THE VETERANS PROJECT
Author - Tim Kolczak
“Legacy,” or the idea of legacy, will be something you read about quite often throughout this blog. That idea of being legendary a common theme through this particular epitaph to strength, grit, determination, and finding one’s center in life. Imagine, if you will, standing on the backside of a steel chute. You are a professional bull rider and you might as well be standing on the edge of the cosmos, alone, stuck on the precipice of a very dangerous yet strangely, beautiful position. The animal within the chute, 1,800 lbs of muscle-bound power viciously throws itself against the rails, its only goal to commemorate your existence by sending you flying through the air as quickly as possible. That peripheral gaze is something not too many people understand but if you spend any time around these herculean beasts, you begin to quickly understand the brutish ferocity in that glare. You check your kit and prepare to mount the brute, knowing eight seconds is absolutely everything in this battle between man and beast. What some consider a sport is your livelihood, and that livelihood is the blood running through your veins. The stress of the moment would send most flying off the chute and sprinting towards the parking lot. But, that would be the ordinary path. Your goals are anything but. How did you get here?
Brady Cervantes, otherwise known as Totanka (an homage to his Native American heritage), knows. Somewhere around the little desert town of Eloy, just past Picacho Peak, he finds himself confronted by a life or death situation. He doesn’t question the path for a second. Cervantes immediately pulls off the highway, throws the parking brake on, and centers himself. As he pauses for a brief second, those mental markers begin to fire in his cerebral cortex and those neurons carry him swiftly to the past. He has been here before on some other plane, a part of his existence that runs seemingly parallel to this moment. As a Scout Sniper in the Marine Corps he was there stalking his prey, that prey being violent men protecting their native lands, values competing with our own democratic ideals. This time it’s man vs. man. His breath slows, he centers himself, finds the target downrange in this deadly game, and slowly feels the trigger. He fights his own heart rate as his pulse begins to quicken. Eyes on the target, downrange through his scope, and the trigger is pulled. The human target falls and Brady is responsible for everything in that moment. He’s perfectly fine with that fact. That Native American blood contains the DNA of the warrior way, a heritage Totanka is incredibly proud of.
Back to the present scene, Brady grabs his desert-colored aid bag and sprints towards the barrier. As he hurdles over the median, he stops traffic and finds the vehicle, a white Volkswagen Touareg. The vehicle was throttled by an oncoming 18 wheeler that had impacted the barrier and flown over the median. The crash is a violent one, a mixture of twisted metal, noxious fumes, and a driver who is barely breathing in the moment. Upon pulling the man from the wreckage, Brady knows this is a life he can not save but that will not quell his effort in the least. He methodically begins CPR with the help of another bystander and immediately notices the entropy of the environment. People crying, some frantically running around with little direction, and others beginning to go hysterical. He starts to give bystanders things to do so as to reduce the building madness. The scene gains a certain serenity, and a rhythm develops as others find purpose in their tasks.
To call Brady’s sense of calm command “impressive” would be a massive understatement. However, his sense of direction in the moment was certainly an homage to his thriving career as a Scout Sniper. That same career has taken him to the PBR arena where he finds himself now on a new yet familiar journey. The violent lifestyle of bull riding is much about controlling the chaos, finding a rhythmic balance in the ensuing madness. Find a rhythm and get back to center. It’s much of a metaphor in life as it is a reality in the arena. All of the preparation, long hours in the gym, months of building muscle memory, prepping your kit, not to mention the harsh reality of road life; leads to this singular moment in time and a possibility at glory through eight seconds. You’ve heard enough from our perspective though. We’d like to thank our sponsor Sorinex, a company whose very motto is “be legendary,” for partnering with us on this legacy piece. Let’s turn it over to Brady.
Can you tell us about your life growing up and what led you to the Marine Corps?
BC: My father has always been my hero. I remember putting on his dress blues as a child. He was a Marine during the Vietnam era when the dress blues were still made of wool. I remember asking him, “What does it take to be a Marine?” He would answer, “Just follow me.” I never really understood what that meant. I was the youngest of seven, most half brothers and sisters, and had to figure out things on my own in a lot of cases. My dad would take me down to Mason, Texas to the ranch. He taught me how to track, camouflage, and everything else associated with being in nature. I feel like he knew that this would benefit me in the future. My dad has always been such a wise man. Whenever I would get into trouble or go through something tough he would just look at me and ask, “What did you learn?” If I didn’t say anything he wouldn’t say anything either. If I had something to say or had a question about it, he would talk to me for hours about it. Everything I go through even to this day serves as an opportunity to learn. Just always trying to be a “forever student.” I firmly believe you’ll never know everything there is to know. He taught me customs, courtesies, ranks, and rifle discipline, for starters.
He wasn’t necessarily a big hunter but from being in the Marine Corps he had learned a lot of these types of skills. I remember wanting to join the military and thinking I wanted to join the Air Force so I could be a pilot. My favorite color was blue and I would get to fly planes so that plan seemed about right (laughs). I began to hear more and more about recon and snipers. I had read a book on Chuck Mawhinney who was a Marine Sniper and had served in Vietnam. My dad was Air-wing out of El Toro which is a base that isn’t there anymore. It’s the base that was portrayed in Independence Day the movie. My dad was there in the ‘60’s. When the recruiter first came to visit me, I was 17 years old and my mom almost pulled a gun on him (laughs). She wasn’t happy about me joining but she knew that I was going to regardless. I was going to blaze my own trail and she had witnessed that as I was growing up. When I was four years old I walked three miles round trip away from my house and decided to bring her back a rock, and have done so everywhere I go to this day. She has a few shoeboxes full of them. My dad calls me his “world traveler.”
What do you remember about 9/11?
BC: I was in 7th grade in 2001 when the towers fell. That story was a powerful one for me. I was in the middle school wing and had done a project on what I felt God wanted for my life, with the school being somewhat of a Catholic school. What I thought God had planned for me was to be a Marine (in short). The first tower got hit and all of the teachers were called down to the office. We saw the second tower get hit. The school was on lockdown and I remember hearing President Bush talking about declaring war. I had just finished the project that morning and everyone turned and looked at me. My teacher came over to me and asked if I would like to redo my project. I told her that I didn’t want to change it. I never thought about what I was getting into. I think it’s harmful to really think about something of that specific type, too much. If you do that it will own you and you pause. That fear can control you if you let that happen. I had to learn to control that fear when I joined. It was a job, duty, and a code I knew I had to live by.
When were you 100% sure you would join the Marine Corps?
BC: I was in 8th grade and so focused on getting out of school and joining the Marines that I almost failed my classes. I felt that sense of duty that my father had instilled in me when I was growing up. I knew I would be in a public school for high school. I was never part of the “in crowd” and was bullied growing up. I thought it would be so cool to be a sniper in the Marine Corps. That was my goal. The neighbor down the street gave me his old Desert Storm cammies. I loved the rain and I would always put on those old cammies. I had the broomstick out in the backyard acting like I was stalking (laughs). The next year I started riding bulls for my high school. I thought about riding bulls in the pro circuit but eventually only rode in the Armed Forces circuit for a short time upon entry into the Marines. It was at that time I got selected for Snipers, due to my rifle and GT along with my PFT scores.
