Moving Beyond, “Wounded Warrior”

David Wood, reporter for the Huffington Post, and one who I consider a friend, recently asked me a compelling question- “When does a, ‘Wounded Warrior’ move past being a, ‘Wounded Warrior’? What is that journey like?” I felt that this question begs to also answer, “What can I do if the one I care about is struggling to get past trauma?” I start by trying to help understand what is going on and then how to help, without jeopardizing the relationship.

First, the journey we are speaking of is actually one of mourning. We don’t realize it, but we mourn many things. As humans, we resist change. We go through some form of mourning every time there is a change. It is a natural, healthy phenomenon. Some pass through this phase faster than others, but we all pass through it. I still mourn certain things. For example- I just recently started getting dental reconstruction from the IED blast 7 years ago, although my teeth have been a wreck for 7 years. Why did I wait 7 years to do it? It was because the only fix was crowns, several crowns. That meant shaving down the old teeth and adding in new ones. The old teeth had already had root canals done and were turning 3 different shades of gray. Why would anyone wait? It only took 3 hours to fix! It’s because for some reason, I had to mourn the loss of my once beautiful teeth; my pride. I don’t know why I suddenly changed my attitude, I was just ready. I marched straight into the dentist and we shaved those suckers right off! Now I have a great smile again. This time last year you couldn’t have tied me to the chair to get it done. I had finally completed the mourning process to my satisfaction. Another example is my hair. In the IED blast I had suddenly and without warning lost all the receding, but beautiful hair on my head. I mourned the loss of my hair and worked with the VA to replace it with a prosthetic. Now I fight year after year with the VA to replace old worn out prosthetic hair pieces. Why? There is nothing wrong with my look. I ask friends and acquaintances alike if they think they would judge me any differently without it and they say after about 30 seconds of talking with me they wouldn’t even notice. Yet I don’t want to let it go. I am not ready yet. I know I will be soon, but in the mean time, I need to go through the mourning process. In contrast to these examples, I pushed through the mourning process in my career very quickly. I had lost a good career, and could have mourned for years, but chose not to let it get in the way. To me, it was too important to pick up the pieces and keep marching. Life was too short to sit on the back porch and let it get the best of me. I decided it would be easier to face the world and not let the thought enter my head than to sit and contemplate it all. So I made a conscious effort and pushed through the mourning.

What if the one you care about is struggling to put their injury behind them? Here’s what you can do to help.

First, listen for the individual to seek validation. Like Stephen R. Covey mentions in his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People & The 8th Habit” we need to speak validation into others. The individual may be fishing for confirmation that they are worth more than being a disabled veteran. They may, “fish” for affirmation. Comments like, “I could never do that” are just begging for affirmation! When you hear these comments, jump on them. “You CAN do that!” or “I don’t know what you’re waiting for!” are amazingly helpful. They are positive seeds that germinate late at night when the words of a nation mistakenly embarrassed at the cost of freedom grow loud, “You’re a Wounded Warrior! You don’t need to do a thing. This country owes you. Just sit back and take the handouts you deserve”. The truth is, these words rob self worth and cripple our nations Warriors. They sink us deeper and deeper into a hole. What we need to hear is, “You have LIFE left inside of you! Make this second chance WORTH something! If you quit now, the enemy WON.” Listen for fishing for validation and heap it on at every opportunity.

Next, speak it into existence yourself! It’s easier to see in others what we miss in ourselves. You don’t even need to wait for it, find it and speak it, but it MUST be authentic. It’s not hard to do, but it does take a bit of mental effort. Be prepared for counters of excuses that society has fed them. When the excuses come back, empathize, don’t sympathize. Be understanding, but stand your ground. If you see potential, say it, even if there are hurdles to overcome.

Bottom line, you can help bridge this gap. This is a condition that America created, and America need to help overcome. Maybe one day, long after your words of encouragement have faded into the past, you’ll find out they were the words that bridged the gap. You may, however, never hear how your encouraging words changed their lives. Either way, speak these words and you will be helping our, “Returning Warriors” move beyond being, “Wounded Warriors”.

