Veterans share their story to find their voice
By MaryTherese Griffin, U.S. Warrior Care and Transition

ARLINGTON, Va. - There is no mistake that members of the military can be tough, intelligent, strategic, and anything else necessary to complete the mission. Once they separate from their military life, many may feel like they have lost their sense of purpose or, as retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Scott Mann calls it, their voice. An issue that Mann is addressing through a storytelling platform he created for Warriors in Transition.

"I was 100 % clear on what my voice was as a Green Beret, even on my worst day, when my feet hit the floor I knew who I was," said Mann who spent the majority of his career serving as a Green Beret and deploying 17 times in 10 years. "The second I got out of the military I felt like I was on a different planet. My transition from the military was very dark, I became very suicidal."

It was through story telling that Mann was able to find his new normal. His dear friend and mentor, NFL player Bo Eason, was very instrumental in helping Mann tell his story. "Bo showed me the power of a narrative, [how to connect] with your past and reconnect with your purpose." When Mann found his voice again, he knew he wanted to pay it forward. He and his wife founded a nonprofit that helps warriors find their voice and tell their story as they transition home.

Mann has made it his mission to help transitioning military members find their voice and tell their story, the two greatest assets he says everyone has. Like Mann, retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. James Klingensmith, struggled to find his a voice after leaving the military. Klingensmith was injured from a rocket propelled grenade blast in Kunar, Afghanistan on August 31, 2009. He spent 18 months at the Warrior Transition Unit, Fort Carson, Colorado trying to save his leg and his military career along with it. He was unsuccessful at both after limb salvage efforts failed and he had his leg amputated in 2011 followed by medical retirement in September 2016.

When Mann met Klingensmith, he knew he could help him by helping him find his voice the way Eason had helped him.

"I do feel my voice coming out. I've been working on my story for about a year now and it was through Scott's workshops that helped me recover and overcome even more," Klingensmith said. "I can tell you the first time I told my story to a group of strangers I had a knot in my throat and now that knot's gone down and I feel like a weight has been lifted."

Klingensmith now works as a logistics coordinator for the show Mann wrote and performs in, that addresses finding your voice. He says that being able to tell his story is an extreme confidence boost. "I never was able to talk in public, I was distant I didn't share and now I love talking to everyone. I love getting to talk with the audience and local crew after working the show in any of the cities we travel to during the year."

Klingensmith acknowledges hearing Mann tell his story can be a reminder of his time on the battlefield, but he now has the necessary tools to press forward and hopes many more will turn to this type of help.

"Thousands of Veterans have survivor's guilt, the 'what if" I had done this differently syndrome. Scott's approach helps us find that voice and actually be able to talk about it and not just think about it," Klingensmith said. "If telling my story can help anyone realize you need to get help now, and not wait like I did, it's worth it."