We get email all the time from our phenomenal customers... and we read every single one of them. For us, knowing you took time out of your day to send us a note is humbling; we never take supporting you guys for granted!
Recently, we received a message from a customer named Mark Green that, quite frankly, blew us away. Mark is a veteran who has been deployed to Iraq and Kosovo.
Attached to the email was a manuscript about his beard journey. It was so well written and inspiring that we decided to have this edition of Beards Behind the Brand come directly from Mark himself.
Here is his story.
My name is Mark Green.
I served in the North Carolina National Guard for 12 years before being medically retired after two years of reconstruction on my feet following my second deployment. I never planned on going into the National Guard; I was supposed to be a Marine. I never planned on getting out after 12 years; I was supposed to be a 20-year man. I never planned on becoming disabled; I was supposed to be stronger than that.
Yet here I am, living my best life, and I wouldn't change a thing.
I have deployed to Iraq and Kosovo. I was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq in 2009. I used to say that I had gone to war looking for peace, only to find neither. We stayed busy over there and we came home without some brothers and sisters, but it was also not the warzone it had been. Kosovo was a NATO run peacekeeping operation, and that was the deployment on which I was injured. The irony has never been lost on me. I don't even have a good story, and for an injury that cost me eight surgeries, that sounds bad.
I climbed a mountain and my arches collapsed. Oh and there was that riot control demonstration where I was playing the role of a demonstrator and got my head beat in by some Turkish soldiers thanks to an ongoing grudge between the US and Turkish forces at the time. But I was wearing a helmet, so my TBI was minor.
The chapter that follows is the one about me falling into despair and losing sight of my path thanks to not being prepared for this change of life. At the time of my injuries, I didn't actually know what happened. I knew I was hurting, and I went to the medics, but nobody could figure out what was causing my pain. My leadership thought I was weak at this point and that I was just looking for ways out of pulling my weight. I came home doubting my own injuries, but I still knew something had to be wrong.
I was transferred to a medical unit at Fort Bragg known as the Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB) which specializes in the care and transitioning of injured soldiers, whether it’s back to their unit, on to a new career path, or into retirement if their injuries are substantial. I met great people there, many with injuries I considered far greater than my own. But my injuries were my own, and they affected every aspect of my life. My fiance left me a month after my first surgery and I moved into the barracks. I could no longer pursue my plans of a career in welding, as my injuries wouldn't allow me into that field. I felt lost and alone. I didn't know who I was anymore. An infantryman who couldn't rely on his feet? A man in his 30s who used a cane to walk? I felt castrated. It would be two years of surgery before I was released from the WTB and medically retired.
But along that way I found myself. I found out who I am, who I really can be, and that I can walk through fire and it will be ok. I have experienced more in life, built a stronger family and a better me since my injuries. My favorite word is "adaptable." We use it a lot in the disabled community. How can we keep doing something that we shouldn't be able to do anymore due to our handicaps? We adapt. Wheelchair basketball, handcycles and recumbents, and all sorts of other equipment to help those that are limited by one aspect or another to get back out in the world and live. Adaptable sports taught me how to deal with change in my personal life. I have had two major foot reconstruction surgeries, a bunionectomy, and a handful of procedures to put metal in and take metal out of my feet. I've had muscles in both of my calves cut and extended to assist in mobility and a weight bearing bone in the ball of my foot removed. It's safe to say I am not going for the gold at the next Olympics.
So I was put, quite literally, on a handcycle. I was shown how to use my arms to make up for my legs. I was shown that I can still get out in the world and not sit idly on the sidelines. The same goes off the bike. I can take change in my life and adjust to it, even if it's something I didn't want or plan for. And that's something that, once upon a time, I was incapable of doing. I'm a better person for my injuries. I was offered a personal challenge and I faced it. The reward was an experience like no other. The outcome? An early retirement, a chance to get back into school, I got married to someone who does support me through my challenges and sees me for more than my injuries, and a family like no other.
I look at where I am now and I go, “How can I compare one thing to another?" I got married to a woman that committed her life to mine. That is incredible. It's something I wasn't sure I would achieve, though Lord knows I've tried. I've completed a metric century on a handcycle. I literally cycled 62 miles with my arms. I had a month to train for it. I completed a triathlon four months after a surgery and only three days before another one. There is so much more I could talk about, but the point is I think the greatest achievement in life so far is living; I just learned I have a responsibility to do it. I have challenged myself and I like to think I have a lot to be proud of.
