Finding My Way Home: A Veteran's Story Part 3 of 3

Finding My Way Home: A Veteran's Story Part 3 of 3

Written by Adam Carr with Jake Clark and Jason Roncoroni

I was just trying to find my way back home. 

I didn’t know what to expect when I went live on Facebook that night. It was emotional to say the least. For the first time since beginning my military journey, I expressed my own vulnerability in a way that was both terrifying and liberating. In that moment, just sharing my experience was enough for me to continue moving forward. After I finished my 24-minute video, my life changed forever.

The video went viral across the internet. Thousands of people reached out to me looking for support. It took weeks to catch up on all the messages; however, there was one in particular that still sticks with me today. 

A woman I never met sent me a message and told me that she had planned to end her life that day. Like me, she had lost hope, but after watching my video, she decided to continue living. My own pain and suffering inspired her to move forward. In my darkest moment, I found my purpose. I was able to help someone and felt empowered to help many more.

Coincidentally, the Founder, Executive Director, and a volunteer from Save A Warrior reached out to me. They invited me to meet with them at a local café. I had already opened my heart and soul on social media, so what else did I have to lose? I was still cautious. When I met them, I was armed. I conducted a detailed surveillance of the area ahead of our meeting. This was just who I was at the time. I was on high alert because I didn’t know anyone from Save A Warrior, and I couldn’t trust their intentions. 

Jake Clark, the President and Founder of Save A Warrior, he invited me to spend a week in Malibu to witness the Save A Warrior experience. My life at the time wasn’t working, so I figured why not? As a Midwestern guy from Ohio, a trip to Malibu sounded great. I took the five-hour trip to California with no expectations. I was willing to lean into the experience, because I didn’t know what else to do or where else to turn.

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I remember sizing up the other Warriors who traveled with me from Los Angeles International Airport to beautiful Pepperdine University. When I sat in the conference room on Sunday afternoon, I listened to fellow Warriors and Wounded Healers deliver the most genuine, authentic and real introduction and presentation I had ever seen. In the presence of complete strangers, they shared their own vulnerability, and for the first time in a long time, I felt safe. I knew I had come to the right place.

I was with 10 other Warriors in SAW Cohort 035. We labeled ourselves the “Lucky 11.” I witnessed Warriors not unlike myself from all walks of society tear down walls, offload serious baggage, process deep-rooted trauma, and ultimately form a brotherhood. 

Over the course of the week, through the process of initiation, we rapidly achieved something akin to spiritual maturity. The gratitude that I felt for having the opportunity to go through this program, on a parallel path with my brothers, still radiates and resonates throughout my life to this day. 

By the end of the week, light finally permeated the dark places in my soul that had haunted me for years. I felt like a new man because I was a new man. I could see it in the faces of others, but more importantly, I could feel it in my own heart. Save A Warrior provided the course correction I desperately required for a life that was spiraling in despair. I was on a new path of life in the service of others. More importantly, I was no longer ashamed of who I was.

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When I returned home to Ohio, I continued new habits from "SAW". I meditated daily. I made my bed every morning. I lived life intentionally and was conscious of responding instead of reacting to stress. I approached situations with compassion and empathy. Slowly but surely, my life began to improve, and I began to experience the wonder of gratitude and peace. 

Several months later, I was asked to come back to Save A Warrior. This time I was going to be a Shepherd. I was going to "hold space" for other Warriors and witness their experience of the Hero's Journey that helped to transform my own life. I felt honored to be a part of such a program because I knew we were changing lives for the better. Working at Save A Warrior became my new passion. To date, I’ve supported over a dozen Cohorts since I "sat in the seat", and I appreciate the opportunity to do for others that which has been done for me - for fun and for free. 

What is the secret of this program? 

What is it that distinguishes this experience from any other program? 

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First, this program provides the vital connection between Warriors that is so absent for our returning Veterans today. 

Second, this program applies an archetypal approach to healing through the Hero’s Journey; a program of secular initiation that has been a part of social reintegration since the dawn of warfare. 

Finally, this program is Warrior-led. It leverages the peer-to-peer power of the Wounded Healer to transform broken Warriors into Servant Leaders who continue a life in the service of others. 

