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

about the episode

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 Brown

Diggs 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

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.

Dave: Welcome to our No Barriers Podcast. We’re really excited to have Diggs Brown on our show today. Before we get started with Diggs, Erik, you just recently had a pretty amazing experience that would love to listeners to learn a little bit about. Can you share with us?

Erik: We had a lady, Nerissa Cannon who came to one of our No Barriers events. She’s in a wheel chair, and she was really inspired by this hike that we did. And she said, “I want to do something harder. I really like the teamwork that happens here.” So, she wanted to climb one of our Colorado 14,000 foot peaks, and Jeff, one of our hosts is here. And what happened?

Jeff: Well, I think 21 people showed up to help this woman achieve her dream. And, and throughout that whole day, I think everybody realized what a privilege it was because we all got to step up at some point and help hoist her chair up over rocks and terrain. And at one point she got put on the back of this young stud and carried all the way to the summit of 14,000 foot peak. And then, we all worked together to bring her back down. And, it was the full cross section of what a No Barriers events should look like. It was hard, it was fun, it was fulfilling, it was emotional, it was satisfying [crosstalk 00:03:51].

Erik: And it was a breakthrough for her too because she wasn’t really before that in this understanding of, hey, I can receive help from a great team of people who want to be there and really want to have purpose in their lives. So, not only she benefited, I think the whole team summit, the whole team summoning also benefited from this amazing experience. So yeah, we’re all on a high right now. And even Jeff at 50 years old, carried Nerissa ways down the trail.

Jeff: All of that statement was right except for me being 50. Yes.

Erik: Almost 50.

Jeff: Not as close as you.

Dave: Well, and today on our show, we’ve got someone who’s also had some great breakthroughs in the mountains. Jeff, you want to introduce our listeners to our guest today?

Jeff: One of my most favorite people on the planet, and anybody who comes in contact with Diggs Brown generally feels about the same. So, this is a privilege for all of us to have Diggs with us today. I’m not going to give you the full bio, I want Diggs to do so. But, Diggs has been a part of our family for a long time, and we’ve shared a lot of experiences together. And welcome to the podcast Diggs.

Diggs: Thrilled to death to be here. Thank you so much. It’s always great to see these smiling faces of No Barriers. I mean, you guys rock my world, you’re the best.

Dave: You got an impressive career, 34 years in the military, and you were enlisted man, and you were an officer, special Forces. It’s really cool.

Diggs: Well, I’ve done a number of things, that’s my military career. A lot of that is reserve and national guard duty. I did do active duty of course, but, I’ve been a film actor, I’ve been a financial advisor. That’s what I was doing when 9/11 occurred. And 9/11, sorry, just tanked my career because I kept getting deployed to go overseas, but a lot of different interests and things. But, my big interest right now is to help our veterans who’ve come home and make sure that they feel comfortable when they’re home, and they have somebody they can turn to, which I do consider this organization No Barriers.

Dave: Can you talk a little bit about, you came to us at a time when you were looking for that transition, some transition. You were going through some things and talk a bit about how the program assisted you.

Diggs: I was at a point in my life I was really lost, because you come back from a war and you’ve seen some things and done some things, and it takes a while to digest, and sometimes you don’t digest it at all. And I was at a low. I was at a very low point in my life, and I came in and interviewed with No Barriers, and it was iffy because I was the old guy, Mr. handicap. Well, I’m 56, but I have a traumatic brain injury and some bodily injuries from a vehicle accident over there. And anyway, I was selected to go on the trip and on the mission, and what a life changing experience. And a lot of that, it has to do with the leadership of the organization, and you guys sitting at this table, you understand that you are that leadership. But, I mean like Jeff and Charlie, those two guys really busted their hump to make sure that every veteran on this trip, on this mission had a success.

Diggs: We started, this was a 2014 mission to try to climb Mount Whitney, and right here in Golden is where we all met up 14 veterans and Charlie and Jeff, and we met downtown one of the hotels. Wells Fargo was our sponsor at the point. They were there, treated us to dinner. Next morning we’d get up, we’d go get gear, which was just great because none of us really had anything. And then we started climbing. I mean that day we went up to St. Mary’s glacier, or it is Saint Mary’s, right?

Jeff: Yeah.

