Category Archives for "Military"

Watching a Wild Turkey Soar

Important encounters are planned by the souls long before their bodies see each other – Paulo Coelho

I cannot remember the first time I met my friend, Ted.   But I knew of him long before I shook his hand. He was a living legend in the community I had come to call home.

COL (R) Ted Crozier served in the Army for 32 years. He actually enlisted at the end of WWII, but did not fight overseas. “Wild Turkey,” as he was called, would occasionally remind others that he wasn’t just a Korean and Vietnam Veteran, but also served our nation on the home front during WWII. I never perceived his reminders as being gruff – merely a reminder to us that every single person in uniform counted regardless of where they were geographically located.

I was a little star struck sitting in his presence. He was the first commander of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, the first aviator to be chosen to serve as the Chief of Staff of the 101st Airborne Division. After 32 years of service in uniform, Wild Turkey served 8 years as Mayor. I didn’t move to Clarksville until well after he left the office of Mayor.  Being a graduate student at the local university, I didn’t pay much attention to the political feel of the community. In my 22 year old mind, this was just a three year stop on my life’s journey. Twenty-four years later, this is my community. This is my home. And Wild Turkey helped solidify that.

Perhaps I was partly endeared to him because I didn’t grow up with grandfathers. My paternal grandfather was a WWII Veteran who passed away when I was 18 months old and the older I became, the more I realized what I missed.  I enjoy the story telling wisdom of the past generations.  As a professional listener, I love being in the presence of someone who shares their life experiences.  


COL Ted was someone I would hang onto his every word.   I couldn’t wait to see what visions and dreams he had and what list he had conjured up. Ted was passionate. Passionate about so many things over the decades; but what I came to know his passion to be was the mental health care of our service members.

Ted served on the Board of Directors of a little non-profit I had dreamed up in 2006 – SAFE: Soldiers and Families Embraced. I ran it as a little grassroots organization, recruiting licensed mental health providers to see active duty Soldiers, Veterans and their loved ones pro bono. I soon realized the mental health providers weren’t well versed in military culture or the specific needs of this population, so I began traveling the state to educate other professionals. SAFE would eventually merge with a similar organization, the Lazarus Project. When the organizations merged under the name and 501(c)3 of SAFE, our Board of Directors grew.

Essentially, the growth and success of SAFE had everything to do with the envelopes covered in names Ted would jot down throughout the days and evenings. He was a connector. A leader. An influencer. And given the respect and admiration he had across the nation, those names were names of other highly regarded individuals.

I recall having a conversation with a new board member and thanking him for his commitment to serve. He responded, “When Wild Turkey calls, you don’t say no. You figure it out and make it work.”

Ted would randomly call with varieties of ideas – from forming choirs with older Veterans (he loved to jump into song) to connecting me with a master in Kung Fu who might help me with my clients. He later said I could use Kung Fu to keep my clients toeing the line or have the master teach my clients the art.

He was never short of ideas and I think that’s why I connected with him so deeply. He wasn’t afraid to pitch his dreams to a group of people. His suggestions weren’t always polished, but he felt an urgency to share them. I believe he knew if he could lay them out for others there was more of a possibility of them coming to fruition and help others. His visions were never selfish. They were always about the greater good and for the greater good. Do something good for someone today. If you ever called Wild Turkey and got his voicemail, you would hear his enthusiastic message about making the world a better place and doing something nice for someone today. He lived his voicemail message.

Ted made you feel special – as if you were the only one he could depend upon to bring life to his ideas. But he was a strategist – he knew he had to share his thoughts with many…plant the seed across the acres, having a better chance for it to root and grow.

Ted fought tirelessly for the care of our Warriors. Even after I left SAFE, he would call me to check in, to connect me and to encourage me. He shared with many of us that until we started talking about all this “PTS & D stuff, I thought I was just crazy – but I guess I probably had some of that, too.” I would assure him that he was still “just crazy.” And give him a big hug shared with laughter.

Wild Turkeys fly despite the weight they carry. They may not appear graceful…but they get it done. Don’t worry, Wild Turkey, we’ll continue the mission. We’ll get it done. I know you’ll ensure that.  And until we meet again, Sir, I will Believe, Create, and Live in an effort to honor your work.

© Rebecca G. Townsend 2017

Your Sacrifices Are Our Freedoms

To the American Veteran:

Thank you.

Those two words never seem to be adequate. They do not hold enough space for the depth of gratitude I feel in my heart and deeper into my soul.  

Courtesy of Paige Kimball Photography

Courtesy of Paige Kimball Photography

I’ve learned to recognize you from a distance because I have the true honor of sitting so closely with many of your brothers and sisters. My respect and gratitude grow as I am entrusted with the dark experiences and naked truths of war, as well as the residual anguish it sloppily leaves behind.

With each autobiography bestowed to me, my heart aches to heal whatever brokenness there may be. But I know that is not what you want. Warriors go into battle expecting scars and you should be proud of your scars. Just like a little child with a band aid, you want to tell the story of your scars. As the community you protect, that’s where we have failed you. We have failed you war after war.

We like to celebrate you when you return to the Land of the Free. It makes us feel good to wave our flags and shake your hands. We readily accept this ambience of American glory.