When I arrived at my unit the Chief Scout of the sniper platoon came in and wanted to know who Cervantes was. I jumped up and replied, “Me, Staff Sergeant.” He told me to relax (laughs). The Chief Scout is the most experienced sniper in the platoon regardless of rank. It’s more about what you can do in that job than administrative, though it can get political and bureaucratic at times, sadly. The sniper is there to get the job done and shoot long distance from a position nobody knows about in support of combat operations. He asked for my name and if I wanted to be a sniper. I told him I did and he just said, “We will see.” It was from that point on that the Marine Corps said it was ride or fight. There are some jobs in the military that you can do both. If you are going to be extremely involved in combat arms then it’s probably not possible. I hung my spurs up for a little bit and made being a sniper my master craft.
Can you tell us about going through the training to be a sniper?
BC: The Marine Corps is who had the original, “Hog’s Tooth.” HOG stands for hunter of gunmen and to get there you have to be professionally instructed. You spend time as a “PIG” in the sniper community and that stands for “Professionally Instructed Gunman.” You’re not yet a sniper at this point, though you still train all disciplines within the sniper team. I was the first one for a couple months before we had another indoc which meant I got a lot of physical attention. It was all voluntary so there was nothing wrong with it. The indoc is basically a 2-3 week tryout and they fucking put you through the grinder. The indoc posters would come up around the battalion area and everyone would start talking. Half of those that wanted to do it would not because they believed they couldn't. Then a quarter of them get cut because they take a skills test which is all organic knowledge and weapons in the infantry. You have to score at least an 80 on that test to even have a chance. Every unit runs it differently and this was how we did it. I’m glad we ran ours this way because I’ve always believed Marine Scout Snipers are the best and have the skills and mindsets that will propel you through life's struggles.
The team leaders are generally older, like my sniper TL, who was 28 years old. The higher learning curve and the maturity has to be there, which I’ll be the first to tell you, mine was not always there. The independent operational status has to be in their (TL) knowledge. You either catch up or get left behind. One of the main things they try to do is get you a combat deployment or one with a platoon before you go to sniper school. There isn’t always a war going on so you can’t always have that combat deployment. We went to Ramadi my first deployment mainly during 2007. That’s where I cut my teeth and learned how to be a sniper in a combat zone, or what we could during the time. They want you to have that experience before they send you to school. They want to set you up for success. If they didn’t think you were going to pass they would not even keep you in the platoon. I busted my ass and it came down to giving all I had.
Can you talk about the first deployment to Ramadi?
BC: I remember we flew into Iraq and we were about to fly out to Ramadi. We were all taking a knee because we were taking these old dual props up to Ramadi. I remember seeing the glow of the red light which came on while grounded on the inside. Our sniper team was second to leave and they had an RPG attack in the area recently. My team leader begins to go over all of the SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) for what we would be doing. I remember getting chills because that’s when the full weight of the moment hit me. My team leader looked at me and said, “If we get hit by an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade), this is what we will do.” I remember the glow of that light on his face and shit got real for me, being a first timer and all. As a sniper team in Ramadi, we worked on the outskirts of the city which was more rural. When you’re with a unit that doesn’t know how to use snipers it’s a big thing. We had to fight for our missions just to get them. The job is a real love/hate relationship with everything else in the military.
We have standards and we aren’t going to drop them because when you do, the friendly body count rises. You have to be able to be proactive about your missions and operate independently as well. I learned a lot during that first deployment. We lost Gluff, a guy from Bravo Company that was actually the guy that checked me into the unit when I first got to the east coast from Pendleton. It was a suspected VBIED (Vehicle Bound Improvised Explosive Device) which turned into being a suicide bomber that blew himself up and took Gluff with him. Lieutenant Borden lost his leg and Sergeant Bartlett took shrapnel from that same bomber. We went to go get their gear because at the time we didn't have a mission on hand. The gear was torn to shreds with shrapnel still inside. There are so many things that as a Lance Corporal that I had never seen. It was real. I never tried to put too much thought into it and did it that way on other deployments.
Were you a sniper by your second tour?
BC: No, I failed my first time going through sniper school, which happens to a lot of candidates. It was a bit political, because the platoon commander didn’t like a few of us and he hadn’t been through anything to do with snipers. He loved to work, lift weights, and had an ego. I was the guy who made it into the school when the platoon commander favorites did not. It made me want to do even better. I got a 100 on my first stalk which at the time was a good bit into school. He had some bullshit talk for me, “That’s strike three, Cervantes.” All of the other instructors were wondering what the fuck was going on. They didn’t know what he was talking about. While I had been in school he had been petitioning to get rid of me. He didn’t think I would make the initial PFT (Physical Fitness Test) and he could kick me out of the platoon. He had only been there for three months.
It's the bureaucratic politics you get into in the military and that adversity makes things suck. The one school I joined the Marine Corps to go to, I thought I was doing a great job, but sometimes it’s still not good enough, and he was still trying to get rid of me. There was nothing the instructors could do to save me. What reassured me that I was doing the right thing was a piece of paper I received. It was a specific invite back to the school which is something not many people get. If you aren’t pulling your weight on the team you're going to get booted. My second tour of Iraq there wasn’t much going on. The operations were just to clean up the mess and it was 2009 at the time. My first four years were coming to an end and I re-enlisted after that deployment. When I re-enlisted I was able to go to more schools. Eventually sniper school came back around and I made sure I was ready. I made sure I was an asset to that platoon and ready to go. I went through Scout Sniper Basic Course in Quantico, VA. It’s where the first sniper school was held for the Marine Corps, which if I’m not mistaken the Marine Corps had it ten years before the Army Sniper School was established (laughs). I just want to point that out.
What was the feeling of the first loss of life?
BC: The movies you watch will never fully prepare anybody for the reality of death in combat. It’s nothing like the movies. It's this deep, sinking hole where you feel like you’re being sucked into that void. You are trying to grasp something that’s just not there. You don’t know what emotion to grab to fill that void inside your head. I was trying to figure it out as an 18 or 19 year old Marine and how I would handle loss. There are things you must do in combat and you want to have closure in that moment. So you do them and that sinking feeling of emotions tends to subside.
When did you find out you were going to Afghanistan?
BC: I had actually found out I was going to Afghanistan right before I re-enlisted. I was running with an infantry platoon and I’d just been served divorce papers during my second time in Iraq. I wanted to have that marriage that went all the way through my military career. I have a beautiful daughter from that marriage. I wasn’t giving up and told my wife (at the time) if divorce was what she wanted that she would have to pull the trigger on that. I had that to deal with. I had the divorce papers sent to me while I was overseas and my bank account reflected that. I had just heard that we could be going to Afghanistan. I thought that now I knew what I would be doing (laughs). I re-enlisted on an Osprey and just wanted to keep working.
We were flying from one training area to the next and I decided to do it on the bird. I was mouthing it for the most part (laughs) because it’s pretty loud on an Osprey. I continued my Marine Corps career with that and knew that I would be going through Helmand Province which was a big Marine Corps fight. When you go there you had better expect to get punched in the mouth and that is what we told the guys. I knew that is what I wanted to do. My plan was to do 20 years in the Marine Corps and end up on a ranch in Montana after retiring. I was working toward that.
I had a friend, Edwin Gonzales or “Superman” or “Gonzo” to some, who was from Florida. Our first tour to Afghanistan he was at a position to our North he was carrying a 203 and he wore those rounds on his belt around his waist. He stepped on an IED and he didn't suffer because it was a pretty quick death. I had been to Iraq where it was more urban but now in Afghanistan it was a little more kinetic. I would watch these guys use our tactics. You could look down from higher observation points and see them using those same strategies. It was an eerie feeling. People would ask how they knew to do that. You can literally Google Marine Corps Combat tactics publication and it will give you everything we learned. That is one of the ways they would do it and then use it against us. The fight in Afghanistan during my career was much more of a dogfight than it ever was in Iraq.
