#071: Sailahead: Healing Wounded Veterans Through Sailing

Thursday August 18, 2022

There’s solace in being on the water. met. Sailahead is a Veteran Service Organization that’s changing lives. For this episode Fran Racioppi traveled to Centerport Yacht Club for Sailahead’s annual event of over 150 people, almost 40 boats and Veterans spanning every conflict from WWII to today. 

Fran sat down with Kilian, Sean and Jenny Duclay who started Sailahead to bring Veterans the healing power of the water, bring awareness to PTS and Veteran Suicide, and to honor our mates.

He also shared a moment with the The Day Family, who’s son Ryan served as an Army Ranger, deployed multiple times to Afghanistan, and died by suicide as he struggled with the emotional toll endless conflict takes on us. 

Finally, Fran talked the oath we have to each other with a group of Army Rangers who never sailed before joining Sailahead.

It’s time to stop Veteran suicide. It’s time to accept and acknowledge that it’s ok to not be ok. 

Learn more about Sailahead at and on social media @sailahead.

Listen to the podcast here


Sailahead: Healing Wounded Veterans Through Sailing

I find solace in being on the water. It’s calming and peaceful. I can go there and leave all the stressors and challenges in my life on land. The water is also a place where I can forge new friendships, build new skills and compete to win or sometimes I might even jump in the water with a bunch of Marines and Rangers I met. SailAhead is a veteran service organization that has changed my life. They gave me purpose when I thought little existed, they welcomed me when I felt isolated and we had a team and they stuck behind me when it seemed like the world wanted nothing more than to destroy me.

SailAhead not only welcomed me but they welcomed my family, my friends and my fellow veterans. For this episode, I took my family, friends and fellow veterans across Long Island Sound on a boat to Centerport Yacht Club for SailAhead’s annual event. We had over 150 people, almost 40 boats and veterans spanning conflicts since World War II.

I sat down with Kilian, Sean and Jenny Duclay who started SailAhead when they were kids to bring veterans the healing power of the water, raise awareness for PTS and veterans’ suicide and honor our mates, the 219 veterans who die by suicide every 10 days minus the one that SailAhead saves. I also shared an emotional moment with the Day family, my family’s very best friends.

Their son, Ryan, served as an Army Ranger deployed multiple times to Afghanistan, went into the Army because I told him to and died by suicide as he struck over the emotional toll. This conflict takes on our nation’s most courageous Special Operators. Finally, I talked about the community and the oath we have to each other with a group of Army Rangers who never sailed before SailAhead but find strength in numbers and with the acceptance that we all struggled in our post-military life. It’s on each of us to be there for the others in both the good and the bad.

Take a listen on your favorite podcast platform. Watch the full video version of our day sailing on Long Island Sound on YouTube. Subscribe to us and follow the show on all social media. Learn more about SailAhead at Follow them on social media @SailAhead219. It’s time to stop veteran suicide, remove the stigmas around mental health and not only bring awareness but take a stand and do something. It’s time to accept and acknowledge that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s time to sail ahead together. Kilian, Sean and Jenny, welcome to the show.TJP - E71 SailAhead with Co-Founders Sean Duclay, Kilian Duclay and Public Relations, Jenny Duclay

Thank you for having us.

It’s great to be here.

Jenny, you’re always in the show in some way or another.

This is an honor to be on the other side of the camera. Thank you.

You’re always trying to figure out a way to get on. We joke but we couldn’t do it without you. Kilian and Sean, it’s your first time on the show but certainly, we have been close for a long time. You are the Founders of SailAhead, which to me is an organization that not only is doing tremendous things for veterans, advocacy and bringing awareness to veteran suicide. It’s one of these situations for me where it’s a part of the organization but also a client almost. It’s how I feel because I truly take away more in every interaction we have than I give. I know that every single time.

This was another example of that. We’re being out there and meeting new friends. We had a chance to sit down and talk to all the veterans who’ve come here. You see people you never met before. He jumped in. It’s like I’ve known them my whole life. Here we are jumping off my boat into the water and swimming in the middle of the Sound. I don’t even know you. I didn’t talk to you. You built SailAhead. I want you to tell the story and talk about how it started in the winter looking out at the frozen Oyster Bay and standing there with a Vietnam-era veteran. That is what kicked off this amazing organization.

We were always sailors. We were raised sailing. Kilian likes to tell the story of how when mom and dad were sailing on their first keelboat, they would put him in the cradle on the high side of the boat as a bow. There has always been this connection with the sea. My parents like to push us to our extremes. That led us to frostbite in Oyster Bay.

Some days we couldn’t go sailing because the bay was frozen over. We went sailing with a Vietnam-era veteran. On second thought, it doesn’t seem like conditions for a successful outing because we were on 16-foot dinghies, first of all. Second of all, the weather was bad. It’s not what you think of when you think of sailing.

You don’t think of dry suits, wearing many layers of fleece and sticking a 70-some-year-old on a small boat in the winter. We had to cut that out short because his back hurt. When we got back on shore, we were kicking ourselves a little bit because cutting it short meant that he wasn’t having fun. As it turned out, he cut it short because his back hurt. When we got back on land, he started to cry. Kilian and I also started crying. We all started crying. We can tell you why at the time.

He hugged us. We hugged him firmly back. He told us that for twenty years, he had been going to therapy to treat his PTSD. That was the best therapy that he had ever had. From that moment, we began thinking we can take one more person on board. Worst-case scenario, we will make a new friend. We left thinking that this was something immensely powerful. We have the ability to proliferate. We got to thinking about how we can do that. I was 14 and Kilian was 16.

TJP - E71 SailAhead with Co-Founders Sean Duclay, Kilian Duclay and Public Relations, Jenny Duclay

“For 20 years he’d been going to therapy to treat his PTSD and that was the best therapy that he’d ever had.”

In the beginning, it was the Thanksgiving dinner stuff. There’s always an extra seat at the table and an extra spot on the boat. That’s how it all started. We didn’t know the impact it had until we took that first veteran out. We saw potential. After that, it grew weekend after weekend. The same people kept coming. We would go to Craigslist’s free section and look up Hobie Cats.

We went to Connecticut to get a Hobie Cat. It was a piece of crap. We had to work on it, do fiberglass work, sand it and find new sales all on a budget until we grew our fleet to 5 or 6 boats. There are 79,000 veterans in Suffolk County. Not all of them could use the therapy of sailing but there sure are a lot that can. We realized 5 or 6 boats weren’t enough. We had to think bigger and start finding alternative solutions. Here we are at the Centerport Yacht Club. It was at that moment when we reached out and said, “We have an idea. Can you help us out?” They did.

Jenny, there are three pillars to SailAhead. Can you talk about them?