But our actions scream: please don’t tell us the truth about what we sent you to do. We are way too fragile to hear your reality. Please keep that to yourself – our children might get frightened or think that behavior is ok!

Yet, you humbly honor this silently requested censorship of your life as a warrior. You continue to covertly carry the often awkward and heavy rucksack filled with wounds and memories—the part of the uniform that will never be eliminated. It is you and you are it.

There are many of us who do not want you to hesitate to share your story. It is important to us because we know our daily freedoms are the result of your service and your sacrifices that have shaped your story.

When you thank a veteran for their service, show sincere gratitude with intentional curiosity and listening. They likely gave you years of their lives; give them 20 minutes to tell you pieces of their service story. Let us sit with them as they recount their truths.

© Rebecca G. Townsend 2016

Listen and Honor

Today, I remember those American Warriors I have never met…the Heroes I have been honored to hear such vivid and meaningful stories about from their brothers and sisters who walked beside them in uniform.

MemorialDayCoolidgeThe veterans who bravely share these memories have mourned the loss of those with whom they confronted their most vulnerable situations of life, including the reality of death.

I don’t understand why I have been entrusted with such sacred stories – but perhaps it is simply because I observe them as sacred. I sit as still and silent as I would under the watch of the Sisters of Nazareth during my Catholic school days. I listen to the irony of favor and tragedy within these memoirs, feeling deep within myself a miniscule of the emotion being expressed.

I remember the long dinner I spent with a WWII Veteran. I hung on every word he spoke, trying to envision if any of his war experiences could have been similar to my grandfather’s service in WWII. My eyes were glued to his as he reminisced of the hell of that war and then, I could feel my heart swell with joy as he told of his return to America. The quick surge of my own emotions through our conversation was a mere glimpse of what must have been an exhausting emotional battle on a daily basis for WWII Veterans. With the loss of 405,399 U.S. Heroes during WWII, the pain and grief was too close for too many.

The months I spent with a Vietnam Veteran chatting about golf, gardening, and grandchildren were as golden to me as any other hour in my Listening Room. We were building a relationship that would prepare both of us for the day he was able to find words to reveal his nightmare called Vietnam. My heart beat quickly as the Vietnam Veteran told me of being surrounded by the VC in the 1967 Battle Suoi Tre. He revealed how they fired beehive rounds to keep the VC at bay, but eventually his company ran out of ammunition and he fought with a confiscated VC machete in one hand and the spear of his AR-15 in the other.   He lost 12 men that day and didn’t speak of it for 48 years. Instead, the tears would randomly leak for decades. But even the silence didn’t stop the avalanche of survivor’s guilt from gaining power and speeding up as the years passed. I don’t know the 58,220 Heroes killed in Vietnam, but I have born witness to some of those who called them comrades.

I have humbly sat in the presence of countless men and women who have served and continue to serve in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan. I thank them for their decision – their choice – to serve and protect my life of freedoms. I have listened to their deployment stories with splashes of their clever and distracting humor…I have seen their physical wounds leave them decades older than they are…I have gathered the fragments of their relationships and helped them find beauty in this new artisan mosaic of connection…and I have found myself sitting with them in the anguish and torment of their soul wounds. I often have no words that would bring comfort, only quiet space to share the weight of the grief – even if that space is 7,500 miles wide and through the technology of a cell phone or email. For the last 7 years, I have gotten a lump in my throat every time there has been a casualty in Iraq or Afghanistan. Most of the Soldiers I first worked with have scattered across the globe – many still serving. I may not have shared sacred conversations with any of 6,883 Heroes who gave their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan, but I have witnessed the love and respect they earned from their comrades.

From WWII to our current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have lost 507,459 Service Members. The average American knows approximately 25 people well enough to trust them, but has a social network of 500 people (according to Columbia University researchers in 2013). The loss of these half million Heroes has directly impacted a minimum of 12,686,475 to 253,729,500 people. These numbers don’t include the generational impact of these lives sacrificed for the freedoms of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren…

Our lives have been shaped and transformed by these American Heroes. They entrusted their lives to us. Let us honor them and remember them.

God Bless America and those who serve and protect this great nation!

Believe. Create. Live.

© Rebecca G. Townsend, LLC

Dear Soldier

Dear Soldier,

Today, as I sit in a warm house with children playing, conversations ending in laughter, and endless amounts of home cooked foods, I remember you.

I remember your unpretentious sacrifices and modest heroism.

I remember your warrior ethos - you will always place the mission first; you will never accept defeat; you will never quit; and you will never leave a fallen comrade.

National Guard - Dear Soldier

Photo courtesy of National Guard

I remember your job duties never end.

I remember you have bravely faced terrors no man or woman should face.

I remember you have chosen to uphold and protect my freedom and my family’s freedom.

And, I remember that today you may not be sitting with loved ones, but rather with your fellow Soldiers in a foreign land.

I do not know you by name and I do not know your story. Yet, I am grateful for you. I am grateful for the choices you have made - the decision to serve our nation – to protect our nation and her people.

I do not fail to notice these choices have cost you time with your loved ones. I do not take your selfless act of service for granted.

I am thankful for you, our American Soldier.