Earl Granville is an obstacle course athlete, marathon runner, triathlete, and speaker. He ran for Congress. He has won numerous awards for his kindness and generosity. And he is a disabled Veteran. Earl lost his left leg in Afghanistan in roadside bomb attack. Earl’s twin brother Joe, his best friend, died by suicide while serving on active duty in 2010.
Earl joins host Fran Racioppi in the back of the WWII British Royal Air Force Land Rover Ambulance to talk about resiliency, drive, and adaptability. Earl has had every reason in life to close up, go internal and quit. Yet he wakes up every day with a purpose. He wakes up with the goal of never quitting, learning from his past and helping others define their path in life.
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Earl Granville – Obstacle Course Racer, Marathon Runner, Triathlete, Combat Wounded Veteran
We meet a lot of people in this life, but most of our relationships are transactional and temporary. They live in one single moment in time. Every once in a while, we meet someone, a person who immediately moves us. They touch us in a way that we did not expect or could not foresee. That is what happened to me when I met Earl Granville.
I say the best stories. You know it. They always start with, “There I was, minded my business.” When I met Earl, I was simply minding my business. I am catching up with my former colleagues from United War Veterans Council after the concert, the night before the start of Sandlot JAX’s The GORUCK Games, until Earl Granville saw Mark Otto’s GORUCK t-shirt, walked up, and asked where everybody was. The next thing I know, Earl and I are exchanging Contact info, and we are posing for pictures of statues. That was before the Coors Light started floating.
Earl is an obstacle course athlete, marathon runner, triathlete, and speaker. He ran for Congress. He has won numerous awards for kindness and generosity. He is a disabled veteran. Earl lost his leg in Afghanistan in a roadside bomb attack. His twin brother, Joe, his best friend, died by suicide while serving on active duty in 2010.
He joined me in the back of the World War II British Royal Air Force Land Rover ambulance to talk about the resiliency he drives and his adaptability. He had every reason in life to close up, go internal, and quit. Yet, he wakes up every day with a purpose and goal of never quitting, learning from his past, and helping others define their own path in life.
When Earl showed up at the ambulance, he brought Cindy, his weighted friend who travels everywhere with him, as a reminder that we all carry weight on our shoulders. When we share that weight together, we can go further than we ever could on our own. Check out our videos and pictures from this episode and the entire Sandlot Event on YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Twitter.
Earl, welcome to the Jedburgh Podcast.
Thank you so much for having me, Fran.
We are here at Sandlot JAX, sponsored by GORUCK. We are in the defender, the Land Rover, the show’s remote studio and we towed it down from Connecticut. It was sponsored in this by the Readiness Collective, our partners in this activation, and Jaguar Land Rover of Fairfield was kind enough to give us this, but it is a pretty sick spot.
We got F45s working out right next to us. We got the music in the background. You are competing now. You are in the midst of it. Thanks for taking a few minutes to join us. What have you done so far? Anyone, if you are reading this blog post, you have to go check the socials and the YouTube channel because we are sitting here with our shirt off. It is Jacksonville, and it is Florida. It is the land of freedom, but you are in the middle of doing an event now.
I am competing in Nasty 002. We are taking on the makeshift to savage race obstacle course. It is a quarter-mile course with obstacles on top of each other. You keep doing laps with that, followed by rogue fitness, holding a 125-pound sandbag for as long as you can, and assault bike for 50 calories. I usually do 5 or 10 in a CrossFit WOD. All I have to do left is an 800-meter run.
How was it so far?
It is one of a kind. If you are into fitness, we have all unique vendors here and every type from Offset course races, GORUCK Events, and 5Ks. I think of it as a mini Arnold, but more of the endurance community. We have speakers out here giving words of encouragement. This is the first of this event, and I ran into Jason. I was honored to have the privilege to get come here and speak, not on your show but also on stage. I am completely in awe of what this event has turned into. I am hoping this is an annual event because this is pretty cool.
We had him on episode 56. We talked all about the driving reasons behind this. He said he called in every favor that he ever had. He was like, “Can we bring everybody that has ever been a part of this community and wants to be a part of this community? Bring them in here, and celebrate getting back together. No virtual, everything in person.” I have been in here now for the last couple of hours, speaking with many great folks and learning from them. Every time I get out of here, there are more people who are flowing through the gates.
It is like a little reunion because there are people I have not been seeing in the GORUCK Community in years. People yell, “Earl.” I am like, “My goodness.” I have not seen a lot of these people in so long. Somebody at the Travis Manion Foundation came up to me. I did one of their challenges doing twenty pull-ups and you can get a shirt. He asked what my name was and I said, “Earl.” He said, “Earl Granville. I am neighbors with Kyle and Becky.”
I met them when I worked at an orphanage in Ecuador in 2014. I am like, “You are neighbors with them. I have not seen them in several years. You are telling me their names now and saying they are neighbors of yours. What a small world.” How tight this community is. The fitness and the endurance community is unbelievable, and having everybody come down here is by far awesome.
We were excited to be offered the opportunity to do this here because this is our first for us too. We have not done an activation like this yet. We are hoping this is the start of something that is truly tremendous. Let’s talk about you for a little bit. You spend a good amount of time in the Army National Guard, but 9/11 occurred when you were in basic training. You were there with your brother, Joe. Talk to me about that.