We were able to our job as per our craft in Afghanistan. We couldn’t get eyes on a certain target and would have to use what we knew how to do. Immersing ourselves in the populous and talking and observation gained us huge beneficial factors. Everyone thinks what we do is like the movies and it is not that at all. It’s adrenaline to the point of fear. Fear is imposed by a fear of death. When I was 18 years old I wrote my own will and had a plot in the cemetery. When I was 18 I faced that fear of death, and went to combat arms during a time of war. I have never really tried to look back. The fear was good when I was in combat doing my job.
When you finally do pull the trigger what are you feeling?
BC: When you finally do pull that trigger you feel at a crossroads of emotions and of course, recoil. I can handle death the way I do but I don't put myself in that mindset during those situations because of the people I am around these days. There are those around me now that don’t handle death well. There are times when I have been around death and I feel pretty calm. People often think I am being disrespectful because I don’t show emotion like they do. I used to think that was wrong of me. But, I knew I couldn’t help it. Death is something I have been familiar with since a very young age. When I was in first grade I was almost swept away in a flood in my mom’s car.
It was on the edge of flipping and going underwater when they pulled me out. When I was 15 years old I walked away from a 4-wheeler accident that I should not have lived through. I have been through explosions where my truck was hit by IEDs, during my first time to Afghanistan and I feel like the reason I can deal with these things is the way that I see life. It’s also the way I know how to take life and preserve it. You will never know everything about life. It’s a process and you just have to trust that you are here for a reason. It’s also becoming easier for me to help others deal with death, due to what I’ve been through.
What was the toughest part about being in Helmand Province?
BC: Helmand Province was tough because of the fact we didn’t know who was bad or who was good. Then, there was the possibility of the Afghan National Army or Police turning on you and that was extremely hard. It only took once for us to question all. I learned that through The Caregiver Project that one of those veterans had the same thing happen over there in Iraq. It happened not only on the Marine Corps installations but Army, Navy, and Air Force as well. This occurs more often than most people back home ever hear about. Our counterparts turning on us was not coincidence. They had been put there strategically by the Taliban to infiltrate the Afghan Army or Police. They would stay there however long it took to kill or injure some of us. We could barely tell who was good or bad unless we had been watching them for a period of time or they were shooting at us. That was tough. It was a huge game of cat and mouse. They all look like the enemy at times.
Can you tell us about some of the guys you lost overseas and how you want to honor them?
BC: I wouldn’t be where I am in life, riding bulls in the PBR if it wasn’t for all those I’ve personally known and lost. Hunter Dalton Hogan was a rodeo guy from Nebraska. His dad owns Rough Stock company which is bucking stock, Diamond E Bucking Bulls. I was his Section Leader during a six day operation called “Jaws Five” along with another one of my guys, Gino Mills. This was Hunter’s first deployment overseas and it was the second for Gino. I’ve got a tattoo that everyone just thinks they see sharks teeth. It is a shark's jaws with a 5 in the middle of it. It has HD on a ribbon on one side and Gino on the other along with 2 flowers. That operation was fucked from the get go when I look back on it.
They underestimated the enemies capabilities out of pure blatant disrespect for them. I say “they” being the command element. They were out of Helmand Province with the 1st Battalion 8th Marines and 1st Battalion 7th Marines. There was a SEAL team that had been with us but they couldn’t stay because it was still “too hot” there.. The initial plan was to go into northern Sangin and help the SEALS clear it out. They were going to stay and build up the populous to help them retake their own area. Day one we had infilled at 3:30 am and flew in on Ospreys. We got there and had to stay low out of visual sight for about an hour. We were in these tilled fields with about a foot to a foot and a half of defilade and used as much as we could when we made entry into a compound that we had preselected. When daybreak started we started taking fire and it didn’t stop for a long time. It was around 16:20 in the afternoon when it finally stopped. When you say the word “Sangin” in Helmand Province Afghanistan everyone says that was “the fight”. If you want to fight how Marines were trained to fight, then you love being in Sangin.
It was about 16:10 - 16:12 on June 22, 2012 and my corpsman and I were throwing up waters to Gino. He was on a rooftop and a single shot rang out. He slumped over and we told them to lay fire down to our west. The shots started again and I grabbed Doc Pinner. I helped put him in for a Silver Star for his actions during those 6 days which he was awarded. We went up to the rooftop and grabbed Gino without our kit on. He took a shot off of the left shoulder which had richoted off his clavicle. It went into his vitals. Unfortunately, we lost him. The second day, I had gotten dysentery so I had two IVs in me , during that it was Hunter who had been hit. He was shot in the head. I can still remember when they guys were coming back in after HD had been taken.
When you are in a leadership position you don’t have much time for yourself in front. You’re there for everyone that’s under you, everyone you’re in charge of, your leadership towards them will reflect upon you. That’s why leaders always eat last but always gather their shit first so that everyone else comes before you. If you don’t take care of your guys they in turn won’t take care of themselves and you. I was on the beginning of day two and I had just lost two guys on our team. There were parents waiting for these kids to come back home and that was running through my mind. I grabbed my team leader and told him to keep the guys focused which meant keeping them in the fight. I didn't care what it took for that.
I didn't know what we would say to them but I knew that whatever it was it had to keep their head in the game. There is nothing that I can tell anybody about what to say that will prepare them for those moments. There was nothing that I could fucking do that would’ve been 100% right in that moment. Other military folks have asked me what to do if something comes up like that. I just tell them to trust their heart, fully rely on their training and trust in their guys most of all. Your guys are trusting you. You dig deep and do what you have to do. This was the first time that I was solely in charge of two sections and I lost guys I was responsible for. I walked into the back room of that compound and said, “If you’re not in my section, get the fuck out.” I had everyone in there that needed to be there and said, “We have four more days and this ain’t about me. This ain’t about them out there. This ain’t about the people we are trying to save. This about keeping the rest of us alive.”
Those six days are etched in my head forever. I told the guys to look out for those on their left and right. I didn’t care what they did from that point on to look out for each other and get the job done, but I would have their back no matter what. I didn’t want them to second guess themselves. We had just lost two of our brothers and I didn’t want to lose another one. I would still give my life to have my two guys back even to this day. That is something I have to live with for the rest of my life. We were a month from coming home. They say that being comfortable does not create growth. You want to talk about growth and being uncomfortable then go through something like that. You’re going to grow but you just don’t know in what way. It will take a lifetime to figure that out. If you don’t respect the process and pursue that path of learning, then those types of things will break you. That path has led me to sit here on this couch and tell this story. People like yourself that are telling the stories that you feel everyone needs to hear.
Would you want to put that position of leadership on anyone else?
BC: I don’t think everybody would be up for the spot I was in at the time. I think the way my father raised me was to step up in those situations. You take charge even if it means your life. You step up. You take charge. I don’t look at it as a responsibility but as a code that I had to live by. It wasn’t like I was questioning if I should take it or not. There was no second thought for me. I had to do this because I was born for it. I would do it all over again if I had to. Leadership is not something that you look for to grow into. That’s the definition of being a boss, not a leader. Leadership comes from you heart, your character, and your reputation towards others that you have built to that point. The way you see the world, the way you talk, and the way you help someone when no one is looking, is leadership. You see it in so many people like Bert Sorin (President-Sorinex) and the people of Sorinex. It’s the energy that is projected by their actions. This is why I believe we get along in this community.
