David's Articles

"Many times men and women leave the comfort and safety of their homes to protect and preserve life. Adding some complexity to these selfless acts, there have been a number of occasions both recorded and covert where people have gone into the fray to recover the body of a fallen comrade or stranger. This is only a debatable act when it is not you’re loved one or best friend. Why do people do such things? These articles are not in a format that will debate, or even attempt to answer that important question. It will however chronicle my personal experiences related to these complex circumstances and questions.

Regardless of what the circumstances are, every time I have ever left home to serve my fellowman I have reflected on my own family and friends. When there was extreme danger I have for a short moment contemplated my family and friends lives without their father, brother or friend. These writings are a compilation of many of my personal experiences where I have felt the need to have someone “hug the children for me” in my absence. At times life was at grave risk and at other times long separation became the reason for these feelings." - David Burnell

Break glass in time of war - PTSD

NOTE: This was written before I was treated for PTSD. Some of my feelings have changed, but this article is important because it is an insight into why we loose so many people who struggle with trauma to suicide.

Click here to listen to the podcast of this story

Are you the kind of guy that most people don't get? Why are so many of our veteran's committing suicide? Why are they so overwhelmed with depression? Simple... people don't understand them and it makes them crazy.

Do you have the ability to wade through huge amounts of stress, trauma and conflict and still be standing at the end of it. If so you are someone who should be put in a glass case and sedated, then when a violent confrontation happens to those that do not enjoy your company they can simply break the glass and let you out.

This is the perspective that many of my "friends" have exhibited over the years verbally and non-verbally when reviewing my personal life, careers, films or activities. Some of these activities I have chosen while others have selected me. Some of these people have even after a short contact left without a word... Why?

In a perfect world wouldn't it be nice if you could have constant protection, and security as well as a cuddly and sensitive man who would tend to your every need, be domestic and attend every concert, recital and activity where the family is involved.

How does one break from the conflict of daily life, or War where threats are numerated by the minute, and then fit into the seemingly calm non-threatening world that others see and feel, but you don't? I submit that there is no such thing as a calm serene world, only the facade of the condition "I just don't see the threat". In my opinion the real world wants to eat you for dinner and barf up your bones.

For years I, and men like me have tried to reconcile with not only God, but our fellow men on how to coexist with those around us who "just don't get it". Well... what don't they get and why?

First of all they don't understand the cost of providing the safety and freedoms they enjoy each day. They often do not desire to interface with the genuine evil that exists in the world around them, so we do this for them. They are the bystanders, that do not "want to interfere". They may catch a glimpse of world events on the news, or perhaps watch a TV show that has a challenging theme and think they have been made aware. While these examples may portray violence or even act out traumatic events, they are without the taste touch or smell that is so prevalent in a real world encounter.

For many who display these ambivalent or ignorant behaviors I would think in my mind that "I am glad". I want my children and wife to be safe and immune to the harsh realities of this outside world where the kill or be killed theme is the motto of the day. Having said that, we are the breed of men that run towards the fight without acknowledging the risks. We act upon injustice, or pull broken people out of rubble even though we have never met them.

When we the warrior breed decide to act and the courage is mustered up to leave the safety of home, the preparation alone can be gruesome and life changing. Sometimes it takes years to prepare for the mission. After initial training has been completed the warrior then enters the unforgiving world where the quick and the dead litter the landscape. Sometimes these events will be frequent and intense, other times they will be gaped and measured. Regardless of the frequency or the intensity of these events they tear at the very fabric of every soft and cuddly thing you have ever known. They create a sense of vulnerability and insecurity that only veterans of these scenes can appreciate completely. This is not to say that others do not experience traumas in life, in fact it is the opposite, because those who go into harms way for others ALSO have personal traumas in the course of their lives like everyone else. Compound these personal traumas with the conflicts in other lands, or the other events that are out of the realm of rational family topics, and you have the picture. In other words, you - the warrior get the hard life experiences like everyone else, and those thrust upon you by your chosen profession.

