Of all the Green Berets who have opened up to share with us in these featured stories about themselves, their careers, and their lives, none so far have done it quite such an intimate way as GBF Lead Ambassador and CEO of Alpha Elite Performance, Travis Wilson. It makes sense, as Travis’ role as GBF Ambassador is founded on his ability connect efficiently and deeply with other Green Berets in need. Surely, his willingness to present himself as honest, raw, and flawed is part of what makes him so good at his role.
Relationships were the topic on his mind when we connected for this interview. Considering the unique challenges that present themselves in military marriages—and especially in the marriages of those with deployment and training schedules as grueling as those of Green Berets—Travis shared with us a vulnerable, intimate, and an insightful look at the lessons that he has learned from his successes and failures in marriage, divorce, fatherhood, and forgiveness.
I like to joke that I was groomed from childhood to become a Green Beret. My father was a PJ, and my mom was a nurse in the Air Force; my dad loved “Ballad of the Green Berets,” and he would sing parts of it to me when he woke me up in the morning. He’d sing, “Pin silver wings on my son’s chest; make him one of America’s best.” In Vietnam, he had picked up a few Green Berets who had needed his assistance as a PJ, and I think he always had a lot of respect for the Green Berets.
All I knew, my whole youth, was that the military was in my future. I attended Wentworth Military Academy for my first year of college, but I didn’t like it, so I dropped out. I ended up enlisting as an Airborne Medic, and that was the job I sought out in the regular Army. This was all in 1995; it wasn’t until 1999 that I went to SF selection, and I was selected in November of that year. And after a two yr break finishing college I then spent the rest of my career as a Green Beret deploying. Like many other Green Berets, I’ve been divorced (a couple of times). I also lost a child, as well as my father, while I was serving on active duty. It was all craziness; crazy, crazy times! My way to get through it all was just to stay with it and keep deploying.
It was in 2010, near the end of my second divorce, that I had a near-fatal parachute accident. My canopy collapsed and I burned in; but I had just enough lift in mt chute that I didn’t die, but I broke my back and injured other parts of my body. I’ve had a total of 13 surgeries since then, not all from that incident, but just related to my career and the damage that I inflicted on my body. That’s just to paraphrase all of it; 5 years in the regular Army, break in service for college, then Q course. A total of 21 years in the military, 5 combat deployments. Iraq, Africa, eastern Europe, Thailand, Guam, Korea, Australia…all in all, I did 9 deployments as a Green Beret.
Now, Along with owning Alpha Elite Performance I serve as Lead Ambassador for the Green Beret Foundation, and I absolutely pledge my lifelong support and love to this organization. When I had my 5 knee surgeries and 2 partial knee replacements, the GBF came to the rescue for me with a machine called the Game Ready. You put it on your knees, and it uses a combination of compression and ice that just circulates. It really helps with alleviating swelling and pain. So many pills are just thrown at guys like us to treat our pain, but all I had to take was Motrin when I was using that machine and the pain went away like magic. I make a point of trying to pay it forward by letting as many of my buddies as possible use the machine.
As the owner of a supplement company, Alpha Elite Performance, I’m all about the “unconventional therapies for unconventional warriors,” as the GBF likes to say. I’ve actually had stem cell therapy, as well, though it wasn’t funded by the GBF. I had the stem cell therapy on my joints, which I didn’t feel made much of a difference, but then I had it on my brain for TBI, and the improvement I experienced from that was tremendous. I feel like it just started to heal my brain: the micro-lesions from blast injuries, and my parachute accident.
After that treatment, I feel things differently now. The best way to describe it is that I have a better understanding for feelings now. I just don’t have the same kind of emotional governor anymore. There were things that I should have cried about in the past, but I didn’t. Now, I’ll hear a song that brings up memories of my father, and I’ll cry, asking myself, “Why the hell am I so emotional?”
