- 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.
November 1, 2011
Tom Spooner is a 21-year Veteran of the U.S. Army, 15 of which were spent within the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. His reputation as an Operator and Sniper is second to less than a handful of his immediate peers. Tom's uncanny ability to teach Close Quarters Battle (CQB), Sniper Operations and high stress decision-making and planning, can be directly traced to his 40 months of Direct Action combat experience in a Special Missions Unit over a decade of deployments. Using his 21 years of tactical experience and mastery, Tom has efficiently condensed his knowledge into precise and effective customized instruction and application plans, and is arguably the most experienced and qualified tactics instructor currently available in the private sector. Tom is also a husband of 20 years, and the proud father of two boys.
Along with his brother, Scot, also a Green Beret, Tom Spooner is the owner of Invictus Alliance Group, a customized tactical training organization, training a myriad of law enforcement organizations, SWAT teams, and military special operation forces. They also own and operate Labyrinth Guides, which provides customized leadership consulting and training to professional organizations.
W-SOS: Tom, thank you so very much for agreeing to do this interview. Let's begin. Will you explain--in generic or specific terms, (whatever you're most comfortable with)--some of the situations you've encountered during your military tenure?
Spooner: My first unit was the 82nd where I stayed for 5 years. I was in the first gulf war as a private right out of basic. That was my first experience with the face of war.I then spent 5 years on an ODA with 7th group training soldiers in central and south America.
Sep of 2001 I went to selection and made it into a special mission unit. I had one deployment to Afghanistan and 11 to Iraq. I have been a part of 3 mass casualty events, killed or captured thousands of terrorists, been a part of hostage rescue operations, involved in the first battle of Falluja, conducted over 3,ooo combat operations, buried many friends, saved many Host Nation civilians from the brutality of terrorism and protected our way of life.
W-SOS: Have those events changed your life?
Spooner: Yes, Forever.
W-SOS: What was it like to have Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)?
Spooner: The more correct statement is, what is it like to have TBI. The most important part of the TBI process for me was to take the tests that definitively identify the parts in the brain that are not working the way they are supposed to. Having been diagnosed with mild TBI (what the hell does mild traumatic brain injury mean anyway. Does not seem mild to me or my family), it was a huge relief. The reason why it was a relief was because I thought I was loosing my mind. The tests said I was not crazy, just damaged.
W-SOS: Are there on-going effects today?
Spooner: Yes. The parts of my brain that were damaged are verbal memory, processing speed, and vestibular balance. When I get really tired my brain slows down and it is hard to make simple decisions when new information is presented. All of this only occurs on the inside. To the outside world I just seem tired or a little confused. My family and I have had to make some adjustments and gain a lot of understanding. We are adjusting well though and our life is very good.
W-SOS: What, if anything have you done to try and regulate your life back to normalcy--emotionally, mentally, spiritually?
Spooner: A lot. First of all I do not believe in the concept of “life back to normal”. Experiencing war has forever changed me. It is my responsibility to expand myself (lack of better words) to accept all of the hate, love, rage, joy, pain, kindness, depression, freedom, terror, dignity, guilt….etc, etc. I cannot do this on my own. That is why I have my God, support of others like me and education.
The first thing I did was take those tests to identify what was the problem. Then I went to the TBI clinic on Fort Bragg. There they set me up with cognitive therapy, vestibular rehab, headache specialist and a psychiatrist. I did intense (to me) therapy for 3 months. I was put on Zoloft and saw a non military psychologist. I was also diagnosed with a strong case of PTSD…….imagine that.
W-SOS: Do you ever find difficulty talking about experiences or admitting "normal reactions to abnormal events" (a.k.a. post-traumatic stress)?
Spooner: At times I do have extreme difficulty talking about certain experiences. Sometimes I will refuse to think about them and attempt to put them out of my mind. Other times (like this interview) I don’t have a problem at all. It all depends on the day. I know I must to help others. I don’t agree with statement “normal reaction to abnormal events”. There is nothing abnormal about war. Combat in one way or another has been going on since man was put on this earth. That statement and many more like it that many psychologists use only helps to make me feel more different than I already do. Those events (combat) are not normal to most of society, they are to us.
W-SOS: How has your believe in God helped you through your trials, current or past or both?
Spooner: I could not have survived the last 10 years without depending and trusting on my Creator. The same goes for my everyday life now.
W-SOS: Do you ever feel like most people wouldn't ever understand what you've experienced? In that way, do you ever feel isolated or disassociated from others?
Spooner: Me feeling like most people would not understand is an accurate emotion. They would not understand. Just like I don’t understand what it is like to be in outer space or a neuro surgeon. I thank God they do not understand. If they understood then that would mean they would have experienced what I experienced. I did it so they would not have to. My choice.
