Like many of you, I stepped outside on Aug. 21 to catch the solar eclipse. I joined my colleagues atop the roof of our parking deck at
But my mind was somewhere else.
I was focused on preparing my client for a media interview. But this was no ordinary spokesperson prep, which I’ve done many times in my public relations role at
This veteran was asked to comment on the president’s upcoming speech about our U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan (no pressure!). This veteran had experienced war in Afghanistan eight years earlier and dealt with its aftermath at home. This veteran also was a hip-hop artist.
This veteran was Mik "Doc" Todd, my husband.
As Veterans Day approaches, let me tell you a little bit about my husband and our journey wading through the realities of veteran transition.
Mik served as a Fleet Marine Force Corpsman (combat medic) in the United States Navy, attached to a Marine Corps Infantry Unit in Camp Lejeune, N.C. Rightly so, his Marines called him Doc, and the name stuck forever.
He was deployed to Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan in 2009 as part of Operation Khanjar, the largest aerial insertion of Marine troops since the Vietnam War. It was a violent, kinetic operation, and Doc experienced many things. He treated his Marines for heat exhaustion and blast and burn injuries in the midst of fire fights. He dug holes in the dirt to sleep at night.
He kept his Marines’ spirits up with his jokes – and his raps.
Music was always part of Mik’s life growing up. As a teenager in Memphis, Tenn., he performed in local rock bands and developed a talent as a freestyling rapper.
It was no different in the military. Leading up to his unit’s deployment, Mik formed a hip-hop group with a few Marines. They recorded an album called United, which expressed all the emotions they anticipated feeling while overseas. From “Never Wait” and “Just Breath” to “Fallen Soliders” and “Heaven Can I Fly,” the songs offered a glimpse into the souls of our country’s finest.
It was an album made by the enlisted, for the enlisted. It became the soundtrack of America’s Battalion that year. For many of Doc’s Marines, it kept them motivated. It fueled their comraderie and brought them closer together. For me and for other families in the unit, the music also was our way of staying connected.
The news became my lifeline to feel "in the know." Since Doc was in remote parts of Helmand Province, he had no Internet connectivity and very limited satellite phone access. When I was lucky enough to get a phone call, it lasted two or three minutes. Through an Associated Press (AP) story, I sadly learned that Doc’s roommate and close friend was killed in action on July 2, 2009, the first day of the fight.
A few months into the operation, Doc contracted a vicious viral fever and developed bilateral atypical pneumonia. His condition worsened, and he was medivac-ed to the ICU in Germany and ultimately American soil, months before his unit came home.
That was the start of a dark period of feeling isolated, alone and incomplete. Though his wounds were not physical, they were deep and needed treatment. This experience haunted him for years, because he thought it would have been more heroic to lose a limb.
Fourteen members of Doc's battalion were killed in action during the operation, and several more have been lost to suicide and substance abuse since returning home. My husband has not been without his own mental health struggles either. It’s been seven years of life and transition, including the ups and downs experienced by many veterans who have dealt with the hard costs of war.
Depression. Anxiety. Anger. Stress. Alcohol.
And I’ve been there every step of the way – first as a girlfriend, then a fiancé, then a wife and mother to our two girls.
There is no sugar-coating it: Life after war is tough.
For veterans and for their families.
But earlier this year, after one of his clients unexpectedly died, Mik finally had enough. Enough with the pain, enough with feeling like he didn’t fit in, enough with the anger and enough with losing another vet to suicide.
It was time for Doc to do again what he did best – take care of his Marines and get back into the recording studio. So in the spring, he took a leap of faith, leaving his wealth management career to pursue a mission focused on impacting veterans’ lives through music – showing them they are not alone through a dose of "combat medicine."
He got to work, and in about two months, had assembled a team, selected tracks, written 10 songs and recorded them all in Nashville, where his brother Logan works as a professional drummer. By June, he had created an entire album that delivered a raw, no-holds-barred look into military life and veteran transition.
The process sounds pretty straightforward. But in reality, the making of Combat Medicine was one of the hardest personal experiences he and I have ever had. The writing process was cathartic, but also brought out many old wounds. It was tense and messy and hard on a lot of days (and it still is). We were pouring our souls and our savings into a project with an uncertain outcome.
But we did not waver – we stuck with our mission. Deep in our hearts, we believed this music could change lives.
In early June, we debuted the first album single, “Not Alone,” accompanied by a music video that was shot in our home with friends, to start building attention.
On June 21, we independently released Combat Medicine (buy here, stream here). Unlike United, which was produced as a CD and sold out of the trunk of Mik's car on base, we had to figure out how to distribute and promote this album online.
I knew we had a compelling story to tell, so I researched and thought about which media outlets helped me stay on the pulse of my husband’s deployment. NPR immediately came to mind; they ran a special series on America’s Battalion in 2009.
Long story short, we tracked down one of the reporters and landed a segment on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” From that point, things started to grow organically. The music has been picking up steam, and we’ve landed more national, local and military press. We’ve generated album sales and streams, too.
But most importantly, Combat Medicine is touching lives. I am amazed every time a veteran or a first responder reaches out to Doc on social media and shares what the album means to them, and how his lyrics put into words what they have felt but never been able to articulate themselves.
Doc is giving voice to a new generation of young veterans who are rebuilding their lives after war. He’s empowering his fellow Millennial vets through his words. It's all incredibly humbling to witness, whether through a performance, speech or social media post.
And his vision and conviction in believing we can change the trajectory of our country’s veteran suicide rates is unwavering. Transition support resources that are available to veterans through nonprofits like the ones
Just as I felt when Mik was deployed, I don’t know what exactly tomorrow, the next day or next month will bring on this journey. But today, I do know this: Doc Todd is back to saving lives again. And that feels really, really good.
I give my sincerest of thanks to the many men and women – and their families – who sacrifice to serve our country. Especially you, Doc Todd. Happy Veterans Day.
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