Note: This article first appeared at In Military.
By Wes O’Donnell
Veteran, U.S. Army and Air Force. Managing Editor, InMilitary.com.
Servicemembers are a unique breed. For warriors, life in any branch of the military is logistically geared toward meeting their needs so they can focus on their mission.
This means that many of a warrior’s necessities are met: food, lodging, clothing, healthcare and family support services. The military ensures that today’s men and women in uniform can operate free of the many issues that their civilian counterparts must contend with.
In addition, there is a feeling of camaraderie that can’t be overstated. The shared experience of sacrifice is one of the defining traits that permeates the military. All servicemembers swear the same oath, endure the same hardships and make the same sacrifices.
This is the true power of the U.S. military. It’s not always about our technology or weapons, but our unbreakable esprit de corps.
When it is time to separate from the military and enter the civilian world, the transition can be tough, even traumatic. Imagine waking up one day and having not only your logistical support stripped away, but now you’re a member of a civilian society that understands its warfighters less and less.
For today’s transitioning servicemembers, separating can feel like you have just been thrown overboard without a life vest. While all warriors are vulnerable, this feeling is especially true for servicemembers who were active in a small, high-performing unit like the Special Operations community.
For its part, the Department of Defense has made incremental progress in facilitating the transition. However, the U.S. military bureaucracy moves slowly and is often similar to an aircraft carrier. Once the decision has been made to turn to a new heading, the ship lumbers on for some time before it finally turns.
That’s where nonprofit organizations like the All Secure Foundation come in. If the U.S. military is a lumbering ship, nonprofits like All Secure are a jet ski, able to turn on a dime when needed.
Having experienced separation from the military twice, I can report that my exit was unceremonious at best. The message was, “Here are your two honorable discharges, keep the Gore-Tex raincoat if you like and good luck out there.”
It’s because of my separation experience and that of so many other veterans that I was excited to sit down with husband and wife team Tom and Jen Satterly. They are the co-founders of the All Secure Foundation, whose mission is to address the post-service challenges our veterans face.
Whether it is a fractured marriage, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder/Traumatic Brain Injury (PTSD/TBI), depression, physical challenges or a lack of purpose, All Secure offers veterans the resources to reconstruct a life of purpose, empowerment and giving back.
Wes O’Donnell: Tom and Jen, thanks for your time today. Normally, this ongoing interview series focuses on veteran entrepreneurs; however, your foundation really caught my attention. I want to make sure that our military and veteran audience read about all the great things you are doing. Tom, can you start by telling me a little about your military background?
Tom Satterly: Thanks, Wes, we’re happy to be here. I served 25 years in the U.S. Army, 20 of those years in Delta Force. I retired in December of 2010 as a Command Sgt. Major (CSM).
Wes: Tom, let me stop you there. I have to say as a basic infantryman, we were always in awe of you Delta guys. Actually, while deployed to the sandbox, we were told to never make eye contact or speak to you or we risked getting our souls devoured. Urban legend?
Tom: Yes, that’s true. [Laughs] Seriously, though. Don’t call yourself a basic infantryman. We all had roles to fill and the majority of us performed our duties honorably.
Wes: Spoken like a true CSM. Jen, tell me about the All Secure Foundation. Where did the seed of that idea start?
Jen Satterly: Thanks for having us, Wes. I met Tom five years ago and one of the things that I realize now is that he was very good at hiding his PTSD. He’s too humble to mention this, but he is the recipient of five Bronze Stars, two with valor devices, and served with Army Delta in every major U.S. combat theater from Somalia and Bosnia to Afghanistan and Iraq. No one achieves that level of combat experience and leaves unscathed.
Shortly after meeting Tom, I started to see his darker side and began to wonder immediately how I could help him. I remember seeing the Ridley Scott movie “Black Hawk Down.” Knowing that Tom was a participant of that event, I asked him if it was okay to talk with him about his experiences in Mogadishu. He really had a hard time with it, and I decided right then that I wanted to help.
Wes: What did you do next?
Jen: I started looking for help and I realized that there weren’t a lot of resources at the time for veterans suffering from PTSD. So we decided to start our own organization that would provide information to caregivers, spouses and, of course, the veterans themselves. Spouses, in particular, can really feel isolated.
Wes: Absolutely. When a servicemember gets deployed, it’s an event that affects the entire family.
