Tag 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

My Poppy for Papaw

This has been a long journey with some clear, well-lit time on wide paths. And there have been plenty of days in the darkness, trying to find my way out of strangling vines of kudzu that have famously overtaken abandoned spaces.

It’s been my journey of why.

Why have I felt such a strong pull in my heart and soul to work with our nation’s Warriors and their loved ones?

I can tell you about the unbelievable impact some of the first Warrior stories I witnessed had upon me. But, I think anyone with a heart and a twinge of humanness would have left feeling the same tug to help.

I can confess that I felt overwhelmed and underprepared when Warriors started to seek me out to help them and how I searched and found expert training to give me confidence in working with this unique population.

I can declare that I’ve lived the last 22 years of my life in a community that has the 2nd highest population of Veterans in the entire United States and how could I not serve this deserving group?

But not one of those – or even all of them combined – ever added up in my mind to equal the inconceivable heaviness I feel to serve our Warriors and their loved ones.

The underlying WHY remained a mystery to me for the most part.

Until a year ago…

A year ago, my dad handed me a large tattered manila envelope. He said, “Maybe this will help someone else tell their story.”

It was everything he had from his dad’s time in the Army when he served in WWII…and it wasn’t much.

There were some maps of where he served in Europe – coming into Normandy 2 to 3 days after D-Day.

There was a Red Cross letter informing my grandfather and his brother, who was serving in Africa, that their mother had died.

Papaw Townsend’s DD-214 was creased from decades of being folded.

His Honorable Discharge certificate was also sloppily stored in half ~ left marred and neglected – which was much like I began to envision how my grandfather was following the war.

Papaw Townsend died when I was 18 months old. He was 47. My Mamaw was 45. My dad was 26 years old, married and had two toddlers.

I don’t have any memories of Papaw Townsend. There are a couple of pictures of me with him and I’ve heard a couple of stories about him. Yet, none of those prompt any memories of Papaw.

So how does someone I have no memories of affect me? What does this have to do with who I am today?

My dad was a hard worker, great provider for our family, and was the disciplinarian. He had some tenderness in him – raising four girls, he was forced into the estrogen ocean more than he preferred. He didn’t really encourage us to achieve at anything in particular – but didn’t discourage us either. He didn’t voice he was proud of me until about 10 years ago.

I hadn’t really thought much about this emotional distance because I knew he loved me. I mean, he’s always told me that at least 3 times before we even hang up following a phone conversation, “Love you, baby.”

In my own emotional growth and professional development, I’ve become more aware of the impact one person can have on a system…whether it’s the angry secretary at the doctor’s office or a teenage son who’s had a disagreement with his girlfriend.

Regardless of how close or how far removed someone is from your immediate social system, there is a ripple effect.

In my quest of curiosity, I found myself asking why…why would my dad not tell me he was proud of me? Why would my dad think I would be ok with him driving through town and not catching up with me? I truly have no doubt he loves me and cares about me.

Could it be that he didn’t know how to do better because he wasn’t shown by his father?

Could it be that Papaw Townsend was disconnected at an emotional level that poisoned the waters of my emotional heritage?

It started to make sense to me.

Maybe I felt so strongly about serving our warriors because the wave of anguish from war washes over me – decades later.

 The emotional rupture my grandfather experienced in World War II has aftershocks I’ve been experiencing my entire life.

This clarity became radiantly bright in my own process of therapy. I have a mentor who stretches me and in a group process, gave us an outdoor experiential assignment. In short, we were to walk in nature, gathering a handful of things that were attractive to us. Once completed, we should name them as someone in our past, chose one and then have a conversation with them.

I’d like to share what was uncovered for me.

The smooth rock that fit nicely into the palm of my hand symbolized Papaw Townsend and I wrote a conversation with him.

Me: Papaw, Daddy looks just like you. There’s that picture of you and Mamaw – it may as well be Daddy in the picture. I wish I’d had a chance to build memories with you. I wish I could remember your voice.

Papaw: You know me, sweet Becky. You hear me every time you talk to your dad. His faults are the same faults I had. His love is the same offering I gave him. I was broken before the War and your Mamaw held me together, but I was severely fractured. Your dad often fell into those deep disconnected places.

Me: That’s what I’ve been figuring out. The more I’ve worked with Warriors and their loved ones, the more I’ve discovered about you, your wounds and your heroic try at life after the war.

Papaw: It is no coincidence you work with our Warriors. You are healing me. You are healing your dad. And you are healing yourself as you bear witness, hold the space and give love to the soul wounds of these men, women and children.

I know this calling is not easy. I know you don’t feel good enough or worthy to do this…I’m afraid that’s a wound that is generations old.

When I came home from Germany, my father was no where to be found. He left before my brother and I got home. I told myself I wasn’t enough for my dad to welcome home from the war.

Since my mom died while I was in Germany, I came home to no one. When you don’t feel good enough to be loved by your own father, how do you ensure the people you love feel good enough and deserving? I just don’t know. I didn’t master that and I’m not even sure I knew to try.

Me: Papaw, I love you. I love you for the trials and hardships you overcame. I love you for my Daddy – who you raised to be the Dad I needed for my own journey. Thank you.

Papaw: I love you too, Becky. I know you’ve heard your dad say it to you…please hear it from me now – “Keep on keeping on."

He confirmed my WHY…43 years after he left us.

Believe. Create. Live.

© 2015 Rebecca G. Townsend



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.