually point to a specific time when I was probably about twelve years old where I was this conflicted little kid. I learned to be an athlete, I want to be a good student. I wanted to go into the military, and he planted the seed in my mind that day and then said, “If you want to go to the academies, you can do all three at the same time.” From that point forward, I was laser focused on making it in.

Did you play sports in college academy?

The deal with all of the academies including West Point is every cadet is an athlete of some kind. Whether they’re playing D1 sports or intramurals, which are very competitive there because as a collective it’s probably one of the fittest schools in the nation as a whole, but I did a lot of boxing and mixed martial arts when I was there, predominantly.

Just to relate that story, my dad was an Air Force pilot. When I was in high school, of all the schools that came after me to recruit, probably the heaviest and most hard-core was from the Naval Academy in Colorado Springs. My dad finally had to step in and be like, “Dad, I’m not sure about this.” He was great about helping guide me, but honestly, I don’t think I was mature enough to go and take that on where you’re going through boot camp and square meals and the things that require a commitment. My dad was not a hardcore military guy, nor did he press me.

I’m not saying that your step dad did that to you, but I had other choices and I was chasing the shiny object which at that time was the University of Washington and a great football program. It seemed like that’s the path I want to go to versus going through and making that kind of commitment. It sounded to me too, what you went through was a four-year commitment and then if you went in and you want to be a top gun pilot or something, there was another five years. As an eighteen-year-old, I was looking at essentially a nine-year commitment, and I didn’t have the maturity at the time, seventeen, eighteen, thinking that far out.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with that. It takes everybody to make the world work, and there are many different paths to purchase it. Sure enough years and years later, here we are. The academy is an animal. You step on that train and shortly after graduating high school, it’s not four years later where you get off and you’re wondering what just happened. It’s like a blur. You don’t realize how much it transforms you until much later in your career, in our cases that was starting to become noticeable in combat.

I remember where I was sitting the day that 9/11 happened, and that was in my house in Seattle and I got a call actually from a guy who I was working with in Hong Kong and he goes, “Have you seen the TV?” I go, “No,” and I turned it on. In our lifetime, in my lifetime at least, I have never been attacked. This is my experience of seeing this horrific thing go down in New York City and Washington DC. I can only imagine what that would be like if you are now in some form of military school or you were a veteran or something and you having those feelings being amplified 10X from the normal person sitting there like, “What in the world is going on?” It would make sense to me. I’ve heard a lot of stories from a lot of guys that that was the motivation that they wanted to sign up. They want to get involved, they want to do what they could do to go over there and solve the problem and get back. It sounds like there was something in you that triggered that; you wanted to get involved.

Before that, I was already in the academy. It happened during our freshman, just after getting there. The most difficult part about the entire four-year experience of the academy was staying at the academy after 9/11 happens.

At the same time, the war was going on. As all you guys and your classmates, as you guys were there, where you gearing up towards this, you knew you’re going to head to Iraq?

That’s what I mean about it being difficult. It took everything that I had to not drop out of the academy, enlist, and fight the fight down range with the larger team. It was very difficult feeling stuck, imprisoned almost, in an academic environment, when some of your best friends in the larger military is out fighting this fight in the Middle East. It’s not this lust for war or anything like that, it’s an underlying sense of very powerful guilt. You want to be there to support your team and be part of that main effort and not be stuck writing history reports when your best friend is getting killed, which happened in my case. That was the hard thing, was to stay at the academy and have faith in the process.

We’re going to get into some of this emotional stuff. I want to dig in further, but in this particular case of what you’re talking about, is there some emotional guilt that you’re not with your bros over there side by side fighting the fight next to them?

That’s a universal factor amongst people in the service professions, at least to some degree. When your teammates and your comrades are in harm’s way, there’s a lure to be beside them at a minimum. There’s a lure to do your part, even if it seems irrational at a distance. Because when negative events happen, which could be a variety of different things, but when there’s an event that happens that produces a negative result, there’s a lot of determinants of guilt that can factor into driving us to do more or drive our underlying sense of responsibility that we perceive for that event. Again, it goes a very complex emotion for a lot of these reasons that I’m barely touching on right now. It’s definitely a huge factor.