Why do these experiences make you feel like you are an apple in a field of oranges? Simple... you withdraw from the world everyone else is living in because you simply can't understand it. You know it exists because you once lived there, you even felt safe and the joy of moving freely in a world where someone else was on guard and watching as a protector and a guardian. As you yourself become that very guardian things change... you can NEVER return to the safe place and must not only be on guard, but be prepared in every way to win the fight should it come again.

This is allot of information to absorb, and if you don't get it, or think I should be a "referral" to your local clinic, then just put me back in the glass case and "break it in time of conflict".

David Burnell

Sgt First Class Sammy Davis Medal of Honor recipient and PTSD

One year at shot show there my team and I went to lunch with Sgt First Class Sammy Davis Medal of Honor recipient.

As we gathered round the table Sammy was in his Army Dress uniform and sported the Medal of Honor around his neck. He limped while he walked and his eyes twinkled with a bright shine which masked the pain of conflict well. Steve the president of Voodoo and the lunch host invited me to sit next to Sammy. My best friends and co workers were there also. As we sat down I yielded my seat next to Sammy to fellow veteran and friend John. John sat on Sammy’s left and his wife on his right. During the lunch striking conversation between Sammy, his wife and the rest of us began to fade as this war hero slowly removed his medal from around his neck and handed it to each of us. On the back was engraved the date of the action and his name. We got to handle the medal and listen to the familiar and unfamiliar stories of a pure warrior. Culminating this event for me was when our VP of Marketing and Sammy’s wife were so engaged in pleasant and real conversation that they both just beamed goodness. It appeared as if they had been friends for life. It couldn’t get any better I thought to myself. Just then John then was asked by Sammy to place the Medal of Honor back in its proper place around his neck. This for me was a highlight beyond words, beyond description. Here I sat with my team, and my friends viewing, hearing and memorizing this event.

The medal was being placed upon him by a younger hero cut from the same cloth and committed no less to his mates. I knew this first hand and personally. I sat and watched and my eyes began to water with deep respect and reverence for symbols of the feast we had just shared. The Medal is the highest symbol our nation has to give to anyone. It is the ultimate thank you and garners the highest respect. Twice I got the privilege of saluting Sammy with this precious symbol around his neck. First when I greeted him and then upon his departure. As I locked my heels and straightened my back and rendered the crisp salute of respect I thanked him again for the time, message and honor of of being with him. Then we left.

Prior to our lunch I was informed again of the loss of several of our veterans who were killed in recent combat operations. This stirring news rocked my world and caused me great uneasiness and strife prior to meeting with Sammy. Even this night the 23rd of January, 2011 no more than an hour ago I heard first hand of more USAF Special Operations friends cut down in the prime of life and for the cause of friends. The war is costing so much, so very much.

How does one process the loss of a friend, the death of ones enemies, or the brutal reality of violence and conflict. As a veteran of hundreds of high speed 911 traumas where I bagged burned children in metal coffins, pulled mangled bodies from under water where I amputated them from submerged aircraft, experienced military service for over a decade, and recently performed bodyguard duty in Haiti after the quake. I can only offer my simple, dysfunctional observations and suggestions.

Many years ago we set out to make a film called Danger Calls - RESCUE. In this documentary my fellow SAR veteran and buddy and I tell stories of rescue/recovery missions. They are gritty and real and life threatening and self changing. After the making of this film I was not able to “put the genie back in the bottle” very easily and found myself awake at all hours of the night and at times short tempered and ill fitting for most circles.

As the founder of the “Combat Stress Program” taught in the Urban Warfare Center I knew that I had a unique understanding of trauma and could impose stress and then help others walk through the symptoms and adjust their behaviors to improve performance during high stress encounters, but I myself was struggling with the results of a life exposed to grave risk again and again. Eventually I put the memories back in the bottle and assumed a “normal life of dysfunction”. A couple years ago I became a Bodyguard for high risk areas. Basically I learned the ins and outs of how to protect folks on foot, in vehicles, from the air and on water. Right after graduation Haiti had the largest disaster in recorded history and I became the Chief of Security of the largest volunteer task force that would be sent to that country.