When we talk about 9/11 in a lot of different contexts. I was a junior in college, and I was going to be a work correspondent. That was my goal. I was to be a Tom Brokaw, and then 9/11 happened. I will be a work correspondent. A couple of years later, it is like, “I could probably go maybe be this thing like these guys in beards and long hair.” I will try to save the world that way. You are in basic training this time. What happened?
I lost one of those guys that joined the National Guard for college. Call it what you want. I was eighteen years old. Growing up, I am going to punk shows all the time, playing guitar and like, “Bring the man down.” My twin brother was like, “What do we think about joining the military?” I am like, “Work for the government. No way, I am not doing that.
The incentive was free college. It was a bad attitude. My mindset was, “What can this do for me?” Maybe you call it a selfish reason. Eleven days into basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, 9/11 happened. I looked at my brother because him and I went to basic training together, and I was like, “What the crap you get me in to do that.” He was like, “I did not join the military to go to war.” I am like, “You did now, soldier.” It is such a selfish reason.
It was all about me. I had to grow up damn quick. We graduated from basic training. I am looking into colleges three weeks after coming home from Fort Benning. We are not brand new infantrymen, and we got orders for Bosnia. Anybody out there, if you are unfamiliar with the Bosnian conflict, 92 to 95, there is a genocide happening in Eastern Europe. Read the book Love Thy Neighbor by Peter Maass. You will get an idea of what was going on over there, or there is a movie In The Land of Blood and Honey. This and the book are very graphic.
I do not know why it is not more talked about, to be honest with you. After several years of this going on, NATO forces finally stepped in and said, “This has to stop now.” That is when NATO forces stepped in. The time I got there in 2002 was a peacekeeping mission. There was not any threat to any coalition forces. It was more of making sure the fighting and the genocide did not start back up.
We are knocking on doors, making sure people like, “If you have any weapons, turn them over to us. You are not going to get in trouble.” It was an easy mission. A lot of hearts and minds are going on. We left Bosnia in March of 2003. The day we left Bosnia was the day we invaded Iraq. The big joke was like, “We are not going to go West to America. We are going to go East. I was trying to go to college, now I am in Bosnia and going to Iraq.” I finally started to go to college when I came home from that Bosnia deployment. I enrolled in Lackawanna College in Pennsylvania.
We came home from Bosnia. I got two semesters in. We got a warning order to volunteer mission for Iraq. Now, being this volunteer, I was like, “I am not going to go. If I do not have to go, I am not going to.” However, my twin brother, Joe, wanted to go. I thought to myself, “God forbid. Here I am partying at college, and Joe is going over to war. What if something happens? I do not know how I would feel about it.” I put my big boy pants on and I went to Iraq. I am going to tell you, Fran, it was the best decision I ever made.
I became an NCO in situations where I took on more responsibilities. I was pretty laid-back and chill but the respect I got from my guys in the situations was not over there. I saw the big picture. When I joined the military, I made it about me. Going to Iraq, I realized, “This is not about me. It is about us.” At that time, all the politics and society, “Should we be there? Should we not be over there?” That crap did not even matter. What mattered was right then and right now and the people around me. I saw the big picture wearing the uniform, and it was the camaraderie, the friendship, and those relationships I was building with the soldiers.
You have dealt with it and I know, all the time, people will say, “Do you agree with what we are doing in this country? When you were at war, what if you did not want to be there?” That is when you have to tell them, “That is not my role there. That decision has been made by echelons above me. Quite frankly, nobody cares what I think. What matters is I am here now, whether I like it or not. I have to take care of these people who I am with and who I am leading.”When you continue thinking like a victim, there is no growth and no moving forward. Click To Tweet
It is not about me. My opinion does not matter when it comes to that crap. What matters to me are those people relying on me to help and lead them. That is what is important.
That gets lost, too, even in business because we have a lot of entrepreneurs and leaders in various businesses on. We talked a bit about this. When a decision is made in any organization, that is what defines great organizations. It is that you have input. We want to build organizations that have a structure where we take an opinion and seek bottom-up feedback because the best ideas often are not generated by the people at the top. If you run an organization where you think they are, you probably do not run an organization that is as good as you might think it is. We have to take that. Once that decision is made, it is executed, and everybody has to execute. Let’s talk about Afghanistan.
Iraq changed my mindset about wearing that uniform. Joe and I both re-upped our contracts over there and we came home in June of ’06. When I came home, I ended up getting my Associate’s degree in Liberal Arts. I wanted to be a firefighter. I thought I would get some education and be a firefighter.
A firefighter is a great job. If you are a firefighter in New York or Boston, I have a couple of buddies who are, and they work 2 to 3 three days a week. They make a ton of money, and they have another business on the side. You are running into burning buildings and you are saving lives, but there is a community about that.
It is very structured, like the Armed Forces when you are looking at the chain of command, uniform, and all that stuff. You are putting people over yourself. That is what I learned in Iraq. I thought this would be a good push forward. When I graduated, I got a warning order for Afghanistan. It was another volunteer mission.
