“It’s a shame you have all of this and you’re not doing anything with it,” his wife said as she passed the spare room that held a large collection of guitars and amps that he acquired throughout his life. Although he hadn’t played in a band in a long time, his love of music never completely left him.
The next day J Bradford, a retired Army Ranger and Delta Force Operator, had a lightbulb moment of clarity, “I can sell music and give it to Special Operations charities.” And so began his journey back to writing and creating music. With his desire to give back and to play music once again, “Silence and Light” grew organically into a full band, with a former Marine turned A-list producer and enough songs to record two full albums.
Music was the first thing that clicked for him post-service from the military’s most elite unit, Delta Force, into finding a new purpose that drove him like his military career once did. But it didn’t come easy, and it didn’t come without some serious soul searching to fill the hole that service had left. He and his wife spent Friday night date nights trying to answer the daunting question, “what’s next for me?”.
“At the time I felt like a ship out on the ocean looking for a searchlight. I looked for signs everywhere, just show me what I am supposed to do now. I was searching and if I would have seen a light, any light, I would have gone to it. I would have gone to anything. I lost a sense of purpose.”
Although adjusting into a civilian life had its challenges, Bradford planned and prepared for it the three years leading up to retirement which made navigating the civilian world a lot smoother. He was already working in Delta Force in apparel, footwear, and gear before ACAP.
“I had a marketable skill. I think so many of us have this false sense of security of how your skills in the military will translate into the civilian job market. There is a huge gap between operational execution of missions to transitioning to the outside world. You have to understand the process and have a plan. What is your end state and how will you get there? How can you market yourself? What skills can you offer? The civilian work force doesn’t care what you did, in fact most didn’t even know what Delta Force was. No one cares if you kicked in doors or killed terrorist, that doesn’t translate into a need of a civilian company. I did alright because I knew where I would work, and I was happy to be working at a place that contributed to the military. I was still giving back to my community.”
The difficulties of navigating the civilian world and finding your place in it is something we hear about daily at All Secure Foundation. The loss of brotherhood. The lack of a sense of purpose. While in the military, especially a Tier One unit, you have the feeling of being on a fast moving train, and while on that train you were completely taken care of with every need met, only to be kicked off the train without it even slowing down to let you off. Some call it the swift kick in the ass good-bye.
“I lost a sense of identity. I was an operator. I sacrificed to be that person for years. The Army was bigger than me. It was bigger than my family, my kids, it was bigger than anything. It’s not about me. It’s about your country,” Bradford explained as he continued on about how important it is to keep in touch with those you call brother, a bond that you hold sacred for life. “I stay in contact with my brothers. I still go to Delta Force for work. I give back to The Unit Foundation. I’m still involved.”
In any transition there are issues and challenges you have to face and you can’t ignore or run from them. Facing fears, breaking them down, search for your next purpose, staying in touch with your military family, coming up with a plan, these are the things that make the whole process more bearable.
“I’ve lived through dark stuff, I mean some of the worse battles, and I’m ok. I’m doing something positive, something creative and healthy with my life. I’m not drinking it away. I’m not snorting it away. You need a purpose when you get out. What do you fill that hole with? Money can’t be it, that burns out. I am a more completed person, a happier person, when I follow my purpose.”
After Bradford had his lightbulb, or searchlight moment, he got to work to make something of his vision; a band that gave back. At a concert last May with his long-time friend Jason Everman, who he calls one of his favorite people on the planet, he asked the former Green Beret who once played with Nirvana and Soundgarden if he wanted to do music with him. His response? “Fuck yeah, I’m down.”
From there they added more members including the bass playing MARSOC Marine who reached out over social media asking if he could be a part of Silence and Light. In its own time, all the right people started to come together.
And then the music came. Last fall Bradford started to write, in fact he has written so many songs that they number over a hundred now. The music is not “sad songs for veterans” but touches on some of the darkness of PTS, which can speak to anyone who works to overcome it, not just veterans. Just like most teens who struggle Brad found hope in music and he wants his music to do the same for others. “It’s really its own thing, and I hate to label music, but if I were to say it sounded like something it would be Alice in Chains or Stone Temple Pilots. There’s darker stuff, lighter stuff, there’s some songs that sound country. It’s modern with a message that anyone can relate to.”
As a nonprofit, Silence and Light donates the proceeds of their songs and album purchases to Special Operations charities and organizations like Warrior’s Heart and Marine Raider Foundation to start.
Bradford has already had lifetime of playing music, from his band in teen years and early 20s which gained enough notice to be hailed as “the next grunge style”, to giving it all up when he became disillusioned with the music industry with a “Fuck music”, to joining the Army out of nowhere, to playing again post-service with a new sense of purpose and direction.
“My time is now. I did it. You can too. Nothing is instant. For three years I searched, how can I give back? Make it personal to you. Keep peeling the onion back. Ask yourself, what made you happy 20 years ago? 30 years ago? Go and explore that.”
Bradford found his new purpose in his passion, music. In fact, music and the arts have been clinically proven to help heal the invisible wounds of Post-Traumatic Stress. He admires and respects that the arts are including as part of the healing process at such places as Warrior’s Heart.
“I’ve had guys make art for me, someone once sent me a picture he drew a picture of me. It nearly brought me to tears man, just to think about it.”
When he plays, he escapes it all. There is no thinking or remembering involved when he falls into his music. Just like the muscle memory he developed to be an operator in an elite unit, he plays music from muscle memory as well. When things get bad he knows he can play music and release the emotions into a song. Over the last few weeks he has been so busy with work and travel that he hasn’t had much time to play and he can tell a difference.
“I feel it when I don’t play. I need the creation part. I just got home from traveling and I can’t wait to play. I am headed home now with nothing to do tonight but play music.”
And so with that, I hung up the phone to let J Bradford get back to doing what he loves doing, writing and playing music, reminding us all that our passions aren’t random, they are what leads us directly to our purpose.