Culture Military

Post Traumatic Winning hits the 2nd Marine Division; the response is beyond overwhelming

Major General David J. Furness, USMC, took command of the 2nd Marine Division (2nd MarDiv), headquartered in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, during the first week of August 2018. In his first two months as the CG, the 2nd MarDiv recorded five suicides and 20 to 30 incidents of suicidal ideations/attempts. Gen. Furness asked about causal factors, he asked what was being doing about the problem, and he wasn’t happy with the answers. Historically, military suicide rates have been lower than those rates found in the general population. That started changing about ten years ago. By 2015, suicide was the second leading cause of death in the U.S. military.  The Marine Corps has dedicated more resources and senior level attention to suicide prevention than at anytime in its history and yet the problem is increasing.

Gen. Furness didn’t know why all the programs and training the Marine Corps had developed over the years weren’t working; he just knew they weren’t working. He had three choices: continue with the existing programs but work at them harder, continue with present programs and hope they would start to show some return on investment, or try a dramatically different approach.

Gen. Furness knew exactly where to go to find something dramatically different. He called his old friend, Mike “Mac” McNamara, the founder of All Marine Radio and the developer of the Post Traumatic Wining (PTW) concept and said, “Hey buddy, I need your help.”

Tim Lynch, Dave Furness, and Mike McNamara outside the 1st Regimental Combat Team HQ at Camp Dwyer, in Helmand province back in 2010. The three of us served together as instructors at the infantry officer course in the early 90’s.

If you recognize the picture above you have probably read my first post on Post Traumatic Wining last November. That post covered the treasure trove of unique, historically significant, information to be found on the AMR podcast. Mac gleans keen insights during long interviews with his guests who range from the four star to junior enlisted ranks.

It was from those interviews that Mac started to develop the concept of Post Traumatic Winning. When I wrote about it two months ago, Mac was on his first draft. He wasn’t sure how to weaponize it, how to make it accessible to junior military members or to the general public. Post Traumatic Wining isn’t a Marine thing, nor are the problems of suicide and depression. The U.S. Suicide rate has increased 30% since the year 2000.

Men’s suicide rates are still higher than women’s overall, however, and there’s been a troublingly steep increase in suicides of men from age 45 to 64 as well, as so-called ‘deaths of despair’ from drug, alcohol and suicide deaths spike among white, middle-aged men without a college degree. The only age group that didn’t experience a rise in suicide rates from 2000-2016 was men over 75 years old, who already had the highest suicide rate of all.

Adding to this alarming trend is the rate of hospitalization for self harm among young women, and the dismal statistics concerning veterans. According to the Office of Suicide Prevention (2016), veterans account for approximately 18% of all adult suicide deaths in the U.S., yet veterans are only 8.5% of the U.S. population.

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This stunning increase hospital admission for young girls can be directly attributed to social media and smart phones. That is why the people who developed social media and smart phones will not let their children anywhere near them. But social media and smart phones are here to stay so how do we handle the mess they are creating?

As Mac refined his concept he realized that PTW was applicable to every American — check that, to everyone, everywhere. PTW is not a Marine thing, nor is it exclusively aimed at combat vets. Mental health professionals started reaching out to him providing not only encouragement but legitimacy as well as access to additional resources. In the article on suicide linked above, the reporters stress: “Truly effective mental healthcare, better access to treatment, lower costs, and reduced stigma could all go a long way toward reducing suicides.” The key is “effective mental healthcare” because the approaches currently in vogue with mental health professionals are clearly not effective.

As Josh Goldberg (more on him below) remarked during one of the All Marine Radio after action podcasts, “…our mental health system is designed to manage and mitigate symptoms of distress not to help you grow and win. What we need to do is to educate people about the possibility of growth (winning) after trauma because that is not a core belief of the mental health profession.”

While Dave worked through the funding issues, Mac finalized his presentations and the team he would bring with him to present the PTW concept. Mac would introduce the concept, retired Marine Gunner (CWO5) Mike Musselman (a regular on All Marnie Radio) would cover why these concepts were important (especially for junior Marines), and Josh Goldberg, the Executive Director of the Boulder Crest Institute for Post-traumatic Growth and co-author of the book Struggle Well; Thriving in the Aftermath of Trauma, would cover how to apply the PTW principals in the Marines’ daily lives.

PTW class
This is something I never seen nor believed possible. Marines sitting through a 3 hour long mandatory mental health training evolution and not only have none of them fallen asleep they have paid attention and been engaged for the entire 3 hours.

