In November of 2017, I attended Operation Startup’s 5th annual Vet Symposium, a day-long event held at the Hillsborough County Community College in Tampa where Veteran Entrepreneurs come together to network, learn, and compete for cash prizes at a business pitch competition.
Upon sharing my vision for Vetting America, the first person I was told to meet was Mark Fetterman. My idea would have me traveling the country talking to Veterans about their mental health and growing a national dialogue on the subject. Friends and Mentors alike kept telling me that I needed to meet Mark and that his organization was very similar to mine.
For the last breakout session of the day we worked on our business pitches before the start of the competition. As I walked towards the entrance of the auditorium, I saw a sign that read The Homefront Foundation which immediately triggered a reminder for me to meet Mark. “Hey, are you Mark Fetterman?” I asked — “I was told you were the guy to meet around here.” As we began our conversation, I quickly realized the depth and breadth of knowledge this seemingly soft-spoken Veteran had.
He told me that after coming back from Afghanistan, how important it was for him to learn his story and how to tell it. Story telling helped heal the distance he felt from his friends, family, and other loved ones.
Our paths crossed again a few months later in mid-2018 at the celebratory opening of Rising Tides Innovation Center in St. Petersburg, Florida. That evening, I heard Mark’s powerful story first hand, which brought me even deeper insight into how impactful storytelling can be for the life of a Military Veteran.
Mark’s story was filled with passion and a composed emotion which pulled me into his world and made me feel what he had felt, see what he had seen, and hear what he had heard. It was electrifying. He had taken one of the hardest times in his life and turned it into a weapon to combat the darkness that had once enveloped him.
I was moved to tears by his depiction of events, motivated to command presence the way he had, and inspired to use the darkness that had been hanging over me as a catalyst for my own evolution. Once again, the power of story was clear.
Most Vetting America guests have shed light on some common threads that aid in Military Transition such as asking for help, finding a tribe, and rediscovering a purpose for which to live. Most Veterans I’ve interviewed are happy, fulfilled, purposed, and successful. They have a strong support system, a career that fulfills them, a purpose greater than themselves, and because of these threads, they have found the success they had been searching for and the happiness that comes with it.
But what I’ve seen as the biggest aspect to all of their success has been their ability to learn their story, own it, and use it to start their path toward healing and recovery.
Storytelling is emphasized in every Vetting America episode. This season, we’ll call it what it is, a keystone to a successful transition. The Veterans who have done the work to learn their story, own their vulnerabilities, and heal forward are the ones sitting across from me, sharing their wisdom and showing their battle scars proudly.
By coming face to face with who they are, where they’ve been, how far they’ve come, and why they’re still standing allows for them to walk through this phase of their life with their chins up, shoulders back, chest out — ready and willing for whatever comes next.
The power of story is a foundation for Vetting America. It is also the foundation upon which I have begun to rebuild myself, post-Military Service. Organizations like Rooftop Leadership and The Homefront Foundation are designed to help Military Veterans learn how to tell their story, closing the chapters that had them barely surviving and beginning new chapters which have them thriving.
We have the choice to release the role of victim to circumstance and become the creators of our reality. All it takes is finding the courage to go deep within ourselves to own our darkness, resolve our trauma, and stand tall upon our invisible scars so that others can do the same. We must be the first ones to do this. We must be the beacons for ourselves before we can be a spotlight for others.
We all have a story waiting to be written and yearning to be told. What’s yours?
Adam T. Cummings
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