How do you close a chapter of your life that means so much to you? A lot of combat veterans, even veterans with other experiences, have trouble transitioning from combat. Veteran Wellness Coordinator Marcus Farris tells Timothy J. Hayes, Psy.D. how Mission 22 came upon and the way it helps veterans deal with trauma, learn to embrace new things, and transition to their new life. He explains that with Mission 22, they also teach health but in a way that tells veterans and spouses to take personal responsibility to their healing journey and that they make use of different resources that aid healing and transitioning in so many ways.
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Mission 22: Transitioning From Combat To The Civilian World With Marcus Farris
Marcus Farris is a Veteran Wellness Coordinator for Mission 22. He landed on the Mission 22 team in January 2020 after serving as an Engineering Officer in Alaska for four years. He is passionate about all manner of endurance sports competitions and has spent a lot of his spare time working with the US Military Endurance Sports Team, a nonprofit dedicated to helping service members achieve their fitness endeavors. Marcus trains for ultra-marathons while working for the 320th PSYOP Company out of Clackamas, Oregon as a reserve officer. Through his research, field testing, and writing, he now serves veterans through healthy living programs and digital content creation.
Welcome. Thank you for joining us. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’ve been reading about Mission 22 and want to learn more about it. Can you tell us more about how you got started in this and what drives a passion for the work that you do?
Thank you for your time that you have for us. Mission 22 is something that, on a personal level and the way that I got involved, was miraculous in how a couple of different things came together. As a brief background on me, I was in the military active duty for a little over four years out of Alaska. I ended up moving to Central Oregon. At the time, Mission 22 was based out of Portland and I had gone through a series of some pretty difficult seasons. There was job loss, there was a relationship loss. In all of that, I ended up finding a men’s group out of Portland.
Within that men’s group, there was a group that met almost every day of the week to do life together, do CrossFit together and share struggles together. In that group, lo and behold, was one Magnus Johnson who founded Mission 22. We started talking and he started mentoring me. This was about the same time that I was studying to become a health coach. I had studied engineering at Auburn University at my alma mater and it served me okay when I was on active duty in the army but it was not something that was impressed upon my heart to continue to pursue.
I learned about health coaching through the Primal Health Coach Institute and I wasn’t sure where I was going to go with it but it was one of those things I knew that I could make a difference with. Even though there was a lot of other uncertainty happening in my life at the time, I had that area of study. I knew that even though there were so many other unknowns in life, that was something that spoke to me on a deep level and I knew I needed to do it. I got that certification in September of 2019 and I got to talking with the Mission 22 team around that same time. That was about the time that they had the idea for what is now the Recovery + Resiliency or what we refer to as the R+R program.
I got in about that same time and was able to take my coaching expertise, my experience in the military, my endurance, athletic experience, and all the research that I did on a personal level through there and start to build this program out. The program officially launched its first cohort in September of 2020, so we’ve been rocking and rolling since then. We’ve got this cohort model where we bring folks in about once every 2 to 3 months depending on our resources. It’s been humbling to see the fruits of all of that investment and where we are now. I have to keep pinching myself to see how far this has come in such a short amount of time.
I’ve watched a little bit of the videos you have on your Mission 22 website. Tell us a little bit about what’s the meat and potatoes of the Recovery + Resiliency Program?
This program encompasses as many areas of health as we can think of. We’re trying to teach health, not in the form of, “You go to a professional and that professional offers your prescription, and off you go.” It’s the reverse of that. This is a program where we’re asking the participants to take personal responsibility for their healing journey. We will provide them the resources and all of the things that they need to take hold of and make a difference in their own life but not assume necessarily that one single track exists or you need to go to therapy, have a psychiatrist and have your medication there. There can be a time and place for those things.[bctt tweet=”A moral injury is a scar on the heart that’s never going to go away, but you learn to grow the heart around the scar. ” via=”no”]
What we’re doing here is providing them with books and stories and an understanding of what it means to transition from combat. Our program is tailored specifically for combat veterans but we are expanding to spouses and to veterans who have all sorts of different types of experience. The idea is to show them this transition from how to be a warrior downrange to how to be a warrior in the civilian world. There’s not a good segue out of the army for that transition.