SailAhead’s mission is threefold. First, it’s using the ocean as a healing power, using sailing as a means for people to escape and also forming a community on the water. The second is raising PTS and veteran suicide awareness. That ties into our third, which is our mates, which are the 219 name tags that represent about 10 days worth of service men and women who have returned from or are still on active duty who have taken their lives or have died by suicide, whether it be because of PTS or the inability to readapt to civilian life.

We carry this as a symbol because it can be not easy as it’s a lighthearted subject to talk about numbers but once you have a symbol and we realized that showing people that number and making it tangible or something you can touch, it’s a message that hits harder. I remember one of our first events. We had everyone gathered at the front of the Yacht Club.TJP - E71 SailAhead with Co-Founders Sean Duclay, Kilian Duclay and Public Relations, Jenny Duclay

We put out a rope and tied 219 knots. We had 219 volunteers hold onto the knots. We had everyone take a moment. We said, “That’s our mates. These aren’t just nametags. These are the people behind the name tags. Not just people behind them but their families, their friends and the entire communities that are affected by it.”

The brilliant thing about that is that when we started SailAhead, the VA was saying, “At least 22 veterans were dying by suicide every day.” For a lot of people for better or worse because of the nature that the awareness spreads, it’s a catchy phrase. It’s 22 a day. You think of only the phrase. You don’t think about it. To have 219 people on the lawn holding the rope was first of all a very clear vision. To reiterate, that’s only ten days’ worth of casualties. That’s it. We were using participants from the event so they could see on the sidelines their loved ones.

All of a sudden, maybe it hits you even stronger. It’s like, “If 22 lives are lost a day, there are not just 22 people who are suffering. They each have two parents. They each have maybe a wife and a daughter.” All of a sudden, the suffering isn’t 22. The suffering is 100 a day or 200 a day. To have those connections between the people in the middle holding the rope and the people on the side for us was a way to show that, “This is what we mean when we say 22 a day.”

TJP - E71 SailAhead with Co-Founders Sean Duclay, Kilian Duclay and Public Relations, Jenny Duclay

“If 22 lives are lost a day, there’s not just 22 people who are suffering.”

There has been an absolute influx of support that has come into the organization, especially from the area. We’re here in the Centerport Yacht Club. It’s very gracious of them to give us their common area to have these conversations. Talk for a minute about that support and how important it is that we have yacht clubs, skippers and boat owners who are willing to dedicate their time and their boat and take people out. We’ve got to be real about the situation that we have here in an event like this. You have people with million-dollar sailboats who are taking out homeless veterans.

Part of our inspiration to start was looking out into the bays and seeing all these boats not being used. We didn’t know the owners at the time. We didn’t have connections in yacht clubs but we found that you just have to ask. Especially being a nonprofit, you’re in the business of asking. You find out that people have huge hearts and are willing to give everything. They’re $2 million boats.

It was fantastic, eye-opening and humbling. The greatest thing is having a support system around a yacht club. It’s prestigious. Access to the water is expensive. When we can bring veterans out onto the water on these boats that are otherwise sitting there, it’s huge. It’s eye-opening, especially for the guests and the families. It shows that people are out there. They care about them but they may not know the issues they’re facing. It’s 22 a day. There weren’t a lot of people that we first talked to that knew about that statistic. People don’t know the gravity of it.

Having a support system is huge. It’s everything. We were able to ask and get what we needed. Centerport Yacht Club is one of a kind. They have been with us since the beginning. They were our first big event. On 2020 and 2021, COVID put a hold on our sailing events. I thought maybe we could have lost some momentum but in 2022, when we picked up the phone call, it was as if nothing stopped.

The momentum carried through because everyone has such a big heart and is willing to help. Not to mention, everyone knows somebody who was in the military. All of a sudden, we have members that are bringing friends and crew that are veterans as well. It’s very humbling and awesome. There’s a positive way forward. It’s optimistic but there’s still a lot of work to be had.

One thing about asking is you will often get way more noes than yeses or not even a no but a delay or some skepticism. Kilian and Sean were very young. I was two years younger than Sean so I was even younger but they were always at the forefront. I remember them coming back looking down like, “It’s another no.” Here’s a shout-out to Centerport Yacht Club. Thank you for trusting us. Can you share the story about when you asked them?

Let me tell you how we got Centerport Yacht Club. At the time, we were 17 and 15. It is a nice yacht club. There are a lot of members here with nice boats. We knocked on their door and said, “Hello, my name is Kilian. This is my brother, Sean. We’re 17 and 15 years old. We would like to use your facilities, your yacht club, your members, your boats, your dime and your time to take veterans sailing.” We asked twice but they said yes. There wasn’t any pushback.

I remember there was pushback. It’s funny because sailors notoriously like to drink. We said, “We wanted this to be a dry event.” 2022 is the sixth year. People still try to go to bars. They’re hardwired. At first, we were like, “There’s no bar.” They did a double-take like, “What?” It’s a minor thing.

If anything, we would go the opposite way. They would be like, “We will do this. There’s no problem but keep no more than 30 boats.” Tom Hering at the time was the Commodore. We said, “Tom, we have 40 boats this year.” There are 36. The goal in 2022 was 25. Going back to the community, our numbers shoot low so that we can keep it under control and manage it easier but we always have way more boats and veterans that want to come out. That goes to show you the community out here.

I was talking to a guy who was on Jason Mall’s boat. Jason retired as an Army Major. I asked him how he got involved. He said that he went on his boats in Oyster Bay where you are out of. There was a sandbag and a flyer.

It was honestly my dad’s idea because we were at a point where we were like, “How do we get people to say yes? How do you get people to believe in us and trust us?” I believe it was my dad who was like, “Put sand in a Ziploc bag and a flyer. Go round on one of the RIBs and throw them on boats. Hopefully, people have the good heart and intention to call us back and everything.” We started at OBMC. We did an interview with Dawn Riley. We were right out of OBMC. We started from there a few years ago. We were throwing sandbags at boats. No one stopped us. No one looked suspicious. They were in a RIB going around and throwing things at boats. It looks so suspicious.

That’s how we met Jason.

It was the four of us. We honestly looked for a bunch of teens who had nothing better to do but we were desperately looking for volunteers. Honestly, I didn’t realize that’s how Jason Mall found us.

I found you when I was at NYU. You had put a flyer in their newsletter. It said, “If you’re interested in sailing and you’re a veteran, we have this organization.” I immediately called and left your dad a message. He called me back. This is the interesting part of the story, which I want to tell here. Your dad calls me. You’re French. Your dad has a heavy French accent. He’s telling me about this veteran service organization for US veterans.TJP - E71 SailAhead with Co-Founders Sean Duclay, Kilian Duclay and Public Relations, Jenny Duclay

It took me so long to try to figure out why is this French guy talking to me about helping American veterans until I started putting the story together. That’s cool if you take it full circle because Jenny joined us working on the show. That’s because your parents came to the house shortly after we moved in. I was asking how it was going like, “I need help with production and social media.” Your dad was like, “Jenny will do it.”