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Where has my life gone since my experiences at SAW? I am attended and graduated from the Stanford Graduate School of Business as part of the world class, competitive entrepreneurship program called Ignite. I am networking with business leaders from across the country. I am also attending THE Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business MBA Program. 

I still meditate every day, see my kids off to school, and take time for the most important things in life. I work as the Deputy Director of Operations at Save A Warrior, and I am working to expand operations to transform the condition of our Veteran Community of Practice. 

I still have challenges. I still struggle with pain. I have yet to obtain a disability rating from the VA. What I do have is a new perspective on life. I live a life in service of others. I have a loving family. Most importantly, I am no longer a man who feels unworthy to hug his own wife. Today I can hug her until she lets me go. 

Why do I share my story? 

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Because on Veteran’s Day, those of us who served have an obligation to share our story, and those who haven’t served have an obligation to hear what we have to say. We must all remember and share in the sacrifice that our servicemen and women make for our country, and our Veterans need to know that they can have happiness and fulfillment in life beyond the military. 

Even as you read this, someone you know out there is struggling. Share this story so that they might "answer the call" and lean into the Save A Warrior experience. If you haven’t served, I humbly ask that you do your part and give to Save A Warrior so that we can continue to transform the lives of our Veterans. 

Dr. Martin Luther King once said: “If you can’t fly, then run, If you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, keep moving forward.” I encourage you to do the same. No matter the season in your life. It is too precious to waste. Keep moving forward and you too can find your way back home.

You are worth it. 

Adam Carr is the Deputy Director of Operations for Save A Warrior, Jake Clark is the Founder and Creative Director for Save A Warrior, and Jason Roncoroni is a Strategic Advisor and President of Ordinary Hero Coaching.

Finding My Way To War - A Veteran's Story Part 2 of 3

Finding My Way To War - A Veteran's Story Part 2 of 3

Written by Adam Carr with Jason Roncoroni

From my education, training, and desire to serve, everything I did was pushing me toward the war.  

It started when I went to college after returning from Basic Training. My program of study was the Security and Intelligence Program. It was a flagship program intended to prepare young men and women for service in one of the three letter agencies of the federal government. I even studied Arabic while I was a student at Ohio State. My education was preparing me for a life of service to our nation.

I had eventually outgrown my desire to serve in the National Guard. I sought something more. As I approached graduation, I wanted (no, I needed) to serve my country more directly. I could have applied for Officer Candidate School, but I was afraid I was going to miss the war. I wanted to be the best. Therefore, I went to the recruiter’s office before graduation and signed a contract for the arduous Special Forces Qualification Course. Even though I was unsure about enlisting in the National Guard five years earlier, I was certain about my new path into the Special Forces.

After graduation, I went to Fort Benning for infantry training, I went to Airborne School, and then I was off to the grueling two-year initiation into the U.S. Special Forces. My first trial was the initial 24-day selection. My selection class began with over 400 of the finest Soldiers the Army had to offer. Only about 100 remained by the final day, but less than 50 were selected into the actual program. I met many friends along my two-year journey in the Special Forces Qualification Course (called the “Q-course” in the Army vernacular). I would learn later that only 20 of the original 400 that showed up for selection actually made it to graduation, but I was privileged to be among the few to earn the coveted Green Beret.

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This was a challenging time in my life, but it was a time for celebration, too. I married my best friend and soul mate, Tarah Marie Moss. I met Tarah in college, and I was truly blessed with her unconditional love and support during this period of intense, military training. We were married while I was still in the program, and we welcomed the arrival of our first son, Noah. After graduation, I moved my family to Okinawa, Japan. I was living the adventure I had always sought as a child, and now I was serving my country. I had it all, and I was excited to embark upon my journey into the unknown world.

Okinawa was a wonderful place. I was assigned to the 1st of the 1st Special Forces. My company was deployed when I arrived, so I was alone on rear detachment at least until the next new arrival showed up at the unit. His name was Jeremie. It was my good fortune that I got along with the only other guy in the unit at the time. In fact, we became best friends. We ended up on the same Operational Detachment Alpha with an extremely tight group of warriors.