Joe and I were assigned to a 109th Infantry, and this deployment to Afghanistan was volunteering with another unit called The 103rd Armor in the 28th Infantry Division, Pennsylvania Guard. I raised my hand right away. I thought, “I will do the firefighting stuff later or maybe go on active duty later.” I am seeing this pattern too, where I am volunteering for everything. I am like, “Why do not I go airborne or something like that?”
Nothing ever happens in life if you sit home and wait for it to happen. You have got to take the step.
I ended up volunteering for Afghanistan, and Joe asked me not to go. I will never forget it. I had an apartment in Scranton, and he was living with what would be his future wife. He came to my apartment in Scranton. He was like, “Maybe you should not go on this. The 109th is getting called attached to a whole different brigade in a year to go back to Iraq. How about we do that instead of you going to Afghanistan? Now, let’s wait a year and go then.” I was like, “I am sorry I am cutting this cord. I was excited. I have not been in Afghanistan yet, someplace new. Let’s give this a shot.”
On this deployment in Afghanistan, we are part of the Provincial Reconstruction Team, or PRT for short. My platoon was a security force for the core PRT, and the PRT’s job is like hearts and minds. The time I was in Afghanistan in 2008, we were at PRT guard. The core PRT are civil affairs and US civilian engineers. They would work with the Afghan local government and village elders, rebuilding infrastructure, rec centers for kids and schools, and building wells and villages. They do not have the travel far to get clean drinking water.
Our job, the security forces for PRT guard, is we would escort the PRT from point A to all the combat arms jobs in the military. They were the security forces, the SEC4. We would escort them, pull security while they had their meetings, back up, and take them back. It is an easy job. It is cut and dried. Every person we escort all sit in the backseat.
I was more of a Staff Sergeant. I was about to take on being a squad leader. I was already training to be a squad leader. It had come naturally to me at this point. I was doing it already, basically, but every person we escorted sat in the backseat except for one individual. This gentleman, his name is Major Scott Hagerty of Stillwater, Oklahoma.
He is in the Army reserves as a Civil Affairs Officer. He liked to be in charge of the vehicle he was in. It is what he did. I saw on this four-day mission that Major Hagerty was going to be in my vehicle. I knew right off the bat he was going to take my seat, “Major Hagerty, that is cool. I am going to be your gunner. I put my gunner Craig Rains as a passenger in a different vehicle.
Craig was moved, and it was a four-day mission. In the back seat of our vehicles, we had an Afghan sub governor that was located in the vicinity of Zurmat. We were looking at a future site for a school. On the final day, we were leaving the site of the school. As we were leaving, we decided to take a different route back to FOB Zurmat to fuel up before we went back to FOB Gardez, which is our home.
This route we decided to take was a route we were unfamiliar with, but the dangerous situations we were put in getting to where the school has seemed the right thing to do with all the choking points and all that nonsense. Now we are in an open field, and the stuff is a lot safer. It was a little unfamiliar to any of us, but it was the first time ever I saw Afghanistan’s bright green grass. It is a nice area over there. I have been over there. It is gritty, but this area seemed to stick out from any place we have been over there.
I remember going over the headset. I was like, “Who is watering their grass in Afghanistan. This is beautiful.” The next thing I remember, I saw nothing but black. When you put your head underwater, what you are hearing when you are underwater or you clog your ears is like a faint noise you hear. That is the best way to describe what I was hearing at that time. It was a slow momentum. I am saying to my mind, “What the hell is going on now?” The next thing I knew, I opened my eyes. It is a big, beautiful sky. It is 2:30 in the afternoon. I was like, “What am I looking at?” My feet are backward, and I am full of blood.
The Humvee to the left of me is completely destroyed. We hit a roadside bomb. I am trying to process what exactly happened. I am trying to stand up. Obviously, I am not standing up. Are we getting ambushed? Are we in a fire now? I heard my buddy, Joe, yell, “Get him in a body back.” People are killed. Is it us? Is it them? What is exactly going on? I did not have a working weapon on me in case we were under attack.
Lieutenant Miller was the first person to get to me. He looks down at me with a look of awe. He says, “Hang on. I will be right back. I got to check the other guys.” I always regret saying this to him because, to me, this was it. I said, “Do not let me die alone,” and he left. Immediately after my medic got to me, Air Force Tech Sergeant Eric Jones, we call him Doc Jones, started working on me immediately.
I was like, “Doc, how is everybody doing?” He was like, “They are doing fine. They are doing good. We are going to get you out of here.” He put a tourniquet and a pressure dressing on me. Some of my guys had put me on a litter. They carried me behold flags. All the blood was rushing. To be honest, my right looked ten times worse.
All the big issues were coming from my right leg. They assessed the wounds there. They stopped the bleeding. They put me on a litter and carried me behind an MRAP. When they carried me by that MRAP, they walked me right past some bodybags. I knew, with the body armor around it, who was in those body bags. It was Major Scott Hagerty, who is sitting in the seat that I usually sit in every day, and Derek Holland of Wind Gap, Pennsylvania. He was driving the vehicle, and Derek was only twenty years old. He was in my vehicle, and Scott was from Stillwater, Oklahoma.
