first published on February 18, 2016 by Josh
Irreverent Warriors is a non-profit organization that combats suicide and PTSD through humor and camaraderie.
In order to tackle the issues of veteran suicide, and PTSD you have to understand the individuals first. The best group of individuals for this task, is of course other veterans. Aggressively attacking the issues by bringing those individuals together, and allowing them to be themselves is the first step. Growing the networks and support of individual veterans who suffer is the second step, and The Silkies Hike birthed by the Irreverent Warriors non-profit does both.
Like minded people attract each other. Without acknowledging why, they’re drawn to each other like magnets.
While I was in Wounded Warrior Battalion (never hit by enemy fire, just broken) I watched all the severely combat wounded guys come together like magnets.
The guys who got blown up in trucks and had TBIs all stuck together. The guys who got shot all stuck together, and the guys who blew their limbs off all stuck together.
Although I wasn’t combat wounded, I gravitated towards all the grunts and engineers.
Dozens of non-profits came to Wounded Warrior Battalion offering us amazing things- trips, get-togethers, parties, dinners, classes, gyms, discounts, etc…
Even though the events were mandatory for all of us, the combat wounded guys- most especially the amputees- wouldn’t show up. Instead they locked themselves in their barracks rooms and drank. They told war stories, they laughed about combat, they called each other idiots for getting shot, or for stepping on an IED, and when they were drunk enough, they’d wrestle. They’d jump out of their wheelchairs and fight each other with all their might. Everyone else would circle up and cheer, screaming, “WASTE THAT MUTHER******,” while two guys with no legs tried to choke the life out of each other. At some point in the match, someone else would take advantage of the opportunity to drop their nuts on someone else’s face. The match would eventually turn into aggressive humping, often with grunting and hair pulling, and would end in euphoric laughter. The kind of laughter that forced their eyes shut, made their sides hurt, their faces numb, and required laying on the floor, because standing was not possible while laughing this hard.
This experience made them feel good. This was therapy for them. They were the most comfortable, secure, happy, and loved- in the company of each other.
I noticed there was not a single outlet, outside of that barracks room, which provided that level of therapy for these guys. Adaptive sports were great, retreats were great, but at no point did these worn bastard children feel like they could really be themselves. They were always in the spot light, they were always being judged, and they were always a little insecure- not just about their bodies, but about the thoughts than ran through their own minds.
I wanted to create a place where these guys felt at home.
My initial intention was never to create a non-profit, it was to create a community. I wanted to host therapeutic events where these guys could get together and be themselves without fear of judgment or ridicule. I wanted to be the catalyst for that same side-splitting, soul-cleansing laughter that I saw in the Wounded Warrior Battalion barracks.
For months, I was a complete failure. Nothing happened, I brought no one together. March 29, 2015, my friend Art killed himself. He was one of the many guys I met in WW Battalion who lost his legs in Sangin. This lit a fire under my ass, especially because Art loved my humor. I created the IW logo and hired a mentor to help me create a brand around the idea of a community for combat vets. She told me that I needed to use the word “irreverent” in my title.
“What does that mean?” I asked
“Irreverent means an inability to take serious things seriously.” She said
I just about fell out of my chair, because I had never heard a single word that could generalize the personalities of just about every warrior, from any branch, that I had ever met. Irreverent Warriors was born in April, 2015, and was nothing more than a Facebook page that had only two likes- myself, and my best friend Ryan.
In June of 2015 I had an experience that re-ignited that fire. I went on a hike with my dad and three friends in the Sierra Nevada’s. It was the most painful and beautiful week I had ever experienced. Each day was filled with physical misery and mental stimulation, each night at the campsite-when we finally got to lay down- was filled with euphoric laughter. It was truly therapeutic, and I vowed to take some combat veterans out there to create a therapeutic experience for them.
I failed again. Logistically, it was too hard.
Finally I called Ryan and said, “Bro this wilderness hike isn’t gonna happen. Let’s just hike on the boardwalk. We can take our shirts off, stop at bars, hit on girls, and laugh the whole way.”
“I’ll do you one better bro; let’s do it in silkies!” Ryan said
The Silkies Hike: 22, with 22, for the 22, was born.
We did a news story before the first Silkies Hike that went viral because we acted really homo-erotic, then the Marine Corps times did a story on us, and on July 25, 2015, my small group of less than 10 original participants turned into 70. For all of us, it was the best day we had in a long time.
One week later a guy named Mark Metzger created one in Houston that had 275 veterans participate. It was an incredible hike that did something special for the Texas veteran community, and from there, hikes began popping up all over the country. I became overwhelmed with people asking me to create a hike in their city, so I created a blog post that had instructions for creating their own hike.
Some hikes needed lots of help from me, some needed only a little. People began offering me money and support, so I incorporated as a non-profit and created a team to help me facilitate the hikes around the country. Irreverent Warriors Inc. was born.
I started out intending to help combat wounded veterans, but the hikes attracted anyone who has suffered pain and tragedy- and preferred humor as a coping mechanism- regardless of combat service. Laughing at pain and tragedy brought us all together. Once we get together, the support we give to each other is powerful. The connection that we have as military veterans instantly bonds us and makes us able to support each other. Veterans from all eras, branches, and MOSs have created strong friendships through our events, and have created their own support networks.
From the beginning our mission has been very simple.
We bring veterans together using humor and camaraderie, through therapeutic events and entertainment, in order to reduce PTSD and prevent veteran suicide.
We don’t give financial assistance, clothes, backpacks, jobs, nor service dogs. We just bring us together. In addition to creating events that bring veterans together, we’ve created a sense of community that fosters and encourages veterans to get together on their own.
What is not known among civilians is that active duty military service provides the service member with a strong sense of community and support. Once they get out, they can feel lost without that sense of community and support, which is why the Legion and VFW were so successful years ago.
After WW2, a veteran left active duty service and went straight to the VFW and American Legion. Those institutions were once an integral part of the veteran, and even American population.
Now that the Legion and the VFW have lost their significance, veterans who were once fed off of the military don’t have the support and community they need to succeed in the real world. This is where we come in.
We can bring veterans together en-masse, we can bring all the veteran service organizations together en-masse, and we can create a sense of community and support.
Ultimately our goal is to partner with the VFW and the Legion and give them a makeover to help re-establish their significance with our generation of warriors, who are very different from the old breed.
As veterans, we heal the best in the company of each other. This is why we need to get together, and this is why Irreverent Warriors exists.