Statistically, 20 veterans will die by suicide today. Follow the numbers and we’re on track to lose 70,000 more by the end of the decade.
We’ve all heard about Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). We’ve seen the headlines. Maybe we’ve read a book or watched a movie about it. It’s there in the back of our minds, but is anyone really paying attention?
One Kansas City organization is. Warriors’ Ascent is a fledging non-profit dedicated to helping veterans and first responders live with PTS. For the past year or so, we’ve had the privilege of working with them on a pro bono basis.
Unlike other programs, Warriors’ Ascent doesn’t try to cure PTS, per se. Instead, they equip warriors and first responders with lifelong, holistic healing practices focused on the mind, body and soul. They teach them how to heal themselves, and then arm them with tools to help others. Meditation, outdoor physical challenges, reflection and sharing are packed into an emotional weeklong catharsis called a cohort.
To see it in action is both humbling and inspiring. We had the opportunity to follow one of their cohorts through the program and talk with a few graduates.
Personally, I’m a huge supporter of our troops. I go out of my way to thank veterans—shake their hands or buy them a beer when I can. However, my efforts seem almost insulting while standing a few feet away from a sobbing veteran who is exposing for the first time his most guarded fears. While interviewing a few program graduates for some videos, I was struck by how honest they were. I wasn’t expecting Bryan—a battle-hardened special forces veteran—to speak so tenderly of love and peace. Or Nathan—a tatted-up former artillery man who’s now a police officer – to shed tears while reflecting on how his silent pain impacted his family.
That’s when I realized we weren’t there to film a “testimonial video.” We were there to listen. To record their story. We actually did very little—just turned on the camera and let them speak. Thanks to what they learned in the program, these formidable, brave men felt comfortable being open, honest, and vulnerable. They felt free to be human.
Hopefully, that’s what other veterans and first responders will see. Perhaps they will find a vulnerability they can identify with. Maybe they’ll see how others have conquered that fear of just showing up.
For me, I’ve learned that what we do does sometimes matter. That’s it’s okay to be human—to be vulnerable. It’s not often that you get to see tough men cry. And while I’m thankful for their service, I’m also grateful to them for allowing me that glimpse into what true manhood really is.