“Carry as little as possible. But choose that little with care.” – Earl Shaffer

I will always have the Warrior Ethos as a part of my heart, a part of my character, and it will always be woven into the deepest parts of me as a Soldier. How can anyone put on and embody these guiding principles for only a time? 

In the lowest and most honest of points in my recovery process, my counselor looked me in the eye, (after I told him that the only way for me to find peace was to leave this earth permanently through suicide), and he lovingly gave me the cold hard truth… I was going to be responsible for leaving my family utterly broken, wounded, stranded, and alone on the battlefield of life. He vividly and carefully explained that the effects of my suicide wouldn’t stop there, but would run unhindered and rampant through many generations of my family, with profound and devastating implications for many years to come.

The truth is I didn’t want to die; what I truly wanted was to be free from the unrelenting pain, anguish, hurt, anxiety, fear, and mental burdens that my family and I had been laden with time and again with each passing year of war; a war that has no end, no answers, no battle lines, and no way to define victory or defeat. 

Peace could not be found no matter how hard I looked, not even in my dreams in what little sleep that would find my eyes. Real peace is what I was looking for…(cue the cliche christen one liners now) and despite my personal faith and beliefs in God, I was still in a very real fight for my life.   

In this very real moment with my counselor, “I will never leave a fallen comrade” came rushing into my heart and into my soul. How can I be so selective of when and how to apply this vital principle that is embedded and engraved in the vary core of the ethos that has guided me this far? What closer comrades, or battle buddies, does a soldier have than the ones who know who he or she is after the uniform is in the closet…weather that is on any given weekend, holiday, or after military service is complete. 

After all, the family is the one that knows what is really going on inside the warrior, all of the good, and all of the bad. The service member will probably hold it together through the long and stressful days serving in the units that they occupy, and even through the long and grueling months of various deployment situations…but then they come home to the family…and then their situation gets real, and many times down right out of control.

After nearly two years of full time in patient treatment programs (PTS/TBI), medication regimens (I will talk more on that topic at another time), and multi-day per week counseling sessions, I am still standing with my six other family members by my side. My identity is happily and proudly no longer in that uniform that I was wearing…and honestly, that uniform was incredibly hard to take off, much harder than I ever imagined. 

It was clear to my wife and I that we needed more than a week away with each other, and the kids, to find out the truth about what all of these years of war and separation had done inside of all of us. We learned about how healing nature could be if the enough protected time and exposure was given to being in it. We stumbled upon Earl Schaffer like a rock on the trail of life, and it was an essential moment in our decision to dedicating everything we had to get out here on the Appalachian Trail. Our Mission is to heal with each other as we journey through the wilderness, A wilderness that is separated and protected from all that we can be distracted by in our lives. 

The trail is calling my family and I, and the words of Earl Schaffer have never been truer in our hearts and souls…we need to “walk of the war”. There are many more military families like us, and we desire for all of them to find healing and each other again. We don’t know what the future holds for us in our life after the trail, but one thing is for sure, the trail will tell our hearts what that next thing is to be. It is time for us to carry as little as possible; we have chosen carefully, and it is each other.

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