I’ve talked to veterans before where they’ve told me that within a week of being in a combat zone, they were shipped back to JBLM, the installation up near Seattle. They found themselves grocery shopping in a civilian environment within that. There was no transition phase. Can you expect someone who’s, “I need you to fight wars, be on guard, do patrols and all the things that were involved with our operations, and next week don’t forget the milk?” No, it doesn’t work that way. This whole program is teaching how to be a warrior now that you are at home? How do you close the chapter on the part of your life that meant so much to you and get plugged into something new and refreshed? Even if you did experience trauma in war, that is not something that breaks you down to the point where you’re done. That breaks open a part of you that new things can grow from.
That would be a magnificent set of tools to give somebody. What I get from the Recovery + Resiliency program is a presentation of tools and help support the individuals gaining some facility and some skills with those tools and applying them in their lives. Where do you get the people that are in your program now or that are going to be funneled in? What are the sources for feeding veterans into your program now?
Mission 22 has a pretty extensive network. The model of the company was to create ambassadors and little pockets or little areas where they could be equipped and go out and spread what we’re doing, put on events, and stuff like that. That’s been going on for several years now. The network that we have of people who are composed of veterans and their families, it’s not too hard to put out the message to them and let them know what’s available. From there, it’s a matter of them referring over to us. There are also folks who follow us casually on social media. They might see a certain post and from there, they enquire about, “How do I join? What are the next steps?” It has been fairly grassroots in that aspect. As we continue to expand, that may end up changing how we approach that but that’s where we are right now.
Are you taking people and are you having people do this through what we would call Telehealth or Zoom sessions or do they have to be in this area in Oregon to participate in your program?
It’s not a local program, per se. There is a coaching component of it, which is mediated over Zoom call or video call. That’s fairly common with health coaching but a lot of the other components of the program is stuff that’s in their hands. There’s a gym membership that’s included, there’s a bunch of literature that’s included, there’s journaling, and various biometric devices that they get to work with. We are looking to host something like a graduation type of thing locally but that’s all still in the works. For the most part, it’s pretty much all remote.
What is cool is we have an online group where they can go and share their stories and chat back and forth with others who are going through the program. This worked out randomly but serendipitously, there are four participants in the Phoenix area that figured out that they live near each other. They took it upon themselves to go on a hike or go and hang out. That’s been pretty cool to see unfold.
You mentioned biometrics. What kinds of biometrics are you introducing to the program? How does that work with Recovery + Resiliency? I like the concept that you’re building skills in these people and the resiliency within them to not cope with past trauma but grow from it.
I always go back to the seed analogy. This was in the book of Matthew in one of the parables where the seed has to be broken open for the thing to grow. I’ve experienced that myself to a degree but that’s another story. As far as the biometric devices, what we’re trying to get a read on are sleep and stress scores. The Garmin watches that come with the program are doing the collection of that. Let’s take meditation, for example.
Meditation, at least in my experience in the military, hasn’t been a thing that was discussed at all. It was Eastern. What does that even mean? That seems something that is not relatable or approachable. What are the benefits of it anyway? As we are learning, it’s quite difficult to understate the benefits of that type of practice, especially with someone who’s dealing with some type of mental condition or whatever it might be.
What we do then is we put a scientific device in their hands that measure heart rate variability so this is a metric that shows the status of the nervous system. It’s the balance between the two branches of the autonomic nervous system. Your fight or flight and the rest and digest. The fight or flight system if you are dealing with PTS is often overstimulated. That’s pathologic to that condition. Essentially, you can see what the meter is on that right there on your wrist.
If I want to teach someone how to do meditation who’s never done it before, one of the motivating factors for that is, “Tell me what your stress score is now according to the thing that’s checking on your nervous system function. Do this practice that seems woo-woo and Eastern and check it afterward.” That’s a basic example of how we can put that control in their hands. It’s opening up a window to, “This is what recovery looks like physiologically that’s going on behind the scenes and there’s also a component of the spiritual practice.” Meditation is one of them and getting plugged into a community.
You can’t measure a relationship scientifically. You can’t measure how plugged into a community you are. However, what we can do is put them in a healing environment where the outputs of that, objectively, are measured and your stress scores and we also look at sleep. As we know, if you’re not sleeping well, you’re not healing. The approach we’re taking is if you imagine a human as a garden, it’s not as easy as throwing a particular bit of fertilizer and thinking that’s going to have a single effect. You need to have this ecosystem where all of these things are attended to. Within the R+R Program, that’s what we’re set about doing.
