I grew up in a military family so we moved around a lot while my Dad was in the Air Force. While he was doing his tours in Vietnam, my Mom and I lived in Japan. It was great exposure to a totally different culture and I enjoyed the whole sense of adventure. Ultimately, my father retired from the Air Force in the Pacific Northwest. He really inspired me to pursue a career in military service and I entered the Air Force Academy right after I graduated high school, electing to serve in the Navy.
I feel privileged to work with a group of highly motivated and committed young Americans. They understand the risks and rewards of their chosen profession and serve our nation to the utmost of their ability.
Over the last 15 years, and since 9/11, we have gained an increasing understanding of the importance of properly taking care of our prime resource and flagship weapons system – our people. Their physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing and that of their families, are critical to retaining and sustaining the hard-earned experience necessary to win. Over time, we have implemented critical initiatives to take care of our warriors. We have institutionalized resilience by routinely measuring and assessing the effectiveness of these initiatives, and share best practices across the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). The health and resilience of the force is a key priority and necessity for all USSOCOM components. Service-connected traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress (PTS), and related manifestations like suicide are a reality. The ongoing evolution of our ability to recognize and support our people with effective care both during and after service is a direct reflection of the value placed on their service.
It is clear that Secretary Mabus cares deeply for his sailors. The policy that he and the Navy implemented is as necessary as it is progressive. In my time at Naval Special Warfare Command, the Chief of Naval Personnel and I were personally and routinely engaged on cases where sailors with verifiable service-connected challenges were at odds with certain personnel policies that did not enable us to fully address our obligations to take care of our people in a way that was needed. This new policy reflects numerous cases where we sought exceptions in order to take care of our sailors, and now allows commanders to consider and address greater dimensions of service-connected challenges.
I have a well-developed interest in advancing the care of both active duty and veteran service members. The summit is a great opportunity to share perspectives and appreciation with all of the communities engaged in this effort.
I hope that a better understanding of the challenges and potential positive impacts of this effort are understood, and that an even greater sense of purpose and urgency is fostered from the summit.
I think that there is definitely a greater awareness and prioritization to get to more effective treatment protocols. There are numerous initiatives and policies that speak directly to suicide prevention and support across the services and specifically within USSOCOM. However, it would probably be a stretch to attribute all suicide concerns to TBI, PTS, or purely service-connected matters.
All of my most memorable experiences center on people – working through complex problems, overcoming perceived limitations and obstacles, and demonstrating the power of the human spirit – “what the mind can conceive, the body will achieve.”
I am excited about the many possibilities to consider. I can only hope that the next three decades will be as purposeful as the last three.