Holiday Hope to our troops children

Below is a note I sent to an organization called, “Comfort Crew”  This organization is dedicated to supporting the children of deployed service members in any way possible.  During the holiday season they collect inspiring and encouraging messages from around the country to share with these children.  If you feel called to help this cause, please visit their site above to see how.  Also- you never know who could use this help, so please share this website on your favorite social media channel.   I only wish I knew of them when I was deployed.  Looking back I can see their efforts would have been very helpful to my girls while I was deployed. Be blessed!


My name is Todd and I was a soldier for many years. During those years I spent at least two Christmas’s away from my family. Once in Iraq and once in Afghanistan. I just wanted to give you hope. Believe it or not, that this too shall pass. I wanted to tell you to stay close to those family and friends you have with you now, that they will be your life support for now.

I would like to give you two exercises to help you through this time.

Count your blessings- I know that it hurts to not have them with you but try to count your blessings. Can you name ALL of your blessings right now? Try! I bet you can’t think of them all! Is it that you free from physically hurting? Is it that you have good friends? Is it that your doing well in school? Whatever it is, spend time thinking about it every day. This is my challenge to you. CHOSE to think about what is going GOOD for you.

Help a friend- Do you know of a friend that is having a hard time? The best way to feel better is to talk to them about THEIR challenge. “So how’s it going with…?” is how it starts. Next thing you know, you’ve forgotten all about your problem and you will feel better! At the same time, your helping your friend get through a challenge and they will feel better too! Some times this talk only lasts a minute, some times an hour, either way, it works!

These are just small exercises to get through the season. If you do these exercises every day you will look back on this season and realize you are a better, stronger person and maybe even be thankful for the experience because these exercises will help you many more times in the future. This is what I did and that is how I feel today.

May GOD bless you and keep you. May HIS eyes rest upon you and give you PEACE!


Encouragement for transitioning vets

I still remember it very clearly. Almost a year ago during my last interview, they asked me if I had anything I wanted to add.  All I wanted to say was, “I just want to be part of a motivated team again. I was a soldier; part of the world’s most powerful and motivated team. I took some time off to finish my degree, but I miss being part of something that is greater than me. Being part of a team with a mission!”.  Little did I know that I would be part of a VERY motivated team!  I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.  I was about to go through, “culture shock” and I didn’t even know it. Welcome to Corporate America!

My peers that had transitioned ahead of me told me to stay in, that transitioning was difficult.  But I thought I was different. Now I know that I wasn’t. I have found that there are many intangibles to this transitioning thing. It’s called, “Corporate Culture” and even if you can’t see it, it’s real!

Now that the first year of transitioning into Corporate America is almost over, I bump into people I met in the beginning, and they ask me how I’m getting along.  I tell them the best way to describe it is that it is like I had the flu for a year, but the good news is that I finally feel like the epidemic is coming to an end. You know that feeling after you’ve been sick and finally feel like it’s coming to an end?  How you feel like your 150% for a little while?  That’s how I’m feeling right now and it feels great!

I only wish I knew it was coming.  I could have been mentally prepared for it and it would have gone much smoother.  I can’t tell you enough how many times I told myself that I was giving up.  The stress was simply too much to bear.  If this is what it will be like for the next 10 years, I might as well resign now, because I can’t take this for that long. The only reason I held on was out of sheer determination to not quit.  I only wish someone would have told me, “You’re going to feel like you have the flu for about the first year, but it’ll clear up. It WILL get better”.  I could have told myself that I just had to hold on for a little while and it would all be over.  You see, we do this in the military all the time.  “I can do anything for a certain period”, we tell ourselves, as long as we know when that is. Every school and training event has a completion date.  But, for the first time, I didn’t have a completion date.  I had myself convinced that it would always be like this.  Now I know this isn’t true and I want to go tell it on a mountain to all transitioning veterans! Here are my lessons learned from my first year:

For those transitioning into, “Professional” positions- You’re going to find that it takes much more mental energy to get things done. Not only will you potentially have to learn a new skill set, but learn a new culture as well.  Everything came so naturally to me in the military.  I had my skills mastered AND I knew the culture. I knew I would have to learn new skills.  Learning new skills didn’t worry me.  I had to learn new skills every time I changed positions in the military. But add those new skills to learning a new culture and there’s a challenge.  Some examples of the not-so-obvious lessons I had to learn are:

-How to phrase things? In the military we value candor and BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front). Outside of the military I have found that this has to be moderated and it takes considerable concentration to do so. How many times did I say a prayer over an email before sending because I wasn’t sure if it was to the right person, have the right content or said the right way.  I had my hand slapped for about every point here.  I felt like every email could have been my last!

-How processes work? Who does what? I actually found out that, “no one is an island” in corporate America.  That everyone has a stake in just about every decision everyone makes. Because of this, we need to know what everyone does so we can determine how to integrate them into the process.

-Who was the correct person to talk to? What’s the difference between manager and director. Who makes decisions? Which one do I call or invite to a meeting?  Ask the wrong person and you waste their time.

-How to manage my own schedule? What are the ankle biters? What will get me in trouble?  How long do processes take so I can determine what needs to be done first, second, etc?

-And even little things! Like when it’s appropriate to book a meeting, who to invite, where to put the meeting, how to overbook someone’s calendar and on and on and on!

-Finally the biggest question of them all was, how much is enough?  When do I go home?  There’s enough work to go 24/7/365, but how much do I need to do just to SUCCEED? I don’t need a promotion in the first year! I’m just trying to survive here!

I only have one universal suggestion. Plug into a veteran that is ahead of you in their transition. I have to say that I have to thank my veteran team mates for helping me through this.  They listened to me as I would vent my frustrations, and they provided me guidance when I was going down the wrong path.  For those transitioning behind me, plug into a veteran who is ahead of you in the process.  When you get frustrated (and you will!) pull them to the side and tell them what is going on.  Then, LISTEN! They will be your life-line!

I don’t have all the answers to the above questions and your circumstances may be very different than mine.  But chances are good that life will be very different than the military.  I simply wanted to tell my fellow transitioning vets that it does get easier!  The answers will come if you hold on. Much like having the flu, take it one day at a time.  Keep, “leaning forward in the fox hole” and before you know it, it will be like the good ole’ days when you were in the military.  I’m finally getting there and it feels great!


VIDEO: Todd’s speech on Capitol Hill – “Finish the Fight”

US Army Master Sergeant (Retired) Todd M. Nelson addressing various congressional staff and medical researchers on the importance to remain diligent in their support of programs that aid wounded veterans in healing and recovering. Effectively applies a correlation of how warrior ethos needs to be used even on capitol hill. Explains how his personal tag line of, “If I don’t do it, who will?” applies to all involved, including the legislature, no matter how far removed from the fight they are.

VIDEO: Beyond the Battlefield series – Burned: Todd Nelson

by Adam Kaufman

Burned: Todd Nelson from Adam Kaufman on Vimeo.

Part 5 of Beyond the Battlefield, a six part original web video series about severely wounded soldiers coming home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I shot, produced, and edited this series for AOL Huffington Post Media Group in 2011. In their original form, these videos appeared with accompanying in-depth feature length print reporting by award winning military correspondent David Wood.

VIDEO: Operation Military Embrace

Operation Military Embrace, Inc.
“Sharing the Cost of Freedom”

Remembering Vietnam, “OME” strives to show the wounded military how much the American people appreciate their service and their sacrifices, and to raise the public’s awareness of the difficulties and challenges endured by our wounded military and their families. This is accomplished by personal “hands-on” support and by public-speaking engagements to educate churches, corporations, clubs, veterans’ groups, fraternal organizations, women’s groups, and other interested Americans.