We have built this since. It has been awesome. We wouldn’t be where we are if it wasn’t for your help and involvement with the show. The cool part is we get you on the other side of the camera and the microphone. The great part about operation Jedburgh was the fact that the Jedburghs jumped into occupied France to arm and equip the French resistance to combat the Germans. Here we are with a French-run veteran service organization.

You sat down with a bunch of retired US Army Rangers and even active. My dad is the one who encouraged us to throw sandbags at boats. He has a mindset of whatever it takes and everything. My parents both taught us how to be emotional, make connections and everything. The driving force is passion and everything. When we started going out to Tacoma to do our event with the 75th Ranger Regiment to honor Ryan James Day, we realized how much connection we have with US Army Rangers because of our connection to France and we’re French-American.

Sean is a History major so he can tell you more in detail. The last time we went to France, we specifically went to Pointe du Hoc and the Normandy beaches. We gathered some sand and rock in a little jar. We have gifted it to some US Army Rangers. To me, it was like, “This is a cool rock from North of France. There’s some history to it.” I’ve seen some Rangers tear up or cry from it.

It hits you hard when you don’t realize the connection that you have. We’re not the most American family but we recognize that emotional connection to it. A lot of people in France are extremely appreciative of US Army Rangers. Every time we mentioned that we were in contact with or we help or we’re actively in contact with US Army Rangers, there’s this pride even in France. It’s quite easy and seamless.

In every town square in France, you have a memorial to La Seconde Guerre or World War II. Every time it doesn’t matter if it’s got four people or if it’s Paris. We’re always cognizant of that. In some parts of France, they have preserved the scars that the Earth took during those battles. We went to Normandy and Pointe du Hoc. These are giant holes.

There’s a song that always comes to my mind whenever someone says, “Why are you doing this?” The lyric is, “Some kid from Georgia came to die in Normandy.” That’s very much the mindset in France, especially in the older generations. They’re thankful. Our great-grandpa had PTSD. Our grandparents did too. They were civilians during the war. They live in a city that was bombed every day.

One of them, in particular, is my grandma’s city which was 70% destroyed because it was in Lorient. There was a Nazi submarine base. They couldn’t destroy the base so they destroyed the town. She had PTSD. My dad grew up firsthand with it. We were secondarily exposed to it. The thought is the same way that Centerport Yacht Club loves tradition and says 2022 is the 75th year that they’re in existence. SailAhead has become part of their tradition.

These are the same regiments that did the impossible. Take the spirit or the soul of Carl who’s a buddy we have in common in 275. If you move the cursor back but you take Carl in a time machine, he would have been one of those people. It’s an eternal thankfulness. It doesn’t matter that Carl wasn’t in Normandy. What matters is what he has gone through and what he stands for. We deeply appreciate that because we don’t have to do that.

One thing too is a lot of people ask Kilian and Sean throughout the years, “What branch of the military are you serving in? Are you a Boy Scout or anything like that?” It has been reinforced throughout the years. To everyone we meet, we always say, “First of all, you don’t have to have a label to help.” We’re not looking for anyone with any specific credentials. It’s like, “Are you willing to help?” Usually, people are once they understand.

Secondly, there’s a fight that needs to be fought here on the receiving end. Even to me, people will say, “Are you interested in joining the military?” Quite frankly, it has never crossed my mind but also a huge reason for that is I enjoy being on the receiving end and us being a point of contact for people to reach out to. I was twelve when we started. It has been a heavy subject but in a good way, it has gotten deeper for me every year.

We lost a lot of our mates. Michael Blanco is the son of Bruce Blanco who is our escort from Post 1244. A bunch of writers from Post 1244 came to our house and escorted us with the mates to Centerport Yacht Club. They do that every year. His son, Michael, was nineteen when he took his life. When I was younger, I was like, “That’s crazy. That’s so much older than me but still very young.” I’m past that age. It gets harder every year in a different way because you get older but we lost them at the same age. Our answer is always, “We don’t want to join the military. We want to be here on the other end.”

We don’t want to join the military because we have work to do for them.

[bctt tweet=”For every veteran who dies, there are parents, children, and spouses who are left suffering.” username=”talentwargroup”]

We see that. We’re going to sit down with James, Mike and Ron and tell their stories and how impactful this has been to them. We’re going to sit down with Jim, Linda and Justin Day and talk about Ryan, the loss of Ryan who was my friend and a brother to me, the impact of bringing them into this organization and what it has done for them. Their healing and their ability to come together and meet other people who have experienced what they have is truly impactful.

It’s the ability to do this year in and year out and expand. We gave a go at trying to build a race team. I’m not done with that idea. We’re going to do it. I was talking to Jason about Tasar. We need to do some economics on it. Kilian and Jason have almost got me convinced that this might be possible. What’s next for the organization? Where are we going from here?

The spectrum in terms of dreams is insane.

Ask her. I talk about mine all day long.

It’s to get home, take a nap and go to sleep. That’s the immediate goal. One day, it would be awesome to have an all-veterans crew doing the Newport Bermuda Race, which is doable and possible in the next years. Ultimately, it would be even more awesome to do a Volvo Ocean Race and have an all-American veteran crew doing the Volvo Ocean Race. That would be huge and insane.

TJP - E71 SailAhead with Co-Founders Sean Duclay, Kilian Duclay and Public Relations, Jenny Duclay

“One day it would be awesome to have an all Veterans crew doing the Newport-Bermuda race.”

Didn’t I tell Dawn Riley that I had no interest in doing the Ocean Race?

You better change your mind quickly because we need a skipper. Like you, Fran, Kilian is the dreamer of the family. It has served well because why are we here? Ultimately, to bring it down but also extremely significantly, the goal is always this. Hopefully, we have shown at least half of our guests or the people who have come to help that there is a community out there for them.

Wherever SailAhead ends up going and everything like that, we always want them to know that they can reach out to us. The goal is to always be accessible in a way. I can’t wait for the day that we go to Bermuda and everything like that. An immediate goal is to spread that awareness and make sure people understand that they’re not alone.

TJP - E71 SailAhead with Co-Founders Sean Duclay, Kilian Duclay and Public Relations, Jenny Duclay

“An immediate goal is spreading that awareness and making sure people understand that they are not alone.”

Here’s one goal that’s very real and possible in the near future and something that Sean and I share. We’re a family of six. We can’t take all veterans out sailing. We can’t organize events all the time in every state taking people out sailing. It would be nice to develop a school, have some buildings and create a sailing boot camp to train veterans so that they in turn can take veterans sailing.

