I know, it sounds like I’m bragging. Allow me to explain first. I don’t think people remember that the War on Terror lasted 20 years. Most of today’s “influencers” weren’t even born on 9/11 and don’t know the significance that the event had on American history. I was in 9th grade during the attacks and shortly after saw the country go to war. In my senior year of school (2005), I joined the Army as a Cavalry Scout.
I ended up getting shot by a sniper in Iraq. As a result of the injury, I medically retired from the Army. At 23 I began my professional speaking career. I learned a lot as a speaker, and I’m still learning more every day. As I continue to expand my business and my network I’d like to share a bit about why hiring a combat veteran is always a good move if you are looking for a mental health speaker.
Reason 1: The Lived Experience
The war lasted 20 years. When I was in the Army, our units trained for one year in the United States and then went to Iraq or Afghanistan for up to 14 months. These rotations were endless and some soldiers have been to combat zones over 5 times. I got to my unit when I was 18 years old. The first thing that I saw and heard about was an old Army unit called 3rd ACR (Armored Cavalry) beating up their wives and killing their dogs. I was brand new to the Army and didn’t know anything about PTSD.
Then I went to war myself at 19. I had 3major combat events. I saw my best friend get blown up by an IED while driving as the lead scout. He survived, and he ran into other IEDS during our deployment. My second event was getting a direct hit from a mortar round while hiding in a bunker. My left ear drum ruptured and I had a concussion as a result. The third event was me getting shot by a sniper in 2007 at 20 years old. The mortar attack had no lasting effects, but anytime I drive by a wrecked car on the side of the road I prepare for it to explode. As a result of the sniper attack, I’m terrified of balloons. A balloon popping sounds exactly like the pop of the rifle that I heard on the day I was shot. These lived experiences allow me to relate to an audience because I’ve had a traumatic event AND have many of the same PTSD/mental health symptoms that they may have from their own traumatic event.
Reason 2: The Dedication To The Country
I only served 5 years in the Army. However, my dedication to mental health and everyone in America suffering from mental illness will last forever. I love the ability to advocate for others through the art of professional speaking. Usually, once I step off a stage or when I get home I get people telling me that either they or someone that they know has a mental illness. However, since so many people are terrified to speak in public they couldn’t imagine getting in front of people and talking about it. Advocating for people with mental health challenges is a way for me to serve my country without being in the Army…and I love it.
I also serve as the Co-Vice President of NAMI Dekalb (https://www.namidekalb.org). NAMI is an organization that serves the constituents of the affiliate they are assigned to. I serve the people of DeKalb County, Ga. To go even further, I am a certified state trainer in NAMI Homefront, a free 6-week course for families, caregivers, and friends of military service members and veterans with mental health conditions (https://www.nami.org/support-education/mental-health-education/NAMI-Homefront). This is one of my proudest achievements because in this role I am able to help the family members and caregivers of my fellow veterans that are struggling with their mental health. I get to use my speaking skills to make the connection with family members that aren’t familiar with military culture.
Reason 3: The Skillset of a Combat Veteran
When I was in Iraq I was a fighter, a mechanic, tech support, an emergency room nurse, and much more. We simply do what the job requires. The same thing applies to being a speaker. I’ve been able to speak for 45 minutes as a keynote speaker, condense a 30-minute speech into 5 minutes, moderate a panel of other speakers, speak on a panel myself, give lectures, and everything required from a professional speaker. We simply get the job done.
I mentioned earlier how afraid some people are to get on stage. Some people just can’t imagine getting in front of people and talking. Combat veterans on the other hand go into hostile territory looking the enemy in the eye on the battlefield. There is no moment too big, we are trained to face adversity and mentally poised to stay calm during a disaster (like the one time I left my entire speech in my hotel room and had to improvise for 30 minutes). Walking on stage is like going out on a mission in combat: you are nervous and don’t know exactly what is going to happen, but you keep your military bearing and keep going until the job is done.
I can’t name anything that a combat veteran cannot do. We are the brave men and women earning Purple Hearts, Medals of Honor, and Silver & Bronze stars for keeping our fellow Americans safe. When it comes to mental health, our veterans served 20 years fighting the war on terror. There are 20 years of stories out there that resulted in mental health issues for multiple service members. I saw the beginning of the war as a young teenager, served in combat as a 19-year-old, and now as an adult speaking about living with mental illness and have dedicated the rest of my life to doing so. Hiring a combat veteran is definitely a great idea if you are looking for a speaker for any type of event. If you are looking for a speaker for your next event, leave me a message!