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Former SEAL injured in combat opens up about battling depression in book “Touching the Dragon”

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Jimmy Hatch no longer wanted to live. It was May 2010. The former Navy SEAL had been shot in the leg during an attempt to rescue Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan the year before, and fell into a deep state of depression after the life he had known as an elite warrior on a close-knit team came to an finish.

Hatch had to learn to walk again and to deal with excruciating pain that made him plead with doctors to amputate. He wondered what his purpose was in life, if he wasn’t hunting down nefarious guys as a member of the Virginia Beach-based Naval Special Warfare Development Group, frequently referred to as SEAL Team 6.

He was overwhelmed with guilt that a military working dog named Remco was shot and killed on that mission, and also felt that he jeopardized his teammates’ safety by screaming in pain and needing to be rescued. He felt like a failure.

One night in his Norfolk home, Hatch decided he was ready for all of the pain to halt. He stood over garbage cans in his backyard so he wouldn’t develop a mess while taking his own life.

“I didn’t want to be alive any more. I was high on meds, drunk on booze, and had a loaded pistol in my mouth,” Hatch wrote in a memoir that will be published today.

But Hatch’s wife, Kelley, snatched the gun from his hands, and later knocked a knife away from him before Norfolk police and members from his unit arrived at his home. They took him to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth for mental health treatment that was just the beginning of his long road to recovery that involved the support of his wife, former SEAL teammates, civilian doctors and therapists, volunteers and others.

Hatch details those painful experiences in his book “Touching the Dragon and Other Techniques for Surviving Life’s Wars,” which he hopes will assist others who struggle with mental health problems. Touching the dragon is a reference to a form of therapy he underwent, where he confronted the memories that haunted him the most.

“I don’t feel worried about people judging me for having mental weakness,” Hatch said. “I’m just, I always felt like I was a bit of a fraud. Like I kind of got lucky getting through training, and I kind of got lucky to travel on these missions with these people.

“And I don’t know what that was called, impostor syndrome, or some other thing, but that’s what I’m worried about. Like that people will assume I’m this tough guy that I’m not. Or that I’m trying in some way to say that I’m this badass, and that’s just not it. I worry about that. I’m not worried about people saying, ‘Gosh, he was messed up,’ because that’s the honest truth.”

While Hatch goes into much detail about what happened the night he was shot trying to rescue Bergdahl, as well as other missions in Iraq and Bosnia, the heart of the book focuses on the mental health challenges he faced once he was back and got off what he calls “the speeding train.”

“A lot of people want to read tough guy [BS], you know, invincible superheroes. … But it’s just not the way it is,” Hatch said in an interview at the same house where he threatened to retract his life. “nearly everybody I know struggles in one way or another. Certainly, they’re not as dramatic about it as I am. But you know, I got tagged, I got damage, and it twisted me up pretty wonderful, so I felt like it’s distinguished to talk about.”

Hatch frequently talks about the darkness he endured and his path to recovery with military personnel, police and firefighters – people who are often afraid to acknowledge their own struggles. Giving those talks and hearing from those who said he helped them by sharing his chronicle helped Hatch realize he still had value. If a SEAL could acknowledge needing assist, they could, too.

He has committed himself to assist working dogs as a way to pay back a debt he says he owes to those who repeatedly saved his life while sacrificing their own. His charity, Spike’s K9 Fund, works to provide medical care, ballistic vests and other equipment for dogs who serve their communities and country.

The charity is named after a dog who died in Iraq after an insurgent fell on top of him. Hatch shot the insurgent, but the bullet went through his body and killed Spike.

Hatch was devastated by the loss of the dog, who had previously saved his life. In a house largely devoid of reminders of his military career, Hatch keeps Spike’s harness and carries his ashes with him in an amulet.

“He goes everywhere with me like a guardian angel or whatever. I consider this does two things. One, it helps me remember him. … And, two, it helps remind me that I’m not a badass, for sure.”

Hatch said profits from the sale of his book will assist the charity named in Spike’s honor.

He knows there’s a potential for backlash from other SEALs who gain been frustrated by people profiting from their stories. Hatch said he’s prepared to retract the criticism because he feels it’s distinguished to divulge his chronicle and the stories of the heroes he served with.

He also notes that he doesn’t consume the word SEAL in the book. It’s not mentioned on the cover, and there is no image of the familiar trident that SEALs wear. Instead, Hatch acknowledges, he was a fragment of naval special warfare unit and refers to himself as an “action man” rather than a SEAL.

