Meet Retired Green Beret James Rooney: His Brave Story of Adversity and Healing
In 1993, at the young age of 18, Jimmy Rooney was given a sobering choice—go to jail for dealing drugs or join the Army. Not knowing anything about military life or having any family members who had served, he headed to his local U.S. Army recruiting station and enlisted. After basic training at Fort Benning (renamed Fort Moore) where “I got the snot knocked out of me and the sense knocked into me,” he became a member of the Infantry 10th Mountain Division and immediately deployed to Somalia to fight in the Battle of Mogadishu, also known as the Black Hawk Down incident. Somalia was an eye-opening experience for the young private where he was thrust into a fight for his life alongside special operation soldiers. In the midst of battle, they shared emotions and experiences.
After completing his time as an infantryman, Jimmy taught military mountaineering at the U.S. Army Mountain Warfare School for the Vermont National Guard. He worked with mountaineering units all over the world and it was a great experience, but he was looking for more. He returned to active duty at Fort Bragg to be assessed and selected as a Green Beret Special Forces soldier. The life of a Green Beret is high stakes and requires total commitment, giving 100 percent without question.
“There was a heightened sense of responsibility to go from the conventional army to Special Operations Forces (SOF). It is a competitive environment with the need to perform at the highest level of proficiency. SOF was extremely challenging and created a lot of problems that I didn’t see right away. I was so wrapped up in the hype and adrenaline that I didn’t realize I was putting my family on the back burner and ignoring my health.”
As a Green Beret for almost 16 years, Jimmy was around only two months a year to be a husband to his wife Kristy and a father to his two children. At the height of the Global War on Terror, Green Berets were generally deployed overseas in combat for six months a year, in addition to the numerous pre-deployment training and exercises needed to always be the best.
There is an emotional toll that a Green Beret’s family must burden. For almost every deployment Jimmy was on, his team would lose a teammate. This wasn’t just a loss for the warfighters left behind, Kristy also experienced the loss at home. SOF spouses’ bonds are strong so Kristy would frequently make bereavement visits and bring in meals for the widows and families. The quiet burden of a SOF spouse, dealing with loss on the home front, is the thought that this could be my fate tomorrow. Jimmy says, “I truly believe it was harder on the wives than it was for us while deployed. It wears on them more because they have to deal with the horrific, emotional strain every single day. We get to move on and reset 24 to 48 hours later to continue missions, get retribution, and blow off our anger and frustrations.”
Jimmy’s physical injuries were also piling up. During the Battle of Mogadishu, he suffered hearing loss and concussions. During one combat operation in Afghanistan, he fell out of a helicopter hurting his neck and back. He participated in multiple airborne operations where he landed badly, compounding these injuries over the years. Throughout his military career, Jimmy was exposed to over 4,000 over-pressure blasts, resulting in traumatic brain injury (TBI), auditory processing disorder, PTSD, and heavy metal toxicity.
In July of 2021 after 27 years of service, Jimmy medically retired from the Army. Although he had TBI, physicians did not identify the severity, and he was given little guidance from physicians for treatment. Frustrated, he talked to friend and fellow soldier, Alan Williams, former executive director of Task Force Dagger Special Operations Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit.
Since 2009, Task Force Dagger has provided critical support to wounded, ill, or injured U.S. Special Operations Command members and their families. Their three core programs — Immediate Needs, Health Initiatives, and Rehabilitative Adaptive Events — quickly help when there’s an emergency, provide next-generation health solutions for issues, and organize events that help SOF members with recovery.
“I had significant health problems and felt a sense of despair and hopelessness when Army doctors told me I was going to have to take it easy the next part of my life and offered no real solutions to getting better. I didn’t know what was going on inside my brain with TBI. I had anxiety, depression, and anger issues. Task Force Dagger has given so much to me and my family. From the very start, they offered me a lifeline. They covered my Cleveland Clinic doctor visits, testing, and treatments. They helped me with treatment for the heavy metal toxicity in my body. I couldn’t afford any of this on my own. With those treatments, I am almost depleted of all the toxicity! If Task Force Dagger hadn’t stepped in to help, I wouldn’t have known the severity of my injuries nor gotten the proper treatment. More recently, they assisted with numerous ketamine infusion treatments to treat my PTSD. It was extremely helpful and greatly decreased my anger and anxiety.”
And they continue to help. My family and I participated in Task Force Dagger’s weeklong Dagger Dive, where I was around other SOF members who had similar or worse problems. We communicated and related to each other in such a healing way. I hadn’t truly connected with my family for years the way we did at Dagger Dive. We spent the days together; we spent the nights together. My son and I scuba-dived and had an amazing bonding experience. My daughter enjoyed the free time to spend with us in a stress-free, relaxed, and fun environment. The joy that Dagger Dive gave to us was incredible. I get emotional when I talk about it because I had never spent that much quality time with my family. I am so grateful.”
Jimmy also has participated with Task Force Dagger’s Joint Recovery Team in Saipan, searching, recovering, and repatriating missing service members from World War II. The team for these missions includes the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), the National Park Service (NPS), and East Carolina State University (ECU). Keeping the promise to bring home soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our country is a real-world mission that gives SOF members a deeper purpose and focus in their lives.
“We were able to find some potential artifacts. But the most humbling part of the recovery mission was our first stop at the DPAA’s quiet room where they bring the remains and briefed the family about their long-lost loved ones. This drove home the importance of why we were there.”
Today, Jimmy and his family are doing well. Although he still struggles every day, he’s learned ways to communicate better and foster healthier, more connective relationships with his wife and children. They’ve volunteered for Dagger Dive and continue to do all they can to let other SOF members know about the organization that makes a huge difference in their lives.
“Task Force Dagger was the only one who helped me in my most crucial time of need. I want my brothers to know that they’re not alone. There is hope and there is treatment. Task Force Dagger finds ways to say yes, no matter how hard or difficult the problem is, and they move at a speed that no one else can. They provide full support to the families as well as to the individual military member. While I served, I watched my kids grow up in pictures and on Zoom calls. Since Task Force Dagger’s involvement, I get to watch them grow up in real-time, with joy and appreciation.”
About Task Force Dagger Special Operations Foundation
Since 2009, Task Force Dagger Special Operations Foundation has provided critical support to wounded, ill, or injured U.S. Special Operations Command members and their families. Task Force Dagger’s three core programs — Immediate Needs, Health Initiatives, and Rehabilitative Adaptive Events — quickly help when there’s an emergency, provide next-generation health solutions for issues, and organize events that help SOF members with recovery. As a veteran-operated nonprofit, Task Force Dagger understands the needs and experiences of the Special Operations Forces community. Each program is designed to heal, rebuild, and strengthen the service member and their family by providing mission, purpose, and focus. To learn more or to donate, go to www.taskforcedagger.org or call (813) 701-9100.