Sean and I can do the work to get boats but we need people to sail those boats. Training veterans to be skippers would be huge because civilian skippers can only relate so much to veterans. Access to the water is so expensive. If we can train people to be skippers, give them boats and create this boot camp environment, which the military loves that whole concept, that’s doable and something that we want to do in the near future.

To go back to what you said about community, there’s a very pragmatic approach to reaching out to people like Centerport Yacht Club. We can’t and nor do we necessarily want the ones that take a lot of veterans sailing at one time. We have the good fortune of living in a county that’s veteran-friendly and pro-empowering VSOs. Our Suffolk County executive has a history of giving land to a VSO in particular, Warrior Ranch Foundation. There, they can put horses and house veterans. That’s where they do their programs. We talked with him and said, “What if we wanted a barracks?”

You take someone who’s at risk or not doing well from wherever in the country. Through corporate partnerships, we’re able to buy them a ticket the next day, evacuate them from the rut and extract them from that atmosphere. They are in a sailing school hopefully run by other veterans. The idea is suddenly, they’re surrounded by comrades. After a week of some classroom instruction and sailing, at the end of the week, either there’s an offshore race that they participate in or a cruise. They can go from Oyster Bay to Providence or Newport and back.

This is their test. If they pass it, they can graduate. When they graduate, they get a certificate. The camp is over. The point is that we have extracted them from this rut. They have learned and gone through something real with other people who are sharing it with them. They’re empowered. We don’t want to just take someone for a boat ride. We want them to gain a new perspective on life.

TJP - E71 SailAhead with Co-Founders Sean Duclay, Kilian Duclay and Public Relations, Jenny Duclay

“We don’t just want to take someone for a boat ride. We want them to gain a new perspective on life.”

You touched on it. When these boats are so expensive, they’re exclusionary to the vast majority of people. Long Island is an island with seven million people living on it. I guarantee you that there are not that many sailors. How do we make this more accessible? It turns out we have good supporters. It’s a real possibility that we can start something like this sailing school program.

That’s one thing. Kilian has always been the racer. You know that very well. Kilian has his racing aspirations. In 2023, we’re going to resume. We have an event in Tacoma that we did for three years from 2017 until the pandemic. We’re also going to the panhandle in September 2023 to host an event like this down there. We’re going to resume all of our New York events as well, including hopefully finding you a good racing boat.

We’ve got a lot of work to do. You made that list tremendously bigger.

It will be a fun episode.

Everything you said is 100% true. This is why this organization and sailing are so impactful. We talked about it with Dawn Riley. It is something. When you’re a veteran, one of the things you forget about so many times is the camaraderie that you lose. What sailing does is it brings you back, builds that community, puts you in a competitive environment and teaches you a new skill. You heard so many of the veterans. You heard Ron talk about it. You hear a lot of people talk about the fact that they get out, whether they’re excited to get out or not.

You don’t think about these 2 or 3 things. One, who’s my tribe? Who’s my team? Who are the like-minded people? How am I going to keep myself occupied? How am I going to replicate this competitive environment that I lost? We joke all the time that you’re always being assessed, especially in Special Operations. One day, you wake up and it’s all gone. SailAhead gave that to me. It continues to. I’m so honored to be a part of the organization and be your friend. I look forward to all of the things that you’ve mentioned. We’re going to have to make a plan.

What Kilian doesn’t emphasize is you’re going to be the skipper. We need you.

With all these ideas, you’re going to have to figure out how to do it. I get it. I understand. We have a lot of work to do because we’re taking this show places. Thanks. I appreciate it. It’s an awesome day here. I can’t wait for the next one.

Thank you so much for joining us and also thank you for having us. I appreciate it.

Thank you so much, Fran.

Jim, Linda and Justin, thanks for joining me on the show.TJP - E71 SailAhead with the Day Family

Thank you.

There’s no problem.

It’s a special day. We’re here at Centerport Yacht Club. We had the SailAhead event in honor of Ryan Day, my friend, your son and your brother. This will be the hardest interview and conversation I ever have but it’s important because we have to do it not only to remember Ryan and honor his legacy and what he meant to all of us but also do it so that others stand up to make sure that this never happens again. Jim, I’ll ask you to talk about the speech that you gave in front of everybody here, which was truly impactful when we want to talk about how we stop this. Bringing awareness is the first step. That’s what we’re here for.

Collectively, my brothers, sisters and I who were veterans owe it to each other. The broader community owes it to take care of people who have given so much to our country and everybody else. It’s a lot to bring upon all of us but I am thankful. Most people don’t know that our relationship goes back a long way. You were the first people we met when we lived in Colorado and moved to our new house. Your house was toilet papered. I showed up.

You stole Linda’s story.

That’s my story.

I thought bullets were going to come flying out of your hands.

I was like, “This might be a neighborhood I would fit in.” That’s where it started. I wanted to start with this. Jim, you could talk for a second about your thoughts on Ryan, this event and what brings you here.

First off, you are a mentor to Ryan. We know that. That’s going to make this even more emotional. Your influence on him was more impactful than you probably know. We appreciated that in helping to drive his decision to pursue the military. We don’t regret a moment of his decision there. This was about taking the stigma away from mental health awareness. The good news is more organizations are arriving on the scene to help. We’ve got the 988 mental health hotline. That’s national in nature.

For me, it’s always personal. I’m always trying to tie the story together so that people who don’t have to experience what I experienced learned what it’s like to be on the wrong end of this equation with veteran suicide. Ryan was a great soldier. He loved what he did. To see this happen because of some part of his being not being satisfied and not being able to turn off the energy that was put into him by the military is a travesty.

TJP - E71 SailAhead with Co-Founders Sean Duclay, Kilian Duclay and Public Relations, Jenny Duclay

“To see this happen because of some part of his being, not being satisfied, and not be able to turn off the energy that was put into him by the military is a travesty.”

We need to have more folks come together and be able to talk about this and talk amongst themselves. As we watched, it was amazing. First off, I witnessed this work. The first time I did it was in 2017. It was immersive for me and therapeutic. I watched the soldiers go out. They forget their troubles. They’re out there on the water and enjoying every moment of it. It’s an amazing feeling to watch. SailAhead has a mission here that they’re fulfilling. I’m happy to be a part of it.

It doesn’t matter where you come from. You get out on the water. These landlocked emotions that you have go away because of this therapeutic nature of it. We were out. You were in the boat with me. Mark Otto came over on their RIB with Nick Angione from UWVC. They were on a previous episode with us. They started yelling, “Let’s get in the water.” Here I am yelling, “Marines suck. Rangers lead the way.” I’m taking my shirt off and jumping in the water. Ten seconds before that, I had no inclination to go out into the water when we were out there but you go and do it because it’s so freeing.