I appreciate that you say their names. People shy from it, but we have to honor that.
I am here because I was escorting Major Hagerty. If I was escorting any other Civil Affairs Officer, or anybody else, I would sit in the seat I sit in every day. It was Major Hagerty, who I was escorting that day and who always takes that TCC or shotgun seat. Honestly, it is why I am still here. What do I have to complain about? The next thing that happened in the medevac chopper they popped red smoke. We are starting the land. They also put a QuikClot on my leg while we are waiting for it.
I am going to ask you this question because I have never had this opportunity, but people will say that the tourniquet often hurts more than the injury itself.
I felt a lot of pressure with the tourniquet. However, the QuikClot I thought was worse. I started with no warning. The doctor started applying it. I started smelling that flesh, and I was like, “Is that QuikClot you are putting on. Moments later, tingly feeling, and what came even worse was later when I got to the Bagram Air Base when they started taking it off. The tourniquet was a little painful as well.
The medevac chopper came. They started carrying me onto the chopper before it took off. We had that Afghan sub gunner in the back of our vehicle too. I forgot all about him. At this point, he survived. I was 24 years old when this happened. My guess is he was much older, probably in his late 40s or early 50s. Age has a lot to do with your injuries.
One other person who got on the medevac chopper was an Afghan police officer who was not wounded, but he was going to get on the Black Hawk to continue to escort the governor. As that Black Hawk took off, I was laying on my litter. To the right of me is the Afghan governor. He was groaning, and he was in pain. I do not give a crap what your faith is or anything like that. I took my right hand and squeezed his left and thought to myself, “I hope you both survive.”
At this point, I knew I was going to survive. I was out of that process that I was going to be killed. In his situation, I did not know. He looked pretty beat up. As the medevac choppers take to Bagram Air Base, I keep wanting to look up at my legs. Every time I looked up, I would get one of these from somebody. Eventually, the second time I looked up again, and I once again got one of these.
I finally looked up, and who was pushing my head back was the Afghan police officer. We lock guys, and he shakes his head. He gives me a little pat on my head, which is pretty nice. I get a little compassion. We got the Bagram. The ambulance met us at the helipad and brought us the whole less than an eighth of a mile to the front of the hospital. They brought us in, started assessing our wounds, and took x-rays. The doctor said, “We are going to have to do surgery on your right hip immediately.” Right before I got surgery, I had a visitor. It is that Afghan police officer.
He walks into my room with a big smile on his face, stands straight up, puts his hand over his heart, and he starts talking. He does not even speak English, but we all know body language. The fact that this dude came in here, there was a complete language barrier to see how I was doing will stick with me for the rest of my life.
We are always saying, “I never experienced this. My unit never experienced this blue on green and stuff like that.” This might sound bad, but I always think to myself when that situation happened, this culture, this is what they were born into. I have never experienced anything like that. I never saw the heart. It is just the bad stuff from innocent civilians doing something bad to us.
At that moment, it opened my eyes a little bit about the people over there. We have worked with those Afghans a lot. The locals in Gardez and stuff are building those relationships. I want to know if that guy is still alive. I could not even tell you what he looked like, but that will always stick with me about how those people are over there. It always will be in my mind. I went under for surgery, and the next thing I remember is I woken up to a nurse pulling a breathing tube out of my throat. As she calmed me down, she said, “Heads up. Welcome to Landstuhl Air Base in Ramstein, Germany.
How long were you out?
Probably a day or two. The incident happened on June 3rd, 2008, and less than a week later, I was in the United States. The time it launched until airbase maybe was a day or two. I am not sure, but at the time I launched until airbase, the doctor came in and said, “We are going to have to amputate your left leg.” I thought it was going to be in my right leg because it worked that all internally, and in my left leg, you can’t work on the battlefield. My muscles were so ruptured. He said so much potassium was coming out of my muscle, and they had to pull it out because it was poisoning me.
As I got older, when I was introduced to CrossFit and I learned what rhabdo was, it made me think of what the doctor told me. I was like, “Did I have rhabdo?” Whatever it was, he had to pull the muscle out, and he said, “Your leg is going to be dangling. You could keep it or amputate it.” I said, “Get rid of it.” It is the best decision. I would be on crutches for the rest of my life. They amputated the left. My right leg is considered limb salvage, and more surgeries on that. On June 8th, 2008, five days after hitting the IED, I am finally getting the green light to go back to the States. Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC is going to be my home for a while.
How long were you there?
I was in Walter Reed for about eighteen months. I do a lot of rehab on my right leg. This was done. They amputated it. If I got a problem, that is it. Everything was focused on this one. Are we going to save it? Are we going to keep it? We did save it, but it was many operations. My foot was a big issue there, but what we finally did was called a Subtalar Fusion.
My inversion and eversion of my foot, I can’t do that anymore, but my first two options were amputating it or fusion of the ankle, and both those sound horrible. Fusion ankle, you can’t run. I was like, “What else we got?” I worked with Dr. Shawen, a specialized foot doctor, and he said, “Let’s try the SubTalar Fusion.” It was successful, so here I am now.
Talk to me about the mentality of that.
