From Transition to a Metamorphosis: When You’re Left Without the Army
08 AUGUST 2012
In 2012, I was in charge of a personal security detail (PSD) tasked with protecting Colonel Mingus and Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Griffin in Eastern Afghanistan. This was my second deployment to the region. On 8 August, in eastern Afghanistan, my team was escorting the boss (Mingus) to the Kunar Provincial security meeting. We were targeted by two suicide bombers whose attack killed four of my brothers: CSM Griffin, MAJ Gray, MAJ Kennedy and Ragai Abdelfattah. I, and many others, were left with the physical and emotional scars but spared the ultimate sacrifice. I was evacuated back to the United States for treatment at Walter Reed National Medical Center. In the aftermath of the attack, doctors opted to treat my leg as a limb salvage and had taken away approximately 50% of my left calf. Yet, after 4 months of in-patient treatment, I was able to walk with only a slight limp. Other than partial deafness in one ear and a residual concussion, I was ‘good as new’. Except, the thing about being ‘good as new’ is, everything that you knew about the old you, no longer exists.
Over the first few months as an inpatient at Walter Reed I struggled with demons. I suffered from what many people are familiar with as Survivors Guilt. Like a game of dice, each day I was introduced to a new facet of Survivors Guilt. Roll the dice one day I would wake up blaming myself for the attack, roll them again the next day and I couldn’t stop asking, “Why, why, why?”. On the third roll, the anger coursed deep in my blood, followed by the roll that that made reality stare at me blankly in the face with no remorse. On the worst roll, like a pair of snake eyes, depression sank deep into my bones. This cycle continued and it became clear that I was in denial. I saw my injuries as temporary and did not listen to the counsel of fellow wounded warriors who spoke about the process of transition and the importance of embracing my wounds. If ever there was motivation among my demons, it was to know that my leg would heal in six months and I would be back on track with my plan, picking up in Georgia for the Captains Career School. They say ignorance is bliss. Had I known while lying in my hospital bed that I would be medically retired on a sunny day in July, I’m not sure I would have ever truly healed.
During my inpatient time, I met incredible wounded warriors who changed my life. They supported me when my demons tried to take over and they stood by my side to make sure that I always had a strong support system. I realize now that it felt comfortable because it felt familiar. It was like I was back on a team
with my guys covering my twelve and six. On one particularly tough day, a quadruple amputee soldier busted into my room and declared, “What a great day to be alive and what a great day to be an American!”. This guy, who walks in with two prosthetic legs and two prosthetic arms, put me to shame. He doesn’t know it, but he changed my life. Just as the bomb did – so unexpected and quick, my world flipped. I knew that I had to make a change. The negativity and denial I came to know so well was suddenly replaced with perseverance and motivation. I understood that my time in the Army was over. I would never recover enough to serve my country the way I had envisioned. So, I shut down the pity party and I thanked God for the opportunity to serve my country in the capacity I had with our nation’s finest individuals. For the first time in my life, I had no idea what the hell was next for me.
My first mission was to find my next passion. I was in love with the infantry and every value that comes with it. Thus, I understood that it would take time for me to find my next great adventure and passion. The problem? I was still a military guy and I needed to find an entourage who could guide me, mentor me, and prepare me for the civilian corporate world. Jared Shepard, founder of Warriors Ethos and President & CEO of Intelligent Waves is a veteran who understood my fears of transitioning. He made me a promise. He told me he would make sure that I found success and a new passion but that he would only support me if I put in the work and listened to his guidance. He offered me a hand up, not a hand out, and this was instrumentally important to me. It was a risk worth taking and so we shook on it.
Like a montage in a movie, Jared and his team took over my resume and together we built a resume that re-told my military experiences into civilian strengths that spotlighted my target career. At that time, my career goals were to serve in the corporate security field. Next, we rehearsed everything in my resume to make sure I was able to accurately and effectively articulate myself. We spent hours conducting mock interviews to teach me to approach military jargon in civilian language. Much to my dismay this meant no acronyms and definitely no cursing.
Since I was a wounded warrior still assigned to the hospital, the army allowed me to work in an internship program for 20 hours a week to prepare me for the civilian world. I spent the first three months working for Jared. There, he worked on my etiquette and made sure that some of my military “bad” habits (such as dipping tobacco at work) were corrected. I watched how people communicated, dressed and spoke to each other and I adapted. I went and bought suits & new shoes. I listened in meetings instead of leading them and studied my new world. I wanted to belong but I was so far behind, or so I thought.
Never Forget where You Come From
I worked so diligently to understand the corporate civilian lifestyle that I failed to realize what type of impact I was having on my new colleagues. It wasn’t too long into my transition that I was taken aside by a supervisor, who turns out, only wanted to inform me of her approving observations. She spoke about the fact that I was always punctual, well-dressed, and proper. She said that I never complained about tasks assigned to me no matter how daunting they were. I’ll always remember her telling me, “Flo, if only I could have 10 of you, I would never have to worry about the production out of this office. Please keep doing whatever you are doing and never change!” It was clear that the qualities my supervisor appreciated were the traits and values that I had learned in the military. I always arrived 15 minutes early, I groomed myself to the standard, I was disciplined, efficient and I worked hard to challenge myself and the ones around me. Anyone who has served will attest that these skills are what you learn in your first 24 hours in the military. To me, it was the basics.
Like many stories, my road was bumpy in the beginning and just as bumpy in the end. It took three different internships with three different organizations in a 3 year period to find my passion. I missed the military and the men that I served with. I missed the camaraderie. But, the Department of Defense (DoD) sparked something within me and made me feel whole again. I had a purpose that made sense once again. For the first time in three years, I felt like I was making a difference. That horrible morning on 08 August 2012 was no longer the demise of all my dreams, but instead a Segway to make an even more significant difference in the world.
Again? This time I’m Ready
For a short period of time life was good, steady, and healthy. That is until September 21st 2015 when I received a call from the President of the United States informing me that I would be receiving the Medal of Honor for those actions on 08 August 2012. To friends, family, colleagues, soldiers and the media, it was cause of celebration. To me, it was dread. To be clear, I was honored and humbled beyond words to be nominated for the MoH, but it completely derailed my career at the DoD. Once again,my passion was ripped from my hands. This time, today as I type this, I am ready for the challenge. I believe that life is series of doors with an opportunity in each. Today I open the next door and I walk through it bearing the knowledge of my past. Today, with the support of my loved ones and an unbridled confidence, I seek my next step. I will not quit until I am making a difference again. Today, I am ready.