SOS contributor and former Marine Combat Correspondent (Vietnam), Bill Dahl, requested to do an interview with Warrior SOS president and founder, Jeffrey Denning. After several persistent requests, an interview finally occurred.
(Capt. Jeffrey Denning, Operation Iraqi Freedom -- the same picture ran on CNN headlines following an interview after his return from Iraq.)
Jeffrey Denning is a former undercover Federal Air Marshal, an Iraqi War Veteran, and a father of six children. In addition to Warrior SOS, he's a full time firearms training instructor at a nuclear power plant in northern Illinois.
SOS Contributor (Bill Dahl): Your motto: Train. Win. Recover. It is not only an incredible stake-in-the-ground for today's Warriors and their families, but also begs the question, "How did you get here?" Let's start with the Train part or beginning. Tell us about your initial military experience?
Answer (Denning): I enlisted in the military, not for the GI Bill or to see the world, but because I felt a very strong inclination to physically protect and help others. I had thoughts and feelings of protecting the presidents and leaders of the church I belong to—the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a.k.a. the Mormons. I wanted to get experience to do that. Besides, military and in law enforcement seemed a good fit for who I felt I was and am.
One definition of vocation is "a strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activity or career." Further definitions include "a divine call" or "a function or station in life to which one is called." (See dictionary.com) For me the military just seemed like the right way to go.
I'm reminded of the great Italian Renaissance sculptor, Michelangelo, who carved away magnificent statues from the huge blocks of marble taken from the quarry. He said, "In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it." (As quoted online in Squidoo.com in historical commentary on Michelangelo.)
With every magical moment of tactical training I endured, the block of marble surrounding me was slowly chipped away revealing who I was and who I am—who I was meant to be. With every stroke of training I received and with every tactical mission I conducted, more of my character was revealed.
There was something magical that happened for me personally when I grabbed a weapon in training and went running through a maze of buildings engaged in the greatest puzzle of human challenges ever—a lethal conundrum that could end in death and, on the corollary, lives saved.
To point, I was eventually the team leader on a full-time military police Special Reaction Team (SRT) or SWAT team. I was cross trained as a police sniper and FBI-trained crisis negotiator. I was awarded Top Gun at several police SWAT schools, trained with LAPD SWAT, as well as police tactical teams that responded to the Columbine High School incident just a couple of months after that unfortunate massacre.
My teammates were and are still my best friends in the whole world. The amount of trust between operators cannot be filled by any other person—not your spouse, not anyone-why? because you rely on them to kill to protect you, and you know they will. They'll do the right thing, and they have the right skill, knowledge and attitude to do the job superbly.
There's truly nothing else like lining up in a tight stack, getting ready to conduct a close-quarters battle (CQB) mission and knowing the guy behind you is fully capable and trustworthy to help save your life and help rescue a hostage or apprehend a dangerous barricaded suspect. There's nothing quite like the rush of being in a dangerous and potentially lethal moment like that. Skydiving doesn't equate to it, ski jumping, cliff jumping—nothing is quite like the team trust in the lethal game with potentially deadly consequences. You trust your team with your life, work and train as hard as you can, and leave the rest to God.
SOS: After active military service your career took many turns and was, in large part, defined by 9/11. Please tell us about your post 9/11 career and the loss of two close friends...and why SOS will create specific awards for them?
A: After getting out of the military I was a cop with Dallas Police Department. September 11th changed everything for me. I soon found myself living and working in Jerusalem as a contractor for the Department of State (DoS) Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). Soon thereafter the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) offered me a position, which I took.
Now former Federal Air Marshals pictured on FAM range, Jeffrey Denning pictured on right.
While working as a FAM, I took a phone call November 13, 2005 from a friend and fellow officer who told me Brian Jackson had been shot and killed that morning. We were in the police academy together. Brian was one of the greatest, most helpful and happy guys I've ever met.
Fallen Dallas Police Officer, Brian Jackson
Brian's partner that night said of the last call they ever took together, "I asked him if he wanted to go help out and before I could get all the words out, he said, 'let's go help 'em.' "
One of the awards Warrior SOS will create is in Brian Jackson's behalf-a service award in his recognition for faithfully serving and helping others.
