I was asked to write a letter about Tom for a leadership retreat that he is in part leading and in part learning from thanks to the gracious invitation of a fellow Delta Force brother. I was asked to think of a word that best describes Tom and to write a short essay on what that word means to him. I encourage you do to the same. This is a great exercise for a couple to do, it really makes you think about your partner and what you love about them. Too often we focus on the things we don’t, and what you choose to focus on becomes your reality. Truth.
The first word that came to mind was “courage”. I have not known a more courageous man in my life. The obvious is his military career where he faced fears and conquered them, truly a courageous act. The courage to continue when he wanted to give up on his life is even more impressive to me, I think it was more difficult path because it was draped in uncertainty and confusion, there was no tactic or technique that he could rely on, he had to find his way through the muck. Then there is the courage to be vulnerable, an act that is not easy for a person, let a lone a man, to do. He was afraid of judgement, loss of friends, but he did it anyway, he spoke up and out because he knew his story could save someone else and that’s all that mattered in the end. That’s courage.
But as I sat in front of my computer I thought, I think his word is “Complete” because he is in fact just that, whole, and complete just as he is. All too often those who suffer with trauma, stress, and PTSD, feel broken or incomplete, like some part of them is damaged or missing. I know, I’ve been there myself. Many have and many do. I believe Tom knows in his heart that he’s courageous so I wanted to make sure he knew that he is perfectly imperfect just the way he is, right now, today.
Here’s that letter…
All too often we are trying to fix something that’s not broken. We rearrange the pieces and try to recreate something that doesn’t fit together in the same way anymore, so we try to fight through it. We attempt to rearrange the pieces yet again, but yet they still don’t go together the way we imagined they would. The way we remembered it. We chip away at one part to make it fit with another. Frustration, anger, confusion, sadness, rage, and a mourning of what once was sets in.
When I met Tom he was trying to pick up the pieces of his life and rearrange them to fit where they no longer belonged. He felt lost, confused, broken. Like he didn’t belong. Like he didn’t matter. Unable to make sense of something that just didn’t make sense, the puzzle of his life was unsolved and the “left over pieces” left him feeling incomplete. Less than. Broken. As a “fixer” and a leader this only cause further turmoil, asking of himself, “Why can’t I solved this? Why can’t I make my life go back together again?”
Growing up in the military with a determination to be the best of the best gave him a direction, a mission. He completed challenges with every ounce of effort he could give and was always at the top of the top. He didn’t go the extra mile, he went 10 extra miles. He felt invincible. Like he could conquer any challenge and overcome any obstacle. He was riding high with a tribe of others just like him, determined, self-starters, leaders, perfectionist with a love of country and brotherhood. Then his world came crashing down along with two Black Hawks. His life forever changed. He watched in horror as his brothers died, one after the other. The security of invincibility was shattered. He was told to face death and make peace with it, because at 25 years old, his short life would most likely be over. This mission would possibly take them all.
Overcoming one in a million odds, he ran for his life, completing the Mogadishu Mile meant he would live to fight another day. Fighting his way out of hell on Earth, running to safety, running to his remaining brothers. Running so his family wouldn’t have to answer the door with the unimaginable news he wouldn’t be coming home.
This was merely the first of his combat missions. He continued to fight, lead and serve another 18 years in Delta Force. More deployments around the world. More family special occasions, holidays, and milestones missed. More marriages ended. More pieces to pick up that didn’t go back together. His courage was that to continue, to put one boot in front of the other. To never let his brothers down. To keep his country that he loved secure. He never prayed for his own safety, he didn’t pray to come home, he always said the same prayer as he left the gate, “Please help me lead my men to safety, help me keep my men alive.” He was selfless in his love for others, but couldn’t give himself that same gesture or kindness.
After his time in service, hundreds of pieces of him laid spread out with no clear corners or directions on how to make a complete picture. It wasn’t until he realized that those pieces played their part and maybe they didn’t need to be chipped away or torn to make fit again. Maybe he was complete just as he was standing there today and that most of us have a few missing pieces. It’s not that we have to make the pieces of the past fit in those holes but to create new pieces that fit just right. Those holes are there to allow room to shift and grow.
He became focused again, he let the leader in him lead, this time for his brothers on the home front. He spoke to Congress and cadets. He walked out on stage in front of hundreds of people, some top leaders themselves, and told the stories he could barely choke out. He became completely vulnerable and wiser for it. He turned weakness into strength. His confidence returned but this time he wasn’t “faking it”, he knew and believed that he mattered and he could make a difference, and was in fact making one. He is the person that answers every call no matter what time of day. He is the person that people call when they feel weak, wanting a piece of his strength and courage until they can find their own. He gladly gives it to them.
He knows now that he is complete just as he is. That every experience, good or bad, that every success or failure (which he calls lessons instead), that every loss and love has made him the man he is.
He is all things, he is complete.