But I don’t have to be Billy Badass and try to control it. If emotions need to be let loose then I don’t try to stop it. I can only imagine I’m not alone in holding in every emotion and not expressing it. I can’t even talk to my ex-wife about my boys now without getting a little teary-eyed; we just had a conversation the other day, because I’m moving to Texas and my boys are going to stay in California to be near their little sister. Of course I got emotional over this! Before, I was 10-feet-tall and bulletproof. Nothing bothered me. But it was good to have this conversation with her, and just hear what she had to say. Even now, it helped me move further along from the hurt and pain left over from that relationship.
In that marriage, there were things we were both guilty of, but I placed a lot of blame on her and emotionally abandoned her by deploying all the time. Could she have expressed things to me as well? Absolutely. But we just didn’t talk enough while we were married, and we started to dislike each other. Things happened on the tail end of all that which solidified a divorce, and we had to get past that, as well. I’ve held some hate and anger; hate is a strong word, and I’m not sure if she ever hated me, but I definitely had those feelings towards her in the past.
It was some point after stem cell therapy that I realized my ex-wife and I are both now exactly where we need to be, and being able to talk to each other about some of the hurt and pain has helped. I encourage people not to hold onto those grudges and animosity. Look at me and my ex-wife; we both moved on and are in awesome relationships with other people, and things just work out the way that they do. You have to be able to talk to get to this point, though.
As far as personal healing is concerned, those talks with her helped me let go of a lot of hate, anger, and judgment that were holding me back. Every time we have talked about things, it has helped me to move on a little bit more. I love my current wife, Emily, more because I was able to put that part of my past to bed. Emily is so awesome; when I needed her, she would just be there and listen. I’m so grateful for her, and I feel like we were meant to be together.
The advice I give to younger guys who are early in their careers now is to just wait. Unless you are absolutely in love, or already married, just wait on that serious relationship, because once you become a Green Beret, that op tempo is so high that it is going to change you, and change the person that you are with. I’ve seen so many relationships end in divorce because the spouse wasn’t ready for that op tempo. You’re gone 9 months out of the year! It gets so much easier if you just wait to have a serious relationship until you’re in your 30’s, or if you give yourself time to get through your first years of SOF on your own so you can figure this all out. By then, you’ll have a great system of doing things, and you’ll be more prepared to balance the demands of an intimate relationship with those of your career.
Once you’re in a relationship, there are so many great resources out there within the military to help support you as a couple. I like Army One Source (www.myarmyonesource.com), because you can seek out marriage counseling or get counseling for any other reason, and it won’t get back to your unit. If you have suicidal thoughts, you can also seek counseling there without fear of retribution or getting kicked off your ODA. So many people don’t seek out help when they need it because they’re afraid of that happening. You can’t have that, right? You can’t have the guy who’s going to kill himself, or the guy who’s wondering if his wife is sleeping around on him. But there are resources out there that you can utilize to help you cope with all of that. Guys don’t utilize these resources enough, but I implore them to do so. If you don’t want to use the resources, fine. Call me! I’ve experienced a hell of a lot! I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it, and I don’t mind talking about it. I’ll tell you the truth, too; if you’re in a toxic relationship and you need to get out of it, I’m going to tell you that, too. I’ve seen careers end because of bad relationships, and that’s tragic.
When my last marriage ended, it was by far the most painful experience of my life, and the guys could see it. I wasn’t on an ODA anymore; I was part of a different organization within SOF, so it allowed me some down time to deal with the divorce. This was the hardest thing I’ve ever endured. I’ve been in combat, seen people killed on both sides, and done my fair share of the shooting, but divorcing and going through what I went through at that time was harder. It wrecked me emotionally; I couldn’t sleep, I was taking Xanax and drinking, my heart was pounding out of my chest all day, and I placed the blame for all of that on her. Regardless of what had happened, it took me years to recognize that I had essentially emotionally abandoned her. I loved my job, loved deploying, and jumped at every change I got to deploy, even though that was not what my wife had signed up for. I realized I really didn’t give her the attention she needed, even when I was home. I had made it all about me.