This triggered many emotions from years past and to make a complex and long story short I found out I had a condition called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) upon my return. I was told that it is not a mental illness but a physiological one. Basically the brain did not store my traumatic experiences correctly and as a result I cannot at times shut down the carousal of memories, or cope well at times with the simplest of triggers. many times I feel lonely in a crowd and most often feel like others don’t get it... or me. Sound familiar? I didn’t want to be “broken” and could still function under pressure well. At times I even wanted to return to the fray and bury myself with more conflict as a way to resolve the strange feeling of not fitting in.

The reason I write this article now after meeting Sammy is that I KNOW many of you feel the same way. I know this because I did not think anyone else knew about these feelings but others like me. After making the film Danger Calls - Rescue, I thought I was doomed to extreme behaviors and irrational thinking that came from these experiences. I thought I was alone. Sure I knew there were other vets with “flashbacks” and I even knew they struggled. But the messed up thinking process told me that no one could understand my personal situation.

An example of extreme behaviors that relate to this condition is never really feeling safe. This may be frequent and often, but it comes in waves bazed on a perceived reality. Another is not being able to trust anyone at all, or at varying degrees being able to trust few. These are all symptoms of trauma related experiences where the brain is not running correctly. The classic feeling for me is that the terrain is dangerous and everyone around you is a potential lethal threat. While this might make a superior body guard, it makes a poor friend, husband, father and brother.

My message here is simple... There is lots of help available, and you are NOT crazy or beyond help. I myself am in the middle of my mission to get things running “normal”. I will not quit even though this is some of the hardest work I have ever done. Each session brings a hope of better days and an understanding that some things will pass with time and others will need more work to correct. This hope comes after exhausting mental exercises that bring many of the hard moments back.

I speak to many of you and see inside your eyes the scars of service and the pains of war, rescue or other service where you risk life, limb or health for someone in need. As I have trained hundreds of soldiers, airman and police I have often seen the marks of sacrifice and the fear of fitting in. I am reaching out to each of you that have been marked by conflict in any form. These challenges have the earmarks for behaviors that can lead to suicide, divorce and addiction.

Do you need help? Here is my personal assessment that may help:

  • If you want to tell the world to go to hell, realize you have an issue. Call a clinic and see a trauma specific counselor, begin the process.

  • Realize that the fight will likely not be over soon, but tools will come to help you cope and it WILL get easier.

  • You are NOT a crazy even though you feel like it... your brain needs help storing 5the trauma correctly.

  • People generally don’t get this trauma thing, don’t expect them to get it outside of docs and veterans that deal in it. Be patient with others.

  • Count your victories as they come. This might mean a two week stretch of decent behavior. Or a day of not feeling overwhelmed.

  • Accept the fact that you have earned the right to have these issues through service and that you went because you love.

  • Know that in time and with help you will not only survive, but be able to heal and then if you desire you can help others.

I know this may sound like a bunch of shizzle to some of you, if it does then you most likely need to read it and take action. If you identify with any of it then you should read more on the subject and seek some sort of assistance. One of the things I have personally come to realize is that ONE traumatic event can cause PTSD. Many of us have significant trauma from multiple categories that have been intense, frequent and of a long duration. These are all multipliers for and prime drivers for PTSD. These metrics compound the symptoms and negative behaviors that can lead to depression and suicide.

I say THANK YOU to ALL who have served their follow man in any form where life hung in the balance, and where hard things needed to be done. May God Bless each of you and may you feel his love as you recognize the need for help, embrace the tools and reenter the world where the reality is that not everyone is trying to kill you, and the landscape is beautiful and no longer tactical terrain.

David Burnell