I was part of the 1st of the 1st Special Forces. Given the nature of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the burden on our unit was extremely high. We were among one of the most deployed units in the Army, spending nearly 10 months of each year deployed from home. I was grateful for the brotherhood of warriors to which I belonged. I remained close with my friend Jeremie even after he was pulled into a different company. I remember corresponding with him just two weeks before the end of one of our many tours to Afghanistan. He was telling me how excited he was to get back to the states and start a new life after the military. That was our last conversation. Jeremie was killed in action the very next day. I was stunned.

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Even though I was a seasoned combat veteran, the hardest thing I had to do was stand in his bedroom, filled with trophies, pictures, and accoutrements of his life while his mother stood in front of us weeping. I wanted so desperately to weep with her, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t just a Soldier. I was a Green Beret. It was my duty to hold it together. Beneath the surface of the uniform, I struggled under the burden of a promise I made to myself as a lifeguard. A dear friend died under my watch. I remember laying Jeremie to rest and flying back to my unit for another 9-month rotation to Afghanistan.

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In war, you bear witness to terrible things. Those days become timeless elements of your life. I still remember the day our SEAL commander took his own life. I remember our team carrying one of the fallen brothers and his gear nearly 4000 feet down a mountain pass so he could be evacuated back home.  The cycle of assaulting enemy compounds was relentless. The intensity of operations was a lot – sometimes too much.

At times, the pain and anxiety was overwhelming. It wasn’t just the struggle of combat. It wasn’t just my effort to deliver on a promise I had made to myself. It was the pain of saying goodbye to my children and not knowing if I would ever see them again. By 2013, I had enough. It was time for me to leave the military while I had some semblance of myself left. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that I could leave the war, but the war would never leave me. In 2014, I lost another member of my team to suicide. Even when the shooting stopped, we kept losing people. It was too much for me to process. I didn’t know what was happening to my team. More importantly, I didn’t know what was happening to me. We were supposed to be the best of the best, but it seemed like we were struggling.

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I had a number of injuries that I kept secret from doctors in the military. I didn’t want to let down the team, so I played hurt. Unfortunately, my back pain was unbearable. The pain was so bad that I had to crawl to the bathroom in the morning. Because I never sought care through the military, I had to fight the VA for medical benefits for my lower back, my shoulder, and other physical problems that manifested after I left the military. On top of it all, I wasn’t sleeping at night. I harbored tremendous anxiety, guilt, and shame. I couldn’t shake the experience of war, and I didn’t understand why I deserved a family while so many of my fellow brothers died. What made me special? After all, I was the one who broke the promise I made to myself to protect others.

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I was 32 years old. Everything I did in my life up to this point was pushing me to war, but now, I just wanted to return back home. I lost dear friend and fellow veteran to suicide on my birthday – on my birthday. Maybe I deserved everything that was happening to me. I tried numbing the pain, but that didn’t work. I spent 10 years in Special Forces and had to fight the government for my medical benefits. I struggled under the burden of survivor’s guilt. Even though I had a loving wife and two beautiful children, I felt terribly alone in my own abyss of shame. All my wife wanted from me was a hug, and I knew I had reached my breaking point when I couldn't even do that.  I didn’t see any way out. I didn’t know how to stop the pain. I finally asked my wife to sit down in my office. She was the most important person in my life, and yet she felt so far away from me. With tears flowing from her eyes, I sat in front of the computer and logged into Facebook Live. This was the only way I knew to end my suffering.

On the desk in front of me, I had a bag of pills for the pain, a bottle of Honey Jack for courage, and a loaded 9 mm for me . . .

Adam Carr is the Deputy Director for Operations and a Project Director for Save A Warrior.

Jason Roncoroni is a Strategic Advisor and the President of Ordinary Hero Coaching.

"Playing the Role of the Soldier" - A Veteran’s Story Part 1 of 3

"Playing the Role of the Soldier" - A Veteran’s Story Part 1 of 3

Written by Adam Carr with Jason Roncoroni

When I was a kid, I spent my time playing the role of the Soldier. When I graduated high school, I had my chance to do it for real.

