‘Facing Stigma’ with Nate Boyer

“When 9/11 happened it really opened my eyes to what was going on around the world and it served as a contributing factor in my wanting to travel and learn more. I saved my money up and started backpacking to different places with no real purpose or agenda. In 2004, I read a TIME magazine article titled “The Tragedy in Sudan,” which detailed what was going on in Darfur. These women and children had very little to eat and were stuck inside these camps. At that point, 300,000 had already been murdered during the genocide. I made a decision to go and help so I flew myself over there for a few months and volunteered. I spent a lot of time with the people in the medical centers and helped build some of the camps. I played soccer everyday with the kids and talked with the elders as much as possible. The last week of my trip I got Malaria and a local family let me stay in their spare room. They had a radio in the room and the only station it got was the BBC. I’m listening to the Marines as they’re battling in Fallujah and in that moment, I realized there were other ways I could still be of service. I gained patriotism for my country in Sudan because I saw the way others viewed America as this beacon of hope. I wanted to continue fighting for people who couldn’t fight for themselves and that’s why I decided to join the military. I signed up for the Army in 2004, but didn’t go into training until early 2005. Within a year and a half, I would graduate and become a Green Beret.

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I did three combat deployments in total, one in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. My first deployment was about 10 months and then my last two were four months each. The final two took place while I was enrolled in college and playing football for Texas. I was in the 19th Special Forces group with the Texas National Guard and they would attach me to teams during the summer. I would take my finals early and then deploy for four months before coming back to school and playing football. A lot of us saw things that impacted us and we experienced difficult stuff so I understand veterans coming back and dealing with PTSD or trauma. I know a lot of guys struggled getting out because they no longer had that same camaraderie or team environment. I was fortunate to have the football team because that’s what really helped me avoid some of those struggles. I completely transitioned out of the service in February 2015, right before I got picked up by the Seattle Seahawks. When football came to an end, I found myself in an all too familiar position of wanting to continue my service. I would never compare combat to playing a game on the field, but the transition is very similar. It’s a loss of the team and the uniform you identify with. We started Merging Vets and Players (MVP) with the idea of bringing us all back together and putting us back on a team. There’s a support system in place and people to lean on. We’re not therapists and we don’t claim to have the answers, but at the same time, we have a shared experience. Not only do we train together on a weekly basis, but we sit down afterward and talk about what each of us are going through. A lot of us have been through similar stuff and we can help each other with that. We can still accomplish incredible things when we come together as a team.”

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Healing the hidden wounds of war

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