It’s the team mentality that is instilled in you as a veteran. When you start to get those folks together, they feed off of each other. That’s what they want. Everybody wants camaraderie. It’s brothers and sisters in arms. To watch that happen is a transformation. Everyone was having a blast. Don’t even think about it. You go on each boat and see some of these folks grabbing ropes. They don’t know what they’re doing. They’re being taught right there how to be part of a team. That’s the part about sailing that I didn’t know until I became involved with SailAhead.

Linda, we spent a lot of time putting you on different boats to interact with the different groups and veterans that were on there. What do you talk to them about having been through the experience that you have? What are you saying to them?

The only thing I have to say is thank you. Thank you for supporting us, for being here, for being a skipper and for opening up your boat to these veterans. The organization was started for veterans. This is our sixth time if COVID had not been here. It’s changing a little. We’re getting some new veterans into the scene. When I first learned about the program, to me, a veteran was somebody that was 70 and older.

You never put into perspective that there are a lot of young veterans out there. You watch everybody come together and do exactly what you said. They jump on the boat and start talking to each other about where they were and what they were doing. This is not an event to talk about anything deep. It’s to talk about learning. They’re not even learning. They’re a team. The military is always a team. That’s the only way that they succeeded.

To Jim’s point, what we have always said is Ryan comes back from missions or if not Ryan, anybody. When you’re a Ranger, you’re out there for a 90 to 100-day period. They’re very short-lived missions with a lot of purpose in them. They come back with no off switch. We have the veterans that have retired. There are some still active. I still think that they need that. Their switch never goes off. Sometimes when it does go off, it leads them to a place that Ron found himself at.

It was touching. I was so proud of listening to Ron’s story talking about something deep and hard. It was something he didn’t know was within him. He was failing within the last five days. He did find the inner strength because of camaraderie and there being a team love and passion and saying, “Come on. Get out here.” That’s what I found most impactful to talk about it. I watched people talk to my husband, me or Ron about the speeches and the experiences we have had as well.

You talked about the community. You build these communities in various aspects of your life. You build them so that you have people who identify with you and think like you importantly for times when you need somebody. The stronger those communities and bonds are, the faster somebody can identify when things aren’t right or when you can identify when things aren’t right with somebody else. Justin, your brother was a mentor to you. Since we lost him, you’ve become close with a number of his friends from the military and learned about this whole other side. What is it about that group that strikes you as not having the level of exposure until after we lost him?

It’s the brotherhood and the camaraderie. They have their back no matter what. I see them going to places. My brother was a Ranger of the 2nd Bat. If he mentioned that to anybody and there’s another Ranger in the room, they will be buddies and attached at the hip no matter what. They will never leave their side. They don’t need introductions.

They’re grabbing each other, wrestling and kicking each other. They’re telling stories. It’s the brotherhood. That’s amazing to me to see that because they go in knowing nobody. They don’t know what they’re getting into. They meet these people that changed their life, good or bad. They will stick with them no matter what.

Jim, you talked about Ryan, honoring the memory and the point at which you come to realize that we live with it. Those were the words that you said. Can you talk more about what that phrase means?

It’s personal to me because it’s an ongoing journey. This never ends. Once you have experienced great loss as we have, it manifests itself differently. As time goes on, what you have to do is learn to live with it. There is no other choice. I said it in my speech. The most important thing to take away is that the alternative is not the alternative. If you’re not living, you’re dead. That is not what anybody wants or what your loved one wants.

TJP - E71 SailAhead with Co-Founders Sean Duclay, Kilian Duclay and Public Relations, Jenny Duclay

“This never ends…as time goes on what you have to do is learn to live with it. There Is no other choice.”

The idea for me is how you put this into perspective so that you can go on. You have to be there for others. Community is probably the best word to use because we’re all in a community of support together. As long as you take your voice and put it towards helping that community, you will always have something to do to help drive you forward. That’s the key. You have to have something that drives you forward. It’s easy to fall into the pit of emotion that comes with loss. It’s what you do with it after it happens.

TJP - E71 SailAhead with Co-Founders Sean Duclay, Kilian Duclay and Public Relations, Jenny Duclay

“It’s easy to fall into the pit of emotion that comes with loss. It’s what you do with it after it happens.”

The one thing I appreciate is when you sat me down. We were down at the Jersey Shore. You’re like, “When you’re ready, you’ve got to meet these people. This is an organization.” This is a SailAhead I’m talking about and the Duclay family. You said, “When you’re ready, you’ve got to meet these folks.” You left it at that. You didn’t drill me and say, “Come on. You’ve got to do it.” You said, “You’ve got to meet these people.”

Once I did, it was this. I felt like I could keep Ryan’s memory alive by being out here and putting myself out there. I owe him more than that. All I have to do is pour out my emotions in an honest way. I’m going to do it as long as more people can say his name and know who he is. They come back. It’s amazing. We were gone two years and I had people coming up to me going, “Are you going to speak and everything else?” That’s all I need to hear.

[bctt tweet=”The isolation brought by the pandemic is devastating to mental health. Now that everyone is back together, people must spend time with one another.” username=”talentwargroup”]

Linda and Jim also talked about the concept of it’s okay to not be okay, which is something that I’ve spoken a lot about in various groups that I’ve talked to. We have talked about it a lot on the show on a number of them because of this stigma that Jim mentioned and people think if you’re a veteran or in Special Forces or Special Operations, “If you’re a man, you have to be okay. Shrug it off.” It’s from a mother’s perspective of three boys. I have one. I can’t imagine having three. With Adrian, it’s like having four. What does that concept mean to you?

It’s okay to not be okay but there are different ways to look at that. I’m not on the end of the person who is going through something bad where they need to hear, “It’s okay to not be okay.” Keep them focused for them to find the help and support systems they need. Like Jim said in his speech, the first thing I said to my husband was, “We’re still a family. We’re a different family.”

Justin was eighteen years old. Evan was nine years old. As a mother as much as the loss of Ryan is devastating, some of that devastation put me into a mode because of who I am that I need to push on and be there for my children. I don’t want them to have lost parenthood through me going into a bad space. Luckily, I could have controlled that.

I didn’t want them to lose family value because Jim and I struggled with the situation. My first thing was, “We’re still a family. We’re a different family.” The other thing for me was Jim and I have been together married for many years. We love each other dearly. We are 100% opposites. We handle our emotions 100% oppositely.

For me, putting things into perspective kept me from being in that bad place. It’s wanting to move on and keep our relationship alive. One of the biggest things is respect. I knew that it was going to be a bumpy road. How Jim grieves is different than how I grieve. I’ll grieve one day. He will grieve another day. We will grieve together. We both without saying the words knew it was okay to not be okay. We both respected each other when we were in a negative place with different perspectives. To me, it’s okay to not be okay because you can move on, appreciate each other and respect each other for how they’re feeling at the moment.

