Posted on March 21, 2017
About a week after going to boot camp in May 2003, Brian “Scott” was faced with making a decision that would alter the very course of his life.
“I enlisted to be an infantryman,” explains Scott. “And while I was in infantry school, they picked out the kids who scored above a certain level on the tests, meaning they had the intelligence, they had a class 1 swim qualification and they were physically fit.”
“They told us that we had an opportunity to go to RECON and be the best that the Marine Corps has to offer,” Scott continued. “It’s a volunteer job, you don’t have to do it, they said. You can stay here in the infantry or you can come with us. It’s gonna suck and it’s gonna be the hardest thing you ever do in your life, but if you graduate from RECON school, you’re going to be part of a very small, elite unit.”
The job of a reconnaissance Marine, as Scott explains, “is to be a highly trained, physically fit, independent calculated risk-taker. That means you go out fully loaded in combat gear, fully expecting to get into a fight. You have to be fit enough to carry heavy weight over long distances and multiple days. And then you have to be trained in proper deployment of weapons and calling in close air support and artillery support.”
Over the next four years, Scott deployed to Iraq twice as a reconnaissance Marine — and returned home at the age of 22 with a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While he’s struggled mightily with PTSD, he’s also been willing to share his struggle.
“As humans, we are tribal,” says Scott. “We’re community-based, we’re social creatures. We grow up in our socio-economic status, whatever that might be, and we become part of a pack, a tribe. And then when we go off to Iraq and Afghanistan to do these things, we’re proud to do it. You’re doing something apart from your tribe that’s bigger than you and much bigger than your tribe.”
“So when you fly back home across the ocean and you try to tell your tribe that hey, I went out and saw all this crazy stuff and I did all these crazy things and now I’m an intense person and I talk loud and I’ve got problems, it’s hard for people to accept you back into the tribe because you’ve come back so different.”
Scott enthusiastically acknowledges the work done by the Semper Fi Fund in assisting service members with PTSD.
“The Semper Fi Fund is so awesome,” he says, “It literally gives these guys a chance. This is the most important thing you can do when veterans start coming back from wars, you have to give them a chance to re-integrate back into their tribe.”
Part of the Fund’s re-integration work are the adaptive sports programs that bring veterans together in competition and comradeship — for example, the mountain bike camp in which Scott participated.
“There were so many service members at this camp, it was so awesome,” Scott says, “It gives us a chance to be back in our little tribe that we made when we went across the ocean.”
“Everybody was just so warm and welcoming. The people that care and the people that get involved with this stuff are just the best people. They really are.”
“So we get a chance to be together, then the volunteers get a chance to be with us. It gives veterans a chance to peek back into where we came from with some people that really understand with genuine patience and compassion.”
“When we leave these camps,” Scott continues, “we get a chance to reflect back on that and on what the Semper Fi Fund means. I know for certain that these guys are so proud to be a part of Semper Fi Fund and the adaptive sports program that they wear their Semper Fi Fund logo stuff back in their hometowns. I do.”
Scott also finds that in addition to sports, his service dog Tim is a powerful tool in combating PTSD, too.
“Tim is named after a photojournalist, Tim Hetherington, who worked on a film called Restrepo with Sebastian Junger. They were following a group of Army soldiers in Afghanistan and became very tight with the soldiers in the combat zone. When they came back and their film won all these awards, they came up with an idea to go to Libya and cover the Arab Spring and the fighting that was happening over there.”
“Tim went over first, and the plan was for Sebastian to go over and meet him,” Scott continues, “While Sebastian was back in the states, Tim was caught in a mortar strike and a piece of shrapnel hit him in the groin.” Tim died on April 20, 2011 as the result of the shrapnel injury.
“Tim is an English lab, he’s yellow,” says Scott, who got Tim on January 23, 2013. “And honestly, I’m not just saying this, he’s the most handsome yellow lab you’ve ever seen. He’s a really good-looking dog.
Service dogs help you integrate by bridging that social gap. So when you’re walking around with this handsome dog who is obviously well-behaved and very well trained, people want to approach you and talk to you about it. I see grown women smile at me. I see grown men smile at me. And it’s hard to have a bad day or get stuck in your own head when other humans look at you and laugh and smile and say, ‘Wow, that’s a beautiful dog.’ ”