“I felt like it was distinguished to divulge a wonderful chronicle, the truth, and let it stand on its own merits, as opposed to some Navy SEAL chest-beater stuff that is really just kind of at least, maybe, a half-truth,” he said.

Hatch said he was uncomfortable with the description of his book on Amazon provided by his editor, which highlights his SEAL career, because he was concerned it sounded like he was bragging. He relented after she explained to him that she was the one writing it and that he wasn’t doing any bragging.

“I understand that in order for people to gain the chronicle, they need to be interested in buying the book,” he said.

Originally, Hatch said he was frustrated the book didn’t arrive out last year, about the same time as Bergdahl’s court-martial because he thought it would reach more people then. But he ultimately agreed with his editor that he didn’t want his chronicle attached to Bergdahl, which is mostly referenced in the book’s beginning.

The book discusses the arouse he felt toward Bergdahl, especially after seeing Bergdahl’s parents with President Barack Obama in the Rose Garden when he was published, but it doesn’t include his thoughts on testifying at Bergdahl’s court-martial last year or the sentence he received.

“They asked me, even before the trial, what would you like to see happen? And I just said I consider the most distinguished thing is that he gets a dishonorable discharge, you know, because that’s a life sentence, and you know he made the choice that he made to split,” he said.

Bergdahl did receive a dishonorable discharge, but he avoided prison time. Hatch said he was glad about the dishonorable discharge, but was frustrated Bergdahl was able to walk away from court.

“I guess what I finally came to was, gaze, man, I can be pissed off or I can lunge on, because I don’t gain any control over that stuff,” he said. “The judge saw what he saw. He struck me as a pretty freaking straightforward guy. … Hopefully that’s what needed to happen.”

While the Bergdahl trial was difficult to prepare for and travel through, he relied on the same people as he had with his past struggles.

In many ways, the book is a tribute to the people who were stubborn enough to develop sure Hatch received the assist he needed and a call to action for others to attain the same when they spot someone struggling. He says he’d like to replace the word “stigma” with “cowardly” when referring to why people don’t seek assist or offer it, and “resilience” with “courage” for those who attain.

The key is for people to appreciate each other, he said. And that’s something he believes everyone is capable of, even him.

“Sometimes it’s hard to consider that we can be that person, but even the guy with the impostor feelings, I know there are times when I’m a strong person and I can assist somebody.”

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© 2018 Virginian-Pilot

Mike served as an active duty SWAT officer for 12 years before he left the service and went to the Middle East as contractor. As an athlete, Mike has a black belt in Judo, he played soccer. As a scholar, he has earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science.

Veterans

US Navy vet Dave Bray releases storyteller album with powerful messages

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US Navy vet Dave Bray releases storyteller album with powerful messages

U.S. Navy veteran Dave Bray just published his recent album, “Music on a Mission,” and it’s a first-of-its-kind storyteller album that he hopes will garner a lot of attention. It has already debuted in the No. 6 spot on iTunes.

“I proudly sing and speak out about, God and Country, Patriotism and Respect, and the problems with our Nation,” Bray recently told American Military News. “I decided to narrate the record so that the listener totally understands the meaning and importance of each of the songs. I relate stories about the selflessness and sacrifice of our Nation’s Heroes.”

“Music on a Mission” (Courtesy of Dave Bray)

“I talk about the history of the songs and discuss the epidemic of Godlessness that is blanketing our country. I speak about our youth and shed light and warning on the PC narrative that is being shoved down their throats,” Bray continued. “It is a listening experience truly unlike any other. It will draw you in mentally and emotionally, and give you goosebumps. Only until you listen will you truly understand the importance of ‘Music on a Mission.’”

Bray is known to his fans as the “rock ‘n’ roll patriot.” He served as a Corpsman with the 2nd Battalion/2nd Marines. Bray was also one of the original members of Madison Rising, a patriotic post-grunge and hard rock band. One of the songs on “Music on a Mission” is the anthem called “Last Call,” which is committed to all fallen police officers.

Bray has performed “Last Call” at various remembrance ceremonies and funerals of fallen police officers. Of his recent album, Bray said he wanted to create something people would like and be impacted by.

“Music on a Mission” (Courtesy of Dave Bray)

“It’s an hour of really entertaining talk radio mixed with some absolutely extraordinary songs,” he pointed out.

“The music is like something you would hear on a movie soundtrack. The kind of songs that give you goosebumps, fill you with pride or tear at your heart,” Bray continued.