Justin, your dad talked about the memories. Coming to the point where you can look at the memories, be happy again and not think about the loss as much as you think about the gift that was the time with Ryan, what’s the biggest thing you remember?

The biggest thing I remember is how much of a goofball he was. He was so smart. In high school, he would always get clowned for being a nerd. I was always clowning him for that but it was how much of a goofball he was. On the polar opposite, he was hard-headed and ready to do anything and go after anything. It was the drive and ambition mixed in with the playful happiness.

I remember when he would come to the house and be like, “I don’t know what I want to do. I’m being a Navy SEAL.” I’m like, “Hell no. You can go to the military but you’re not going to be a Navy SEAL.” I’ll get phone calls from all the Navy SEALs.

He was training. He didn’t know what to train with. He got that Navy SEALs manual. He was doing that hypoxic swimming. He was pushing a piece of ply. He was not a strong swimmer.

Justin had a good point. He was hardheaded to the point that I used to say when he was a little kid, “You could hit him over the head with a cast iron skillet.” He would be like this. Justin would be like, “Cast iron skillet?” He was tough from day one.

He served our country honorably. He was a great son, brother, friend and somewhere between a son and a brother to me. I enjoyed every minute that I had with him and the time that we have with you. I’m so thankful that you were able to make it out here for this and spend time at our house with our family again. We always cherish those times a couple of times a year when we get to do it. Thanks for coming in, sitting down with me here and sharing this moment in this event and Ryan’s life with me.

Thank you because Jim talks about what a mentor you were to Ryan. You and Jen were mentors to Jim and me. Knowing what we were up against with our son joining the military, you were always there for us. Thank you for doing that and for being there to support us and hold our hand along the way.

If we can stop one person from taking their life here, that is the goal. Reach out for help, open your mouth, make friends in the community so that they know when you’re not doing well and be comfortable raising your hand and getting someone to talk to. It’s about the connection. This isolation that we have had for the last few years is devastating to mental health. Now that we can get back together, let’s do it and spend time. That’s the most important thing.

Thank you, Fran.

James, Mike and Ron, thanks for joining me on the show.TJP - E71 SailAhead with US Army Rangers Ron O'Ferrall, Mike Gallo, James Knuppenburg

Thanks for having us.

We’re happy to be here.

It’s a super impactful day here at Centerport Yacht Club with SailAhead’s annual event. Before we get started though, I want to caveat that there will be no fighting between you, Rangers. There will be no grappling and dick-slapping. Let’s try to keep it PG.

They sound like suggestions.

Those are going to reach.

We were having a conversation with Jim, Linda and Justin Day about their son, Ryan, who was in 275. We talked about the community and camaraderie. I’ll caveat that conversation too that I was not in Ranger Battalion. I’m simply a Ranger-qualified former infantry officer turned Special Forces. Even though I say I was a Ranger, I was not in the Battalion. I know that. I’m not trying to be a poser to pretend that I was in the Battalion. Don’t give me that either as we get into it.

We talked about the community and the fact that you can take guys and we talk about it a lot, from Special Operations Ranger Battalion Green Berets. I never met any of you before. Immediately, you get together. It’s like you’ve been friends your whole life. You’re sharing stories and messing around. We’re jumping off the boat and making fun of Marines. You all come from different backgrounds. You do different things. I want to hear about it all but let’s talk about the community for a second. Ron, you spoke and talked about the importance of community. What is it that’s so important about an organization like SailAhead that defines community for you?

I would take a step back. The community is the foundation for me. This is what I talk about a lot. It’s the trifecta if we’re going to get after veteran suicide. I always say that it’s the science and the physical side. You have the spiritual side, purpose-driven or whatever that may be. The foundation of all that is community. That’s people like you and people that live around you within your immediate circle, the circle out of that and even more.

It’s knowing that you’re part of something bigger than yourself. That community is also your family in a way. It becomes your family. As we all know and share, the family that we have does not necessarily have to be of blood. I’m closer with my brothers and this community, for example, SailAhead. SailAhead is a community. We’re headed here to Yacht Club with a lot of different people that would more than likely never mix in a room from financial and economic or where they live. Those are the facts of what it is.

We’re on a yacht club on Long Island. We have homeless veterans from Samaritan Village who have come from New York City. They are spending time on million-dollar yachts or boats and experiencing this.

Piggybacking off Ron, the word community is the commonality of why we’re here and what we’re doing. It’s bringing everything together no matter where you’re from, what you did in the military and whether you served in the military. It makes everybody feel part of the one goal or mission of what we’re here for.

For example, this community is bringing people together from the surrounding area that live here. They’re starting to network. I didn’t know this about you. It becomes stronger and then expands. That’s why events like this are important. Getting back to the basic question, they’re important because it expands, strengthens and builds the community. While we have these different extremes, what it means is that people here that showed up are willing to help those who come on this boat, “What do you do? Maybe you need a job.” I’ve heard these stories year after year. That’s why it’s important for things like this to continue and bring people from all over to build whatever community they’re in.

James, you got introduced.

It was quite incredible. I’ve been in Manhattan for years. You have to find a community, someone or something bigger than yourself that we all have a common interest in. That’s helping people. It was very difficult at Columbia to get out of Ranger Regiment. You’re dumped into a Manhattan Ivy League school. The first thing you would look for is the guy with the tattoos and the beard that doesn’t belong there. It’s like, “That’s going to be my community right there.” That’s where it started. We had 50 Rangers or so at Columbia University. I’m being able to be introduced to you, your family and your friends that are doing something special. You are doing something above and beyond yourselves. It’s incredible. I appreciate it.

Talk about your journey. It’s not like you decided, “I’m going to go to Columbia. I’m working at JPMorgan Chase.” You got shot in Afghanistan and woke up four days later at Walter Reed.

It’s crazy.

You didn’t think I knew that either because we didn’t talk about it.

People talk. I’ll even go back further than that. We’re all bred a little bit differently even the people that didn’t serve but are serving us in a different aspect mentally and giving us an outlet to find a path on our own. My mother went to prison for prostitution. My father went to prison for heroin. I was in a foster home for several years. I couldn’t read until I was eight. Everything was always against me but there was something that I channeled inside of me everywhere I went and in every group. I was a part of a football team and a basketball team. We had a common interest and commonality.

When I joined the service at twenty in my fourth deployment, I got shot by a sniper in 2010 in Kandahar. I was laying on that rooftop. I thought three days had already passed. It was probably five minutes. You hear the big roar of the medic scream. You don’t want to be that dude. You don’t ever want to hear that on target. My medic didn’t make it to me. He got shot by the same sniper and ended up dying. After that, I got off that rooftop. I got a chest wound. I was going in and out of shock.

