To War and Back With a Chalk Bag, Skis and a New Mission!
It was rock climbing, two years after his exit from the United States Army and a year in Baghdad that helped Stacy move through his own multi-year struggle with suicidal ideation and substance abuse. This put him on a path to connect first more veterans, and then all people, to the outdoors as a means to engage and resolve trauma.
Through the outdoors he found himself, his passion, and a renewed excitement for life." (Excerpt from Stacy's website Happy Grizzly Adventures).
Somedays my time in service feels like last week and sometimes it feels like it was someone else’s life that has been grafted on to what I am doing now. The memories include someone who looks like me, but is it me?
I got commissioned out of the University of Mississippi in 2000, was stationed in Germany as an Intel Officer and deployed to Bosnia in 03/04 as the head of the counter terrorism team at the National Intelligence Center. I got out of the Army, headed off to do humanitarian land mine clearance in Angola and later Abkhazia in the Republic of Georgia before getting recalled out of the Individual Ready Reserve to do a tour in Baghdad 06-07 as a civil affairs officer.
We were there before and during the surge. I’d guess I was somewhere at about 50% for how rough or violent my tour was. I both really loved and hated my time in the US Army. It is hard to imagine a life without the friends, experiences, and lessons learned-but also damn man, why did some of that shit have to go down the way it did?
Life lessons from your time on active duty?
That there’s always a way through any hard time. 99.9% of the time, the way through will require team work and use of resources you don’t have sole access to, as well as people and advice that you may disagree with in other areas of life and war to get the job done.
You cannot win a war, or build a lasting peace or understanding, without boots on the ground outside of the wire. Face to face communication is always the best. As a force, we spent too much time behind walls from our senior leadership on down to the newest enlisted troop. I got home to a world in 07 that was retreating into screens, I’ve been guilty of the same, if we want a country worth living in we need to get out from behind our walls and screens to engage with one another in conversation, not always in trying to prove the other person wrong or with a specific outcome in mind.
What was your high point while serving?
The people. I met some of the bravest, brightest men and women of the United States, immigrants who came to the United States to serve our country, as well as people in Iraq and Bosnia who cared so deeply about their homes and worked, or are still working so hard to rebuild their nations. I take a lot of daily inspiration and hope from all the people I met in and outside of the uniform.
The leadership. There were a lot of great leaders I had the good fortune to spend time with and learn from during my time in service. I got to work with a lot of different branches and nationalities as well and still count a handful of those leaders as mentors and coaches today. But something happens along the way where leaders seem to stop worrying about accountability, owning and learning from their own mistakes, and instead focusing on ego and evaluation bullets. As we moved from finding weapons of mass destruction to winning the global war on terrorism to building peace and democracy in Iraq in the year I was there, I felt like our higher levels of leadership beyond the Brigade was not seeing the same thing we were on the ground and were more interested in what they could say they did during the war vs. what actually happened.
What are some projects you are working on now?
A couple of years after I came back, a friend I deployed with introduced me to rock climbing and that changed my life. It gave me something to live for vs. live against. It was a means to joy vs. anger and ultimately a path to meet a ton of people who had very different life experiences than me. It helped me realize it wasn’t just veterans who had hard times and helped me find a place back home other than always crowing about who I was-it gave me a path to become.
I worked with other veterans in the outdoors for a long time and started to wonder if I could change the conversation and add to my own narrative of the places I had been to fight, if I went back to ski or climb-so that launched Adventure Not War. So far I’ve climbed in Angola, skied in Iraq and Afghanistan, and am planning a fly fishing trip to Bosnia this fall or in 2023, and want to also go back to ski in Abkhazia.
At the end of our trip in Afghanistan, some Afghan skiers asked how we could help skiing in the region, so I partnered up with Doug Bernard and two crazy Dutch guys, Olaf and Peter, to support a bunch of Kyrgyz skiers in launching a free ride ski event for Central Asia. Folks can check out that film here: https://www.rei.com/blog/snowsports/adventure-not-war
I also took what I learned from supporting veterans outdoors, partnered up with a mental health professional Koorosh Rassekh, and launched Happy Grizzly Adventures to support people in Intentional Adventure where they have the best chance at a transformational experience in the outdoors.
How can people support your efforts?
#1 is to go out and talk to, get to know, someone who has a different belief system than you do. Find out why they believe what they do and see where there might be things that connect us vs. drive us apart.
#2, folks can donate to Silk Road Freeride and if individuals or companies are really stoked on what we have going on, get in touch and we can try and tailor something specific to your philanthropic needs and wants.
What’s your favorite type/types of music?
I grew up with guys like Tennessee Ernie Ford, so after a youth spent in hardcore and heavy metal, Danzig is still in heavy rotation, I listen to a lot of Blue Grass and Americana these days.
I rode Factions for a lot of years and they were a great partner in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lately though, I’ve teamed up with G3 and there’s nothing more fun than the Slay’r on even the smallest, let alone the deepest, powder day. Light, super responsive ski that makes all your dreams come true and is easy on my 43 year old knees! Also-always wear a helmet, and Pret feels as different on your head as a baseball cap.
I miss Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor. I generally spend my lunch hour cruising standup comedy on line. I saw a bit from Margaret Cho that had me rolling pretty hard a week or two ago.
How can people find you?
www.adventurenotwar.com is the repository for the different films and articles we’ve made so far.