The second award would be in memory of Staff Sergeant John D. Linde. He and I were on SRT together as NCOs. Later, after I got out and received my commission in the Reserves, we were both in Iraq together at the same time. Johnny and three others in his humvee were killed when they drove over an IED.
The late Sgt. John Linde is pictured on the bottom row, second from the right, along with Denning and other members of the full time police SRT.
The energized Bronze Star winner from a firefight on a previous tour to Iraq was the epitome of an energetic warrior who could get things done.
Johnny was great to be around. His optimistic attitude was contagious and helped every situation be better. His outstanding energy and positive attitude changed every situation for the better. Each person could stand to have a little more of Johnny's notable characteristics. Subsequently, another award will be in his behalf—hope in the face of tragedy, happiness in the wake of sadness and sorrow, and a can-do attitude when facing impossible odds.
Staff Sergeant John Linde's funeral services at Arlington National Cemetery.
SOS: How did those experiences affect you?
A: Losing friends and brothers-in-arms is not something most people have experienced. It's especially tragic knowing that someone else caused their deaths. I shed a lot of tears in their behalf and I think about them every so often. Time is a great healer.
I especially feel for those closest to them—their family members. Johnny had a wife and children. Brian was a newlywed.
Sometimes, there is a horrific tragic pain caused by survivor's guilt. I really feel for those who think they could have done more to stop what happened. In the end, if God's will was to take them home; not heaven or hell could have stopped the inevitable. I hope those who feel any guilt that it will be swept away in the knowledge and hope of the resurrection—that all will live again someday.
I like what John the Revelator says of a future time, "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain" (Revelation 21:4).
SOS: You've also served your country in a number of classified roles. In broader terms, what can you share about some of those experiences? For instance, I understand that you lost three teammate while serving as a DOS-DSS security contractor...what mission were you supporting and when was this?
A: Prior to Iraq I did work as a private security contract in Israel with Department of State. I was living in Jerusalem and escorting U.S. diplomats into the West Bank and Gaza Strip. That was not a classified position.
While in Isreal, on October 15, 2003, for the first time ever U.S. government personnel were attacked and killed by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. I lost three co-workers and another one was seriously injured in roadside bomb attack.
Wreckage of a fully armored State Department Suburban in the Gaza Strip that took the lives of John Eric Branchizio, Mark T. Parson, John Martin Linde, Jr. (no relation to John Linde above) -- AP photo
It's quite surreal when one day you're laughing, talking and chatting about a variety of things and the next moment, your friends and coworkers are gone—blown to smithereens.
SOS: That is both surreal and tragic. But you moved ahead by accepting other classified roles. Is there anything you can share regarding them? At the very least, how did they shape you as a person?
A: I had a classified contract with a U.S. government customer prior to getting involuntarily mobilized to Iraq with the Army Reserves. That's what I can say. There's nothing like Hollywood stereotypical craziness mingled in there, so don't think I'm some heartless...whatever. There's great power in anonymity, but there's also a lot of incorrect speculation. That said, I also have signed a lot of paperwork saying I can't talk or write about it. 'Nuff said.
I had left the Federal Air Marshal Service and had started my own business with the aforementioned sole source contract as the main source of income. I was well on my way to the career I had always dreamed about. When I got called to go to war, I lost the contract. Nothing was the same after that. I lost the opportunity which, understandably, had to be filled.
I was unemployed. Being self-employed, I wasn't protected by law to return to my job once I came home from being deployed to Iraq. In addition to being away from home for over a year, missing my wife and children, and going through all the stresses or horrors of war, I also didn't have a job to come home to. Talk about stress. Besides, I didn't have an opportunity to go to job interviews or look for a job since I was tied up in the proverbial sandbox. I understand the stress of not having a job—or being self-employed but lacking income. I feel for those in current situations in the economic unraveling of our time.
Furthermore, Iraq was nothing like what I had imagined it would be. I wasn't able to do what I felt I could do best. There was nothing glamorous or exciting about my time in Iraq. Hollywood's war, of course, is exciting. That's all a façade and a lie. For me, being in Iraq was as if time stood still for a year. I even found myself regretting taking the occupational pathway I chose. I regretted my career choice, and I wanted to go home and be far away from anything to do with war.
SOS: What effect has this had on your family, On your beliefs or source of strength?