Diggs: I mean, stayed the night on the glacier, got the morning and trekked all the way top and back and deep snow. And for a lot of people on this trip, a lot of the veterans, this was their first time to ever do any anything like that. I mean for me too, and it really makes you evaluate who you are inside and what your strengths are and what’s your weakness. And so, that was our first goal, and then the next thing you know you’re here rolls September 2014, and we’re off to climb the tallest mountain in the lower 48, Mount Whitney in California.

Diggs: And it’s a life changing experience because you get these people, part of the adventure is you’re not just climbing, at night you sit around the campfire, and you try to open up and get the veterans who are on this trip with you on this mission, on this trip, whatever you want to call it, to open up also. The first time you guys sit down and try to talk, very few people will say anything, everybody’s pretty anxious about the entire situation, they don’t know what to say. So, if you get one person speaking, and as the days go by, more and more speak.

Diggs: And, the thing that I realized that, well I thought my situation was awful, there were 11 other veterans around that campfire who were just having an awful time with their lives. In fact three of them confided in me that they had contemplated suicide within the past month. And, I’ll tell you what, I know for sure one individual in that trip would have committed suicide, had it not been for No Barriers, and the leadership and the experience with everybody together, able for the first time for some of us to sit down and talk about our situation and what the issues were that we were dealing with.

Diggs: And on this trip, you look at the people with TBIs, traumatic brain injury, which almost everybody has, posttraumatic stress, everybody has got that. Then you had the amputees, and people who have injuries that are visible. That’s pretty much a nutshell. I mean, that’s a life changing experience that’s a challenge. On our Whitney climb, I think we walked 50 miles down the John Muir trail before we summited the mountain. 5:00 in the morning, got there just in time to pull out the flag and have the sun come up over the eastern United States, the tallest point.

Jeff: And, what was the date that we sit on top of that mountain?

Diggs: September 11th. It was something, it was something. And, I had carried with me American flag that have flown over my bank where I was working on September 11th. And, on September 11th I pulled that flag down, folded it up and just put away. Someday this flags could mean something special. Well, I carried that flag all the way to the top of Mount Whitney, and as the sun came up, we unfolded it and everybody held it. I let the sunshine through the flag, and what a dry eye in the house.

Diggs: What a great experience, and then you’re done. You get off the mountain and then you have time to reflect for a couple of days with the rest of the crew, thereby goes their separate way. But when they do go their separate way, you still maintain contact with him, you still talk to them, you see them on Facebook, you go on another adventure, and there they are. You make outstanding friendships, you get a new perspective on your life, and you learn that no matter how bad you feel your situation is, it really isn’t. There’s nothing you can’t overcome.

Dave: Now Jeff, you’ve been a part of some of these adventures as have you Erik. What did you tease out of that, Jeff, when you listened to Diggs retell that story?

Jeff: Well, you know, as I said, from the outset, Diggs is pretty special and that trip was a very special trip I think for a lot of people. And, I think it summarized how we were talking about Nerissa’s experience. It summarized everything that’s No Barriers. It was hard, it was physically hard, it was emotionally hard, but it was so satisfying for us, for me as an outsider basically from not knowing you, not knowing these other 11 veterans that we spent all this time with, not knowing the backstories, and not knowing the struggle and the pain that had created callouses on you over the years. Then to watch you go through this period of peeling that away over the course of all those experiences together, and then it sort of crescendoed on that summit as these trips are supposed to, right?

Jeff: And, it was an absolute honor to watch that journey for all of you, and you in particular. There’s certain people you always feel a stronger affinity for, and I definitely felt that way for you since day one. And, I think that explains why were we continue to hold hands and walk down the trail together.

Diggs: You’re not supposed to be telling everybody that.

Dave: So Jeff, you mentioned backstory. I mean Diggs, I understand you when you’re in the army, you trained Afghan, national army and you got even a chance to build schools. Tell us about that.

Diggs: Yeah. You know, we went in when the war first started, in fact we were the second special forces group into Afghanistan, so this was 2002, I think May. And, our mission, everybody thinks Green Berets, it’s the trained killers and all this stuff, and that’s part of it. But the main mission of special forces is to be a force multiplier and that is to go in and train their military how to fight their own war. So that’s what you’re seeing in Afghanistan and Iraq, a force multiplier. So a 12 man special forces team can train a 700 man battalion in about 10 weeks and get them ready to fight. And that was our mission. But, one of the things that came up while I was there was we were on a base of about 250 people. I had 100 special forces guys as wrestlers, security and support people, but we had a chaplain with us, chaplain, Andy.