W-SOS: You spent 40 months in war operations. Anytime you're away from your wife and family, coming home has always been a challenge--at least in my experience--because you've changed and so have they. For those who've never experienced that, how would you best describe the time away? What about the readjustment phase?
Spooner: Everyone’s deployment cycle is different. My deployment cycle was deployed for 3 months, stateside for 6 months (at least 2 of that 6 was not at home), X 12. For almost half of my career. All of my 30’s. I was either on a deployment, recovering from a deployment and preparing for a deployment. With no end in sight. I fully had expected and accepted that I would eventually die on a deployment. That did not happen. My wife would say that out of the 6 months I was stateside I was present only for the last month before we started the cycle over again. My wife held my family together. At the end, we both could not take it anymore and I got out. No one can continue that way of life without reaching burn out. Me, the wife, the kids, all of us.
W-SOS: Anger and irritability seems to be one of the main side affects of post conflict experience. Would you agree? If so, or if not, would you elaborate?
Spooner: Anger and irritability are emotions that I experience when someone is trying to kill me and my friends. It is personal to me. I would go from a target to my living room sometimes within 72 hours. We struggled sometimes, but what kept it all together was respect for one another and a lot of hard work, together. What I am saying is those emotions are accurate and normal. What is not normal is if those symptoms get worse or don’t lessen. That is symptoms of TBI or PTSD.
W-SOS: You have told me during our personal conversations, that you've been "scared to death." Several people have uttered this cliche, but not many people have truly had fear like modern warriors. How would you describe your reactions to such fear and how have you overcome the fear?
Spooner: The main times when I was terrified was when we were powerless over the outcome of a situation, ie completely out numbered or mortar fire. My emotional reaction was flight. What kept me from taking action on those emotions was the amount of stressful training we had conducted, over and over and over and over.
W-SOS: "The amygdala [portion of the brain] seems to respond to severe traumas with an un-erasable fear response"--which is the basis for post conflict trauma. Some of the responses for fear include fight, flight, or under some circumstances even, freezing or paralyzation. These natural human responses to fear, allow us as human beings to survive. But, how can warriors survive readjusting to civilian life or a life outside of the theater of operations?
Spooner: By addressing every aspect of who they are mentally, spiritually, emotionally. Again, for me, there is no re adjusting. I can never go back to who I was before September 11th 2001, my 8th deployment, elementary school, or like I was before my grandfather died….etc etc.
W-SOS: What advice would you give to someone who may be experiencing stress related to man-on-man conflict?
Spooner: That is the name of the game. If you are not capable of dealing with the fact that at some point in the near future you and another man are going to be in a fight to the death, get another job.
W-SOS: What advice would you give to veterans who are experiencing troubles, even though they may not have been directly involved in conflict, but are effected by the troubles of the war zone nonetheless?
Spooner: I have found that giving advice does not work. All I can do is tell people my story. If they are attracted to my Truth, then I can tell them what I did specifically. I stay only within my own experience. No one can argue with my experience. Then they can make their own decisions on how to get help. If a veteran truly wants to get better, there are many people and programs that are there to help. I know the system is broken, but it is all we have to work with. No person or institution can stop me from getting the help I want and no person or institution can force me to get help if I don’t want it.
W-SOS: As you travel around the country now, teaching military and law enforcement professionals, what are the top goals for doing so?
Spooner: The number one goal is to give battle proven tactics and principles that come from experience. We are not saying that the way we do something is the only way, it is just a battle proven way that we have experienced.
W-SOS: Thank you so very much, Tom, for the service you've given to our great nation. You've laid many sacrifices upon the alter of freedom. I thank you and your family.
As far as your leadership and customized tactical training goes, you will undoubtedly break new ground--you already have--and you and your team will surely continue to help SWAT teams, patrol officers, hostage rescue units and special ops personnel everywhere you go, not to mention the businesses, corporations and magnates you will yet influence for good. Undoubtedly, warriors today will be far ahead of the tactical power curve if they take advantage of the specialized training you have to offer, all based on many years of recent, proven combat experience. Keep up the great work.
Tom Spooner can be reached through the Invictus Alliance Group or Labyrinth Guides websites.
To read this and other amazing interviews, check out Warrior SOS, the book on Amazon.com. http://www.amazon.com/Warrior-SOS-Military-Veterans-Emotional/dp/1462117341/
For Warrior SOS book endorsements from Glenn Beck, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and others, check out the author's link: http://www.jeffrey-denning.com/books/warrior-sos/