A lot of guys fail in our marriages because we get so caught up in being Billy Badass Green Berets. I’ve seen some do marriage right, and I applaud them for that, but for many others, it doesn’t work out. It takes a lot of soul searching for each of us to get to the bottom of why. It took years for things to come to light in my head that the failure of our marriage wasn’t just her fault.
My first marriage failed for similar reasons. She and I had a son that passed away, and it ended our relationship. He was born premature, and his lungs were underdeveloped. Now, kids are born premature and they live through it all the time, but back then, there really wasn’t any way for him to survive. I didn’t know how to deal with it, so I just paid attention to work. I knew it was sad, but I wasn’t having the same pain or feeling her pain. I was young, focused on myself, and I completely failed to recognize that my spouse was going through this horrific, horrific pain.
I had two boys with my second wife, and they were both planned and very much wanted. I love being a dad, and I love being able to do a lot of the things that I remember my father doing for me as he raised me. Still, there has been a learning curve, because I was away from my boys for more than half of their lives. My fear was that, because of my career, I wouldn’t get to know them the way that I wanted to, and I didn’t want to start out the part of our relationship they would always remember on a bad foot. I always made a point to call them every day; I would wake up in the middle of the night just to hear their voices or let them hear mine. That helped a great deal. There were times that we had nothing left to talk about, because we had just talked the day before. But I just missed them and loved them dearly. Even just yesterday, I just dropped them at their mom’s; I said, “I miss you boys!” and they said, “How do you miss us already?”
Soon, Emily and I will be moving the business to Texas, and my boys will be staying in California with their mom and sister. I’m working together with their mom to make this work, because she knows how much I love them, and I just don’t think it would be fair to move them away from the little sister that they adore (and who adores them back). We will have plenty of opportunity to see each other regularly, and I will come visit them. I’m working all the arrangements out with their mom. The lesson is that your end state may not look like Leave it to Beaver, but when it’s a happy ending for everyone, then it’s all good. Forgiveness is huge. It’s a process, and we’ve still all got a ways to go. It’s just a lot of work, constant work, to make it 100% copacetic for everyone.
So how am I doing it all now with a couple divorces, a new wife of four years and a booming business? I tell everyone I work with the same thing—and as Green Berets, you already know this—make a plan, or you will fail. I’ve seen it happen on every level, from enlisted to officer. People ask me, “How are you doing so well with your business and your transition? How did you do it?” and I tell them: I made a plan, and started doing things very proactively even before I retired. You can’t wait until years after retirement to put in for your disability. The military won’t do it for you; you have to stay on top of this stuff, so that you don’t fall through the cracks. Utilize the resources that the GBF is offering you, and get it done. That’s how I started my company, Alpha Elite Performance. We are creating great supplements that are really changing people’s lives; helping people sleep, helping people live their best life. We’ve got a great product that helps detox heavy metals from the body, a definite concern for anyone in SOF. It’s quickly becoming one of our top sellers, and I would love to see it in every SOF guy’s hand.
It’s just about trying to give back to the SOF community. That’s why I’m so happy to serve as a GBF Ambassador. In my personal opinion, though, we shouldn’t really need the title of “ambassador” in order to do the work. Any Green Beret can share their experience and their story in order to help the GBF raise money, and help other Green Berets and their families in turn. As Lead Ambassador, my goal is for guys to use their title of “Ambassador” correctly. This is not about free shit, free trips, or getting extra stuff and swag for yourself. This is about serving from your heart, knowing that the GBF does so much for our community, and it’s about helping veterans and families in need.
As long as you are speaking out about what the Green Beret Foundation can do for people, you are an ambassador. You are doing that work. If you know a guy or gal in the regiment who is going through something and needs help, you can point them in the direction of the GBF. The GBF is going to be there for them day or night. As Green Berets, when we get out, we absolutely miss everything about being a part of a team. This is one very meaningful way to continue serving on a team, and serving others. You can help spread the Green Beret love, and be a part of making sure people get what they need. In my head, it’s just too easy.