“There is a war going on in this country that no one is willing to fight. It is the war for the minds of our children,” he said. “I used ‘Music on a Mission’ as an opportunity to speak directly to our citizens, both young and outmoded, about the current state of America and what we are leaving behind for our youth. This album is extremely relevant to the times in which we live.”

Bray said all the songs on “Music on a Mission” directly correlate to the daily battles of law enforcement, firefighters, veterans, the U.S. military and faith.

The album is “all about being a God-fearing, freedom-loving, flag-waving patriot,” Bray added. “It’s about standing up for what’s proper. So don’t just pointto the next generation how to stand up. Teach them what it means to be an upstanding citizen.”

The album is currently available on iTunes and Amazon, and also on Bray’s website.

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Vietnam vet receives 2nd funeral with honors — 16 years after his death

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Vietnam vet receives 2nd funeral with honors — 16 years after his death

A Vietnam War veteran received his second funeral service with military honors on Tuesday, 16 years after he died.

Two hundred people turned up at the Baltimore National Cemetery to honor U.S. Army Capt. Larry Casey at what they thought was going to be an unaccompanied burial service for veterans whose family members cannot be located.

But thanks to the power of social media, Casey’s widow was located in Georgia, and his daughter, Leah Casey, was found in Texas before the funeral service was held. Both women flew into Baltimore on Tuesday morning to attend the ceremony, which included the presentation of the American flag to the widow, a three-gun salute and a bugler playing “Taps.”

Though the funeral hinged on a misunderstanding, it turned out to be what the cemetery’s director, Michael D. Brophy described as “the best of all possible outcomes.” Casey’s widow, Jan Casey, said her husband would occupy been “dumbfounded and humbled” by the outpouring of support from the people he thought of as his “weird and wonderful family” of military veterans and law enforcement personnel.

Casey served in the Army from 1966 to 1970, Brophy said. After he was discharged, he went on to a distinguished career with what is now the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, working at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia. He died in 2002 at age 54 after suffering a heart attack brought on by a case of the flu, Jan Casey said.

A service with full military honors was held at the time for the captain, who was cremated. Jan Casey said some of her husband’s ashes were scattered on the training center’s explosives range, while others were disbursed at a site that includes a Native American burial mound. But a portion of Casey’s ashes was placed in an urn and given to the captain’s best friend, Joseph C. “Cliff” Lund of Severna Park.

Lund died in February. Later, when two of his friends were packing up his belongings, they found the urn containing Casey’s ashes.

Because Lund’s possessions included photographs of Casey in uniform, one of the helpers, Dave Fullarton, realized that the urn contained the ashes of a military veteran. Fullarton didn’t realize that the urn held just a fraction of Casey’s ashes, and he contacted cemetery officials for waiton.

“I couldn’t just walk away without doing anything,” Fullarton said.

When Brophy’s staff could not locate Casey’s relatives, Brophy announced the cemetery was organizing an unaccompanied burial service for him. Such services are rarely held — about 175 veterans are interred annually at Baltimore National Cemetery, Brophy said, and this would occupy been the first unaccompanied burial he had attended in the year since he was appointed director.

“We say that no veteran ever truly dies,” Brophy said. “We all die a physical death, and then when we’re forgotten, we die a second time. We want to ensure that no military veteran ever dies alone.”

Brophy and Fullarton sent out appeals on social media asking veterans to attend Tuesday’s service. On Sunday, that appeal was retweeted by Jake Tapper, chief Washington correspondent for CNN.

“That post went viral,” Brophy said. “The response has been huge. If 20 people attend a funeral, we consider that a large service, and for this one, we occupy hundreds.”

As planning for the funeral was under way, private citizens and members of veterans’ groups who saw Tapper’s tweet began doing their own research. One volunteer tracked down Leah Casey, a senior policy and budget analyst for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, and passed along her contact information to Brophy. After confirming that Leah Casey was the dead captain’s daughter, Brophy called her and she place him in touch with Casey’s widow.

In addition to being devoted to his fellow veterans and his colleagues at ATF, Jan Casey said that her husband was an adventurous man. Together, the couple had logged more than 200,000 miles on their motorcycles, including a trip to Alaska. The Caseys also were avid volunteers: Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, they delivered holiday dinners to homebound seniors through the Meals on Wheels program.

Jan Casey laughed when she remembered one particularly challenging volunteer project: Her husband, who was not agreeable with his hands, was supposed to teach developmentally disabled youngsters how to build birdhouses.

“I always said that Larry should never be allowed to hold a hammer and nails at the same time,” she said. “But the children built those birdhouses, and they’re still there.”

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© 2018 The Baltimore Sun

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