What is the Clay Hunt Fellows Program (CHFP)? For me, it’s been a life-changer. It’s a desire to better yourself, a desire to benefit your family, friends, and the peoples’ lives positively impacted by Team Rubicon’s mission.
The application process is meant to be a challenge, and is. You must consider what is important to you, how to be honest with not only yourself, but with complete and total strangers. Many folks say they’re honest with themselves without actually being honest, and will argue endlessly in their own defense. Not here my friends, we can smell it a mile away.
To begin, I’d like to share a story about the man, the Marine who inspired the creation of the CHFP. A combat proven Marine, and another tragic victim of post traumatic stress suicide. It’s an all too familiar narrative. He could be your brother, your friend, TR buddy, father, or cousin. Luckily for us, and his family, the Bob Woodruff Foundation recognized his ability to continue to make an impact after his life here had ended, and started a fund to kick-start the CHFP. I am currently a Fellow with the fourth cohort of CHFP with some amazing people.
I knew I was in for a journey, but didn’t realize how extensive until I arrived for my first week orientation. Here I met not only the newest members of the program, but also the man who runs it, Michael Davidson. TR could not have picked a better leader, in my opinion. We also met the HQ staff and had a chance to see the cool behind the scenes stuff.
Talking the first day with my new team of Clay Hunt Fellows, I already began learning a valuable goal of this journey. I’m not alone. I know now that I’m not the only one who misses my military family and the bond, the comradery.
I remember my initial discovery of this returning-to-the-ranks feeling, the first time I saw the TR tilted cross and flowing river logo on my desktop screen. It was a life-changer. I filled out my application, scheduled my first day project, and never looked back.
We all know how good it feels to join up with a bunch of TR teammates and go do a day project, a deployment, or just attend a social for a few hours. How does it get better? In my case it was when a previous attendee of the program introduced me to everything the Fellowship program can help you accomplish. Simply put, he said “We get torn down, discuss our issues, and rebuild ourselves from the bottom up.” Everything is on the table, no secrets are kept, and no judgement is passed.
Help is given, but not forced, space is respected, and raw emotions are exposed. Decisions or actions from your past that have haunted you for years or decades are finally drawn out into the light and that allows you to see them clearly, perhaps for the first time. Bonds that are usually forged in combat are made in a conference room or over a drink. Secrets that you have kept buried are shared. Understanding, and compassion are given freely, and surprisingly sometimes even hugs are welcomed. Emotions that have been turned off have been reignited. You are back in an environment you didn’t quite realize how badly you missed.
You must be willing to make an effort, and like most things, the more you put in the more you get. I have bared my soul in a way I thought I could not do. In return, I have received revealing insights from those who walked the same path, and gained new perspectives; you learn to trust again. I did. I turned off emotions, they were harmful. Every time I opened up it seemed I got hurt, which left me feeling increasingly angry. You convince yourself your safest, if you detach yourself from humanity, emotions and family. Nothing can hurt you if you are alone, right? Wrong.
That was my life for far too many years. Then I met someone who cracked that shell, and she made me feel again, damn her! Slowly I began to think about things I had suppressed, locked in my steel box and deep-sixed the key. One of the many things she made me realize was my desire to be around like-minded people. Those who felt that desire to continue to serve.
Along the way during this program, I realized that my current occupation working EMS in NYC was becoming unhealthy for me. Too much to see, too much to feel, too much to bear if I was being honest with myself, really honest with myself, I needed to change. I considered it a necessary step back. A friend of had mentioned truck driving—at first I laughed—me, a truck driver, give me a break? I had invested too much time and effort in the EMS field. That first night I could not sleep. I kept thinking of driving across the country, the sights, being free on the road. If nothing else it would be at least a break from the city scene in exchange for expansive, open country scenery. My friends can come for trips if they want. My dog Charlie joining me, how amazing.
However, the truck kept driving through my mind and suddenly I realized how much alone time I would have to think. The CHFP has introduced myself and the other Clay Hunt Fellows to the YouSchool; which is helping me discover who I am and everything I’m capable of doing. YouSchool asks the questions you were always afraid to answer. It makes you think about what you did, what you are doing, and where you are going. Be honest with yourself, and it will change your life.
Remember that person who made me feel again? We have been together seven years and she is one of my YouSchool advisors. I owe her my life. We love each other more than I have ever loved a person before. And certainly we have seen our highs and lows. We would talk, but I am not the best at talking. No one knows me like she does. She has seen the night terror, my uneasiness in large crowds and she has seen me scanning rooftops while walking down Lexington Ave. We have traveled, gone to dinners and gatherings, and now we are taking time apart, which will hopefully help us both grow. I couldn’t have asked for a better advisor; especially since no one can throw the BS flag on me quicker or more accurately. Who knows, maybe one day we will be together again. Time will tell, but we will be better friends at least.
So now here I sit in my hotel, studying manuals on driving 18-wheelers down America’s freeways. At the same time, I am navigating my life along those same interstates and making a new discovery with every mile I drive. As I flew to Indianapolis for school I looked down on the roads from high above. Where did they go, I wondered? There is only one way to find out. Drive down those roads, learn where they go, and see where that leads you. The CHFP and YouSchool are doing that for me mentally, driving this truck will keep the journey going physically. Where will I end up? How will I be mentally when I get there? Who knows. As I stated in my application for the CHFP, “Team Rubicon was the boat that helped me across the Rubicon, the CHFP will now let me burn it when I arrive.”
I do know this though; I will be a better person when I get there. My journey continues; which is more than some people have.