Diggs: And chaplain Andy came to me one day, and he goes, “Diggs, there’s a school down the street in this village called Poly Sharkey, and the Taliban has destroyed it and I would really like for you to come with me and be a part of this. Let’s rebuild this school.” And I’m going, “Chaplain I’m busy at the moment. I’m fighting a war here.” “Oh no, I need for you to go please.” So, I went and talked to the battalion commander, and he said, “Yeah, sure, go ahead, but you only do it on your day off.” Which was Wednesdays for me. So, every Wednesday, the chaplain and I would go down to Poly Sharkey and help them run the school.

Diggs: Now you got to understand when Taliban came in to power, they destroyed all the schools. All that was left here was some frame building. No windows, no electricity, no furniture, no books, nothing. And, at first the village elders were very leery. I mean, we had to negotiate with them to come in and build the school, and their fear was that … And they vocalized that and said, “If you start the school, and you leave like the Russians did, the Taliban will come in and wipe out our village. “No, gentlemen, we’re Americans. We’re here for the duration, we’ll take care of you.” So, they allowed us come in every Wednesday and the chaplain and I would teach six hours, six classes of English.

Diggs: And, it was very interesting because these young boys … There were no girls. The young boys were literally walking barefoot to get to school miles with no school supplies, nothing. And, this went on for several weeks. And, one thing I did notice one day was there was a young Afghany girl, her name was Farishta, and Farishta was 11. And, she’d be staring in through the windows, and try to listen to the class. No class or windows, what else is there to stop her? Nothing, except for the village elders who didn’t want the girls educated, because that’s the way they are. So, the chaplain and I went to the village elders after watching her for about three weeks trying to listen in on the class, and we said, “You know what? Girls need to go to school.” “Oh no, girls can’t go to school. Girls cannot go to school.” No, they need to.

Diggs: So we went back and forth with these guys for a couple of weeks and finally, they thought they had us. They really did. They go, “Okay, girls could go to school, however you men cannot teach them, it must be women.” And so, they didn’t realize that on our base, part of our military police contingent were females. So, next Wednesday we showed up with some female EMPs and the girl started school. And, that was one of the first schools, if not the first school to allow girls in after the fall of Taliban.

Diggs: So, when I look at my accomplishments in life, to me that is the big one. It’s trying to do something for somebody else with your life, and being willing to sacrifice on your own behalf to do that. And the chaplain did that, I did that. We had a $50,000 reward on our heads that the Taliban wanted us dead for daring to teach school. So, there were a lot of things going on, a lot of moving parts beyond just fighting wars, hearts and minds. And if you don’t win the hearts and minds of the people that you’re fighting for or with, you’re wasting your time. You’ve got to get them to believe in you as you believe in them.

Jeff: I’m curious, just because we know you, we know who you are, but you just really disclosed it. On your day off, your one day off a week you went down and reestablished a school. You have one day off in between fighting a war. So you clearly have a servant heart. So, I’m curious, what led you to enlist into the military, and was that something that you knew from early on or were you … Where did that come from? Where did it originate in your soul?

Diggs: Well, my father had been in the military, he was Major Bob Diggs Brown senior in the Persian Gulf during second world war, and of course my uncle, I mean everybody their generation served in the military. But, here’s the backside of this whole story, and that is my dad took me to see John Wayne, the Green Berets when I was 10.

Jeff: Done.

Diggs: I was done. I walk out there, looked at a dad, said, “I’m going to do that.” So, in 1979 with one semester left in college, I went and joined the military, joined the Green Berets, and served my time, came back, finished school. And, what I really liked about being in the special forces was working with the indigenous people and helping them. I mean, it’s sure there’s actual adventure high altitude free fall, sneaking around through the jungle, whatever you want, it’s there. In fact, I’ve knocked off most of my bucket list with the military. But, it’s also being able to work with the people. 1987 I was in El Salvador and Honduras, and doing some operations down there, and one of the things that we did was go to the village next to us and bring medical help in for the kids. They have no medical down there.