A: I leaned a lot on the personal religious convictions I had held since youth. Prayer is a great source of strength, a passport to peace. (For more reading on my personal experiences with prayer, click on the following link: http://mormon.org/me/2GXB/Jeffrey)
SOS: Have you suffered from PTSD or other stress-related conditions? What support have you sought?
A: I've seen some interesting things over the span of my profession, but I don't believe there'd be any classification of PTSD. However—and it is difficult for me to admit (or at least was) for several months and years—looking back I was stressed to the brink. It's easier for me to talk about lately, especially when courageous Veteran's have personally shared their own struggles and experiences with me personally and here with Warrior SOS. I witness their willingness to open up and I've slowly been able to do the same.
It has been said that 70 percent of war Veteran's experience stress, which can exhibit itself in depression, anxiety, anger, etc. I feel a whole lot better than I did while in Iraq and in the few months following my war time experience today, fortunately. I realize now, after learning of that statistic, I would definitely be classified in that 70 percentile. Admittedly, while in Iraq, I found myself crying uncontrollably and trying to hide it from others.
I remember one day in Iraq asking a stable and wonderful tenured NCO how he was doing. He broke out in uncontrollable tears. I had never heard someone cry in front of me like that before. A wonderful and mature man, he was on his third tour. He was also a newlywed. For him, this tour was different than all the rest.
Coming home was quite a culture shock too. Transitioning is hard. Our church happened to have a marriage enrichment class for couples at the time I was coming home. I asked my wife, if we could attend, hoping that would offer some kind of help. I'm the one who needed help. My wife was supportive and helpful.
Jeffrey Denning pictured with his wife while home during a two-week R&R from Iraq.
Sadly, some Veteran's don't have that support. In fact, one good soldier I was deployed with went home for his two weeks R&R and at the end, he said through tears (while we were in Iraq), that his wife told him the last day of his leave that she wanted a divorce.
Going though life without having someone to share it with would make things much harder. All marriages could use a little more love, kindness and selflessness. After all, family is what makes life great. Strong family life is the strength of any nation.
SOS: What worked in your recovery...and what didn't?
A: As mentioned, when I came home I recognized I needed help. I wanted to speak to someone, but I never did. It's not the macho thing to do. Initially, I felt I needed to speak to a mental health counselor or psychologist—just to try to get things right in my own head and in my own experience—but I never ended up meeting with anyone. It was just too strange to speak to a stranger or, in lieu to a counselor, someone who wouldn't be empathetic or understanding.
I continued to write in my journal and speak to other friends and veterans who understand. Eventually, I began feeling much better as time went on.
Time is a great healer. But sometimes without the right help, I've witnessed great friends have serious problems.
In all of this I learned a great and valuable lesson: I learned how to truly empathize with others. We don't understand how difficult something can be for others. We never know just how difficult and challenging some people's experiences are for them personally. I've become a better person for having faced these obstacles in my life. I've become a better husband and father.
SOS: For you and the effects you see with other warriors, what do you think is needed for screening, personal help and long-term family support?
A: I was speaking to a warrior not long ago who mentioned a novel idea. A former police officer who had been in a number of critical incidents, he recommended that fellow officers—peers—needed to be trained and have an additional, voluntary duty to help other officers. Police officers and military personnel alike are more inclined to speak to friends and co-workers, people they know, trust and work with, than to Department Psychologists or Combat Stress Clinical personnel. I really like that idea and believe that implementing something like that would go a long ways in helping identify, heal and resolve problems.
SOS: You've spent a lifetime studying and training for war, how has this defined you today?
A: Hollywood's definition of a warrior is quite different from reality. Additionally, who I am is different from many others.
I was reading the autobiography of my great-great-great grandfather, Parley P. Pratt yesterday and I found this gem. He wrote:
O sound once delightful to every American ear!
O sacred privilege of American citizenship!...
Awake, O Americans!
Arise, O sons and daughters of freedom!
Restore...people to their rights, as citizens of a free republic. Down with tyranny and oppression, and rescue your liberties from the brink of ruin. Redeem your much injured country from the awful stain upon its honor...And let the news go forth to the wondering nations that [America] still is free. (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, p. 194)
I love and sustain the Constitution. I've taken several oaths to support and defend that sacred document against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I take that oath seriously.
I also really like what King Arthur said in the musical play, Camelot. Said he, "Violence is not strength, and compassion is not weakness."