My biggest obstacle to overcome has been myself; there is no question about it. Life happens. I couldn't control the fact that I was injured. I can't control other people entering and exiting my life. I've seen what happens when I give in to the fear and doubt. I've seen what happens when I don't. The struggle comes in fighting that inner demon that wants to give in so easily. If I get over that obstacle, then I can get through anything.
The hardest moment was when I was at the WTB still. I was at the end of my rope. I had spent all the energy I had left in me fighting to get to here and it had cost me what I thought was everything. The only person that mattered to me had left me. My post deployment plans had been shattered. I had no one. I didn't even trust anyone at this point. I was trying, but this was a whole new experience for me and something I had never thought I would go through. I was tired. I was tired of the pain. I was tired of being cut open. I was tired of the drugs and the appointments. I was tired of that little room I lived in. I think, mostly though, I was tired of everyone's cheerful attitude. I wanted to be miserable. I wanted to be in a funk.
How could I move forward from this spot? I was broken. "Disabled" they called it. Well, not yet. I wasn't done with my regiment of treatment, but I knew. I was tracking the path I was on and they wouldn't let me stay in. They wouldn't let me stay in because I wasn't useful anymore. I didn't know what to do because I didn't know what I could do and that scared me. I felt like I had a piece of me taken out and I wasn't whole. (that's a little joke because that's exactly what happened) I started to think back to a resiliency course I took years back and what I learned there. I thought about the efforts I made in therapy following Iraq. I realized I was going to have to do what I didn't want to do if there was going to be a change in my world. I was going to have to make an effort. I was going to have to force myself to breathe, to smile and to take small steps.
There's an old saying that I still hold to and it goes like this: How do you complete a 20-mile ruck march? One step at a time.
If you look at the whole 20 miles, you're going to hate the march, your leadership, the road, your boots, yourself, the trees, the sky, those clouds over there... you get the picture. If you just take it one step at a time though, then those steps add up. It's not to say that it magically takes the pain away or that you somehow conserve more energy by doing mile to step ratio conversion in your head, but every step is a step closer than you were before. And that's how I started to heal. I started to fill the hole I was in and climb out and I realized that there were people around me trying to help fill that hole. But I had to change my mind to change the world I saw in order to understand that. And by doing that, I made one of the best friends I have who still pushes me to succeed whether I want to or not.
I tell you, I think life really started to change when I started to grow my beard. I felt more comfortable in my own skin. I had just entered the next chapter of my life, and there was a lot of uncertainty involved, so this great mane signified the mark of the step forward and gave me some inner strength as I did. I felt more confident in myself and I felt I had a community to attach to. It's almost amusing how easily two bearded chaps can strike up conversation over beard care having crossed paths for the first time.
And thanks to Live Bearded, I began a journey of personal growth as I continued my outer growth. I appreciated the significance of trying to be a better me, of using my beard as a personal flag of that ambition. I was going to live bearded and I started to understand that I already had the values I wanted to reflect already inside me. I was simply using the beard as a catalyst to cultivate those values into something greater. I haven't always been my best, but being bearded reminds me to always give my best, and that means being better than the man I was yesterday. In that regard, I am an overachiever.
If you're going through a valley of your own, the biggest advice I have is reach out to someone. We aren't meant to run solo in this world. It's ok to struggle. We all do. There's nothing emasculating about reaching out for a helping hand to pull you up. There is something wrong with being in denial about the situation you're going through. We're all men here and we all want to be the rock on which others can stand in the storm. But we can't help anyone if we don't help ourselves. So let a brother help you. That's why they're called brothers. By showing that you trust him, you are actually helping him in return because he knows that you trust him to help you. You can then be there for him when he needs you.
We then build ourselves up stronger together.
At Live Bearded we believe Brotherhood goes beyond the beard. We believe it is our responsibility, as men, to do better every day, to learn from our mistakes, grow through our failures, and strive to be the best we can be.
Through sharing stories of the men in the Live Bearded Brotherhood, we're continually learning and growing from each other. If you are interested in being considered for a Beards Behind the Brand story, send us an email.