On my third day at Walter Reed, my family got the green light to come down.
Have you spoken to them since, at least on the phone?
They called me when I was in Germany. I would call them, and I knew they were coming down. I look like a wreck. A week prior, I was hit by a roadside bomb. I was cracking jokes and smiling. I thought it was good to see everybody, but when my brother saw me, he said, “I should have gone with you.” I am going to remind you of something, Fran. My brother is my twin. He was the older brother out of the two of us. He was always the one in front. He was a leader out of our friends. I know we were twins, but it is our mentalities. I think he saw his little brother getting hurt. It is who he was. I am like, “At least I did not get my balls blown off.”
I had a guy who got shot through the lower back, and the exit wound was in his nuts. He lost parts of both of them.
I am trying to convince him, like, “I am fine. I am going to be all right.” You talk about the mentality at Walter Reed. This is now 2008. The surge in the Iraq War was a year prior. You can imagine Walter Reed was full. I was there getting prosthetic work done. It is a ghost town, and that is a good thing.Having a bad attitude is bad. You got to move forward and find what works for you. Click To Tweet
Compared to what it was back then.
If you think about the big picture, lives are completely altered, and careers are coming to an end. Spouses are leaving the patient because they can handle it. It is the reality of it. I only say it because I have watched it happen a lot. People are ODing on their medication, not on purpose, but they say, “Do not drink.” They give you eighteen different pills. You are in Washington DC, and you are in your mid-twenties. You are like, “Come get a drink.” I hate to say that, but it happened a few times when I was there.
All that sad stuff I am discussing, I feel like it was the complete opposite. The one thing that never left anybody was that warrior spirit, and that military mentality was still there. The Army and the Marines are duking it out on what is a better branch still. Nobody likes the Air Force still. It is like that, except people are blind, they have burned casualties, or missing limbs. Nothing changed. I thought that was cool and awesome.
As we moved forward in my time at Walter, I learned how to snowboard again. It was in a special prosthetic leg. I went to Vail, Colorado. I learned how to play sled hockey, the disabled version of ice hockey. Life was good. I was figuring things out. I ended up medically retiring eighteen months after losing my leg.
I was dating a girl back in Pennsylvania, and I was working a little bit in Washington DC. I was getting ready for a black-tie event in Pennsylvania a week before Christmas in 2010. I am at our apartment in DuPont, Pennsylvania. I get out of the shower. I put my soup pants on and a t-shirt before I get fully dressed. I am doing my hair in front of the mirror, and the phone rings. I had finished doing my hair, washed the hair gel off my hands, looked at my phone, and saw it was my mom. I listen to the voicemail. She was distraught. What was that about?
I give her a call. When she pick up the phone, she sounds somber on the other end, “Earl. I am so sorry.” I was like, “Mom, what are you sorry about? What is the matter?” She said, “Joe committed suicide.” Fran, that was the worst day of my life. How could I get this second chance at life and have my own twin brother take his away? I fell apart, and my mindset went right back to making it all about me, feeling sorry for myself, playing the victim, and thinking the world owes me everything. Let me ask you, where does playing a victim get you in life?
Nowhere. Why did your brother take his life?
I do not have an answer for that. I know from his wife, Stephanie, that he struggled a lot with my injury. Even though I was doing well with it, there are some other personal things that I did not know that were going on in his life. A huge misconception is every suicide when somebody serves in the military is post-traumatic stress-related. That is something I talk about in my program a little bit.
I will talk about it when I am on stage, but I think that is a huge misconception. We had gotten a better society to not think that way. I know when I got hurt, everyone was like, “You must have PTSD.” I am like, “Why do you think that? Are you a doctor?” I do not want to get my head wrapped around that now, but I could not get why I got this second chance of life and Joe took his away. It crushed me.
The next day I had to go to Joe’s house. There are his wife and kids. The house is full of people. Our friends from high school and some of our guys we served with Joe for a little while. He was a corrections officer. At the time he passed away, he was an active duty guard in the 109th Infantry. It is a full-time job in the National Guard.
You can imagine the energy in this house, and I am like, “I can’t be sad anymore. What happens now? Now Sunday on the 19th. Tomorrow is Monday. Somebody is going to be at the armory.” My cousin Paul and my best friend growing up, Dave Rivera, were both in the Guard with us, “What are you guys doing tomorrow? Do you want to go to the armory?”
The three of us went to the armory. There is Sergeant Peterson. He gave me a big hug and condolences. I got a box there on Joe’s desk. I emptied out his desk, “Sergeant Peterson, here is Joe’s active duty. There is paperwork to fill out. Let’s fill this out now. I need you to go-to supply. It is going to be an open casket. I need to make sure all of Joe’s awards are up-to-date on his uniform.
My brother was Catholic. I need you to go to St. Rose of Lima Church in Carbondale and work with all the logistics with the priest, the church, and his funeral. How about you and I go with Stephanie, and we are going to go pick out a casket for Joe.” All I started doing was delegating all these tasks. I was like, “Let’s get this work and job done. I will let the family grieve. We get all this done.” It is all I had to do. I started delegating all this stuff. A day came to Joe’s funeral. I jumped in my dress blues and gave him that final salute, and that is that.