I believe that’s why Bert has such a select few of the military here (Sorinex Summer Strong 12) with him in his circle. Leadership is like a certain individual speaking the past two years. I was sitting next to the stage and he was talking about leadership. He said, “Solid leadership influences change.” I have this blue spiral notebook and I had bought that right before Summer Strong. I have never had so much respect for someone in that moment then when this individual was speaking, except for my own father. There was a point that I forgot about everyone else in the room. People were walking up to me asking me if I was alright. I told them I was fine. They told me they had noticed me sitting there and that my whole mood had changed. I told them that’s what happens when you hear a true leader speak. A leader doesn't have to demand. They create inspiration through their actions. I have always strived to be that in my life by way of example. When you hear someone else put it into words like Bert then you need to listen. A boss will demand but a leader will inspire. That’s what is comes down to.
Can you talk about your time during the fourth tour and how your career culminated?
BC: The third tour was my first time to Afghanistan and it was a whole new ballgame. Your training doesn't ever stop. When you go from Iraq which is an urban kinetic area, to an open mountainous desert area like Afghanistan it changes things. Helmand when it’s dry is hot but when it’s raining it’s really flooded. You have to be able to adapt which is one thing the military teaches us. You adapt and overcome. I was fine with that and rolled with the punches. The op tempo from that first Afghan deployment changed on that second Afghan pump. It was now 2012 and the fight in Helmand had centralized in the Sangin area. We traveled north of Sangin at Kajaki Dam and had some Zamindawar just north of there. There was an OP I liked out there, though I got into trouble there and got an ISAF Violation for not wearing certain pieces of kit while under fire, regardless of the fact we suppressed the enemy. You had to cross the river that came out of the dam. From the OP If you look out across there, it looks like no man's land. There are two big ant hill looking areas that had flags on them. The British had put those flags there and no one had touched them since. If anyone had showed up you were clear to shoot. There were fields to the left of this area and it was so weird to see. In the movies you see people in South America or Mexico in the cocaine fields walking with guns on the radio and that is exactly what it looked like.
The Taliban would wear the shawls over all their gear. We had what was called a “boomerang” and it would pick up RF signals. You could hear their traffic and we had someone listening 24/7. The boomerang would give you a ping of an azimuth to the direction. The technology that we had only gave us direction. We were happy to have it. We just needed direction and we could fucking figure it out (laughs). We had just fixed up the SASR that was there for the weapons platoon with us, because the SASR is basically a machine gun with a scope, hence “Special Application Scoped Rifle” and not “Sniper System.” I told them I would work on it and zeroed it at 300 out there. A combat zero out you just pretty much pick a spot and work with that. It’s not like a flat range. We saw these people that were scared to be out in the fields. There were three or four guys that first week in the fields. They thought we couldn’t see them. The people working in the fields just kept working. They were their fields to begin with. The Taliban had just bullied them and told them they owned them because they had a gun pointed at their face. They threatened their families. Once we took care of the problem, the workers began talking to each other in the fields. You could see their body language change positively.
We got an operation down in Northern Sangin and it was called JAWS 5. There was an operation template going around in Sangin and Zamindawar. We received the 5th operation of JAWS which was a 6 day operation. It consisted of three elements. We had a northern position, a central position that consisted of a team of SEALs, and a southern position of Marines. There was so much that had happened up to that point during this deployment that I didn’t expect to happen. My mom had a brain tumor and they wouldn’t let me go home for that. Our Battalion Commander at the time kept telling me that he had spoken to my mom and she would be fine. I knew better. I just wanted to make sure she was okay. I tried to keep up with my parents after I joined.
My parents had split up two weeks before I went into the Marine Corps. I couldn’t just call my dad and ask to talk to the doctor about her. The BC kept telling me he had talked to the doctor himself and she would be fine. My ex was doing the typical things back home an unfaithful ex does. This operation happened a month before we went home. I was carrying four MOS’s at the time and was able to do requests. I had requested multiple additional assets as far as weapons and ordinances go, then even just actual extra men specifically for the weapons since they rejected just giving just the weapons and ordinances to us. We got denied a lot of that because they told us the main threat would be IED’s. We got there and found IEDs but was definitely not the main threat. We were in firefights more often than not.
We had an old salty staff sergeant that had been in Fallujah before. I remember him sitting on the wall of our compound and telling us that Fallujah wasn’t even as bad as where we were. Never having been to Fallujah, I just had to take his word for it. When you are leading your guys it’s best to lead by example and you just want to take care of them. I would grab ammo cans while talking on the radio and then run the ammo up to the machine gunners. I would run back over and check on my guys, shoot, control fires, some air, and repeat. During this operation I had eaten a bad chili mac MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) and will never eat one again. I got dysentery from it and had to receive IVs to get better. I had clear liquid coming out both ends (laughs). I’ll never eat that again. They wanted to MEDEVAC me out. It was day three of the operation. I knew I had four more days and wasn’t about to leave my guys. That operation was a shit show but I learned so much from it.
When I was growing up my father told me to learn something from everything I went through. I learned a lot from that experience. When you've lost two of your guys and you’re on day three of a six day operation you deal with almost-constant adversity. You really have to shut the fuck up and listen to your guys. Leading during adverse times means listening, watching, and feeling what your guys are experiencing at that time. You’re not going to be in a positive leadership position if you don’t have that cohesion with your guys. It helps you know what they are going to do without actually having to ask them. This is a big factor in leadership. Some of the best things I have ever been taught about leadership are from Bert (Sorin), Derek (Woodske), and Brandon (Lilly). It’s called “carrying the broom,” when someone exhibits leadership from the front.
What would you tell a civilian about doing that job and continuing to bear down?
BC: If I spoke to a civilian that had just witnessed something tragic I would say helping others is the best way to keep yourself from succumbing mentally. You find rejuvenation in dealing with trauma that severe by reaching out to others and getting involved in ways to help them. The rough nights sometimes cause me to close up at first, but I know that I have to look to others to find peace. It helps heal those mental/emotional scars. People are always telling me that I’m helping others and the truth is that’s how I’ve kind of healed from the war in a way.
We’ve been through circumstances as warriors that will never leave us. What helps me is helping others. A good example is being on mile 20 on that march in full kit, you can’t feel your feet and you see someone else struggling. You look over and offer to help carry your brother’s pack even though you are hurting just as much. If you help someone out in their time of need, it can be absolutely healing.
What happened when you got back from that deployment?
BC: My plan all along was to do 20 years and then get out to live on a ranch in Montana. My mom is from Montana and I love that part of the country. I cherished that sense of duty that I felt in moving towards that goal. I was fully committed. I really wanted to be a Gunner, which is a Chief Warrant Officer. That position serves as the head adviser to the infantry. There are some that want to be a Sergeant Major but I wanted to be a Gunner. I knew that this would take more than twenty but I was fine with that. I guess when you hit the 20 year mark and keep going you are just doing it for fun at that point (laughs). I was getting closer to the end of my second enlistment and I had extended a little bit. I went over to work with the sniper cadre helping instruct at 29 Palms and did a lot of good work there. I helped with the pre-deployment curriculum and had a variety of units come through. I thought this was part of my career path and wanted to get a job eventually as a sniper instructor. It took me two times for sniper school and two enlistments before I really understood what I wanted from the Marine Corps after being in. It had also taken me to points in my life to get to be a professional bull rider. I was riding open circuits when I was 18 and some in the Marine Corps.
