Josh is a Special Operations combat Veteran with multiple rotations to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bosnia, along with numerous other deployments around the globe in support of the War on Terror. Moreover, Josh is a wounded warrior with seven documented traumatic brain injuries (TBI) with loss of consciousness—four from explosive blasts, two by parachute landing falls, and one more from combative training.
After he retired in December of 2008, Josh continued to support the military as a contractor both stateside and abroad. It was during an elite Special Operations training exercise in 2013 that he sustained another major concussion, complete with fractured nose, ribs, and cervical spine compression, putting him over the edge.
“I couldn’t function through the day without extreme headaches, fatigue, and disorientation. I never had problems psychologically until I had problems with my head from the TBI’s. It’s like this: If a record is skipping, it could be that it is scratched (PTSD), or that the record player itself has a broken/cracked needle (TBI). The combination of TBI and PTSD exacerbates both issues. The VA has a much easier time diagnosing PTSD because the environment and horrors of combat are undeniable, but unlike TBI, they can medicate and call it a day. This is why I began to ‘self-medicate’ heavily with alcohol until I was up to well beyond a bottle of hard liquor a day.”
This deathly combination of prescribed meds and alcohol not only tore his family and marriage apart, but it completely turned Josh into a different person. “I did not know my husband anymore,” his wife Tonia stated. “So I did everything I could to bring him and our family back to what we were, and that’s when I found the Task Force Dagger Special Operations Foundation (TFDF).”
Task Force Dagger Special Operations Foundation is a United States Army Special Operations Command based organization dedicated to providing assistance to all wounded, ill, or injured members and their families. Established in 2009, TFDF is a federally recognized non-profit foundation that supplies emergency funding to those SOCOM service members and their families who cannot afford the proper care.
With their help, Josh was immediately taken to the James A Haley VA Polytrauma Unit in Tampa, FL where he underwent TBI therapy and after three months, was returned to his family where he was able to rebuild his marriage and life. Although Josh was beginning to reconstruct the foundation of his former life, he was still suffering from severe inner ear (vestibular) damage, right eye nerve palsy, and vertigo from a compressed cervical spine at two levels. After receiving more than a dozen surgeries to correct some of these problems, Tonia purchased Josh a stand-up paddleboard in hopes of getting him exercising again. However, Josh quickly found that it helped with more than just his physical fitness. In Josh’s own words, “Standup paddle boarding brought balance back to my life.” Finding solace on the water was a huge achievement for Josh, but he was surprised at how simple of an idea it was that paddle boarding could so easily help his TBI. “When I’m on the water, everything around me stops moving. The horizon holds still because of the subtle movements of the water. It is my sanctuary.”
Having departed for many missions in the military, Josh knew he would be departing for one of the most important missions of his civilian life—helping other veterans in need. More than twenty two veterans a day are taking their lives, and this now accounts for more than ten times the number of casualties overseas due to lack of help and over prescribing meds for TBI and PTSD. In an effort to raise awareness of these statistics and help raise money for the foundation that helped save Josh’s life, he came up with a plan to make the longest journey ever paddled.
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