Diggs: But the funny part, I don’t know if this funny, it may gross some people out, but down there they suck on sugarcane. So you can imagine what these people’s teeth looked like. So, out of the 300 soldiers that we were training, I got to pull teeth for three days. I bet you, I pulled 100 teeth and it was like the worst thing ever.

Jeff: Take your leather man and stick it in there, and rip it out.

Diggs: Well, basically pliers and a lever, and loosen up, and give a couple yanks and out it comes. But, we actually flew in a dentist from Fort Bragg. He and his assistant, they had the nice dental chair, and Collin who was a medic at that point in time, he and I both had our soldiers sit on buckets, spitting into a bucket. And, I guess I’m going too far with this, okay now that’s it. But, I mean it’s the same thing though, you’re going in and you’re helping the people. And, I try to help people as I can. My vision of the world is if we all just took a breath and took a moment to try to help other people, what a wonderful, wonderful place it would be.

Dave: So, you do this positive thing, you sign up to serve your country, and you’re working with indigenous people, you’re building schools, you’re doing really positive stuff. Then, you come home and understand, you wind up with what you call a moral injury. So, tell us about that. What is a moral injury?

Diggs: It’s hard to define unless you’re really experiencing it, because it’s … Things happen in war and it’s not always Hollywood. I mean, Hollywood people die and they just die, and you don’t see the backside to that story, and you don’t see the pain it inflicted on people when they’re injured or dying or whatever the case may be. And, we had an accident with some of the kids, actually some of the kids in my school. And, they were there just at the wrong place at the wrong time, and they were told not to be there, and they show up anyway, and it was very, very bad. And, I don’t know why but I blamed myself for it, and there’s nothing that could have been done. But, it’s something you just carry with you, and I’ll have it the rest of my life.

Diggs: And, you live with it, and sometimes it goes to the back of your mind, and then sometimes it comes like a locomotive to the front. And, I’m not the only person going through this. And that’s why I believe in the mission of this organization, and what you’re doing for these veterans. My life would’ve been totally different had I not met you guys, not been a part of this organization. You’ve literally saved my life, literally.

Jeff: Well, I think when a person like you puts themselves out in such a way you become really vulnerable, and because of that servant heart that you have, you put yourself out there, and there’s this terribly tragic thing happened, and it hurts you even more I’m sure. I’ve heard you tell that story, and it still appears very, very fresh, like it’s still right there in the front of your mind and exists. Have you been able to over the years, especially in the past five, six, seven, eight years now, been able to relate with this younger generation of recently discharged veterans that come out because of your experience for instance, this story you tell, are you able to share that story with your fellow veterans and is there a catharsis that comes with that when you share it with them?

Diggs: Yes, totally above. I guess it was two years ago, we had a grand canyon rafting trip with about a dozen veterans also, and I was the veteran guide portion of the trip, the old guy who had done this stuff before. And, as I mentioned earlier, we’d sit around the campfire at night and I try to get people to speak and open up, and that was my role. And so, I told them my story right off at the get go of the first night, and I think people weren’t expecting it, but afterwards, some veterans came and said I had something very similar to that. And, I said, well you need to talk about it, and you need to talk about it to everybody here and not hold it in. So gradually, by night four of a nine night travel, everybody was pretty much opening up, and there’ll be so many commonalities.

Diggs: I mean everybody’s experience is different, but the … If you want to call it the punchline is always the same, and you’ll either move on past it or you don’t, or you’ll learn to live with it or you don’t. And, I believe that I’m living with what happened, some days not so good. And some days it’s not like it used to be, it used to be every day. Every day I think about this, every night I’d wake up with nightmares, just sweating the bed out. And, it wasn’t comfortable at all. It’s very rare now, but ever once in a while I’ll get in a funk, and that’s just how it is. It comes back, you 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, and it’s never gone.

Dave: This is so helpful because I think we have so many people who listen, who have had physical injuries or emotional trauma, they lost really important people in their lives. So, you talk about inner peace and you talk about mental health and stuff, what does that process look like? Do you think you heal totally, or do you just learn to process all that’s happened in your life?

Diggs: Well, I don’t believe you heal totally. I mean, there is some healing that goes on with it, but this will remain, or at least in my case with me forever. But, when you recognize it’s coming on, you can start doing the things that you need to do to tuck it away back in the corner where it belongs.