I’m giving it another shot and fortunately now riding in the PBR. My life has always taken more than one time to get somewhere. Failure is what teaches you how to succeed. It's a very necessary tool in leadership. I couldn’t see what was about to hit me in 2013. When I came back from 29 Palms, Obama had just called “mission accomplished” for Afghanistan. We all know that he wanted to be able to say he had accomplished a mission over there during his time. He was always budget minded. The Marine Corps had always been the smallest branch of the service. We had never been above a certain T/O for combat troops and when we were during the time he called it, we were some of the first to be looked at for cuts. I was in a place to pick up staff sergeant at the time and had I been able to do that it would have solidified my career.
When you pick up staff sergeant in the Marine Corps it literally takes an act of Congress to lose it. Our staff sergeants are different than all other branches of the service. Our lance corporals are E-3 and are running things that Army E-6’s are running. It’s not that they are better but it is the equivalency. I remember talking to a career planner and told me I needed to complete PME school, which is Professional Military Education. I told him that I had completed the sergeants course during the last year. He told me that now it had to be done annually, or some bullshit. I questioned why I even needed that if what I had done put me in the zone to pick up the next rank. He told me he would check into it but didn’t call for several weeks. I continued to work out with my guys and stay sharp.
I was not in the leadership position with them but I was wanting the instructor position somewhere. I would have taken anywhere at that point. I just needed it to help my career. I talked to him a month later and explained that I needed a three month course to stay in the Marine Corps. That course would put me past my EAS (End of Active Service) date. I asked him to extend me two months and he informed me they weren’t handing out any extensions at this time. I asked him what that meant and if they were pushing me out. He told me that wasn’t what was happening. I had just talked to two of my buddies from MARSOC and they had to sign their D-D214s that day. They had told me he wouldn't work with them either. Some of the recruiters and career planners work only on numbers and tend to forget about the individuals. They don’t realize what we want to do with our career. The two guys I’d spoken with in MARSOC were gone quickly. I was thinking, “If that can happen to MARSOC, what the fuck is going to happen to me?” I had a package put in to go somewhere I wanted to and had been accepted, and was just awaiting a selection date.
So I told the career planner all this and he told me if they called me with a selection date they could put me on hold. I was standing in line to get my DD-214 and I cannot explain all the emotions going through my mind right then. I just wanted my phone to ring and a selection date to be on the other end. There are so many things going through my mind as I am standing there getting ready to walk up and sign my fucking DD-214. When I got my DD-214 it was honorable discharge, medals of valors, multiple deployments and schools. On that DD-214 to the right of all those things it said “reduction of force.” I am still salty to this day about that saying that. Most individuals may not even look at that the way I did. Hopefully one day by me trusting this process I will be able to frame it or make it a big fucking blanket of it or some crap(laughs). That was a piece of paper I hadn’t expected to get for another 11 years.
When you get something like that with the last combat mission I had gone on and didn’t even know it would be my last, I felt betrayed. I had lost two guys on that mission and I put in for every one of them to get an award. The corpsman from my team got a Silver Star for that mission and there were Bronze Stars handed out too. That was rough. When I came back, they wanted to give me things that I didn’t think I deserved. My conduct was that of unbecoming. I didn’t get an NJP even though I was on the chopping block several times throughout my career. What saved my ass were my guys because I took care of them. All of that added up to me still being pushed out due to reduction of force. I didn’t want to leave. When you think of all the Marines have taught you in the schools about life and they have your back. They teach you how to take life, save life, and be good at how to make life. You feel double betrayed because you were dropped like a fucking bad habit.
When I got out I tried to take it in stride. I remember talking with my friend Chris (Kyle) after my 4th deployment before I got out. He was from Dallas and was the one who got me into instructing outside the military. I put on my first civilian course for long range before I had even gotten out of the Marines. I went to that when I got out and thought it would be cool. I started learning more about law enforcement officers and how they operate. And that you can’t call some of them fat (laughs). It could be a life or death situation but you can’t tell them they are fat. They will take the life or death seriously but not their weight. They want to be called a sniper or on the SWAT team (laughs). Chris had told me that telling it like it was, was frowned upon by some law enforcement often times. He taught me a lot about teaching.
I naturally went to that and started my own company only to realize the ways of the business side to it. You have to learn that and play the fucking game. A lot of the time you have to be cutthroat, looking out for numero uno. This was completely against my code. I’m not going to sit there and only look out for myself. I just could not do that. It’s called servant leadership. I packed my truck, bought a dog who is my best friend and I lived in my truck for about a year. I had lodging in Texas but I just couldn’t sit still. I would have been my own destruction had I done that. I took off to the mountains in Montana and saw my moms family. I worked the ranches and taught shooting to military, law enforcement and civilians there. I met some really cool people along the way. It was the start of something for me because I hadn’t really begun the healing process for myself. This is where my transition started and it took that year and a half of being out for it to begin.
What started your healing and the dark days you experienced after you got out of the Marine Corps?
BC: I have talked to several therapists and have talked about my issues quite a bit. It started after that fourth deployment because it was my roughest one. Combat has a lot to offer, death in many a way, witnessing guys gets blown up or shot or what not. That weighed heavy on my mind because it felt like a failure. When you get back from deployment there is a period of decompression from all you have been through. They don’t want to just throw you in the civilian world with people who don’t know how to deal with all this crap. The first night I got home, my father gave me a ride home since my truck wasn’t there. My mom was at the hotel after meeting me. I walked into the house and my roommate was there. We had this long mirror behind our couch in our house and it was the first thing I saw.
I remember walking by this mirror alone and I just stopped. I was not happy with who I saw. It wasn't because I went down some dark path and just butchered my life. It was because I felt I had failed my guys. I had been taught by my team leaders that wasn’t something you wanted to do. I had been taught to take care of my guys. I dropped my kit and took the mirror off to put it behind the couch. I had anger issues as a kid because I was bullied and didn't really have an outlet except for athletics for it back then. I was able to control that up to this time. I was mentally keeping myself together because of my dad being there. He was my hero and he was a Marine. When he left I couldn’t look in the mirror. I remember just sitting there on the couch before I even went home. We had this big round glass coffee table and my roommate had his big screen TV. Jeff worked off the island (Emerald Isle) and I was sitting there getting all my stuff out of the storage boxes. The boxes had all my stuff from deployment.
I always left my 1911 pistol with my dad. He had it in an envelope with a note in there that said, “Thank you for letting me use your 1911 pistol. I know how precious this is to you. If I could I would have sent it over there to you to do your job. I am so proud of you for doing what you do.” Those words, “to do the job I am so proud of you for doing” kept going through my head. I didn’t put that stuff out there. I just remember sitting at that round table on the white leather couch and reading those words over and over. He didn’t know what happened and my thought was that he wouldn’t be proud of me if he knew. He was my dad and will always see the good in things. I am a very critical of myself. I believe that’s some of how you become obsessed with your craft and good at it. It’s all a learning process. It was not okay to be that critical on myself that night. Those words that I kept reading felt like stakes being driven into me. I felt like this certain stake was driving deeper and deeper into me. I got so fucking angry that I threw my glass across the room.