My boys or my community came to my rescue. They put me on a bird and flew me to Kandahar City. The next thing I know, I’m in an operating room, which I thought was messed up because this woman started cutting my pants off me. I had no underwear. I was like, “What are you doing? This is rude.” From there, I was in a drug-induced coma for about three days. I woke up at Walter Reed barely hanging onto my arm. My mom and my father were there. That’s how I got involved with some of these nonprofits.

They were helping my family see me and take care of me. They were flying Rangers down to Walter Reed to stay a week with me because I needed my community there. I didn’t have anyone there. From there, I spent 2 years and 4 months in rehabilitation on my arm. I had twelve surgeries. I was 23 years old when I got shot. I was 25 when I was making it back to the Regiment.TJP - E71 SailAhead with Co-Founders Sean Duclay, Kilian Duclay and Public Relations, Jenny Duclay

It was like, “I’ve got to go back one more time.” Why? I don’t know. I wasn’t doing much. I was working an S4 shop job. I was feeling sorry about myself. I changed my MOS to 68-Tango, which is a vet tech. I ended up getting the canine section to send me to the Canine Corps so I could handle a dog too and provide the only vet tech dog medic at the Regiment. There were only two of us prior to that. It was fairly a MOS.

I was deployed one last time. I got a phone call from a Ranger buddy. It was like, “How would you like to go to Columbia?” I’m like, “I’m already a bottle of Jameson in. I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon.” He’s Jeremiah Wagner. I got connected with him. He introduced me to the Collegiate Access Program. They walked me through like, “This is how you do an application. This is the reference type you need. This is the resume stuff that you need to put together. This is the essay.”

He was living in California. They sent him all my stuff. He proofread it all for me and helped me prep for my interview. I drove up there for a week at Cornell at the Warrior-Scholar Project. I drove to Columbia University, did my exam up there, had the interview the same day and then flew back to Georgia. I was like, “I’ll probably never hear back from them. My story wasn’t good enough.” They looked at me and were like, “He’s dumb.” I got a callback. I ended up studying Financial Economics there.

I did some nonprofit stuff with the guys but I wasn’t involved as much as I wanted to be. I graduated in May of 2021 and got offered a job at the investment bank through another Ranger, Sargent Israel, who was one of my RIP instructors. He messaged me on LinkedIn and said, “I see you have a Finance degree from Columbia. Do you want me to put you in contact with one of my friends from JPMorgan?” I said, “I like numbers. I heard they do all right.” That was on a Saturday. I had three interviews that next week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. A week and a half later, they offered me the job.

That’s a community right there.

Those connections that people make are what it’s about.

It is okay to keep your negative thoughts to yourself, but it is also unfair to others.

I wouldn’t have made those connections if I hadn’t gone to Lead The Way, hadn’t gone to the Warrior-Scholar Project, hadn’t been here sitting with you and hadn’t taken the time to have a conversation.

Mike, you’re working with Lead The Way. You’re a firefighter. Talk about the organization and what they’re doing.

In 2007, Jimmy Regan was a team leader in the 3rd Ranger Battalion and was killed in Iraq. His family, his mother and father, Jim and Mary, close friends of Jimmy’s and close family decided they wanted to do something that would honor, give more, create something out of what happened to Jimmy and make other people’s lives better. Initially, they had this run out on the West Side Highway. It was called the Run Down Hero Highway.

That’s how I was introduced to the Regans. I showed up at the first run they did. I introduced myself to Jim and said, “I was a former Ranger from 275. What can I do? How can I be a part of this?” It was from me starting to show up at stuff. Eventually, they were like, “We want you to do more.” I was able to do a lot more for the organization like meeting Rangers, whether they’re down in Walter Reed or different places or guys that come into New York.

I also got to represent the organization, become a liaison with the Regiment and go to different events like Change of Commands, Ranger balls and other different events where I could introduce myself, keep current with the guys and explain what we’re doing at Lead The Way but also keep current with the Change of Command because everything changes over. A lot of what I do is I keep those contacts and keep us current with everybody throughout the Regiment. We have done a lot of amazing things over the years as far as helping the guys out. One of them is sitting to my right.

I got to meet James a bunch of years ago. Seeing the way that these guys have moved on from these horrific experiences that they have gone through is what makes me continue doing things with Lead The Way and other organizations too. There are other Ranger organizations. Everybody has got the same goal but some different ways of doing things in different locations. I’m a sociable person. I like to bring guys out when they come to New York and show them around. I like to host our different events down at Fort Benning. We did a cornhole tournament.

[bctt tweet=”It is okay to keep your negative thoughts to yourself, but it is also unfair to others.” username=”talentwargroup”]

Colonel Ralph Puckett was there. In 2021, he hung out the whole time. We had him out throwing some bags. It’s cool to see that stuff too. He spoke at my Ranger school graduation years ago. I got to meet him a bunch throughout the years but at this particular event, I got to spend real personal time with him and his family and speak to them. It’s mind-blowing knowing who I was sitting next to.

He’s a legend. We’ve got to have him on.

To throw a couple more kudos on the organizations, specifically Lead The Way, over the years, I’ve helped a lot of Rangers through suicide interventions or meeting them where they’re at. There have been times where it’s like, “I need some resources to help this Ranger out, whether that is through a rehabilitation program to get them back on their feet. Let me come up with an idea to at least get this Ranger a foundation because they have no word on how to handle it. Can we get them a cell phone and pay for their rent for this much? Here’s what they’ve got going on.”

It’s to have access to pick up the phone and say, “Mike, I’ve got a situation.” He says, “Write it up, send it to me, let me take it and see what we can do.” Each one has their bedding process and everything like that but at the end of the day to the point of this organization, it could be someone that is facing homelessness or facing an area or a point in their life where they have hit rock bottom and needed a launching pad to a success story like yours brother where that transition and that LU bred. Sometimes that’s all we need. Lend me a chance to dunk it.

Sometimes all it takes is seeing that Ranger buddy even if you reconnect and don’t see each other for years. Ron and I hadn’t seen each other in a long time. We reconnected like that. I connect with so many guys throughout the Regiment, whether they’re prior or current members of the Regiment current. It feels like you’ve been friends with them for years. We have this way. We were raised in the Regiment. It’s the same-circus, different-clowns thing.

What did it for me is the last run that you held in 2022 because when you’re injured, you think someone is writing a check. You’re like, “How is my mom flying here every weekend to get help? They lost her husband overseas. How are her bills being paid? How are the kids still going to the same private schools?” You want to try to change their lives as little as possible from something so significant. What it was is I got to see the men and women that were paying $50 for a goddamn t-shirt to run 5K. I was like, “You are the ones that flew my mom every week and gave me your time. You took time away from your days to do shitty stuff like Ron.” That’s what did it for me.

