Please Help Me Save One Life

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I need your help. Please. I don’t want to lose any more friends to suicide.

If you know any veterans, I am pleading with you to send this article to just one of them. They will know someone in trouble, almost certainly. I don’t want any money, I don’t want any publicity, I just really want you to pass this along. You never know who needs your help, so now I act as if everyone needs it. Thank you so much, Dave

ps: here is a link to a google doc of the first 14 mini-chapters of the book; the entire book is yours for free if you are in need, no questions asked.


wtf happened bro?

you used to be so happy & cheerful…so full of life…?

I used to have an intense joy for living, an unrivaled enthusiasm, and a never-ending laugh.

But I returned home from my second combat cruise stuck in darkness. My body came home, but the rest of me was somewhere lost at sea.

I was the lone wolf. Hungry.

The wild card. Never satisfied unless the danger factor was maxed out.

Way too cool for your boring civilian life. No thanks.

“What do you mean Officer!? 100mph is still about 60 knots slower than my actual takeoff speed…duh…”

I had spit-with-disgust scorn for the slow-to-change, lazy, incompetent clueless people that surrounded me on all sides.

“I didn’t risk my life every day to come back and fill your stupid form out five different times! Get it together already!”

They didn’t have to do anything close to what we did. And why were they yelling at each other about petty nonsense all the time.

“Who is Kim Kardashian again, and tell me why she hates Taylor Swift?”

I couldn’t slow my mind down. Hyperaware of every little noise and motion, I’d call out tallies in the car “Rage 14, tally two, right two o’clock high” as I’d switch the air-conditioning to air-to-air combat mode.

Repressed rage bubbled lava-hot just below my pretend smiling exterior. I didn’t know what was happening to me, but I happily discovered that fiery anger trumped all other emotions. So what. Don’t judge me. It felt like a warm blanket, comforting and familiar. With rage on my side, and my rumbling machine speeding me past it all, I was invulnerable. Slowing down meant extreme pain, and certain death.

So I looked for any and everything to keep the airspeed up and the throttles mashed past the detent. Civilian afterburners baby.

I’d go all in on any poker hand, with or without the winning cards. I didn’t care. No one could match my raw aggression.“I’m tougher and braver than all of you combined. I see you blinking; now I own you.”

I’d start fights on the basketball court. “You call that a foul?! You’re a total #$$@!”

I’d drive like the wind everywhere I went; sometimes nitro-fueled with JP5 whiskey-propellant, outracing the darkness, invincible once again.

Windows full down, volume 11 up, screaming snarlingly violent lyrics at a stagnant, apathetic, purposeless world.

Every day blended into one another, I started talking to myself in the shower and washing my hands constantly as I raced to outfly the memories incessantly chasing me.

Anything to stop the noise, anything and everything.

Driving fast was my favorite instant remedy. I unleashed fury on hapless motorists with NASCAR worthy ‘rubbin’-is-racin’ close passes woven into tight traffic; with heavy black-carbon-gloved palm heels honking “get-the-f-outta-my-way-dummy;” with double-barreled middle-fingers flashing pure malice.

“Can’t we just have a left lane for awesome people, please? Where you need to take a test to qualify, or if you’re a fighter pilot you automatically get one in the mail, along with a sticker that says “I’m amazing, and you + your minivan suck.”

My special-order Virginia license plate translated to ‘I hate you and I’m better than you.’

If we were friends, squadron-mates, or if you IMMEDIATELY vacated the left lane for me to pass… I was the best wingman you could ask for.

BUT if I didn’t know you or immediately respect you, my scorn and poisonous disdain radiated outward viciously; kinda like the 9-inch-fingernail-daggers that scary lady throws at everyone in Thor: Ragnarok. Boy was she upset about something. Anyway, where was I. Oh yeah.

No patience.

No time for antics.

Just the mission.

But there was no mission.

I fell into the trap of believing I could fill the echoing emptiness with things; with more adventure, more danger, more chaos, more competition, and more fighting.

And I judged you. Harshly. As I judged myself. And hated myself. Intensely.

The flat spin became flatter and faster.

You needed to earn my love and respect, just as we had to earn our place in the military.

I was out of the military, but not.

My mind obsessed about every little mistake I had made on my last cruise. But there was no next cruise to continue to refine, improve, perfect. I was stuck on an endless infinity===loop.

WTF is happening to me.

The obsession to be the best of the best, to constantly thrive in danger and chaos, to compete with everyone mercilessly until I was the last man standing; my favorite characteristics that had made me victorious in a fighter squadron were now paralyzing me, crushing me in this incredibly mind-numbingly boring civilian world. But if one is good, aren’t two better? I doubled down on the intensity.

I was destroying myself from within.

My second combat deployment was the exact opposite of the rewarding and heroic first: long, dreary, and soul-sucking. Our new chest-constricting Rules of Engagement had tightened so chokingly that all we could do was drill random holes in the sky, and make a lot of ‘scary’ jet-noises in the futile attempt to keep our guys & gals on deck safe.