I sat down and cried for about 2 ½ hours. Nothing moved. I just sat in the same spot. The only thing that was sitting there was the note and my 1911 pistol. I took my 1911 apart because that always helped clear my mind. I kept telling myself to calm down and that I would be okay. I got half way through taking it apart and I broke down again. It was another hour and a half that passed by and at this point it was three am. I finally got the slide off and it wasn’t that I was having trouble physically but it was mentally I couldn't do it. It took me another hour to get the spring off. It was 5:30 am by the time I got it put back together. I hadn’t moved, hadn’t had anything to eat or drink, and could still see the envelope sitting there.
Failure, failure, failure was all I could think about. I started to shake and got up to walk around. I went to the bathroom. The mirror in the bathroom must have been part of the structural integrity of the house and you couldn't remove it (laughs). I splashed water on my face and kept repeating to myself to calm down. My anxiety was just skyrocketing. I looked in the mirror and was gripping the sink. My eyes were swollen and red. I gripped that sink so hard that it started to come off the fucking wall some. I drove my head into that fucking mirror and it just shattered. I wanted to feel that pain because mentally and emotionally I was just so fucking drained.
The entire deployment there had been no outlets to let my feelings out. I was looking at this sink now falling off the wall and the mirror I had just smashed. I just thought that I wasn’t fucking worthy. I was supposed to be a fucking Marine and bring my guys home. I wasn’t fucking worthy. “Who the fuck are you?” I asked myself. “You are a fucking failure,” was all I kept thinking to myself. I walked back into the living room and grabbed my 1911. I stood there with it in my mouth. I went to pull that trigger and there was no hesitation. I pulled the trigger and heard that click. The moment I heard that click my knees gave out and I almost passed out. I fell on the floor in between the couch and the coffee table. I got really hot and sweaty all of the sudden. It was like an anxiety attack. I just realized what I had tried to do. I had tried to take my own life. I had lost three buddies up to this point and had walked in on two trying to kill themselves. We cut the belt from one of them hanging because the other guys were saying they couldn't get in the room. Suicide was something that I was a little familiar with. I knew how selfish it was. I hadn’t been to that point in my life to learn how, what, when, and the overall feelings that go behind it.
I was mad at myself for the next year at how selfish that would have been. Suicide is not something that people ever really understand. You have to have been intimate with it to fully know. It is one of the most selfish things a person could do. I was almost one of those statistics that came into fruition in 2016 when it got really big. There were supposedly 22 a day at the time. If this was the first time I was talking about this I probably wouldn’t make it through. It just plays over and over in my mind. There is that moment when you hit the bottom and the only way to go is up. You can’t go down any further. I think of the fact that I had tried to end it with the pistol my dad had just given back to me. How fucking ass backwards and messed up do you have to be? My father is my hero and that thought didn’t come into my mind until four months down the road after that happened. I’m an over-thinker at heart. I overthink situations and wonder why I’m still lost and then over think that. I always do that and analyze everything behind that. I went to my guy’s memorials overseas and then again when I got back home. I lost two of those guys out of the nine up on that stage that we had a memorial for. I listened to one of my buddies wives yell at his picture saying, “You promised you would come home.”
I wasn’t with him when he passed but I listened to those things they were saying. You come down hard on yourself when you don’t know how to handle those losses. You’re your own worst enemy at that point. The military doesn’t give you anything to combat that with. When we get out there is a two week course that is supposed to prepare you for post military life. Are you fucking kidding me? In 2012 when I tried to end my life I wasn’t even out of the military yet. When I got out I knew what not to do, at least a little. Now remember it always takes me longer than most to figure it out. I figured as long as I didn’t do that I would be okay. When I got out I went to the VA and was on 8 different pharmaceuticals. There were two types of anti-depressants countered with Adderall and Vyvanse. I took these at different times during the day along with pain meds for my back, Flexeril, tramadol, and then there was Ambien to sleep at night. I think that is something my mom really noticed after I got out. I hadn’t really come home yet.
She never really understood because she wasn’t in the military. When you have your mom say, “When is my son coming home?” as she sits there looking at you, it’s tough. The first time she said that to me I told her I was sitting right there. I didn’t really understand what she was saying at that moment. She just gave me one of her motherly smiles. I had to go on my own again. She knew that when I would go and I would be okay. She didn’t really like it but knew it was necessary. I spent a lot of time in the mountains, with my dog, fly-fishing and on the reservation, and began another journey. It didn’t matter if it was the Crow, Apache or Navajo rez, something was telling me to seek external guidance. I started to feel some familiar feelings in that. I did a lot of soul searching in that span of 4 years. The identity I had felt had been betrayed or stolen from me when I got out of the Marines, but it was just merely covered by pain.
I was trying to be that military man after I got out. The whole bearded, gray man deal. It was such bullshit. So, I went to work on a ranch with an old friend. She told me she was working with a couple in Montana on a cattle ranch. She asked if I wanted to punch cows and fix fence and tanks. We went up there and did just that. There was a couple at the neighboring ranch that just seem to fit in this world where they were like it was a plan. They are truly the salt of the earth. The friend I was working with was someone that I had gotten to know during high school and work with. She was like this couple's adopted daughter and after working with them, I was like their adopted son. We spent so much time together. I remember this particular instance during trip to Sundance Wyoming. It was about 2:30 in the morning and we were moving some things back to Sundance, Wyoming. We were waiting on girls and their truck when the husband of the couple, Chad and I sat together in his dually. We were sitting there at a typical Wyoming truck stop. I took my cowboy hat off and leaned back in the seat with the doors open facing the road. Chad looked at me and told me I looked tired. I said, “No shit, Chad. He said, “No, that’s not what I mean. You still contract, you teach military and are very in touch with that side.” I replied, “Yes, that is what I owe a lot of my adult life lessons.”
He paused that way an old cowboy pauses with all that self-contained wisdom and said, “You need a real break.” That’s when I took a job down in Central Texas for a family on a ranch. I found out there was a rodeo company about 45 minutes south of there in Belton, Texas. It was called Bad Dog Rodeo Company. A buddy named “Shorty” told me they were putting on a bull fighting school and if I wanted to come. I went and he told me I would love this place because the guy who owned it was military. He thought the guy was even from the Recon Sniper community as well. I hear that a lot because people will say that, not fully understanding the military. Shorty is one of my best friends, so I trusted his word on that. I found out that this guy was a fucking legend from the community, he worked for JSOC in a very good profession and was an older guy that retired with them. I told him that I used to ride bulls and he wanted to know if I wanted to get back on one. I was about 205 pounds at this point. He told me that he had practice bulls on Wednesday and Sunday if I wanted to come out. I started going down there to hang out and finally get on one. It felt great.
I hadn’t even thought about where my life was going at that time. I didn’t know what my path was. There was something that Shorty (Gorham) said, “Isn’t it crazy how you stopped doing the military and took a ranch job? Now you are here riding bulls and the guy teaching you that is a Recon Sniper.” It was pretty ironic (laughs). One of my favorite things to do that was nostalgic was rolling a joint. I would smoke it at the end of the day. It was the cannabis that got me off the pharmaceuticals I was taking. It was a more holistic approach to not needing those. I quit them cold turkey. I did some case studies about cannabis and wasn't buying a bag off the street. I studied up on cannabinoids and learned my shit and what strain works for what. I was getting what I needed to survive. I was not dumb about it and not a pot head. I am a veteran. I know how to adapt, overcome, and survive. I know that the pharmaceuticals weren’t getting me better or where I needed to be. I was watching the sun go down with my dog, Woodrow West, that night on the ranch. I was sitting there rolling that joint and truly first thought about trusting my path. There is no fucking way on earth I could have sought out the only Recon Sniper bucking stock contractor in pro rodeo.