It’s the motivating factor for you to stay in the academy versus, “Those guys are over there, I want to go join these guys. I’m out of here,” is that when you do enter rather than go in and list, you enter it a much higher level in terms of responsibility and leadership when you stay with the academy?

[Tweet “Wherever you go in the world, people are just people. They are driven by the same underlying needs and desires.”]

Yeah, in a way. You mentioned football. Imagine the anxiety you feel before you step on the field and the game kicks off. It’s almost easier to be in the game to be in the fight, than it is to be gearing up to go. There’s almost like this space, this gap, that exists that needs to be filled in order to be able to satisfy that drive. It’s grounded in camaraderie. It’s not grounded in a lust for combat. That’s something that is important to clarify.

Now you graduate and you’re headed towards Iraq. From a layman’s perspective, I’ve obviously had never been to the Middle East, what is it like? When you land there, what are you looking at? Is it rubble everywhere? Does it look like it’s 2000 years behind everything? A lot of Baghdad and surrounding communities are fairly modern. What’s that like?

It depends on where you are. We were in Baghdad, which was a pretty modern city. In our part of eastern Baghdad, it was very war-torn and very disrupted, because all the existing government structures were depleted or gone, lots of bombed-out buildings, lots of displaced Shia Muslims in our area. It was predominantly a Shia district, so lots of mud huts and stuff that people would craft out of garbage and trash in order to live in was the norm in that area. No sewage systems, no electricity, raw sewage running through the streets. You can imagine taking a big city and taking away the sewage system, taking away the electricity, taking away all the most fundamental needs of life, food, water, air, shelter, electricity, trash removal, all of that’s gone in a wartime environment.

I strongly believe that wherever you go in the world, people are just people. They are driven by the same underlying needs and desires. Despite all the hype in the media about extremists, it’s quite overblown. Any society, you have a very small percentage of people who disrupt the status quo. In this case, I’m talking about insurgents who raped, tortured, killed, and pillaged in order to gain power over the population, but the bulk of the people are just people. The bulk of the people want to live and let live. They want their kids to be able to go outside and play soccer without being blown up by a mortar round. In a large sense, this human spirit emerging in whatever way it could, people trying to get back to the life that they once knew. It was a very chaotic environment.

Remember, all these governance structures that many of us tend to take for granted because we never lived in the absence of them are not there. Police forces there are not respected. They’re there for the most part completely ineffective. Largely, their military was the same way at that time. It’s gotten better now. There’s this almost reduction to back to this almost tribal society in many ways as they sought to rebuild those government structures and established the leaders that were necessary to take them to the next level.

What role did you have when you landed in Iraq?

I was a platoon leader of an infantry platoon, and then later a scout platoon, which is basically a team of about 40 people. In this type of environment, this is a true insurgency, counterinsurgency warfare, it’s asymmetrical warfare, it is not the archetypal warfare images that many of us have in our minds of World War II, Battle of the Bulge, force on force. It’s anything but that. The counter insurgency environment is actually considered to be the graduate level of warfare because of its complexity. We must retain our tactical expertise always and be able to turn that switch on in a second if we need to.

The essence of the entire operation is grounding and building relationships with the local population. Many of the responsibilities that we had, and most of us had to learn on the fly, went far beyond military tactics. We had to learn how to be city mayors and politicians and economists and engineers and trying to be a jack of all trades to enhance the dynamics of the entire city. We had to learn and understand the culture, we had to learn and understand the language, which is why the language training was critical. That ended up being the most powerful weapon that I carried, was the ability to speak Arabic.

It would seem to me that a guy back here in the states observing and listening to you that it would give me a lot of anxiety to doing all the things you talked about. That boils down to that little word called trust. You’re trying to bridge that trust between the Iraqis and they’re not sure exactly what we’re up to. At the end of the day, you don’t know who’s going to pull that gun. It seemed like I’d be walking on egg shells a lot as I’m going around the corner. You don’t know what’s behind that door.

The enemy in this environment doesn’t wear uniforms. It’s important to try to understand and appreciate the complexity of this, which we could talk for hours about it. In this environment, the armed insurgents that you might hear about on news channels or the media, the folks who are firing the rocket-propelled grenades or the folks who are setting off the roadside bombs, they are the tip of the iceberg. It’s very much an iceberg theory that the visible insurgents, the visible people who are participating in the actual gorilla tactical actions, that’s the very tip. In truth, everything underlying that iceberg it or is an entire shadow government as that insurgency develops.

