South magazine [82] HEALTH & WELLNESS 2019 - Page 38

ALL SECURE A SPECIAL OPERATIONS SOLDIER’S FIGHT TO SURVIVE ON THE BATTLEFIELD AND THE HOMEFRONT Tom’s wife, Jen, is currently writing a book titled “Virago” about overcoming adversity and healing from the invisible wounds of PTS. HHHH Tom is a legend even among other Tier One special Operators. But the enemy that cost him three marriages, and ruined his health physically and psy- chologically, existed in his brain. It nearly led him to kill himself in 2014; but for the lifeline thrown to him by an extraordinary woman. Instead, together they took on Tom’s most im- portant mission: to save the lives of his brothers and sisters in arms, who are killing themselves at a rate of more than twenty a day. PICKUP YOUR COPY AT AMAZON.COM AT $24. 36 SOUTH October | November 2018 December | January 2020 SOUTH: When we spoke in 2015, you said you had no empathy. Do you have empathy now? TOM: I do. I cry all the time now. I feel for things. I understand, when I see people on TV and they’re downtrodden. Before I was like, ‘Whatever, should have thought about that before you made what- ever decision you made that got you there.’ I never really realized how little it took to help someone, until my wife reached down and grabbed my hand and pulled me out. And I realized, wow, that’s all it took. That’s literally all it took. SOUTH: Speaking of Jen, a lot of people would say this is a book about a war hero, but I got to the end and I thought, ‘Wait, who’s the real hero of this book?’ TOM: Right? SOUTH: Who would you say it is? TOM: I would say it’s my wife. I would say that that’s why our foundation helps families. Because whether you’re a private or a general, you’re still also just a spouse at home. SOUTH: And how are you two doing with the foundation? TOM: We’re doing great. We held our fir t couples’ retreat, and it was awesome. It went off without a fl w. Everybody loved it. We’re scheduled for seven more next year plus some health and wellness stuff, so we re looking at 10 to 12 events (in 2020). Plus we just spoke to about 300 active duty special ops students who are … training to be Green Berets and Green Beret support, and they want us to come quarterly to speak to their new classes, to plant that seed of taking care of yourself. I know they’re not listening — they’re kids, they’re little commandos. Like if I was sitting in that seat I know I wouldn’t have been listening. But at least I’m planting a seed. SOUTH: I thought it was interesting how you reframed PTS as not merely a mental illness, but that there are physiological and biological responses happening to you because of such pro- longed stress. I wondered if that would encourage more vets to face what they’re going through. TOM: They love hearing that it’s biological, that it’s not their fault, that it’s not weakness. It’s not because you’re mentally weak. You’re not sup- posed to kill people. You’re not supposed to see your buddies die before their time. … I don’t care who you are — it’s not good. SOUTH: Have any of your buddies read the book? TOM: Yeah, they all love it. They say it’s power- ful, cathartic. A lot of the Unit guys have hit me up and said they suffered the exact ame way and they never thought they could talk about it. Guys have told me they’ve actually gone out and gotten a therapist that day. SOUTH: How does that make you feel? TOM: Amazing. This is my journey now; this is my biggest mission ever. • Find Tom at