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Episode 11: A Servant Heart — A Conversation with Major Diggs Brown

Erik and Jeff begin the session recapping a recent experience helping Nerissa Cannon, a young woman in a wheelchair, climb a Colorado 14er. The discussion revolves around the importance of teamwork which is fitting since our guest is Maj. “Diggs” Brown who, since he left the Army, has worked with teams of veterans to help them heal.

Diggs BrownDiggs has had seemingly many lives. He’s a current film actor, served in the Army as an officer in the Special Forces, and even worked as a financial advisor — the position he had when 9/11 happened, which led to his decision to join the Army.

The conversation starts with Diggs describing how he found the organization No Barriers at age 56 after returning from Afghanistan with a TBI and other injuries, including PTS and joined the No Barriers Warriors to take on his first expedition with other veterans.

When he returned home, he was lost and it was during his time with these other veterans — in training sessions and during talks around the campfire — that he found his purpose: to help other veterans come home and live well. But it was a road of discovery on his part to come to this conclusion.

During his first No Barriers expedition, his team reached the summit of Mt. Whitney in California. The date was September 11th and they were carrying the same American flag that had been with him at his office when 9/11 occurred. It was the first time he had felt truly connected to others in a long time.

“You make outstanding friendships, get new perspective on your life, and no matter how bad you think your situation is — it really isn’t. There’s nothing you can’t overcome.”

The group returns to discuss Diggs’s time in Afghanistan. In 2002, they were the second set of special forces to arrive and as a Green Beret, his job was to be a “force multiplier” with a mission to help train their military to fight their own wars.

The Chaplain on site came to Diggs to ask for help rebuilding a school that had been destroyed by the Taliban. So, on his only day off once a week, he would go and help them run it, meaning he would teach 6 hours of English to the young boys (no girls) who would show up to school barefoot with no supplies.

“When looking at the accomplishments in my life, that is the big one.”

When Diggs noticed a young Afghani girl, maybe 11 years old, who would stare in through the windows to listen, he was determined to give her the same opportunity. After negotiating with the village elders who were adamantly against it, he got his way and with his persistence, they created possibly the first school to allow girls in.

Jeff shifted the conversation to inquire what led Diggs to pursue a military career and he responded with a tale of his dad taking him to see John Wayne in the movies as a young kid and how he was hooked. For Diggs, he was especially keen on being in special forces because it meant working with and helping the indigenous people and being enmeshed in their culture.

“My vision of the world is that if we all just took a breath and took a moment to try and help other people, what a wonderful wonderful place it would be.”

Erik asks what Diggs means by a “moral injury” which Diggs describes enduring after his return. Diggs answers that war isn’t what it looks like in Hollywood — you don’t feel the pain that comes along with the suffering and death and in particular describes a traumatic experience he endured that he believes he will carry with him over.

Jeff asks how he relates to this new generation of veterans: Diggs dives into the expeditions he’s taken with other veterans and how when they share stories, that’s when connection happens. He always shares his own first and provides the space to others to open up.

“Everyone’s experience is different, but the … if you want to call it “the punchline,” is always the same. Either you move on past it or you don’t. Either you learn to live with it or you don’t.”

The discussion of PTS deepens and Diggs expands by explaining that emotional injuries or traumas don’t disappear forever — they come and go and we learn how to deal with them or we don’t. The importance of a Rope Team is crucial for moments when trauma flares up and Diggs understands this from his time as a part of Special Forces.

Another crucial part of his Rope Team is his service dog. Diggs had him with him in LaunchPad studios and he was an adorable addition to our No Barriers Podcast crew. He received him as a part of the organization Puppies Behind Bars (link below) where they train the dogs for 2 years and they come out highly-qualified to assist in pretty much any imaginable situation.

As for what Diggs is currently up to, he recently went back to school for a film degree and is now into acting part-time! Besides a stint on the hit show Dallas, Diggs has most recently done various gigs including a commercial for Red Bull (link also below). The team wrapped up our convo with thanking Diggs for his “servant heart.” He has taken difficult parts of his life and used them to bring light to others.

See Diggs here: Red Bull Commercial
Follow Diggs: MajorDiggsBrown.com
Learn more about Puppies Behind Bars

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————————— EPISODE TRANSCRIPT —————————–

Diggs: You’ll either move on past it or you don’t. Or, you’ll learn to live with it or you don’t, and that’s just how it is. It comes back, get funky, and then you work your way out of it, and then life is good again. But you know it’s coming, it’s going to come back, it’s never gone.

Erik: It’s easy to talk about the successes, but what doesn’t get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Erik Weihenmayer. I’ve gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest, to climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to Kayak the Grand Canyon, and I happen to be blind. It’s been a struggle to live what I call a ‘No Barriers life,’ to define it, to push the parameters of what it means. And part of the equation is diving into the learning process. This process of growth and change and transformation that we’re all a part of, and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exist along the way like holds on a rock face that lead us forward and give us clues to why it’s so important we get there. And, that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in, in the summit, exists a map, that map, that way forward is what we call No Barriers.

Speaker 3: Today we meet Bob Diggs Brown, a US army veteran who served his country for 34 years first as an enlistee and later as an officer in the army, special forces. Not only did Diggs fight in Afghanistan, but he voluntarily participated in rebuilding, supplying, and teaching at a local village school. He worked to procure supplies and assisted in rebuilding what will become one of the first girls schools in the region. In spite of his post posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, Diggs has been the recipient of several awards and recognition of his service, including, Community Hero from the SAFECO insurance company, Citizen of the year by the Fort Collins Board of realtors, and the Veteran of the year for the state of Colorado by the Daughters of the American revolution.

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