What funds that insurgency go and put that bomb on the side of the road? Somebody has to make it. Somebody has to manufacture. Somebody has to transport it. There’s got to be sells, there’s got to be financial capabilities. There’s got to be propaganda, there’s got to be recruiting capability, everything goes into this. They’re going into a typical flow, but it’s done in the shadows. Much of this wasn’t understood by many of the people who were fighting this conflict, this effort. I don’t want to call it a new concept, counter-insurgency and insurgency has been around for a long time throughout history, but the memory of the organization, the memory of the military has for a long time been grounded in conventional operations. We had to relearn on the fly how to completely adapt everything that we thought we knew and put it into action.

FYS 049 | Overcoming Trauma

Overcoming Trauma: This process of dying was actually one of the most positive experiences in my life.

Bring me up to the day that you got injured.

One of the main responsibilities that I had was to develop a strong relationship with the Iraqi police forces in our area and to help them basically establish a presence and start to take over their own operations. We don’t want to be in there for years and years on end, we got to let the local population to take care of themselves. It’s very important that this joint effort between the Iraqi police and our American forces was visible to the public. After months of work, after months of talking with the police chief in Arabic, I actually convinced him to go on a patrol with us outside of his normal sector, which was pretty amazing, but we left and this was in April of 2007.

Had you gone on this route yet? Had you gone outside these limits?

I had personally been there with my unit once, and it was very dangerous. That’s a reason why we picked this area, and it was a humanitarian mission. We’re running up there to try to develop a relationship with the people in this area because it was strategic in a lot of different ways. Small, but strategic. The first time I was out there, we recognize there are some needs. They needed clothes, they needed basic supplies, school supplies, stuff like that. This is a first attempt to enhance that relationship and deliver on a promise, which is how you start building trust. We did this patrol and it went without a hitch. Later we got diverted to another part of the area, and that’s when we were engaged by an enemy sniper. The bullet severed the aorta of my senior non-commissioned officer and then ricocheted into my thigh and severed my femoral artery. From that point forward, the fight for my life began.

When that happens in your case, the blood is flowing and you got to stop that thing ASAP or you’re going to bleed out.

With both a severed aorta, a severed femoral, they are two of the worst injuries you can have. I had a nineteen-year-old medic who’s on the ground that day, and he had to make a very conscious and very immediate choice about who he was going to try to save and who was going to die, because he couldn’t save both of us. We both had less than two minutes to live, and he had a fraction of a second to make that decision. He chose to try to save me because I had a slightly better chance of survival than did Marlon. Although that was the right choice, although he performed brilliantly that day, the whole team did. One of the most amazing things about this is I was conscious through the whole experience. From the time I got shot to the time I took my very last breath and flat-lined about a half an hour later, but to be able to witness these teams operating in the face of crisis, it was phenomenal. I go back to that power of the human spirit.

It was almost like watching a choreographed dance when I got to the initial aid station, the initial hospital. It’s a phenomenal experience to witness that. I know that may sound weird given that I’m not dying, but this whole experience here, what’s interesting about it as interesting as the story is, it took a very long time for me to realize that it wasn’t this experience that was emotionally traumatic. A part of the totality of the last ten years. This experience in isolation wasn’t the crux of it, it was everything before and everything afterwards, which is a whole other story. This process of dying, for some of the reasons I’m highlighting right now, was actually one of the most positive experiences in my life with the exception of losing Marlon.

Did you have any survivor’s guilt at all? I can only imagine you and your buddy, you’re in the truck, and all of a sudden you get hit. Everything’s happening. It’s rapid fire, and people running and yelling and all these things are going on in your head. I’m sure at that moment you’re trying to hold on, figure it out what’s going to happen here, and then it’s all rushing towards you. Somewhere at any point in time in your journey, do you look back and like, “Why me?”