Like I said, Hollywood's definition of a warrior is quite different than what I envision a true warrior to be.
SOS: Is this when the idea for Warrior SOS came about? What did you see as the unserved need for warriors past and present?
A: The idea for Warrior SOS came about after my brother-in-law, a two time veteran of Iraq wars, was sitting in the hospital after having brain surgery to remove a large tumor. A father of six, who had gone into the hospital the week before with a headache, was now wondering if he'd be able to work and support his family, let alone survival from stage four brain cancer. Through his tears, I told him over the phone, "John, if there's anything-anything-I can do, I will." I knew he wouldn't ask for help, but I wanted to do something!
When I hung up the phone I told my wife I was going to start teaching firearms classes in order to raise money in his behalf.
About the same time I was contacted by the spouse of a good friend of mine who suffers from PTSD after the battle of Fallujah. He has hard times on occasion and I was summoned to reach out to him.
Within a day or so of that, a great, lifelong friend and current police officer, who was also with the Marine Corp in the first wave into Iraq, reached out to me...an SOS.
These and the summation of multiple other experiences made me want to start an organization to help warriors and their family members. Hence the idea for Warrior SOS was born.
There is a constant and continual need for training—moral, ethical, psychological and, of course, tactical. There is and will forever be an on-going need for helping warriors and family members as society gets worse and war continues unabated.
SOS: What is your future vision for SOS? How do you want others to become involved?
A: Someone once shared a catchy poem that goes like this:
If you're blue
Find something to do
For someone who
Is sadder than you.
While more things will certainly come along in the near future that may add direction and ideas for Warrior SOS, the main focus of Warrior SOS is to bless, heal and help. Service is at the heart of our mission.
We encourage all people everywhere to look for opportunities to serve and help others, whether it's lending a listening ear, taking time to say "thank you," or extending a hand of friendship and forgiveness.
Of course, we're always looking for people willing to open up and share their experiences publicly, although that can be hard.
I've also made a personal pledge to help out John Masson, a friend of a friend, who lost both legs and his arm in Afghanistan after stepping on a land mine. I plan on doing all I can to help out that great Special Forces operator.
Operation Enduring Freedom Veteran and triple amputee, John Masson
Warrior SOS is also hoping to get sponsorships in addition to those companies that have already helped us out, and whom we express our deepest appreciation.
Finally, we need help spreading the word, so to speak. And the word is: Watch for the SOS sign. The SOS signal may be subtle or blatant, but there are people all around us everyday who are suffering and in need. Watch for signs of suffering and need, and then help others out. As civil, decent human beings it is our inherent duty to run to their aid and offer help, healing and love. Doing so will bless them and bless our lives as well. Serving will make our society better. We could save a life, gain a friend and win another battle, day by day.
SOS: As a Vietnam veteran I am deeply impressed with what you have taken on as a personal mission to support warriors of all conflicts and those who serve in law enforcement roles today. Please accept a very sincere "Thank You" for your continued commitment to serving the public and your country.
A: Thank you, for going out of your way to do this interview. I hope it will help a great number of people.
To read amazing interviews with warriors, check out Warrior SOS: Interviews, Insights and Inspiration, the book on Amazon.com. Here's the link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00D3WO7VK
- Jeffrey Denning (WarriorSOS.com)
- I'm the author of four books: Warrior SOS, The Work of Death, Together Forever, and Leaders Wanted. I'm in the doc film Please Remove Your Shoes. I've blogged for The Washington Times, and I write for Guns.com. I've worked for the high-profile U.S.-led Roadmap to Mideast Peace in Israel and Palestine. I've also worked as a SWAT team leader, a Federal Air Marshal and a sole-source training instructor on a classified contract with a U.S. government customer. My master's degree is in Military Studies and terrorism. I'm a former noncommissioned and commissioned Army officer, with service in Iraq. I've been Scuba diving and skydiving; I have trained with members of the U.S. Olympic Ski Team, and I'm an FBI-trained crisis negotiator. My interests lie in helping others and in strengthening America through inspiring moral courage, government fiscal responsibility and accountability, and maintaining principles that have made--and will continue to make--the United States of America a blessed and prosperous country. I'm a father of six, a husband, and a police officer. I reside in Utah, and I'm a Mormon. See also www.WarriorSOS.com.