I came from humble beginnings from a blue-collar family in Dayton, Ohio. My father owned his own barbershop. My mom worked a variety of jobs to ensure that the bills were paid and food was on the table. Like so many parents, mine worked hard and sacrificed so that my sister and I could have a decent childhood. I love my parents for the life they gave me, and through adversity and scarcity, I learned to appreciate everything I got in life. I began working at a young age. I was washing boats at age 14, and I also worked as a cashier and a service manager at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. I had some unattractive jobs growing up, but I believe these jobs helped to shape my character and work ethic. The most influential job I had growing up was the time I worked as a lifeguard. Working as a lifeguard provided a great opportunity for me to talk to girls, but it was also the first time in my life that I was responsible for the welfare of others. I felt a genuine sense of pride in serving others in my community.

Some lifeguards spend an entire summer season without the challenge of having to save a life. I wasn’t so lucky. It was late in the fall when I had to rescue a man who was drowning in a lake. This man was swimming in an alcove away from where I was as the lifeguard. I never saw him. A friend of his alerted me to the situation. I raced across the lake to his location. I dove into the cold, murky water. I still remember how surprised I was with how deep and dark the water felt that day, but I was too late. He had sunk too deep in the water and had drowned before I could get to him.

I was commended for the bravery of my actions. The conditions were extremely dangerous, but I didn’t hesitate. I was told that there was nothing I could have done to save that man. He had drowned before I even dove into the water. Those facts did little to console me. I didn’t feel brave, and I certainly didn’t believe I deserved a commendation. What I felt was the shame from my guilt. I felt responsible, and I committed to myself that there would never be another drowning on my watch. Never. When I wasn’t working, I spent my time playing sports. Like many kids, I played soccer, basketball, baseball, and I also ran track and field. Playing sports was my outlet for adventure, but deep in my heart, I longed for the opportunity to see the world.

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During high school, I excelled in track and field, and I committed myself as an athlete. I was just applying the work ethic and fortitude I learned from my parents and my own work experiences throughout my life. I was determined to win a scholarship because I didn’t have money for college. A scholarship was my ticket to a college education and a life beyond Ohio. I traveled to the Nike Invitational Indoor Track Meet in Maryland, and I ran as a member of one of the best relay teams in the country. Because of my success as a runner, I was confident that winning a scholarship was within my grasp. Unfortunately, I tore my hip flexor shortly after the Nike Invitational. My dream of a track and field scholarship ended in an instant after years of hard work. I was devastated. College seemed like such an unlikely option for me after my injury. Without a scholarship, I didn’t know how

I could possibly pay for my education. I had some friends who entered the National Guard, but I wasn’t sure the military was the right fit for me. I found the potential for college benefits somewhat enticing, but I just wasn’t excited about joining the Army . . . until I watched the World Trade Center collapse on September 11, 2001.

Like every American, 9/11 changed my life. I still remember the emotions I felt that day. While the attacks were happening, I felt fear, confusion, and anxiety. Those emotions quickly turned to something else - anger and rage. I was pissed off, but it was no longer just about me. It was about serving others. I was inspired to serve my country. Along my Hero’s Journey, I answered the call. I signed a six-year contract with the Ohio National Guard. At the wise-old age of 18, I left Dayton Ohio for Basic Training at Fort Jackson.

The military was a life I never knew I wanted. The military offered adventure, and I felt like I was a part of something special. My entire life up to this point prepared me to excel as a Soldier. By the time I turned 19, the war in Afghanistan was well underway. There was even talk that we would invade Iraq. I spent a lot of time as a kid pretending to be a Soldier, but this was real. I learned that the first time I lost a friend in combat. I never forgot the promise I made to myself that nobody would ever drown again on my watch, but death took forms in combat. War was pernicious like that. I lost too many friends. I learned the hard way that nothing could prepare me for what I would experience through war or its aftermath. I recently graduated from high school. I wasn’t playing the role of the Soldier anymore. Now, I was living it.

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This article is Part 1 of a three part series commemorating the stories of our Veterans.

Adam Carr is the Deputy Director for Operations and a Project Director for Save A Warrior. He supervises and provides the Integrative Intensive Retreat to help struggling veterans address the condition of moral injury, PTSD, and depression.

Jason Roncoroni is the Chief Leadership Officer for TRIBE, an integrative approach to transform the wellness of the Veteran community.