The survivor’s guilt question is a great question. It’s an important one to talk about. It might help if I set the conditions before I answer, because guilt is such an extremely complex emotion. Most of us, when we think survivor’s guilt, in my case the fact that Marlon died and I lived, would indicate that I should have survivor’s guilt over that. That seems so obvious on the surface there. I couldn’t tie it to anything else because I couldn’t understand the complexity of it. This is the essence of the last ten years, this is the essence of the book, The Beauty of a Darker Soul, was to help understand these things at a much deeper level. Because I had nowhere else to point, I almost forced myself to start to believe that there should be something wrong, that I should be feeling survivor’s guilt, that everything emotionally that was experienced should be surrounding this event.

FYS 049 | Overcoming Trauma

Overcoming Trauma: The Beauty of a Darker Soul: Overcoming Trauma Through the Power of Human Connection

I’m not negating that that didn’t have an impact at all, but when we look at trauma, what is emotional trauma? The way I define emotional trauma is it’s an experience or a situation that fundamentally alters the way we believe the world should work. When our perception of the world gets flipped upside down, it can impact the way we feel about ourselves to varying degrees. Traumas are very relative. In my experience, you and I can go through very similar events and this may have a devastating impact on you and not on me or vice versa, but it’s all relative for a lot of reasons, so I’m not minimizing this at all.

What I am saying is that in my case, I knew that something like that could happen. We all did. Everything we did that day was tactically as perfect as it could have been. Honestly, it actually helped that I died with Marlon before I got back. I talked about it basically until I passed out. That somehow helped relinquish guilt before it even took hold. I’ll tease this out. Everything that ultimately covered all of the emotional pain, the emotional turmoil, everything over the last ten years, was driven by guilt, not necessarily in the form of survivor’ guilt that we all assumed.

The guilt that I experienced, for example, this is one facet of it. When I was evacuated to Walter Reed Army Medical Center after I was shot, Walter Reed in Washington DC is basically the biggest hospital in the Department of Defense. It’s where they send all the most severely wounded service members to heal. Physically, the care that I received there was phenomenal. Nowhere else that I would rather be right. Emotionally it’s a very difficult place to be, because you’re surrounded by the worst of the worst injuries. Amputees, burn victim. As bad as my injury was, I was one of the only ones in that entire hospital that was expected to make a full recovery, and in fact I did. I went back to Baghdad four and a half months later voluntarily. The image while I was there that I’ll never forget is I walked around a corner and I saw this beautiful blonde girl in her early twenties pushing around her new double amputee fiancé in a wheelchair. It’s an image that riveted me. The guilt that I was experiencing was a guilt in my ability to heal when others couldn’t.

One of the things that you said is that it’s all relevant to your situation, because everybody’s situation is a different level, from people not being injured to people who are injured to. It’s amazing on this podcast to talk to finding your summit, about overcoming adversity, and finding your way. I’ve talked to people with no arms, no legs, or blind, can’t hear. It’s all relevant to your situation in that way that you’re able to deal with that and those things. I would also ask the question. We don’t need to talk about it, but I’d also ask the question to that 19-year-old faced with that decision, which way do you go? You either go ride to go left. Somebody is going to make it and someone who’s not. For him, what kind of weight that would have been?

My first experience with this was, as it relates to survivor guilt, was about ten years ago, maybe fifteen years ago. I was invited to Steve Young, the quarterback for the 49ers. I was invited to a ski event that he was having a charity event that he was having down at Snowbird. Myself and other NFL guys showed up and Dick Bass, the owner of the hotel, who’s the guy that had originally pioneer the Seven Summits, the whole who’s going to climb to the highest peaks on every continent, he came up to enjoin us at this table. About a month before his, he and his best friend, Frank Wells, who was the president of Disney, had gone up and they were going to go heli skiing.

They had a great day. They’re there with their wives. They’d taken two helicopters and some bad weather is starting to come in and they decided to cut the trip short. Dick and Frank Wells have ridden up in the helicopter together in the wives had ridden up in the helicopters together. Right before they’re about to take off and go down the mountains, as the weather bad weather is coming in, Frank Well’s wife comes over and knocks on the door, and says, “Do you mind if I ride with my husband down the mountain? I feel more comfortable about that.” He goes, “No problems.” He jumps out of the helicopter, goes over to the other helicopter where his wife was, both helicopters take off. As they’re going down the mountain, the helicopter with Frank Wells, the Disney CEO, crashes. Everybody in the plane dies.