Diggs: So, I like to go on trips. This trip to Nepal that I just took with Jeff was just a real mind clearing event for me. It helped a lot. I walked the Camino, the 500 miles to the Camino two years ago and that’s a chance … You’re walking 500 miles with nobody, you have a chance to think about everything in your life and start evaluating it and figure out what box am I going to put this memory, and then where am I going to put that box? I mean, that’s layman’s terms, but I’m a layman. So anyway, I think you can overcome anything but there are some things that just, you may overcome it, but it’s always there and it’s always going to be a reminder that you did have a past of some sort.

Erik: I think it’s really important for people to understand that, that from your perspective it’s about knowing that those things come on and that you have to deal with them, and you have to get yourself out of that. There are strategies to get yourself out of that. And, not to compare any of my story to yours, but I mean, my daughter went off to college a couple of weeks ago, and I just went into this funk and my wife knew my personality and so she said, let’s go take a walk and up in the mountains and let’s go swimming in this beautiful mountain lake that we have. And, man feeling that beautiful lake and that sunshine and walking on this beautiful dirt trail, I pulled myself out of it. And yeah, so I’m relating to … I think a lot of people can relate to these strategies that we use, right? Just to work our way out of these depths that we can fall into.

Diggs: Absolutely. And everybody is different, and everybody’s going to have to figure out their own method to put that thought away in the box or whatever escape that dread. And, I think, again, going back to No Barriers you guys offer that, you offer a chance for people to evaluate who they are, where they are in their lives, and you give them different options. And, whatever they take away from No Barriers is going to be a huge help in their future. You guys are doing God’s work, absolutely.

Dave: And Diggs, I love the analogy you gave to a locomotive, because I’ve experienced that personally in my life. I see a lot of people at No Barriers, you put it away awhile and then you hear that locomotive coming and sometimes it can roll over you again, it keeps coming. And Erik, and you have talked about one methodology that works for you all, which is that idea of get out somewhere beautiful, go on a big journey, recenter, refocus, and I think that’s one way to get through that locomotive coming.

Jeff: That whole locomotive metaphor, just really thinking about that. Locomotives are loud and sometimes they give you a little warning right before they show up, right? Just long they’re barreling through. And boy, if you’ve got the wherewithal to understand what it sounds like when that thing’s coming your way and barreling down the track, that’s when the rope team really comes in. Like, hey, it’s about to catch up to me and I need you now, right? So I think what I’ve seen with you over the years is you are into developing relationships and rope teams. And, you’ve seen the value and you cherish those relationships that come from these shared experiences, right? I mean, you can probably relate to it a lot with your military experience, right? So similar sort of thing.

Diggs: Yeah. Well, in special forces, you operate on 12 men team, and so that’s what I’m used to. I was very fortunate in my 34 years in the military, about 29 of those I was on a team, first as enlisted man, then as a commander. And then, you always get transferred to the general staff, and it just goes downhill from there. But, it’s all team building, you work with people, you’re depending on people. You have somebody you talk to if you need to talk to him. And that person on the rope in front of you, is there when you need him. If you’re falling, they’re there to hold you up and same thing for the person behind you, you’re there to hold them up also.

Dave: Here in the studio, the listeners may hear another member of your rope team a little bit shaken here and there, and many of us go around our communities and see folks with service dogs. Can you tell us a little bit about the role that your dog plays in your life?

Erik: Yeah, he’s hilarious. He’s been groaning and shaking and flapping his ears.

Dave: I thought that was your stomach Erik.

Erik: Yeah, no, just everyone that is not my stomach for the record.

Diggs: Well, that is Arthur Barker Black. Arthur is english lab, actually played a big part of getting me out of the funk, and that was … I had Arthur before I ran into you guys. But, at that point in my life, I was really in the crapper. And, you go to the VA, and you say, I’m having these kind of issues, they go, “Well here, take all these drugs and come back in three months.” So, you take all those drugs and you’re all fried, then you come back in three months and that doctor is gone and the new doc says, “No, no, take these, take these.”

Diggs: So, I wasn’t having much luck with the opioids or whatever they were giving me. So, I got hold of this organization called Puppies Behind Bars. And, what they do is they train service dogs in five penitentiaries in New York. Now, people go, oh, I’ve heard of program like that down in Canyon city, well it’s not the same thing. These people get these dogs when they’re eight weeks old, and they train them for two years. So, the service dogs that come out have 95 commands. They’re all trained to work with quadriplegics. I mean, he can dial nine one one on the phone.