Jen: Yes, but also many veterans have a hard time opening up about their experiences. This can cause the spouse to feel emotionally isolated as well, even if the veteran is present. We also provide information for substance abuse.
Wes: I don’t think substance abuse gets enough attention in the media. There are some great resources for veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI, including some pretty cool breakthroughs with stem cell therapy. But substance abuse can exacerbate depression and suicidal ideation.
Tom: Yeah, opioid dependency, alcohol abuse, and other problems can really make PTSD much worse. We like to point people to Warriors Heart, which specializes in inpatient treatment for chemical dependency, alcohol abuse and co-occurring psychological disorders relating to PTSD.
Wes: Let’s switch gears and talk about the transition process. I know a lot of active-duty men and women who are going to be reading this article. But I don’t think a lot of them are well-prepared for that transition. What advice would you have for them, Tom?
Tom: The absolute best advice I can give a new veteran is to “realize your worth.” The civilian world will tear you up until you realize your worth.
Listen, anyone who changes jobs, no matter if it’s military or not, is going to have a tough change. Some guys will go in and do their four years [in the service], get out and expect to start higher than the bottom.
And some veterans will get frustrated at having to start at the bottom in the civilian world and want to go back in [to the military]. We all miss it, but the key here is to look to the future, not the past.
Wes: I always joke about the “professional veterans” who live their civilian life as if being a veteran was their job. Am I proud of my 10 years of service? Absolutely. But when I left, I closed that book and opened another, building on the technical skills from the Air Force to get a decent job with Siemens.
Jen: We have some amazing resources for transitioning servicemembers on our site, like The Darby Project for Army Ranger Veterans and the WAM Project for women veterans, among many others.
The transition can be rough if you are not well prepared. A lot of the support structure that you will be losing can be replaced if planned for properly in advance. And as for the camaraderie, today it’s easier than ever to stay in touch with those you served with through social media. Don’t let the transition take you by surprise.
Tom: Once you are about a year out from separation, you should be getting serious about the transition. Start planning early.
Wes: Let me ask you about All Secure. According to GuideStar, there are more than 45,000 nonprofits devoted to veterans and their families registered with the IRS. Yet more and more veterans want to jump in and help other veterans, like you guys. How did you do it?
Jen: [Laughs] So I want to start a nonprofit. Great, what next? We had no idea where to start.
Tom: We just looked at each other and said, “Let’s figure it out.” We had no money at the time and we just muddled through it at first. Learn by doing.
The greatest failure is a failure to try. And really, you don’t learn unless you fail. For instance, many of the lessons learned in the Black Hawk Down event helped to shape tactics moving forward for scenarios similar to that.
Jen: And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Understand that you don’t know everything.
Wes: With no money, how did you get it off the ground?
Jen: Our military tribe was very supportive. We had a lawyer donate his services. A lot of in-kind donations. I worked for 12 years as a photographer and graphic designer. This helped in the creation of our website. Better to do it ourselves than try to find the money to pay someone else.
Wes: I want to make sure our readers are aware of the courses that you offer at All Secure. Can you tell me a little about them?
Jen: First, we have our six-week Mind & Body Reset that really uses nutrition as a way to address a number of physical ailments. You really are what you eat. We teach how food affects the way you feel, how to attune to your body’s unique needs and how to activate your natural healing potential.
Next, we offer marriage workshops. Like any skill, to have that quality relationship, you really need to put the time into nurturing it.
And finally, we just started a Facebook and Instagram page called Virago, which was created specifically to support women who are in a relationship with either a military serviceman, veteran or a first responder who is suffering from service-connected PTSD. We strive to be a resource for treatments, information, support, a kind word when it’s needed most, a shoulder to cry on or a bicep to lift you up.
Wes: Last question: What book are you guys reading right now?
Tom: I’m reading “Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone” by Brené Brown.
Jen: And I’m reading “Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be” by Rachel Hollis. I’m also reading “The Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear to Faith” by Gabrielle Bernstein.
Wes: Guys, thank you so much for your time today. It was amazing speaking with both of you.
Jen and Tom: Thanks, Wes!
Check out all of the amazing things that Jen and Tom Satterly are doing at All Secure Foundation.
Also, take a look at All Secure: A Delta Force Operator’s Fight to Survive on the Battlefield and the Homefronton Amazon now.