He’s telling the story at the table sobbing. He owned Snowbird, we’re in his hotel up there, there’s probably ten of us, and he was having such a hard time coming to grips of, “Why me?” He has since passed about a year or two ago, but it was very emotionally charged. He felt for the guy. It all had to do a chance and luck and some other things. Anyways, that’s on that story. Now, you’re a shot and you pass out after a couple of minutes. Now they rush you off to this make shift hospital, whatever you want to call this, this mash unit. At the end of the day, you actually literally flat line, but something that I heard you say in a TED talk was that you could feel yourself dying. I’ve never asked this question because I’ve never known anybody that has flat lined and come back, but how did you know you were dying? What is that feeling? Are you starting to lose it? I don’t know what that means.

In this context, I was dying of blood loss, obviously from a severed femoral artery. Almost all of the blood in my body had drained. It was amazing that I was still staying conscious, but when you’re dying of blood lost, you are essentially suffocating. There’s nothing to deliver oxygen to the vital organs. What happens is the body in that situation will actually pull blood to the chest cavity in order to protect the vital organs. I could actually feel that happening. The blood would creep out of my extremities and as all the blood left a cramped up and became numb.

Then that blood creeping sensation would move closer and closer to my core and it would become numb. When that feeling hit my stomach, that was the first point where I realized the injury was getting out of control. Physically at that point, it felt like I was running sprints around a track and couldn’t stop. Imagine you’re doing the toughest workout of your life, just breathing fire, but you can’t stop. That’s what it felt like. I was gasping for air. Emotionally, this is when it started to change. We’re probably about a minute now from the point of death, but life didn’t flash before my eyes, but I do believe what was most important to me was revealed in those final moments.

[Tweet “Recovery from our past experiences begins by recognizing what’s there and recognizing the root cause.”]

Suddenly without trying to, I started to repeat three names in my head over and over again for the last minute of my life. That was my mom and my two sisters. As that blood creeping sensation continued towards my chest cavity and when it hit that, I consciously knew that that was it. I took my last breath, said my last slot, and died. I often get the question, “What was that like? Was there a white light? Was there an out of body experience?” In short, that answer is no to date yet. I haven’t been able to access what happened during those fifteen minutes.

However, what I did experience, was even more powerful, because I know I was still conscious for it. What I’m referring to is the literally the very last breath that I took, the precise transition point from life to death. The only way that I can describe that feeling is one of absolute and complete surrender to something much greater than ourselves. Through that surrender came an overwhelming sense of peace, it was as if every good, every bad, every positive, and every negative just vanished. It’s almost as if the spirit became part of everything and nothing at the same time.

Maybe you were like this before, I’m asking this question post, but did this make you religious in any way, if you weren’t before?

Remember, this is ten years ago, eleven years ago. Hard to believe that it’s eleven years ago, April 21st. I grew up somewhat religious. I distance from it for a lot of different reasons. That before this point. I did sound like I didn’t believe, but I wasn’t very committed to any type of religion. What was interesting is this experience actually pushed me farther away from it for a very long time. It wasn’t until over the last couple years. I remember this took me ten years to integrate this experience into my life and derive. We all intuitively know that adverse experiences in our lives can develop us. They can make us grow and stronger. The misconception is that growth and transformation occur because of the traumatic experience or the adverse event, when in actuality, that transformative process doesn’t occur until some point afterwards, only upon when we have successfully integrated the experience into our lives and derived meaning in it. It’s that transformative journey afterwards that is the real definition of who we are.

Where does that put you today as it relates to being religious or non-religious or how you sit?

I would refer myself as deeply spiritual. I’m actually in a Master’s program right now studying consciousness. It’s an interesting. I don’t align with any specific organized faith, yet I find commonalities between many of them. I respect the many different ways that people find strength and inner peace in their own ways. What the message this experience tends to do is reinforce people’s own sense of faith in whatever that is that they believe in. Much of this ultimately gravitates towards very similar things, which is this concept of surrender to this larger process. It’s a very difficult word for a military guy to use.