I love the idea about biofeedback, biometrics, and giving the person who’s never been introduced to this before or perhaps even has a negative bias against something like meditation and quiet time or yoga or Tai Chi. Letting them see this irrefutable evidence that it’s having a positive effect on their physiology. That was one of the things that attracted me to this. I’ve been working with several people over the years who are looking at wearables, apps, and things to try and help people mark their progress. It helps form that motivation, it helps people stay engaged longer, and it helps them recognize when they’ve reached a new phase. They might have grown past a certain set of tools and they might need something else.
As I’m listening to you, I’m thinking about several people that we’ve interviewed over the past year in Journeys Dream who are doing similar things, recognizing what a critical the role trauma plays in so many different mental health and substance abuse issues. I’m heartened and I’m excited to find yet another program like yours that’s looking at this from a systematic way and taking some measurements. You mentioned that you started a new project. I think you were talking about writing a book about this journey. Can you say something about that? If you don’t let the cat out of the bag, I understand.[bctt tweet=”Healing from trauma is just a magnified version of what it means to live well as a human.” via=”no”]
If you’re familiar with any of Tim Ferriss’ work, it’s like The 4-Hour Body and The 4-Hour Workweek thing or this whole idea of, what’s the minimum effective dose to see some type of a change? Our “cure” for posttraumatic stress is not a cure. I saw the stupid comic that summed it up quite well. Somebody is at the doctor’s office and they say, “Doc, I’m depressed.” The response is, “Take these pills.” They take the pills and the doctor says, “How are you doing now?” The patient says, “I don’t care.” They’re like, “Good enough.” I was like, “That’s not a cure.” I wouldn’t go as far as to say that there’s a cure to PTS.
When it comes to something a moral injury, and we can get into that concept, that’s a scar on the heart that’s never going to go away but you learn to grow the heart around the scar. What I would propose is that growth is only possible if you have the scar. What I’m doing with this book is trying to get into all of the various components of human health as it relates to growing from trauma. The book gets into topics such as acceptance, forgiveness, how to deal with resentment, bitterness, all the way to, “You shouldn’t be eating grains, industrial seed oils, or sugar in the diet.” The challenge is tying all of those things together and how they relate to one another.
That can be powerful because every time we’re introduced to a good systemic approach, we see lasting results. When we have an approach that tries to put a cover-up on or numb out a symptom without looking at the cause within the system and changing the system for better health, we don’t see progress. We see a proliferation of other long-term illnesses. I’m glad to hear that you’re looking at it that way and including the food and chemicals that people are ingesting along with a sense of community. The actual working individual can do to address the traumas and the energies they’ve downloaded in the interaction with their environment that they downloaded as a trauma. Are there other specific trauma therapy techniques that you build into this system, the Recovery + Resiliency Program?
I wouldn’t categorize it as therapy as such. That word implies that you’re in a clinical setting. Nothing in this is clinical per se. The closest thing I suppose would be the round of supplements they get. It’s basically in the category of nutraceutical. Essentially, it’s food that has been put into a capsule form. We’ve had past programs where it’s the supplement program. Honestly, it’s like what I said before. What we’re trying to do is create an experience wherein someone can find healing.
We do have literature, The Body Keeps the Score is one of the books, as part of this program that gets into a bunch of different modalities of various specific therapies that one could pursue in a clinical setting but this is not a clinical setting and it’s like that on purpose. As the program grows, there is potential to bring in some licensed counselors. I’ll be potentially going to school for that here in the near future. As it is now, we have health coaches who have been certified by the institute and we have all the other components together. The idea is to let them know that the power to be able to heal is within oneself. It’s not predicated on, “You need to find the right professional.” That’s what we’re teaching. It’s not so much that we’re discounting those other things. That’s not what this is.
I was thinking in terms of not so many external professionals that they would go to but some of the techniques that have been developing around the globe where people are empowered to use things like acupressure for themselves and the Emotional Freedom Techniques, EFT tapping. It’s amazing how many people are using things like a tapping app or breathwork. Also, certain types of breathing like the Wim Hof work and all of these other things that people can learn to do for themselves and can aid in moving the energies that are stuck in us whenever we get into a trauma response.
You were talking about helping the person initiate that rest and digest or the parasympathetic side of things. We used to have people say, “Take a nice deep breath.” They would take a breath in and blast out the air and don’t feel any better. If they learn to breathe in a different way where they hold the air in at the top and slowly resist, it triggers a parasympathetic response. It’s teaching those kinds of things like the EFT tapping with that breathwork. It’s the understanding of how it’s the mind energy I’m using and pouring into a set of conclusions that are reactivating my response to the trauma.