I only lived 45 minutes from him and there is no way I could have set that up by my own power. Something was telling me that I was on my path and that’s what I was supposed to do. I never saw myself as a professional bull rider. I think what got me here is that competitive drive to be part of the elite group of guys that do it. Everybody wants to be a bull rider until it’s time to do bull rider things. It’s like everyone wants to do sniper or infantry on the front line until that time comes to do it. I think I gravitated back to this community because I grew up in it. I had done this in high school. The average age for a bull rider is 20 years old and the average height is 5’7. I am 5’11 and the average weight is 140. When I first got back into bull riding I weighed 205 but got down to 175 now that it’s more serious. If you look at my bull rope handle pad it says, “All it takes, is all you’ve got.” If you have clear eyes and a full heart for everything you bring in to it, it is so much easier to trust the process. Failure is necessary to be successful. If there is one guy out there that has gone through what I have that can read this and get something from it to help, then it’s worth it.
What’s the essence of bull riding?
BC: Life is a lot like bull riding. For the record, we don’t tie the rope around their fucking nuts (laughs). It’s called a flank strap. It is the excess skin between their legs and stomach. They are trying to kick whatever is on that area off. They just want to kick that flank strap off. You will never be stronger than a 1,800-2,000 pound animal and that’s why you don’t see big guys riding bulls. It’s a dance, almost like life. If you try to fight back in life and go against the grain of your path you actually make things harder. If you can match jump for jump what that bull is doing in a fluid way you’ll win every time. It took me a hundred bulls to get my vision down to where it didn’t just look like a fucking blur.
Once you get the vision down you have to realize what is coming. You learn from failure. There is a fear in riding bulls because there is a possibility of death there. It doesn’t happen much in the PBR but it is a risk. I think that risk of life or death also is a huge part of why I like it. I don’t like the term “adrenaline junkie.” I like “life seeker” better. We are not here to just die, we are here to fucking live. When you see the beauty in life and that everything is connected in this world you see things differently. You can visualize and bring yourself back to center. You can't function when you’re off balance in life. They say after every jump on a bull to flex your hips and get back to center. You ride the bull jump for jump and if you don’t you will lose. That’s how I look at life. Match the jumps and get back to center.
What has been the most challenging aspect of being in the PBR?
BC: I would have to say that being the old guy that nobody knows (laughs). I just turned 31 in April. A lot of these cowboys don’t grow up around gyms but grow their strength on a ranch. I think through all the physical activity in the military and the fact that my bone density is through the roof, really helped me. A friend of mine told me it actually helped me that I wasn’t doing it all those years. I was in the military and combat but didn’t have the same wear and tear. Other riders would call me old but I’m definitely not 31 in bull-riding years (laughs). They never told me I had talent. If I had talent I would have passed fucking sniper school the first time. I hate it when people say I have talent. I would’ve been a professional bull rider at 18 if I had talent. I have had to work for everything I have ever had. My parents are both retired and living paycheck to paycheck. There are so many out there living on trust funds and their aunt gives them $10,000 for their birthday blah, blah etc… I didn’t know how that felt because I never had that. I’ve been on my own since I was 18 years old.
People here will ask me if I’m doing okay on money and I tell them how much I have, which is usually not much, because of bills and such. They’re always surprised (laughs). I didn’t grow up in money. I feel It keeps you real in a lot of good areas of life growing up like that. You learn how to respect money. The money that keeps me honest is the money I win or from sponsors that get me down the road. I was on a survival show in Fiji in 2016 and my team won second place. It was a $500,000 split. I promised mine to the vetted Veteran Non-profit organizations. I will work for my money and earn it. Working is therapeutic for me and I love it. I know it costs to live but I think the route I’ve taken has made me respect life. I respect life more than the materialistic things. We need to spread the code we live by to those around us so they understand. It’s one of the main key factors to connect the civilian population to the veteran community. We need to let them in on our code and way of life.
What’s the feeling you get along this path?
BC: If you want to really find yourself and why you are here, you have to find your path. I read a quote somewhere; it said that there are really only two dates that matter in our life, The day you are born and the day you find out why you were born. You have to look deep into yourself and do what it takes. If it scares you then you are probably on the right track. You have to be the change in order to see change.
Can you tell me about Sorinex and why it’s important to you?
BC: I met Bert Sorin at Shot Show and that was in 2015. He instantly had this big brother presence around me. I was the youngest of seven and my siblings were all grown up. I didn’t even really have that. Bert and Leslie just brought me into their house and introduced me to the rest of the Sorinex family. I have never seen myself as someone that people would want to have around, I reckon just a piece from my childhood. When I was in the Marine Corps everyone always told me that I looked so angry. I have people tell me now that I have an infectious smile. I usually cover my teeth up with my lips because I get embarrassed when they say that. The first Summer Strong I came to was Summer Strong 10. Before that, Bert and I were up on a mountain in Montana for his 40th birthday. We had some deep talks at elk camp. I guide elk hunts up in Montana and I do it because I truly love it. He asked me what would truly make me happy.
I said, “Well, I’ve just started riding bulls again.” He said, “Alight, what is it going to take to really be as great as you want to be?” The only thing that came to my mind was, “All I’ve got.” He looked me dead in the eye and said “I’m in. Let’s do it”. Bert was never military but had that same code inscribed on his heart by Pops (Richard) Sorin. He respected the military. Bert was a world class thrower as a Gamecock at the University of South Carolina. He invited me into his world and all that it entailed. When I was on the mountain that’s when I committed to getting back into bull riding. I was so excited. I wanted to get back on bulls right away but I felt like a bag of bricks. I weighed 195 lbs at the time and was still trying to cut weight. The power athletes symposium goes on which is put on by some guys from Austin. Bert was one of the speakers along with Adam Nelson the gold medalist. Bert and I sat down and talked personally.
I asked him what he thought about putting the Sorinex brand onto western sports. He said “I don’t know any better person than you to do that.” Bert has never doubted me in all that I’ve brought to him. He knows that I will sit back and think on it for a good time to weigh out the options. He knows that I would never bring him something stupid because I do weigh out those options. He has respect for the way that most of us veterans think through things. Here we are three and a half years later and I’m working on my second season in the PBR. I’m rocking paid sponsorships and putting these guys out there through the PBR. Bert calls me almost every week to ask how I did and where I am going next. He always wants to know if I will be anywhere near him.
Summer Strong 10 I was standing there in my boots and they walked up to ask what I did. It was the big Olympian dude that was at least two doors wide standing there. I told them that I rode bulls. I expected them to just move on like at any other conference. This isn’t just a conference though. It’s a gathering of like minded people. This big mother fucker walks up and says, “No fucking way. Tell me everything.” That was my first experience at Summer Strong. This guy had no reason to be around rodeo or talk to a bull rider but our paths crossed. He could have just blown me off to go talk to the other Olympians there that he looked up to. He stopped and wanted to know more. I was nervous being around all these big athletes. I was welcomed into the gathering of collective minds and souls. That's an incredible feeling and sight to behold.
Can you tell me about one moment that really has impacted you at Summer Strong?