There is strength though in what you just said, there is strength in surrendering. That especially took me until I was 50 years old when I figured that out. I played in gladiator sport, and you’re a bad-ass military guy. You’re all gummed up and you’ve been through hell and back. To take that shield off and put it down. You started talking about these different religions. I am of the belief that there’s not a right or wrong. I don’t think all the Christians are right and all the Muslims are wrong. I don’t know who’s right or who’s wrong, but the core message between each one of them is the thing called love.

That’s what unifies everything together. Then everything else gets all junked up between governments and politics and all that stuff. Everybody following the wrong path and not being swayed by influences that are innate to what that person believes. Where love comes, you’ve got happiness and you’ve got cooperation, you’ve got surrendering and you’ve got a lot of things because you have more compassion for your fellow mankind. That’s how I see it, at least.

I definitely very much appreciate that. There’s a lot of allurement towards life. It’s interesting. Where does that come from? Where does our ability to create come from? There are so many deep mysteries. I’m a huge fan of integrating the metaphysical and the physical, blending science and metaphysics together. We should be constantly drawing from the best of all worlds. That only heightens the mystery of it all, and it heightens the power of law, because there are certain things that cannot be explained. Sometimes what can you do is sit back in awe over what that is.

I’m sitting back right now doing the a-ha moment of wondering what that was like when you woke up after fifteen minutes. You literally flat lined, clinically dead and now there’s life that comes back into you. Did your chest swell and big breath? Now you’re alive. Were you groggy and you’re coming out of it and then you realize what happened when people told you? What was that moment like?

It wasn’t until about a day and half, two days later that actually regain full consciousness. By that point I was heavily medicated like methadone, morphine, Percocet, God only knows what else, but again, I go back to this. There’s almost never any type of celebration or any type of good feeling about that one. The first question out of my mouth, “Did Marlon make it?”“Nope.” Second, now I’m flying back to the United States on this medical evacuation plane. I’m completely helpless while my men and my team is still fighting. It’s the same guilt we talked about at West Point at the beginning of this.

It’s not like every minute was a minute closer to home on that plane ride. It was farther away from my team. When you’re talking about your shot, it doesn’t matter, you don’t care about your own injuries. That guilt, even though I wasn’t cognizant of it or aware of it at the time, the onset of that was almost immediate and took hold almost immediately in a variety of different ways that took nearly ten years to uncover. It truly wasn’t until I learned to fully accept the death of my old self before I could learn to live in the present moment again, and that was a journey that took ten years.

FYS 049 | Overcoming Trauma

Overcoming Trauma: I learned to fully accept the death of my old self before I could learn to live in the present moment again.

What I want to do is I want to talk about this book that you wrote called Darker Souls. I’m putting these words in your mouth, but you’ve brought up a number of times about the past ten years of how you’ve gone through your healing. Is this book the result of that journey that you’ve been on?

The title of the book is called The Beauty of a Darker Soul. It’s about overcoming trauma should empower of human connection. For years and years, I’ve been pushed by a lot of different people to write a book on this experience. I never wanted to do that. I never wanted to write a book about a war story. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I knew we had the capacity to leverage this experience for a much greater purpose. About three years ago, I was able to finally start this process. Certainly the near death stuff is in there, all that stuff’s in there, and it’s a nice read in that regard, but the primary purpose of this book is to allow people to look at emotional trauma through a very different lens and through their own lens in their own ways, and to give people permission to recognize and validate the true source of their emotional pain.

A couple different things about trauma. Trauma is not always what it seems. It’s complex, it’s cumulative, and it still remains very misunderstood even within the clinical community and certainly within the larger society as a whole. This is a foundational work that anyone picking it up, I’d encourage you to read it through your own lens in your own ways. Recovery from our past experiences begins by recognizing what’s there and recognizing the root cause. It’s very easy to get sidetracked and miss-identify what that root cause might have been. The beauty of it is that when we do identify that root cause, it’s like these powerful emotions like shame and guilt have a big vulnerability, a big weakness, and that begins with shining lights upon them. Once it’s in the open, once it’s uncovered, there’s no way to go but up.

I want to tie something back that you said, which to me was a key word, but when I first ask you about this book and these last ten years, you tied it back to human connection. What part of that piece to the human connection for you help you bring you back to the fold here?

