A Soldier’s Healing Journey From The War Overseas to the War at Home – Tom Spooner
Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be in the military. My grandfather fought in World War II, and my uncle fought in Vietnam. They were my military heroes, and the men I wanted to be like. Veterans in my family inspired me and I joined the US Army when I was 20 in 1990.
What I did not know was the price that 21 years of service, 12 deployments and 40 months of combat can take on a soldier and their loved ones. While I excelled in the military and recovery, my life’s work led me to my new passion today as Co-Founder of Warriors Heart that is a dedicated team of “Warriors healing Warriors.”
What I did not know was the price that 21 years of service, 12 deployments and 40 months of combat can take on a soldier and their loved ones.
My Warriors path began in the summer of 1990. While I was in basic training the Gulf War kicked off. I went to Basic, AIT (advanced individual training to be an Infantryman), jump school and was assigned to 1/504th PIR, 82nd Airborne Division. Within 6 months of joining the military, I was in combat. This had a profound impact on me, both positive and negative.
During my first 2 years in the Military I earned my CIB, Ranger tab, became a Jumpmaster and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. During this time I was a “functional” alcoholic, and excelled in my work. I have found that most alcoholics and addicts are very talented in their professions, except when it comes to drinking and self-medicating. After experiencing combat for the first time in 1991, I started drinking even more. Because drinking is part of the military culture, it didn’t affect my job. However, in my personal life, I was a complete and total “Hot Mess”. I destroyed my personal life and hurt the people that I love the most. My wife and I were separated because of my drinking.
In September 1992, I got sober. My wife and I were separated, and my personal life came crashing down. My marriage was over because of me, and that was my wakeup call because I didn’t want to lose her. I went into AA, got a sponsor and did 12 step Work. And from that point to now, I’ve been active in AA. I wasn’t happy with my life. I wanted to get better and do things right, for once. About a year after I got sober, my wife and I got back together and did not get divorced.
I went to selection for US Army Special Forces in 1995 and earned my Green Beret in 1996. From 1996 – 2001, I was on an ODA in the 7th Special Forces Group. It was pre 9/11 so all of my trips were to Central and South America. We mainly dealt with training our partner military units from those countries and trained for our Wartime mission. It was there that I discovered I loved to teach and was pretty good at it.
In the fall of 2001, shortly after 9/11, I went to selection for US Army Delta Force. Working out there had always been my highest military dream. Surprisingly I made it. After selection, late October of 2001, I took my family to ground zero. At the time, our first son was two and half years old and my wife was 7 months pregnant with our second son. We stood on the top of the empire state building and watched the steam and smoke rise. We went to ground zero and watched all of the first responders desperately looking for survivors. It smelt like the steam/smoke that occurs while putting water onto a campfire. I knew in my bones that this was going to be a long war and my wife and I were going to have to sacrifice greatly, along with the rest our friends.
Experiencing combat affects everyone differently. I only speak out of my own experience and speak for no other combat veterans.
I experienced a lot during my 40 months of combat. All of my combat time was at the team level, in the stack, kicking in doors. I have only 1 regret and that is I wish I could have done more, for my team, my unit, my country and my family.
I have had many what I refer to as “significant emotional events”, during my time in combat. From the highest to the lowest. Obviously the high times didn’t bother me but the low times definitely did. Losing friends and fellow military members, was involved in 3 mass casualty events, suffered a MTBI from a close mortar strike, multiple close proximity explosions, just to name a few. There are many more as you all well know.
At the end of my 20 year run, and it was a good one, I had to get out. The main driver was my physical injuries but there were mental and emotional reasons also.
I was in a lot of pain. I had to use a GPS to get anywhere, to include my home. I was having huge emotional mood swings. I couldn’t think clearly. I couldn’t stay focused. I was experiencing lots of depression and fury. I didn’t care if I lived or died. I was home, but I was not home. I couldn’t be present. I was in need of help.
I was home, but I was not home. I couldn’t be present. I was in need of help.
The selections that I attended test for many things but a couple of the things are guaranteed outcomes for one who is selected:
1. That they will never quit.
2. That they will never ask for help.
So how did I get help you may be wondering? I was rescued by another Warrior. He wouldn’t let me go. He knew I was in trouble, I couldn’t self recover and I would never ask for help. In the words of my brother “it takes a Warrior to heal a Warrior”.
I decided to fully retire in the summer of 2011. That is when they discovered I had mild TBI and what they call PTSD. Ironically, it was relieving to get the diagnosis versus being crazy. I went to the TBI clinic, did cognitive therapy, vestibular therapy, psychological therapy, had to get on meds for about 8 months and continue my daily actions in recovery. Through that process and the relentless love and support of my family, I got better.
When I was a Corporal in the 82nd, my first platoon Sgt was a Vietnam Veteran. He taught me what it meant to be a NCO (non-commissioned officer) .
1. Complete your mission.
2. Health and welfare of the troops.
He explained to me that caring for the health and welfare of my troops had nothing to do with beans and bullets. It meant that I must give them the ability to survive combat.
I do that still, at Warriors Heart.
We lose more warriors in the war at home than the battles overseas. That is not ok with me or my current teammates and we will not just sit by idly watching them walk into the darkness, alone.
I was blessed yet again with another amazing team with Josh and Lisa Lannon. We are the co-founders of Warriors Heart. Our mission is to bring our warriors home, and we will not fail them.
Our mission is to bring our warriors home, and we will not fail them.
Warriors Heart was fully licensed in April 2016 and is located in Bandera, Texas. We are the only health care facility in the nation that is dedicated to our warriors (active duty military, veterans and first responders) struggling with chemical dependencies, and related symptoms such as PTSD and mild TBI.
Our nation’s protectors take care of us in our hours of greatest need. From 9/11 to a 911 call. Now we have the opportunity to take care of them and their Families in their hours of greatest need. We take care of those who take care of us.
Strength through Healing.