You’re talking about the Bessel van der Kolk book, those people have studied what’s happening inside the person who gets traumatized and what that person can learn to do on their own without necessarily needing to be in the presence of a therapist. A lot of people do need the support of a therapist if they’ve had some of the extreme traumas that people have in combat or what people go through and abusive family situations. That’s not the vast majority of people who struggle with trauma.
The vast majority of people who struggle with trauma could use a program like yours to help them in all of these different areas, whether it’s nutrition, awareness of their internal processing, the physiological response of the stress response. Also, getting connected to the community and being empowered. I’m excited to hear that you’re trying to open this up to families of veterans as well as veterans. That’s the thing that’s happening at the program that they have in Russia.
They offer therapy to the veterans and their families. Because, as we know, a lot of families have been through trauma, either losing their family member to the service or having a traumatized service member come back into the family and create situations that are ultra-high stress over long periods of time and that can result in trauma. I’m excited to hear where you go with this and how you can start to expand it to the families because that’s an enormous benefit.
Not to mention the depressing statistics on adverse childhood experiences as well but some of the stuff also perhaps less directly does get into. You talked about all of the various modalities like Wim Hof and so on. The beauty of the program and especially with working with health coaches. We’ve got a lot of great coaches who themselves are passionate about these sorts of things. What’s cool or at least the conclusion that I’ve come to is that healing from trauma is a magnified version of what it means to live well or heal well as a human. All of those components are still there. What do you need to heal from trauma? You need a good community. You need good nutrition. You need to be able to move better during the day and get sunlight so you can sleep better at night. You need to be able to journal and articulate your thoughts and all of those things.
It’s the sense of purpose in life.
It’s having a direction, an aim, and being able to see that you’re moving toward that aim. All of those things are fundamental to health coaching. If you combine that with all of the actual hands-on tools, it creates this environment. We have this online group where folks will post. I learned about this thing when one of our guys is doing a program at a gym. They use these kettlebells and it’s like a partnered kettlebell workout. They’ll toss the kettlebell around to one another. If you’re throwing kettlebells around, you have to pay attention.
In paying attention, you’re teaching your mind to focus on the present moment. What’s posttraumatic stress or any stress for this matter? It’s worrying about the future or ruminating about the past. If someone’s throwing you a kettlebell, you’re here. You’re not worried about those things because you’re worried about what’s coming straight towards your chest. We have a resource library that goes along with it that links out to these things.
To start the program up, the thing that we want to drive home first off is what I was talking about before with the idea that when the veteran comes home from combat, that is a sacred transition that we as humans have had for millennia. It’s written out in the Hebrew Bible, in the Iliad in the Odyssey and yet in today’s culture, we don’t have that anymore, unfortunately. A lot of the literature gets into the problems that arose out of the lack of that sacred transition.
That’s why we’ve got the Road Home Program. Transition programs have been bubbling up here in Illinois. One of the hopes is that more of them will develop and there’ll be a network because as they talked about in the book, Tribe, it’s the civilian population that’s most able to support the military. If we wait for the government to do it all, it’s never going to get done. Yet, we’re trying to welcome these civilians back into civilian life. Because they went out and became servants at a military level, it doesn’t mean they’re not still part of us. It’s that sense of community that we can provide and that they can develop within themselves as returning warriors. One of the major healing factors is this sense of belonging.[bctt tweet=”In paying attention, you’re teaching your mind to focus on the present moment. ” via=”no”]
At a certain level, the more we can expand and have the civilian population increase awareness of the need, then we can help fuel these programs and motivate ourselves and our local resources to help provide an access to things like Mission 22 and programs that you’re putting together. How can we support that? How can we, whoever might be reading this and whatever community they’re in, support the Mission 22 Group and that mission?
We’re entirely donor-based. Our website is Mission22.com and there’s a Donate Now button there but more than that, as well, we’re starting to ramp back up some events. I’ve mentioned before, we have a fairly extensive network of ambassadors. We’ve seen some biker-type events and off-roading stuff and even a dart team, which is pretty cool. We’re keeping an eye out for that. More broadly speaking, having an awareness of what you said. Healing is someone being vulnerable about what they’ve been through and what they’ve experienced in the presence of non-judgmental witnesses bearing witness. As far as I can tell, that is the nexus of how healing occurs.