Human connection is the blanket that envelops all of this. It’s the relationships that we share between one another that has the capacity to dispel the sense of isolation that accompanies trauma. This book draws out some of the profound moments in my life where I truly felt when I was fighting through the deepest, darkest emotional voids. There are deep depressive suicide spirals. There were moments when I truly believe that no one could possibly understand what I was experiencing. This is a very dangerous, very isolating thing to experience, yet the common pattern that has emerged as I look back retrospectively, is there’s always someone there. Whether I was consciously aware of it or not, there’s always someone there who had the courage to plant those seeds.

People naturally gravitate to look at how people in their lives are impacting them and how they’re impacting the lives of others as well. In a gist, trauma doesn’t discriminate. It comes in many shapes and forms and impacts all of us from every walk of life. When we look at it through a deep enough lens, through this lens of the moral, ethical, and spiritual realm, is where the book goes, that is what gives us the capacity to connect at the very core of the human experience. That power and that vulnerability. It’s a book that gives people permission to do that, which I find that many people are craving, just permission and validation of what they might be experiencing right now.

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Have you ever seen this movie called The Count of Monte Cristo?

I have. It’s been awhile, but I’ve seen it.

Ironically, Jim Caviezel, who’s the main actor in the movie, he was over my house about a month ago with a couple of my buddies and we spent half a night talking about movies and life and Ronald Reagan. I was telling them about this Count of Monte Cristo. For the listener who’s not seen that movie, it essentially takes place back in the 18th century, it’s a shipping village. Essentially his buddy turns on him, Jim Caviezel, and he ends up being sentenced to solitary confinement for life on this little island in the middle of nowhere. It’s like Alcatraz, and he’s in solitary confinement. From beneath the floor boards in the stone cell that he was in for years, this old man emerges and it turns out to be the biggest gift of his life.

It was the biggest gift because he taught him the ways of the world. He was a very wise old man. He taught him about self-defense and language and about math and about currency. The later part of that movie for remember, he ends up escaping. The blessing for him with the fact that he was in prison for all those years to come out such a better person. For many years for myself, I’ve considered myself the Count of Hermosa Beach. I had moved down from Seattle in some adverse conditions and I ended up splitting with my ex and my dad had passed away and there’s a lot of things, but I’ll go back down to that world of isolation for me and about connection.

One of the reasons I just moved to Sun Valley, Idaho is because I’ve got a lot of people here that I know and a lot of people that want to involve me back. My image of myself and who am I and what’s my purpose and all those things, I had to sort out through that period of time. As I look back on it too, I would never want to wish the worst on anybody and certainly I didn’t experience things that you did, but at the same time, I look at this is such a blessing because it led me into the mountains. That led me into understanding a better serenity about my surroundings, about getting better clarity about where I want to go and started this podcast.

The blessings I’ve had of talking guys like you and women who have shared their story of bravery and overcoming things, it has just been amazing. When you said that word, it was like a hot button for me about human connection because at the end of the day, that’s what we’re all going to do. We’re social creatures. We need to come together; we don’t need to isolate. When you do that, great things can happen. Where can people find this book?

The best place to go is on Amazon, The Beauty of a Darker Soul, and then the website is DarkerSouls.com. I’m going through a pretty big revamp of my website. It’s still up right now, but just expect some big changes to cover over the next three, four months.

You’re on the public speaking circuit as well?

I sure am. When I’m not in Grad school or speaking, I’m here doing research and writing and filming right now and getting ready for the next phase of what’s about to happen with the company. Basically this is developing into a company that trains clinicians within the behavioral health field and a variety of different capacities.

One thing I love about your story is that through this adversity that you have gone through and through the struggle of the last ten years, you’ve come out the other side much better and now it sounds like you’re on this very purposeful journey about the things that you’ve seen and things you want to change.

It’s a journey that is constantly unfolding. The key word to use there is journey. If there’s anything that I’ve learned, it’s to maintain the humility, to always know that healing and transformation is a journey. It’s never a fixed point in time.

I love that. Your shirt says, “Support the sacrifice.” I certainly I support you in what you’ve done in what you’ve given to this country. This part has been rewarding for me. I love the storytelling that you went through and thanks for your patience. We’ll put all this stuff in the show notes. Again, I totally appreciate you coming on the show.

Likewise, I appreciate it. It’s great to connect with you. This is awesome.

Thank you.

Take care of yourself.


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