‘Facing Stigma’ with Tye

“I’m originally from Dade City, FL, a small town 45 minutes North of Tampa. My parents were teachers so I was heavily involved in extracurricular activities, student leadership, and sports. I was blessed to do pretty well at wrestling and was recruited late in 2000 and it came down to West Point, University of Virginia, and Duke. I was obviously raised to love the country, flag, and what it represents. West Point is one of the premier leadership institutions, so I was hooked after my recruiting visit. I reported to West Point in late June of 2001, only a few short months prior to 9/11. That changed our world as cadets because it became very clear to us that we were going to face combat upon graduation. After Officer Basic course and Ranger School, I reported to Fort Bragg, North Carolina (82nd Airborne) and deployed two weeks later. I met my unit in Iraq where we shifted amongst a few different places in Diyala Province. It was 2006–2007, so we were a part of the surge in Iraq and were implementing General Patraeus’ counterinsurgency policy, which instructed us to leave the big Forward Operating Bases and go live amongst the population. We also partnered with Iraqi forces to defeat Al-Qaeda. It was an extremely kinetic deployment. I was in a 400 man cavalry squadron and in that deployment we lost 22 guys — 20 of those to IEDs and I would say we dealt with more IEDs than fire fights on that deployment. My vehicle alone was hit by 4 IEDs. After being deployed for 12 months, we trained up for a year and came right back. We didn’t have time to really process it because as soon as we get back, we were training for the next one. So at the time I didn’t really feel the effects of what we went through. The second deployment was the exact opposite of the first, it was very non-kinetic. Over the course of a year or two, the Iraqi army was able to stand on its own two feet a little bit and we didn’t lose one soldier on that deployment. It wasn’t until my third and final deployment that the effects of war really set in.

In those first four years, I deployed to Iraq, was sent home for a year, deployed for another year, and then home again for a year. Then in 2010–2011 I was deployed for the third time as part of the surge in Afghanistan. I was the Commander of Cougar Company, No Slack BN, 101st Airborne. We were in Northeast Afghanistan on the Pakistan border. Much like my first deployment, this was extremely kinetic. Only this time, it was mostly direct fire instead of IEDs. Then 30 days before we were set to return home, we executed a large Air Assault called “Strong Eagle Three.” No American forces had been to this area of the country for probably five years. Any time you go after a high-value target like that, they’re going to be more capable than just a regular foot soldier. They fortified themselves with machine gun positions and caches of weapons & ammo. We planned for a 24–48 hour mission and it ended up taking 9 days. We lost 6 heroes on that mission before being sent home. There’s a documentary called “The Hornet’s Nest” that details what happened on that mission. Soon after that deployment, I began to feel the cumulative effects of all of my experiences. My next assignment was back at West Point as a tactical officer mentoring cadets. Things got worse and I really began to feel the mental strain once I started graduate school at Columbia University. I thought being a full-time student, with no soldiers to worry about, and just concentrating on my wife and myself would solve all of my issues. It was actually the exact opposite.

I had idle hands and my mind was on everything that happened in war. Things got worse and, after multiple attempts to get me help, my wife desperately gave me an ultimatum to either start going to counseling or end our marriage. I started seeing somebody I trusted in the city, but then we moved to New Jersey, I had to stop. I also thought everything was better, but it was apparent that I still needed help after making the decision to transition out of the Army in the summer of 2016. The transition was tough because I had 15 years of being solely focused on one job. Then I got out and had to deal with the stress of having kids, learning a new profession, etc. and some of my old memories and issues started to bubble up. I hadn’t truly dug deep into my experiences because I had suppressed so much of it. I had trouble sleeping, no patience, and started losing empathy because I didn’t have any bandwidth for the stressors of life. I had a bad experience with the VA and one of my best friends, Lewis Runnion, told me to check out The Headstrong Project. I took his advice and it was the best thing I ever did. I think it saved me. I had years of all this stress built up and I hadn’t truly visited these things the first time I saw somebody. The Headstrong Project provided me with the bandwidth to deal with life’s stressors again and actually enjoy life. I work at Acreage Holdings, and was recently named Director, Government Relations & Veterans Affairs. I drive strategic initiatives to champion & support veterans’ access to medical cannabis, meaningful employment, and small business growth. I’m really fortunate to be where I’m right now, both personally and professionally, and a lot of that is due to the help I got from Headstrong.”

To provide mental health treatment to veterans like Tye, please consider donating to the Headstrong Project http://getheadstrong.org/donate/

Healing the hidden wounds of war