Mike Glover is a former special forces soldier and CEO of Fieldcraft Survival; it is a company that specializes in teaching survival and mindset and in providing emergency preparedness equipment and consulting. This is his story.
There is a pervasive attitude about seeing a behavioral health specialist while serving on active duty. For special forces it means career suicide — no more deployments, no more being a “team guy.” If you had an issue, you just dealt with it and carried on and suffered in silence, all on your own time.
I was always an advocate for those with PTSD, but never a sufferer from it myself. Until I separated from active duty, that is. I referred to my “issues” — anger, frustration, hyper-vigilance, etc. — as temporary problems stemming from my transition as a “dog of war” to a civilian. For years, I was living through what some may call sensory overload from nonstop missions and kinetic operations. Then, suddenly, I became a civilian with too much free time.
Though some may take offense to this analogy, I use a comparison with what happens to a military working dog because it is often easier for others to grasp the behavioral changes that occur. If you train and condition a dog for war from an early age, you give that dog a new normal. Sniffing out bombs, biting the enemy, entering and clearing houses next to an operator are that dog’s version of trips to the dog park. This dog was trained to do this, all under extraordinarily stressful and hostile conditions.
Understandably, if that dog retires from service, it cannot simply become a family dog taking trips to an actual dog park and be otherwise “normal.” There will be issues that arise, such as fighting with other dogs, general anxiety and destructive tendencies. Additionally, these issues are not from a singular traumatic event, as is the case with most PTSD. Instead, they are normal reactions to years of stimuli and conditioned responses to those stimuli.
A common observation within our team was that the nightly raids against terrorists never stressed us out. We were all conditioned to the rigors of flying in a helicopter in the dead of night, entering a house with a known target, eliminating that target and then moving on. The bottom line, however, is that PTSD can develop from repeated exposure to stressful events that you are conditioned to handle “normally,” just as it can develop from a single traumatic event which you were not prepared for.
My last assignment on active duty was as a team sergeant for a sniper detachment. After that I migrated straight into contract work with the U.S. Government (USG) as a civilian and a National Guard/Reserve soldier. Contracting made my transition easier, because I still felt relevant. Constantly being operational and having little to no downtime was a welcome thing for my mind.
For those who have done what I have done, time alone to dwell on things with nothing else to do is often disastrous. While I was contracting in Pakistan, I decided I wanted to get out of USG contract work. I wanted to start a business and move on to the next phase of my life. At that time, I was still in the National Guard/Reserve component of special forces as a team sergeant and operations sergeant major. This meant I could still stay in the fight, but I decided then that I needed a change for my day-to-day life.
While living in a metal pod in the middle of Pakistan, I started the business plan for my company, FieldCraft Survival. My goal was and is to increase the survivability of everyday individuals through proper training, proper equipping and by imparting all the relevant knowledge I gained over my long career in special operations.
My first months off active duty and post-contract work were difficult. I remember the depression slowly creeping into my core as I looked out over the beautiful Sierras near my old home in California — gorgeous scenery and dark thoughts. I sat and thought to myself: No more deployments, no more foreign shitholes and no more operating with the boys. What now? That is still tough to write about, let alone live with daily. Most would be joyous at the thought of so-called freedom. For me, the military was all I knew since I was 17. That familiar life was coming to an abrupt end. Proverbially speaking, I was a dog of war hoping not to bite anyone at the neighborhood dog park.
It began with feelings of anger and frustration, but not toward anything in particular. The anger then turned into guilt every time I heard that a service member was killed in action. I felt I had abandoned the fight, able-bodied as I was, while I still had fight left in me. Other days the anger came on the anniversaries of the deaths of my friends who were lost in combat. Their families often reached out, which added to the burden that was weighing me down.
After a fit of depression came after the anniversary of a teammate’s passing, I decided to head for the hills. I took my off-road capable Toyota 4Runner deep into a National Forest. I found a beautiful spot overlooking thousands of acres of pine trees, parked and stared off into my own personal Narnia. It was the first time I had deliberately set off on a mission to face my demons — the kind that cannot be hunted easily.
For once, I felt the tranquility that comes from the true freedom only remote and intentional solitude can provide. It was not just the peace and quiet, it was also the vastness of that beautiful landscape. For the first time since deploying, it reminded me of the foreign countries I had been to and the wonderment I had felt from being a part of history and living with a greater purpose. I felt at home once again. After I discovered where my peace was hiding, I started to go there more often. When confronted with pain, I would go “off-the-grid” until I felt normal again. It was not necessarily the best approach to solving the problem itself per se, because it eventually hastened the destruction of my relationships. However, it helped me, and that was what I needed for that time. I needed to be Mike Glover again.
As time went by, my business began to thrive. I purposely kept myself outdoors as much as possible to sustain the natural therapy that I was benefiting from in work and in play. The Japanese call this practice “Shinrin-Yoku” — forest cleansing. I intentionally developed courses like the “Every-Day Mobility Course,” where students bring their off-road rigs and we teach them how to survive and live out of their rigs, how to defend themselves from their rigs and how to do medical first aid while on the go. This is done all while making overland movements far away from the city and in nature. It became the best of both worlds, and my business became a source of personal and professional fulfillment and happiness.
Out of and as part of the experience of my own healing, I am constantly researching and developing new methods of coping with PTSD, so I can help others while helping myself. Since my revelation about the therapeutic power of nature, I have relocated FieldCraft Survival headquarters to Arizona. I continue to train and to develop new products to help my fellow citizens. I am assisted in this with the help an old sniper teammate, Kurt Hohan, who has elevated our in-house capabilities.
I don’t claim to have all the answers when it comes to coping with PTSD, nor should psychologists. However, I do know from firsthand experience what has worked for me and what hasn’t. The notoriously flawed veterans’ healthcare system often makes it impossible for some to receive less-than-adequate treatment. It also fails to do any outreach to find those who need it most.
As a veteran and a businessman, I have tried to do my part to bridge some of that gap through the courses we provide. For me, nature has become my “hasty defense position” and emotional redoubt. It’s where I can always go in times of crisis; not to retreat, but to recharge and to come back stronger than before. It is always there for me when I need to sort my thoughts and to calm my spirit. It is free, plentiful and the ultimate reset button for one’s soul.