Jeff: Dope.

Diggs: Yeah, I know, it’s amazing. He can do laundry, although he doesn’t fold or separate colors or iron, but he could put in the machines. I mean, he can do so many things. And anyway, I-

Jeff: Does he give the back rubs too? It’s so sweet.

Diggs: We haven’t worked that one yet.

Jeff: It’s next level.

Diggs: But anyway, I got the dog through the program. You graduate, you take your dog home and once a year they come out and check on the welfare of the dog. He’s still their dog till he’s eight. And, they can take him back anytime if your dog’s obese, you’re not using him, he’s neglected. They’ll take it back. When you look at Arthur, you go, “That dog is just pampered.”

Erik: He’s a loved animal.

Diggs: Oh yeah, he is. He’s my baby. A good dog, and he’ll be turning eight on Christmas day. So, when he turns eight, what they generally do is they bring you a new dog, because the labs are tenured dogs and they don’t want your dog dying on you, and then you’re stuck without a dog. So, you’d have two dogs, or you’d give … In this case, I give Arthur back to the penitentiary, which I have no intention of doing.

Dave: I don’t see that happening.

Diggs: No.

Jeff: No. He’s got a Facebook page.

Diggs: He does.

Jeff: He ain’t giving it back to anybody.

Diggs: Yeah. Anyway, with Arthur, I’m not going to take the new dog, I’ll just keep him and retire him. And, he still serves me as what its purpose is, so we’re good. And, when he gets to a point where he can’t fly in the planes anymore, then we’ll get a camper van and travel to America, and see that. But right now he flies with me everywhere, rides at your feet in the aircraft, and just a very special dog, and probably my best friend.

Erik: So, it sounds like a ringing endorsement for a service dog under that circumstances.

Diggs: I would put that out for any veteran really. But, this organization is Puppies Behind Bars. You could look them up on the internet.

Jeff: Puppies are the very best things, creatures on the planet. And then, they turn into the number two best thing on the planet, which are dogs.

Diggs: Yeah, so true.

Dave: Well, most of our conversations so far Diggs on the past. As you know from being through our program, we help folks think about what they can take from the past and move to the future with it, but talk a little bit about what’s going on now, what you’re excited about in your current life, what you have in the present, and what you’re looking forward to as you are moving forward through life.

Jeff: And also add in there your hairstyle, and your beard, your grooming habits just so the listeners who don’t know you can understand the full picture. Thank you. The world appreciates it.

Diggs: Picture in your mind, Buffalo Bill Cody. That’s it.

Jeff: There you go.

Diggs: All right. So, this was one of the deals after I retired from the military, and I walked the Camino, and I was thinking to myself, man, I’m in the middle of nowhere in Spain for nine hours walking through a wheat field, thinking my entire life in the military I had to keep my hair short. I had to wear a uniform, and my civilian job I had to keep my hair short, wear a three piece suit, blah, blah, blah. I’m not going to do anymore. So, two years ago I quit cutting my hair. Now, I’ve cut four inches off of it because it was getting crazy long, but I literally looked like Buffalo Bill Cody.

Jeff: Meets Gregg Allman.

Diggs: I’m a rambling man. So, once a year I travel to France and I teach American history to French students as Buffalo Bill Cody. The other thing I’m doing is I’m back into acting. About 30 years ago when I lived in Dallas, when I came back from my mission in central America, that tanked my stock brokerage career. So, I decided to go to school and get a film degree and pay my way through school while I was acting. I was actually on the TV show Dallas for three seasons, a number of other small productions like that. And …

Jeff: Did you shoot JR?

Diggs: No, but I tried to kill Bobby Ewing three times, I couldn’t do it. I was the bad mercenary, the bad shot mercenary. So anyway, so right now I’m acting again. I have an agent in Denver and one in Albuquerque. It’s a lot of fun. Thank God I don’t have to rely on this for income, because it’s few and far between, but it’s just, it’s fun. It’s a hobby. Last week or couple of weeks ago, actually a Red bull commercial shot at Twin lakes, so when people see this Red bull commercial where the formula one car racing down the mountain and whipping into the gas station, on the gas station attendant, they’re addressing. So, there’s always something going on, and life is just what you make it. And I’m looking forward to my next adventure with Jeff, which I don’t know what we’re doing next.