The bulkhead-banging frustration of not being able to help our troops in constant danger accumulated with the fatigue of long 7-hour night missions.

My oldest son had just been born before our ship went out to sea, and I was pissed.

Holding him in my arms as the bucolic sun set behind the trees in our backyard was beautiful; it was the first time I had ever felt the elusive ‘inner peace’ I had been searching for my entire life.

I stared at his cute, smart, little-guy face taped to the ceiling above my top bunk every night like mister-I’ve-lost-the-edge-Cougar, painfully counting the days until I could be with him again. I didn’t lose the edge; it was more than that. I had lost my will and desire and NEED to fight; obviously made worse by the crippling circumstances making us unnecessary high-priced assets, now turned liabilities.

Without naming names, we had some leadership and corruption issues on the boat; this compounded the situation even more. I had joined to be a hero; to save lives; to use my strength and wits to win, no matter what. To be with like-minded heroes who you could count on to fight until victory was earned. I didn’t join to play House of Cards: The Stupid Political Navy Edition.

When I got vertigo for the first time in the cloudy night skies of Iraq, I almost cockpit-face-planted our Tomcat into the fat Air Force tanker’s nose. Even worse, I felt afraid for the first time, and the shame and guilt of wanting to return to the boat stayed with me for 14 years before I had the courage to even speak of it.

But this nuclear-powered cocktail isn’t quite finished yet. Let’s sprinkle in some unresolved childhood issues: sexual + verbal abuse by older women that left me determined to never feel emotions again.

The correct emotions, and the acceptable emotions available to a hot-shot fighter pilot were: ecstasy, rage and boredom.

And I had those dialed in air-tight, 4 point-oh-sailor supreme. Who’s the good little midshipman. I lived and breathed what I did, because in order to be good at anything you need to go all-in.

As for all the rest of ‘the feels,’ as the kids say these days… well let’s say that outrun, outfly, outwit is a good summary of my overall emotional gameplan.

I believe that NOW we have the stage properly set for complete disaster.

You still with me?

Oh, I did forget one thing: I had internalized & adopted my New York City high school motto of “if you ain’t the best, you ain’t sh!t.”

Loosely translated from caveman, I didn’t think I was worthy of being loved or even being on the planet if I wasn’t number one.

This made arguing or contradicting me hell for my opponent. My only mission was to win, and while my quick comebacks were funny for some, they didn’t really endear me to most. Ah, now we are really ready for the final showdown; a righteous reckoning, I reckon.

Confidence feels great.

Cockiness feels even better.

But I selected the extended-stay, max-suffering option in downtown Cockyville and lost everything.

How? Why? It is the sneaky slow decay of discipline that’s required to continuously learn, to constantly debrief all of your actions, to aggressively learn from your mistakes; this slow decay eventually catches up to you, and when you need it the most, the muscle has atrophied. In order to adapt and thrive in chaos we MUST be dedicated to lifelong learning, to innovation, to flexibility, and to empathy.

With the decay of these principles came it’s stubborn cousin REPRESSION, and a powerful reluctance to turn and fight at the merge of unpleasant emotions and memories.

And so that’s exactly what happened. I sped away from my stinging past, 100% believing my new ‘just-trust-me’ winking tour-guide: blinding rage against the weak, touchy-feely-side-of-my-brain machine.

I chased the adrenaline, excitement, and danger train all the way until Divorce St. When I lost my relationship with my four beloved children, well, I wasn’t exactly about to get off the train then. I wasn’t aware of any other ways to solve the pain riddle; rage had been working so perfectly.

So I stormed up to the caboose or wherever the f the driver sits, and I sped that thing up even more. “This locomotive is now making only express stops,” I called out over the 1MC to no one in particular, and rode the lonely addiction monorail until the very. last. stop. You have to admire my determination, at least. Stick to it-iveness!

But what’s waiting for you at the last stop, you might wonder? Well, you’re about to find out. It isn’t pretty. But I’m determined to keep you from arriving. And if you’ve already disembarked onto shell-shock block, here’s a bit of good news: I’m your wingman that’s flying you outta here. Let’s rock.



A Million Brave Wingmen Tears

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Woke up to a different sort of Memorial Day than I’d ever experienced. I woke up and wept.

In front of millions. Well, potentially millions, on my new pretend ocean aerie perch, mesmerized by the skyline ridge-hoppin’, ripplin’ & rockin’ half-masted flag. 

Standing alone and unafraid, just the two of us overachieving, just the earliest risers in the grey-misted, persistent Seattle sea winds, but just my brave tears came openly. Flag pole was playing it cool, for the moment. 

First on-deck were tears of guilt, the survivor’s kind, that I dismissed with a knowing nod and a smile, because I’ve kicked the ol’ rusty can down that sad road to nowhere before.