If a veteran coming back doesn’t feel they can open up to someone else around them, that’s a problem. There’s a whole other topic on feeling a part of the tribe. We typically don’t like to bear witness to the high price of how we live our lives. As an example, if you go to a meat market or you go to the butcher section of your grocery store, how much of this stuff do you see between where the cattle was to the point where it’s all nicely displayed on a pack of ice? You take it, you go home, and you forget about all of the other processes.
That’s how we’ve treated the liberties and freedoms that we have with the cost of what it took to go downrange. You might see it on social media once in a while on RED Fridays. RED is Remember Everyone Deployed. It’s this idea that we’re all in this. As a civilian, you need to pay a cost for this too. By doing that, what that looks like is not a Lumber Discount on Memorial Day but a willingness to be that non-judgmental witness.
If my grandmother was here, she would say, “From your mouth to God’s ears.” We could get that to happen. Sebastian Junger is the author of that book, Tribe, which was so powerful that I know several people who are returned veterans and people who work with veterans in transition. They say they read that book once or twice a year to remind themselves of some of the key points and themes and encourage other people who haven’t been in service to read a book like that. To try and expand their awareness.
I liked the example of the meat because as you were doing that, I flashed back to a time when I was in my twenties and I went out to a farm where they had the roundup and the butchering. You don’t see any of that. That was a beautiful setting. These days, we’re getting that whole thing happening in some factory that’s a chaos, mess. What’s something that I haven’t even mentioned that you want to make sure we talk about that might be in line with something we’ve already mentioned or something that’s another aspect of Mission 22?
I’m often asked, “What is R+R?” I can describe the individual components of it, the science behind it, the online workplace group, and I can tell you what health coaching is. Are all of those things together R+R? The answer is no. What R+R is it’s an experience of healing. It’s like space between. It is facilitated by a true speech from the books. Reading the truth and being honest about the condition we’re in is the first step. Learning how to accept that and forgive as the antidote to forget to bitterness.
What we are constantly trying to deal with in this program is how do we condense that into something that’s as digestible as possible to the most amount of people possible? The story of our warriors coming back home and dealing with the issues that they’re dealing with that we’re doing our best to help with is America’s story. Unfortunately, suicide rates are going up across the board and the underlying issue parallels everywhere. You mentioned before this loss of purpose. We see it most tragically in the highest contrast and most visibly with our warriors but it’s also the underlying thing of what that is or of whatever it is that’s causing it.
I see, from my perspective, a commonality across the hopelessness that so many people are dealing with. We’ve forgotten what that purpose is. Part of that has to do with being numbed to the price that we have to pay for living free and living purposefully. The hope here and what I’ve seen is something that humbles me every single time I log on and the folks that are in the program, just the radical turnaround that can happen in a short amount of time.
All of the comorbidities and things that go along with posttraumatic stress diagnosis can feel to an individual at times like something that they’re destined to or that they can’t get out of. That’s not necessarily a condition that people in the military feel. Depression is on the rise everywhere as well and it’s simply not true that you’re stuck there forever. I don’t want to take for granted all the complexities of what that means. The process of healing from trauma is simply the process of living well as a human in a broken world. Our big goal is to spread whatever those components are that create that environment as far as we can.
Mission22.com is the way that I’ve accessed your work. Is that the primary website for this organization?
If people want to get a hold of you, can they email you at Marcus@Mission22.com?
Sure, I’ll be there.
With the way things have gone with Journeys Dream interviewing people like you and people in other programs, I’d like your permission to pass your information along to a few of those other Welcome Home, the veteran groups. If I have your permission, I’ll go ahead and do that. I appreciate your time. It’s a pleasure to meet you and I honor what you’re doing.
Absolutely. The more conversations we have like this, the more we can learn from each other and sharpen each other’s swords as it were.
Thank you so much for being with us.
Thank you. I appreciate it.
- Mission 22
- The 4-Hour Body
- The 4-Hour Workweek
- The Body Keeps the Score
- Road Home Program
- Welcome Home
About Marcus Farris
VETERAN WELLNESS COORDINATOR
Marcus landed on the Mission 22 team in January 2020 after serving as an Engineer Officer in Alaska for four years.
He is passionate about all manner of endurance sports competitions and has spent a lot of his spare time working with the US Military Endurance Sports team, a non-profit dedicated to helping service members achieve their fitness endeavors.
Marcus currently trains for ultra-marathons while working for the 320th PSYOPS Company out of Clackamas, Oregon as a Reserve Officer.
Through his research, field testing, and writing, he now serves Veterans through healthy living programs and digital content creation.
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