How have you dealt since?
That first year, it was victim. Did you ever see the Napoleon Dynamite? Do you know Uncle Rico? I got on Uncle Rico Syndrome, and I lived in the past. Do you know what I did for my country? I was that guy with a dysfunctional veteran’s shirt, thinking the world owed me everything because of my military service.
I started to fall apart. There is no growth and no moving forward. There was nothing at all that I had. I stopped going to school, everything. I just collected my disability check. I was at the bar doing some drugs. It was bad. I was lost and could not wrap my head around anything. I was that guy wearing the dog tags out to make sure everybody knew I served, why I am wearing a prosthetic leg, and it is bullshit.
There was nothing moving forward. The biggest turnaround I had in my life was with Joe. I learned from Joe’s wife that Joe was proud of the things I was doing when I lost my leg. When I went out to Vail, Colorado, I ended up making the front page of the Vail Daily snowboarding. You could see my prosthetic on a snowboard.
I ski, but I am a horrible snowboarder, and I have two legs. How did it go with one?
I was average when I had two legs, but now I am a bad one.
If you got there in the terrain park, I am getting up and leaving because I have no business being in the same room with you.
If I gave more patience, I am sure I would be rockstar status.
It is some humility there now.
Being that I was on the front page with Vail Daily, you know those machines where you put the quarter, and when you open, you take the paper. I took every paper and I brought them home. I started giving the people, “Check it out.” What Joe did when he was a CO, he brought it to the prison and started showing it to all of his buddies, not just from his wife’s staff.
One of his buddies, Ed, who worked at the prison, I never knew that crap. Joe was that proud of the things I was accomplishing. It turned my life around a little bit. I am like, “I never knew Joe felt that way.” We did not have that relationship where we complimented each other. It made me look at my life a little bit. I am like, “I am going downhill. I look like crap.” I am doing nothing. It made me start living this physical lifestyle. I got involved in CrossFit. I got a running blade and started running 5Ks. I started getting myself back in shape. That led to doing obstacle course races in GORUCK events.
You have done the New York Marathon and the Boston Marathon.
I will be a real. The next day I am in my wheelchair.
What is the time? It does not matter what the time is because doing it is interesting.
It is not a good time. It is seven hours.
There are people who do not do it in seven hours.
You met Johnny Lopez, who has one arm. He is my teammate in OEW. He is my guide for a lot of these. What I do is those higher miles, I am hanging onto his shoulder, limping because of my foot, all that hardware. It is screaming at this point. I always say, “Save it for the end. Get that last mile we got to run.” You got to run across the finish line. You do not walk across it. You crush it in the end. You got to add a little flavor to it. My first ever Spartan Race was in 2013. It was in Wintergreen, Virginia.
It was five years after losing my leg and two and a half years after losing my brother. I am getting ready for this course in the morning. There are these men and women in uniform with little assault packs on, and one of them comes out to him with a handout. He says, “Are you, Earl?” I look at this gentleman. His name is Noah Galloway.
A little bit about Noah’s story, he lost his left arm and left leg in Iraq in 2005 from a roadside bomb while serving 100 first airborne. He went on to accomplish in his life. He was on the cover of a men’s health magazine, and he also was on Dancing With The Stars after losing two limbs in combat. I am like, “I know who this guy is.” I fangirl a little bit.
He knew that because I hit him up on a social, “You are awesome,” and here he is in front of me. He was one of the guys in uniform. I said, “What is with the uniform.” He was like, “We are with an organization called Operation Enduring Warrior. OEW’s mission is to honor, empower and motivate wounded and disabled veterans to live an active lifestyle and not let their injuries define who they are. These people are going to define themselves.
Noah introduced me to the rest of the team, and I have to add each person in uniform was current or former military. Before we went through starting line, we went to a little secluded area in their little backpacks. They said a few words, and they pulled out a gas mask. I am like, “You guys are hardcore.” It is August in Virginia.
I ran the course alongside these men and women. I got done, and I am looking at these guys. They are awesome. Noah asked me, “What do you think about joining us?” I was like, “I do not know if I could do that.” This guy who I look up to is asking me to join this organization. I followed the Chicago Bulls my whole life, and Michael Jordan walked up to a pickup game and asked me to be on his team. You do not turn that crap down. To be a team member, you do not join the team. You have to go through an in doctrine. We do not talk about it. It is like a little secret we do. It is like a weekend of military evolution.
You got to earn it. That is what you are saying.
What I have noticed is they look for your personal capabilities, how you work as a team member with the rest of the team, and also your attitude. Those are the three keys I took from everything. There were ten people in my class, and half of them failed. I take pride in this because I was the only one on my team that had some type of disability. I was the alone amputee on my team. I was not beating them individual evolutions, but I stuck on my own, and I did not quit. When it came down to the end of who moved forward, I was one of the guys picked.
That earning that gas mask brand brought me back to that Iraq deployment. I earned a spot on a team. I am part of something bigger than myself. I am taking responsibility to help men and women in situations like me. OEW helped me through that Spartan Race. However, now I am going to help other people. It is like becoming an NCO in Iraq.
