I deployed to Iraq in 2006 with the 3-61st Cavalry Regiment. I deployment was during what the New York Times called the deadliest year for U.S. Troops in Iraq. During that year I was shot by a sniper and the very next day my best friend was shot and killed by a sniper. It took me years to heal from my injuries. While healing I was assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit. There was also a New York Times article describing how bad this unit was.
It was in the WTU that I realized the mental health issues that many veterans deal with after combat. In that unit I lost another friend, Chris Westbrook. While in this unit I was depressed, fighting suicidal ideation, and was also addicted to opioids. One day I picked up a camera and just started recording what I was going through. I kept recording these videos when I returned home to Rochester.
I recorded for 6 minutes at a time, calling them "6 minutes of death". Just recording everything that I was going through at the time...drinking myself to death and talking about everything that was going on in my life. There was a general that I met while in the hospital at Ft. Carson. General Robert Mixon was commander of the post and came to visit me and told me and my mom that if we ever needed anything that I could find him when I moved to Rochester. I did just that and got enrolled into a special program called the Warrior Salute Program in Webster, NY.
While I was at my lowest point in life, this program saved me. Gave me a place to stay, gave me a reason to be alive again, and helped me with my mental health. This is a non profit organization that gave me a free place to stay for a year while providing me with the therapy I needed to life a happier, healthier life. I started my speaking career in this program...someone told me that I was a great story teller and should do it professionally. That's how Lion Speaking Agency was born.
I graduated from the Warrior Salute Program in 2011. This year they bought me back to tell my story and to meet the new veterans enrolled in the program. This was the most important speech of my life. It meant to much to be back in my hometown to be talking about everything that I struggled with. This was only the second time that I was able to give a speech in front of my parents. I also hired a professional photographer that took great pictures and video of the event.
This wasn't a thousand dollar speech...this speech didn't have hundreds of people in the audience...there was no news crew in the audience. This was a speech in my hometown about a program that helped save my life on veterans day after 20 years of war. I didn't write this speech, I spoke directly from the heart. I can almost guarantee there will not be a more important speech. This is why I love what I do...