Second tears of memory came with a deep-bellied Santa laugh, because of my good buddy Puj; the very best pure-hearted, naturally heroic, boundless-positivity wingman a guy could ever ask for. 

A 100 % fully trained, officially Gold-Winged, United States Marine Corps fighter pilot, my buddy Puj would have known what to do, if only he was here. He would have immediately smiled broadly and patted me on the shoulder: 

“…so THIS is what’s gotten everyone so bent outta shape? All good PIRP, we will just adapt and overcome, just like we always do. Semper Gumby, always flexible, Dave! Piece. O’. Cake!”

Third came tears of understanding. Of acceptance. Tears of gratitude? Explain this, wtf. 

Because the front lines of this particular war, as Rage Against the Machine loves to snarl at its determined moshers, are now everywhere. 

Luckily for us, our nation’s tumultuous history is blessedly resplendent with the finest servant leaders you could ever imagine; people who somehow manage to focus externally on helping others, even when the bleakness itself is feeling kinda blue about stuff. 

But even better for us, this new crop of heroes we need to serve us once again are everywhere, raised by the beautiful communities that flourish quietly all across our country. Golden-hearted compassionate, raw-mountain strong, fast and flexibly innovative, they only lay dormant, not knowing they are needed, until we call out to them.

So I let out a deep breath, the tight-collar-choker one that had been worried: would this dreadful Era of the Corona showcase the very best of our teeter-tottering indomitable human spirit? 

While you’re thinking about that unnecessarily tangled thought-twister, we can bet ahead of time that it’ll surely spotlight the worst among us too. This is why we need our leaders to teach, and our teachers to lead.

So here is my call-out, the big throw of the switch on the Bat-signal, the all-hands-on-deck plea to our wonderful outliers, our tentative outsiders, our entire hidden gift uncanny X-Men crew watching from the sidelines. And to all the perfect people too, all the winners-at-life, all the bigger-than-you big-shots, we truly need the wisdom and the power of the crowd. Of every one. 

If you’re strong right now, you MUST lend your strength. We all need you. 

If you’re a leader, you MUST lead. We need your steady hand. 

If you’ve got anything good still left inside of you, and I’m confident you’ve got plenty, it’s never too late. We need what you’ve got. 

Ready? It is your time, to show us whatcha got. 

But in the meantime, just for today, let us please remember the very best of those who have come before us; and I would love to imagine the very best of them would be encouraging us to press onward, with strength, humor, compassion, teamwork, and respect. 

And of course, good ol’ fashioned ingenuity. We got this. 

So, piece O’ Cake, to all my new wingmen out there reading this, we got this, just like my brother Puj taught me. 

And love and respect forever, to all my countless fallen wingmen, who are all just like Puj.

We got this, because of what we’ve learned from you, because of what we’ve decided to become, because of you. In your memory, on this day, every year, we thank you for leading the way.


Addicted to Speed… Adrenaline+Danger+Chaos

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“…anger is a gift…”

– Rage Against The Machine, Freedom

That’s what I used to think. Anger would clarify the unknown. Clear the haze. Provide intense focus. Eliminate all the weak chatter that goes on in your brain during the boring “down times.” Therefore, anger = STRENGTH.

Once you get used to operating in chaos, you miss it when it isn’t there. Chaos allows for urgent innovation, soul-felt intuition and good ol’ fashioned American ingenuity. A brave and intrepid fighter pilot can launch off the carrier deck right into the storm with no idea what the mission is, but you just know they are going to get it done.

World War II German tank commanders used to throw up their arms in frustration; they would go through all the trouble of stealing our tactics manuals, only to find out the entrepreneurial young crews would routinely completely disregard standard procedures en-route to a surprise victory.

This is the power of a free society and an all-volunteer fighting force. Our country creates free-thinking and intelligent citizens; when pressed into action, when forced to figure it out under pressure, no one does it better.

The issue is when we come back. Civilian life seems dreadfully boring at first glance. Everyone is shuffling off to work they usually hate, stuck in traffic and doing the same routine, every… single… day. The tendency will be to chase speed, danger, adrenaline and back to the old comfortable blankie of CHAOS. Chaos feels comfortable somehow, because it brings out the best in us. When we can overcome all odds, and unscramble the madness, we feel heroic. Nothing becomes a man more in time of war than the ability to focus under extreme conditions and accomplish the mission. 

But nothing becomes a man more in time of peace than the ability to use love and compassion to solve conflict. 

Make the necessary adjustments my fellow warriors, and learn from my mistakes. You can never get enough speed or adrenaline or danger to outrun your demons. When you hit the merge, turn around and fight. You won’t regret it.

With love and respect, Dave

  • if you are a veteran in need, my book is yours for free. Send me a message at dogfightDave@gmail.com and it is yours, no questions asked.
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