BC: There are two cool moments for me that go together at Summer Strong. Leslie is Bert’s rock and foundation. I’m proudly one of the few people allowed to go on dates with them (laughs). Bert is almost 43 and I am 31 so he’s like an older brother to me. It was after Summer 10 and we were going to get frozen yogurt. It was just the three of us. I just started telling Bert what I felt from Summer Strong 2010 and how deep the connection was that I felt. Leslie was just sitting there and said, “Bert, I think you have found another Summer Strong speaker.” Bert looked and me and asked, “Do you want to?” I told him, “Not yet” Personally it’s not that I don’t think I’m ready but that I am not there yet to share so far what I have learned on my path to what I feel a summer strong level talk should hold, personally. I want to have an impact on people and they will remember because that becomes a legacy in their mind. I told that to him. At Summer Strong 11, I was able to introduce a Navy Veteran, “Oli”. There were no phones, video, no audio recordings were allowed because of the sensitive nature of what he was talking about.
Bert asked me last year if I would introduce him. I had been through VHP (Virginia High Performance) which “Oli” owned for my physical and mental rehab as a combat veteran and it helped tremendously. “Oli” and I experienced such a connection during that time. We would be up there shooting the shit because we had both been overseas. He was at a much higher level than I was but we shared a lot of the same outlook on things. He would tell me they didn’t always get veterans like me. We knew a lot of the same shit and got very close during those five weeks. He’s become a mentor. I said, “Bert, out of all the people you have here, why would you want me to introduce him?” Bert said he didn’t want anyone else to do it. He had that trust in me. I had come from a career where I felt like the trust was broken by the Marine Corps. I will always love the Marine Corps because they made me who I am today but that doesn't mean we don’t have beef. Bert asking me to do that was so integral in building myself back. As individuals we need to learn to respect the process. You have to know you will get back to the right path again. I owe my new life to Bert, his family, and Sorinex in so many ways. People ask me if I work for Sorinex. I don’t, but I rep them because it’s a lifestyle and culture I truly respect and love.
When they say “be legendary,” what does that mean to you?
BC: Being legendary, the Sorinex mantra, means that you will keep fighting when you already think you’ve lost. Being legendary means that you will seek to be better than you were yesterday and never give up. I have been at the bottom and felt not worthy. I’ve been stupid and selfish. If you sit there and worry about money and not help others on their journey, then get the fuck out. Being legendary means that it's not over until you’re in the ground, and even then, what you do and build during your time alive, should be able to echo into a legacy of sorts. That’s what “Be Legendary” to me represents.
What are your goals moving forward?
BC: My goals with Sorinex are to spread the good word. It’s such a non-biased environment. When you see people attend Summer Strong for the first time they don’t quite know how to act. They come in posturing a little bit like weight lifters sometimes do, and that starts to go away after they realize we’re not about that at Summer Strong. You see the ego’s leave. Everyone who knows this place checks their ego at the door. I want to mention Sorinex anywhere and everywhere that I can. My buddy Ian McKay, who won the squat at a naked knee 700. He was asking me what Sorinex is about. The way he knew me was his older brother was in my sniper team back in the day. It was the first Summer Strong he ever came to and he won the squat competition. He quickly became legendary (laughs). I love seeing people succeed.
Ian came up and thanked me after he won. I told him I just put the invite out there and he walked through the door. I don’t need the credit because the other people's personal victories I see is all I need in life. I want to carry Sorinex into the PBR as far as I can. Yes, my goal while riding in the PBR is to win world and get on the global cup team. I want to ride for my country. But to just be who I am, be positive, help others, and have fun again. People know very little of Sorinex in the western sports world. I want to change that and all while empowering veterans. I want them to know that they have to find the right pack, trust the process and they can be legendary.
How do you want people to remember your legacy?
BC: Shoot, I’ll let you know when I find it I guess. Those pages are still yet to be written, I think. But honestly, I want people to remember to be the change you want to see in this world, to not give up until you're satisfied. I don’t think you should ever be completely satisfied with your impact on the world, but be happy with the journey in getting there.
Who are some of your greatest mentors and how have they helped shape you to get where you are now? What would you suggest to veterans who are getting out and looking for positive mentorship?
BC: First and foremost, my Creator is my greatest mentor. He has shown me a path that is difficult yet keeps the light burning at the right stops and turns for me to see, but after I make my decisions. My Creator also gave me my Parents and Family. My mother and her strong German ways along with my father and the kindness, wisdom, and patience he has shown and passed on to me by way of example and leadership. They let me figure things out on my own mostly with guidance so that I would be independent. For any veteran, combat vet or not, who is getting out or just transitioning some way shape or form, I have this to say, “Be bold in the face of adversity, take the road less traveled because you’ve already made it this far, keep fighting to move, as we all know ‘movement is life.’ Learn to communicate and reach out in order to have the discipline to control your emotions and anger into calm. Be the change you want to see in the world.”
What brings you the most joy in life currently?
BC: Simplicity brings me joy but for now at this point in my life, the journey of it all and the process that promotes the struggles into wisdom through discipline and patience. My daughter, my family, my friends, my path all fall into that and help me now more than ever because of what I’ve been through. Which leads to the thought that, even though I’m not some crazy movie style life or the most badass Marine or had ever seen the most action or what not, that my story might just help that one person out there who needs to hear it. If I can get across to that one person and help them, then that’s a win for me. Semper Fidelis.
One of the things we appreciated about our time with Brady the most, was his kindness toward others. It’s often in this work that you realize some of the most violent men are the quickest to find positivity on their path. Brady is no exception. When one understands violence, they typically realize the danger in a proclivity towards that lifestyle. It becomes a space where there is a tempered realization that this is a vulgar necessity, in a broken world. Fast forward to the present day and Brady’s smile has become a staple, his humility a beacon of brightness in an often-dark world. His grit and determination serve as pleasant reminders of an older generation that based itself on those characteristics. Totanka’s Native American heritage guides his legacy and his increasingly confident understanding of self. Throughout this blog, you read Brady’s words about the core tenants of the wolf-pack, and finding a nucleus within the familial throng. Our own path on this journey of telling Totanka’s story led us to a summary event, Sorinex’s Summer Strong.
At this three day event, we found an encapsulation of all the healing elements Cervantes had spoken of. There, as professional strength coaches, seasoned endurance athletes, experts in artistry, and masterful war-fighters met; we found a stunning conglomeration of applied expertise in the ultimate environment of learning. We found Brady’s pack, masters of their successive crafts, yet all still eager to learn from one another. Isn’t that what we all crave on the other side of our military careers? It’s almost too easy to take the brotherhood for granted, those intimate ties of camaraderie often overlooked until we leave the fraternal band. Brady’s story is still being written, and that even includes those moments of temporal darkness.
Those scars don’t just heal on their own, but there’s a certain beauty self-contained within what some see as blemishes. They are visual reminders of a sacrificial status where the blood wall was formed, where a volunteer force stepped forward so others could retain their semblance of “normality.” It’s comforting to see war-fighters like Totanka finding their center once again, the rhythm of the ride finally found in this chaotic world. If you want to follow along with his journey check him out on Instagram: @t0tanka. We promise you won’t regret it. We’d like to extend a massive thanks to our sponsor, Sorinex as they made this entire story possible. Without partners like Bert Sorin (President, Co-Owner) and Sorinex, the project wouldn’t be a full-time venture. We were fortunate to find such like-minded sponsors in mission. Check them out on Instagram (@sorinex), Facebook (Sorinex.Strength), and Twitter (Sorinex).