Jeff: We’ll figure something out.

Diggs: I know, and it’s always a good one.

Jeff: You’re a renaissance man.

Diggs: Well, yeah.

Jeff: Yeah.

Diggs: Yeah.

Jeff: Yeah. You have many careers. You’ve had three careers, four careers.

Diggs: Five, six, seven, eight.

Jeff: Five careers.

Diggs: I don’t want to go down the list, but I’ve done a lot.

Jeff: You’re good at all of them too.

Diggs: Well, Jack of all trades, master of none, they say. But anyway, that’s what’s going on right now. I have a wonderful girl that I’m dating and that that helps a lot too, because you have to understand if you’re dating a veteran and who’s had some issues you better understand that sometimes things just don’t go the way that they’re supposed to go, and you learn to live with it or you don’t. We’ll see.

Dave: Well Diggs, it’s been a great pleasure having you on our show. It’s always wonderful to see you and we appreciate so the raw honesty that you brought to the table. I think there’s something in what you share today that we can all learn from. So, it’s a real honor to have you as a member of our community and thank you for being here.

Diggs: Thank you all for having me. You guys, you’re changing so many lives. You really are. Thank you.

Jeff: Thank you Diggs, love you buddy.

Erik: Thanks man.

Dave: Well, team, that was pretty powerful. Erik, Jeff, you want to share a little bit about what stood out for you in the conversation?

Erik: I liked what digs was saying about maybe you never heal, you just figure out some strategies to be aware of yourself, your inner self, and know when it’s happening, and then be able to find that rope team that can help pull you out of it or some strategies to pull you out of it. And, it’s not necessarily about ever being “Cured.” I think that’s really important for a lot of folks.

Jeff: Well, I mean, I’ve known Diggs for a while now, so I’ve thought about him a lot, and he reinforces this idea of when you put yourself all the way out there, you make yourself the most vulnerable. And, I think that there’s certain people who are wired like that and Diggs is one of those people, and you can listen to him talk, and realize that he’s one who doesn’t shy away from full commitment. And, his life has punched him around from time to time, but you can hear that his spirit is still strong. And, I think that’s an affirmation of what his true character is and who we can all aspire to be.

Erik: What about you Dave?

Jeff: Yeah, what about you Dave?

Dave: Yeah. For me, I think that analogy of the locomotive really resonated with me. And, how do you get used to the feelings that are coming upon you when that thing that hurts is coming back, and how are you prepared for it? Because we work with so many folks who the things don’t ever go away forever, but if you could get used to the way it feels and that something is coming, you can reach out to your rope team for support. You can use the tools that you have and know that that wave is about to hit you again. And, getting used to hearing that coming I think is a very important skill for folks who are facing …

Jeff: Takes a while to do that too.

Dave: Oh yeah, for sure. For sure. And as Diggs I think said very honestly sometimes it goes well and it doesn’t always even after you’ve learned those things. It’s not like you learn it once and that means you got it. So yeah. Well, another great show. Thank you Jeff, thank you Erik. If you’re out there listening and wondering what you could do to help support No Barriers, we ask you to please like this Podcast and share it with others. That’s one of the best things you can do.

Dave: If you’re interested in being a part of our programs you’ve heard about today, you can check us out at nobarriersusa.org. We do have in person experiences like what Diggs was talking about where we take people on these great adventures. We’re also launching virtual experiences where you can take some courses with us that help you learn some of these skills, but you don’t have to go on a big adventure. So hope you all enjoyed the show today and just remember that what’s within you is stronger than what’s in your way.

Jeff: No barriers.

Dave: Thanks to all of you for listening to our Podcast. We know that you have a lot of choices about how you can spend your time, and so we appreciate you spending it with us. If you enjoy this Podcast, we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it, and give us a review. Show notes can be found at nobarrierspodcast.com. Special thanks to the Dan Ryan band for our intro song, which is called, Guidance. Production team behind this Podcast includes producers, Didrick Johnck and Pauline Shaffer, sound designed, editing and mixing by Jesse Singer and Tyler Cottman, graphics by Sam Davis, and marketing support by Laura Baldwin and Jeannie Donnelly. Thanks to all you amazing people for the great work you do.

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