Last week I listened to the daily updates on the PTW presentation confident of two things: the first was that his message would be well received, the second that Gen. Furness, having footed the bill for these presentations, was going to get his return on investment. What happened exceeded all our expectations by several orders of magnitude.

For Mac, the schedule was grueling. Up at 0500, tape an hour for the AMR podcast, then off for the first class of the day, grab a quick bite of lunch, then do the second class, grab a quick bite and do an evening class (two of those were for the spouses, not Marines). Back to the hotel where Mac, The Gunner, and Josh would do an after-action-discussion for the AMR podcast, finish up at midnight, hit the rack for a few hours sleep and repeat. The daytime classes addressed 1000 Marines at a time, Gen. Furness, as I knew he would, got every drop of juice he could squeeze out of Mac and the crew.

When you listened to the updates you could tell that reception of the PTW program was extraordinary. It started with Gunner observing he had never, in all his 30 plus years in the Corps, seen 1000 Marines sit through a three hour mandatory class without anyone falling sleep. The next day was more of the same although you could hear, in their voices, that  they were starting to get overwhelmed by the positive response to the PTW class. By the time they did their last hot wash up, all three of them were beyond overwhelmed, they were shell shocked, they were emotional, they knew they they were onto something but underestimated just how profoundly their message would be received.  They didn’t know what to say, so they repeated over and over: “I don’t know what to say.”

I encourage you to listen to the daily updates from Camp Lejeune to hear the profound impact the presentation had. Day one is here, day two is here, this is day three, and here is day four. Last Monday, Mac dedicated the entire three hours to reviewing last week’s presentation. During the first hour, there are several long silences as Mac tries to dampen his emotions while trying to make sense of what he had experienced. The second hour was spent with Gen. Furness, who gave his thoughts on what happened, and the during the third hour Mac, The Gunner, and Josh gave their thoughts on what they had unleashed on the Marines of the 2ndMarDiv.

The positive feedback to these classes was immediate, and again (I can’t stress this enough) unprecedented. Here are some examples:

SgtMaj Regimental Sergeants Major do not hand out compliments like this as a general rule. That’s why they are Sergeants Major — they’re tough, they are not easily impressed and I’ve never heard of one say, “THE most impactful PME/Training/Education on my career.” The other message speaks to what I was stressing above — this is not about combat related PTSD, it’s about trauma and it is a system that resonates and works. Mac ended up calling that duty SNCO in between flights on his way home.

dave's text5

The text message to the right is from MajGen. Furness, Marines never come up and talk to their commanding general in the base gym. They just don’t do that, normally they get the hell out of his way.  One of the advantages my friend Dave has in his current assignment is to go to one of the base gyms (which are super nice and super busy) and get immediate access to all the equipment because everybody get’s the hell out of his way. Not anymore apparently. The first text above speaks for itself.

I’ll end this post with the two goals and eight commandments of PTW and a prediction, which is the same prediction I made in my first post on the topic. You are going to hear more about this program in the future. The Freq Media takes mental health seriously and we are honored to be the first media outlet to cover this remarkable story.


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2 years ago

Thank you Tim. I listened to the first podcast. The list at the end of your write up is amazing, have read it through a few times now and going to keep it handy.

2 years ago

This is really awesome, Tim. I’m glad the Major General recognized a true gap in the care needed for his Marines. I am especially glad to see this upon hearing that the VA sort of dropped caring about their suicide prevention programs in the past year. The best statement I read was Josh Goldberg’s “…our mental health system is designed to manage and mitigate symptoms of distress not to help you grow and win. What we need to do is to educate people about the possibility of growth (winning) after trauma because that is not a core belief of the… Read more »

2 years ago

Sorry I missed this article! I have not been receiving notifications for about a week, and when I checked the site home page which I thought listed all new posts, it is not listed. (I do see it if I go to Military, but I have always just checked the home page). Joni mentioned it to me, or I would have missed it altogether. This program is encouraging, glad to see that General Furness has made this a priority and that there are brothers and sisters out there dedicated to the cause. Sometimes it takes an epiphany to get support… Read more »

2 years ago

Tim, thank you for this very important article! Though my husband and I are not military, the struggle with mental illness is brutal! At the end of a 17 year relationship, it turned me into an abused woman, and cost my husband his life. I will never be the same. My advice is to be very selective about who provides Psychiatric care. If it doesn’t feel right, scream loud, scream hard! My husband’s Psychiatrist was a former Green Beret. Because of that, I thought that I could trust him. Under this man’s care, my husband turned into a delusional monster.… Read more »

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