Ron, we talked about how it’s okay to not be okay and this concept that you’ve got to reach out and take the first step. I’ve talked a lot about limiting beliefs. We have these limiting beliefs in our minds that prevent us from taking action. A lot of times, the action we prevent ourselves from taking is often for ourselves. We put a lot of focus on helping others and then come to a point in our life where we fail to recognize where we are. You almost weren’t going to come right here. What changed your mind?

It’s the community. There’s still that sense, “I don’t want to let my brothers, my family and the community down. That’s the last thing I want to do.” It was also because it’s something that I needed. I need this. We all need this. This isn’t a joke. This isn’t like, “We will just go.” We have a good time and crack a lot of jokes but when we come together, it’s something that we need. It goes back to the Ranger/SF Breakfast. It’s bringing people together because we needed that. Did they go every week? No. It’s not the old days.

We try to do that sometimes but we don’t eat pancakes, Ron. We go out and get drinks.

It didn’t say that the orange juice wasn’t spiked. We need that. Getting to it’s okay not to be okay, it is but it’s not okay to keep it to yourself. It’s unfair to others as well. It’s a hard pill to swallow for us to think about ourselves, especially in the Regiment because the mindset for us is a little bit different than SF for example. It’s not just a team of us. There are squads, platoons and companies. There are a lot of moving parts. I was watching Jariko Denman. He said it the best, “The Regiment taught me that they don’t give a shit about us.”

TJP - E71 SailAhead with Co-Founders Sean Duclay, Kilian Duclay and Public Relations, Jenny Duclay

“It’s ok not to be ok…but it’s not ok to keep it to yourself.”

I love that guy. I haven’t seen him in forever.

It’s something to the effect of that. Our job is to put the Ranger mission first. The mission gets accomplished but looking out for one another and the other person is your job. Fuck me. It doesn’t matter about me. What’s the first thing when we get hurt? “I let the team down.” That’s immediately what comes to mind.

The team ability for Rangers is rated super high. That’s one of the top characteristics.

It was taught at the very birthing and baptism. You earn that scroll by the rip or rap. You’re not shit without that other person. It’s not like you’re on this individual journey, “Where’s your Ranger buddy? Why did you let him do that?” You get fucked up for something your buddy did.

They were taking care of the weapon but they weren’t taking care of the person behind the weapon.

That’s why we were that much closer even if we had never spent a day with one another. We went in and cleared that room together. It would be like, “I know he’s going to be there for me when I need him regardless of whether I got this weapon in my hand or not.” The army as a whole probably doesn’t but you always did. That’s why you are sitting here.

You don’t even think about it too a lot of times. There are guys that you legitimately don’t even like. You’re like, “I don’t even like this guy,” but you’re willing to follow that guy into a room and take a bullet for that guy or save his life and do whatever you have to do to make sure that guy comes home and then go back at the end of the mission and be like, “I fucking hate this guy.”

“I should have put the tourniquet a little bit tighter.” That shit hurts.

It’s switching that, “I need to look after myself.” The last seven years of service I was doing with the community was pretty heavy stuff. That’s when we reconnected again, Mike because it feels good. For us, it’s like therapy. When we help somebody else, that’s like helping myself. I needed a lot of help. The more I understand chemistry, science and the way our brains work, that feels good. I got the dopamine and serotonin. All those things are pumping for me differently.

When it stopped, it was like in a drone. I’m like, “Now what?” It was because I didn’t take the steps to stay on top of what I was supposed to in physical health, how I’m eating and my sleep patterns, “Am I taking my supplements?” It’s all those things. One day, it wasn’t like I went off the deep edge. It was like, “I don’t need that. I feel pretty good.” I was slowly chipping away. I was not focusing on myself anymore.

Getting back to answer your question of what brought me back, it was being in Curacao. It’s a beautiful place. I couldn’t leave my house for five days there with the shades drawn. You look down the whole depression checklist. I was every single one of them. One of my best friends and business partner, Gads, on the island called me. He came and visited me. He’s like, “What’s up?” He knows my whole story and everything. We’re helping vets and stuff like that in Curacao.

He was like, “You need to get out of here because if you don’t come to my house, I’m coming to get you.” We ended up hanging out. I was like, “What happened?” Two days before that, I talked to the Duclays. They were like, “Are you coming?” I was like, “Sadly, I’m going through something. There’s a lot on my plate. I need to take a pause.” After talking with Gads, there are two things simultaneously going on. There’s a conversation with Sean. I’m talking to my buddy, Gads. In the community, I’ve learned it’s about like-minded individuals.

It doesn’t necessarily need to be other Rangers. It helps. This like-minded individual is like, “Check it out. I’ve been watching you for years. You’ve been helping everybody. You need to take time and help yourself focus on yourself.” My doc has been saying that for a long time but when it hit me, I was like, “Should I need to do that? What do I need? I need the rest of my tribe as well in an event. This is an important part of my life ever since years ago.” You tell one Duclay and it’s like a fart in a whirlwind.

Good luck getting out of that. You will experience it. It’s a doozy. It’s a treat and a blessing. I’m getting phone calls. I have five voice messages from her and voice texts, “You better call me. Call one of us. Terry called Duclay.” You know how it goes. There’s Jenny. Finally, I’m texting Sean. I didn’t want to talk but I could still communicate. I was sending voicemails back and forth because I’m still trying to shake off these heebie-jeebies. He’s like, “This is what this is about. You need to be here. Whatever it takes, we’re going to make it happen.”

I was like, “Let me sleep on it.” The next day, I was like, “You’re right. I need to be there.” We made it happen. It’s the community. Here I am. Why is that important? I got to share my story. One thing you know about me is that I always put it out there as much as it hurts. It sucks. It’s embarrassing. I find strength because the people within my community have been there. I’ve got friends on active duty in very senior positions. I’m like, “How are you doing?”

That gives them strength too.

Your peers and your community are able to come to the realization themselves and show that. Other guys see that. It helps them out.

You demonstrate a tremendous amount of courage by standing up in front of a group of people and saying, “I almost didn’t come here. Here are the reasons why.” I was like, “The next time that I’m feeling that way, he did it. Why can’t I do it?” We build from that. It makes everybody stronger. What you talked about was powerful and inspirational to a lot of people. It’s a message that so many people needed to hear. Thank you for taking the time. I’m appreciative to have met all of you because I’ve heard a lot about Ron. It’s so awesome to finally meet in person.

You as well, Fran.

Mike and James, I’m looking forward to spending a lot more time with you.

I love expanding my circle. I appreciate it because you can be another resource that I can reach out to. Maybe that can help somebody here or there. You’re doing good stuff.

Let’s do it.

Thank you.


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