Once again, this is not about me. It is about us being a part of something bigger than myself. It turned my life around once again. It was that big push. Other organizations are reaching out to me asking for help, like the Oscar Mike Foundation. They reached out to me and said, “We would love you to help build our organization.” I saw their mission. I was all about it.
What is their mission?
Oscar Mike stands for on the move, keeping our wounded and disabled veterans on the move. Similar to OEW, run differently, though. I thought to myself, “We are doing this already.” I feel like working for both these organizations. One, the organization is military structured in that lane and how it is run. It is all those things I miss about the military. Oscar Mike is more laid back. If somebody is coming to me to approach, “What do you want your goals to be?” Seeing their personality, I think you would be a better fit over here. Both organizations will help you either way, but where could I put you in your own personality and where you are at?
There are many organizations out there, and that is a plus. There is a lot of competition. We call it competition because they are competing in a sense for donors and people to support. It is important in these communities to have this many organizations because we are all different and who we identify with organizations that speak to us in a different manner and that have a slightly different vision are important.We all face adversity and carry some weight on our shoulders. When we share that weight, we can go further than we ever could on our own. Click To Tweet
My marketing coordinator, Jenny Duclay, I met her because I work with her family with an organization called SailAHead. They teach veterans how to sail. I was like, “I grew up sailing and racing. I am in New York and going through my post-Army, trying to figure out who I am going to be when I grow up in my life. I needed an outlet to find that community or group of people who I could identify with.” I came across them, and I was like, “I can go here. Let’s build a race team too. That would be cool,” and we sucked. We have not done much because of COVID the last few years, but we are going to build it back and work on that. It is important to have those many groups out.
Think about all the charities out there, Fran. Sit down for five minutes and write down every military charity you know of. I guarantee, 90% of what you write down happens after 9/11. Our community was blessed big time compared to our military culture in the past. It has gotten much better.
You and I had a conversation about purpose and how you have to define your purpose. It is your purpose that gets you up in the morning. You had no shortage of adversity that you faced in your life and it has always been the purpose that has re-grounded you and brought you to that next step. Talk to me about Cindy.
Cindy is a cinder block with chains. Cindy, The Cinder Block is her name. We use her a lot in the Oscar Mike Foundation, and we even sell t-shirts with her on them. What Cindy represents is heavy mental adversity.
Let’s pick it up. We do not want to leave her out of this conversation.
It is Cindy and the shemagh I was wearing when I got blown up. My buddy Craig Rains is usually a gunner under that vehicle, and I took his spot. He picked up my shemagh, and he had his as well. We all wore the checker black and white shemagh. He did not know which was which when he left the deployment so he gave me both of them. I have this one here, and the other one is hanging in my office.
What Cindy represents is the heavy mental diversity that each one of us, every human, not military, everybody, we all face guilt, stress, depression, anxiety, and all that weight of adversity in her minds that holds us down in our life. The idea of Cindy, when we take her out of the course, as a team, I am not the only one carrying her. If she is a team weight, I will pass her off to somebody else. I will have them hold the chain because it is heavy.
The whole thing is heavy. I was holding it earlier when you pass it off to me. It is heavy.
The whole idea is nobody is carrying her by herself because that is the same in our minds. Every human being, we all face adversity inside ourselves. The weight of adversity holds us down and stops us from enjoying life. Cindy is a reminder that we do not have to carry the weight by ourselves. We all carry this together as a community and those relationships you built. Do you know how many friends I made in the GORUCK or the Spartan community?
You made a lot of friends because I spent time with you and I have been with you now. It is like I am walking around with a celebrity because you have made a lot of friends in this community.
Not just me, but that is the community in general. We look after each other, and that is a reminder that we do not have to carry this weight by ourselves. Sometimes that vulnerability is important. You mentioned purpose a little bit, and it is something I like to discuss. Every human being in our lives, we need three Ps. You must have a purpose, a passion, and you must be part of something bigger than selves.
I want you to think about that when you are in the military. I looked at my three Ps when I was a soldier. My purpose is I was a soldier. It is basic. That passion of being a fisherman wearing that blue-collar, the cockiness that comes with that. You are part of something bigger than yourselves. I learned that in that Iraq deployment.
My three Ps now, my purpose is I am a public speaker. I am discussing my ideas, battling adversity, and the importance of being a part of something bigger than yourself. My passions are physical fitness and travel. Those are important to me, and being a part of something Operation Enduring Warrior, you ask for my foundation, the Spartan Race community, the GORUCK community, and those relationships you are built. You are part of something.
You are now on our Jedburgh team.
I want you to think of the recipe to find those three Ps, attitude. If you have that shitty dysfunctional veteran attitude or bad attitude in general, you are never going to get anywhere in life. Having a bad attitude is bad. You got to move forward and find what works for you. Comfort zone, you have to take a leap out of it. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that. Education is something I struggle with sitting in the classroom, but there are many things I want to accomplish after I get my degree.
I am working on my undergrad in Counseling and Human Services, and I would love to be a nutrition coach. I lost a lot of weight, which helped save not amputating my other leg. That is a whole other story, but I found out the importance of what you are putting inside your body and also physical fitness and the right work as it works for you to reach your physical goals. I would like to step out of my comfort zone and take those steps in finding other approaches to better myself to help those in my community in OEW and Oscar Mike. Those are some goals I have.
