By Ben Sherman, Fort Sill PAOMarch 15, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla.-- Soldiers at the Warrior Transition Unit received a special visitor March 9 when Herschel Walker came to visit.
Walker, the former Heisman trophy winner, NFL star and three-time All-American football great spoke to wounded warriors during a tour of Fort Sill March 7-9.
Walker has teamed up with the Freedom Care program, a TRICARE provider, to help service members who are struggling with the stigma of mental health and substance abuse issues. He believes that treatment for Soldiers begins when they ask for help, but that is often difficult in the military community that emphasizes toughness and independence. Walker believes that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, and he wants America's warriors to know this.
"There is no shame in asking for help. I did," he said.
Walker can identify with the struggles of Soldiers suffering from mental health issues. He suffers from disassociative identity disorder, or DID, often called multiple personality disorder. The disorder is marked by the presence of two or more distinct personalities that often control a person's behavior.
"The doctors say I have DID and a lot of personalities," Walker said. "I have one personality that won a Heisman trophy for me. I have one that was in the NFL. I have one that has been on two Olympic teams. And, I have one that's a really bad dude," he added.
Walker went on to tell Soldiers who packed the WTU squad room about how this disorder has affected his life. And not all of his experiences have been good.
"I've got personalities that can do good things, but I've got a couple that are pretty bad," he said. "I've got one personality who used to love Russian roulette and has been trying to kill me for a long time. So I'm having to work with him," Walker said with a laugh. He also told the Soldiers that many of his problems came to the surface after he finished playing football.
"That's when the devil threw this anger problem on me. And what was funny was, my ex-wife was telling me about these things I was doing. And I said, 'It ain't me, it's her,' " Walker said. "All these people started telling me things I was doing. 'It's not me; it's them, because I'm Herschel Walker. And I'm a bad dude.' But then after I almost killed someone I realized I might have a problem."
Walker sought help for his problems by checking himself into a hospital. "The papers didn't want to write about 'Herschel got a problem' because they thought I could do anything. So I went to the hospital on my own," he stated, adding that when he first got to the hospital, he was sitting in a room with people who had a lot of problems. "Their problems were so bad that I knew I didn't want to tell them my problems because they might get out of there and come to my house!" Walker said. "I just kept hanging around and lying about my problems, until I was diagnosed with "disassociative identity [JUMP]disease.' It means you have multiple personalities," he said.
"And it hit me for the first time that I had been saying I wasn't like the people in that hospital, but I was identical to them. Because all of my life I was told I wasn't good enough. I had teachers that put me in the corner. They told me I was "special." And you know what that means," Walker stated.
He started to work on the issues that he had experienced all of his life.
And the one thing he realized was he didn't really experience pain like others did.
"All my life I never went through pain. After all the things that happened to me as a little kid, being beaten up so often, I disassociated all of the painful things in my life back then. But it all came back up at the end," he said. While playing football for Georgia he dislocated his shoulder on the second play of the 1981 Sugar Bowl against Notre Dame. The doctors told him he couldn't play any more and it would take surgery to fix it. "I figured it didn't take surgery to dislocate it, so it didn't take it to fix it. So I laid down on the sidelines and popped it back in place, and I shook it off. That was a sign there was something wrong with me when it came to pain," Walker said. This disassociation caused Walker to develop many personalities to cope with his problems.
Since his treatment Walker has been traveling around the United States and around the world, visiting military installations and meeting with Soldiers.
While at Fort Sill he toured the behavioral health facilities and then met with the wounded warriors to give them hope.
"My goal was to encourage them and let them know that we all go through challenges. We as civilians don't know what these Soldiers have faced. So we as a country must reach out and do more to help them," he said.
The wounded warriors appreciated Walker coming to Fort Sill to meet with them.
"I found it inspirational. Somebody famous coming in and admitting that they have problems and they got help themselves is an inspiration for others who have problems, said Spc. Jared Page, 1st Battalion, 158th Field Artillery. "You know, you don't have to be afraid of anything. If you have something going on in your life you need to get it checked out."
Sgt. Joshua Sawyer, 1st Battalion, 179th Infantry also liked Walker's message.
"Having a big name athlete take time out to come speak to us was very inspirational," he said. "For him to talk to us and share his life experiences shows that he's not afraid to admit that he needed help."
Both Sawyer and Page are in the Fort Sill WTU, recovering from injuries sustained while deployed with the 45th Brigade Combat Team.
"In the last three years I've visited over 80 bases around the U.S. and 15 bases around the world. I love the military and want to help these Soldiers," Walker said. "I'm not here today to say I'm better than they are, because I'm not. I still get a lot of anger, but I've learned to handle it. And to be honest with you, I think it is our responsibility as civilians to give back. And what I can give back is to tell our Soldiers, 'It's tough right now, but you keep your head up and things will get better.' That's what I can do," he said.
For more information about Herschel Walker's work with mental health issues through the Freedom Care program, log on to www.freedomcare.com.