I always am stagnant about it because I got to sit at a computer and learn these modules. It is hard to retain stuff. I am like, “Do it already. You can do this.” I am beating myself up. I have to remind myself, “You have to step out of your comfort zone and do it. You are going to be fine.” If you need help, that is where Cindy comes out to play, “Give some study, or would you help me study, whatever it may be.”
The recipe to find those three Ps, attitude, stepping out of your comfort zone, and the third is most important. It is community. It is what we are seeing right here at Sandlot JAX. As you said, “People come up to me all the time.” That is the power of what a community can do. It is where those avenues where I am struggling, where we all lean on each other, and those relationships you build.
You do not go anything alone, and even people who are athletes, we have talked to a number of Olympic athletes who are in individual sports. They will always say, “Even though I may have had to compete on my own, I did not get here by myself.” That is prevalent in all of us. An Infantry Platoon is 41 people for a reason. A Special Forces team is twelve people for a reason.
Rarely are we ever isolated by ourselves, and the community when you come out of these organizations helps you in that transition. It is hard because one of the things that we forget about, and I never had even considered when I was getting out, was the fact that you lose and you leave behind this group. It is what you know.
For several years of my life, they were my friends, coworkers, and everything. The last thing I had before that was my college friends and roommates who had gone off to build their own lives. I had not been in contact with them because I was running around in the Army. I went to Iraq three times and Africa a lot. All of a sudden, you are like, “Who am I? How do I find these people? How do I find people who think like I do and I can identify with? That is powerful. We are seeing that here. We are looking out the back here at Sandlot JAX. There has been this constant stream of people, and we are going to see more people. It is cool to see the community come together in this fashion.
There is GORUCK still going on all over the country after COVID. I do not want to say each GORUCK is different, but this is something so unique. I saw some people wearing Montana GORUCK Club shirts out here. We are in Jacksonville, Florida. That tells you how far people are traveling for this. Think about it. It is like a little reunion.
Earl, we talk about the nine characteristics of elite performance in the majority of our conversations. When I think about your story and you discuss the adversity that you had to go through at various times, you have demonstrated in many ways these nine. You have the drive to do more of the curiosity and the emotional strength to continue to be calm and find a way to get through. There is an effective intelligence in your ability to understand what you have been through and apply the adversity of the past to make decisions for the future. It is truly remarkable. We talked about humility a little bit as well.
I do want to ask you as we closeout. Now that I have welcomed you to our Jedburgh team, the Jedburgh of World War II had to do three things as daily core foundational tasks. They had to be able to shoot, move, and communicate. If they did these three things with the utmost precision, they would be able to focus their energy on more complex challenges that came their way. You spoke about your three Ps, but at a foundational core habit level, what are the three things that you do every day as core foundational tasks to prepare you to execute on your three Ps.
The first one I am going to talk about is brand new that I started doing. For the past several months, I have been meditating every morning. I dated a girl who meditated. Every night before bed, I would try to go to sleep. She would be sitting there and doing her breathwork this and that. I would never openly say anything about it, but I always thought, “Is that work?” I was wrong because now that I am doing it, taking that deep breath in and letting it out, even now when I did it. Her and I are still good friends. I saw her meditating and I was wrong. How much that Zen?
It started with guided meditation. It is twenty minutes at a specific stance in how I stand, and it is complete silence with my eyes closed. I am focusing on my body and counting my heartbeat to four every time. Four heartbeats, breath in. Four heartbeats, hold it. Four heartbeats, exhale. Four heartbeats, hold it. That is a technique that I started doing. I try to do it for twenty minutes.
I feel so much better in the morning when I do that. It sends me out, and it is good. Believe it or not, I also started journaling. There is still growth I need to do. I realize it myself. Writing down, “Here are your goals for now. Here is what you are going to do.” Pick up that CrossFit manual. I am working on my level one, pick that up, and start reading it. I would much rather put my blade on and go for a run than sit down and read. Even if fifteen minutes, get in that book for a little bit. The dog would like it, and Spartan would like it if you went for two miles a day.
I write down my daily goals of what I need to do. There are the things like, “I have this meeting. I have these things that I have to do. What am I going to do in my free time?” Do this and do that. There is a small dog, Charlie. It remembers to settle because Charlie likes to sit there and watch TV with me. He gets pissed off, and he stomps his little feet. I was like, “Would you sit down already?” Journaling, meditation, and there is the stuff I have been doing it forever. It is physical fitness. It is in that order. It is meditating, journaling, and I leave the house. I go to early CrossFit. That is how I start my day. When I get those three things in, I am good to go.
We got a couple of more days here. I know we are going to spend some more time together. I appreciate you hopping in the back of the ambulance here in a better situation than probably the last time. It is awesome. Your story is inspirational, and I am truly honored to have met you to build a relationship and a partnership with you. I look forward to many more conversations to come.
Fran, thank you so much. Anything you and your team need, Jedburgh, by all means, do not hesitate. This is a privilege. I appreciate it.
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