Motivating Combat Wounded Veterans to Find Their Second Wind

Motivating Combat Wounded Veterans to Find Their Second Wind

SgtMaj Lance Nutt (left), founder of Sheep Dog Impact Assistance, and Spartan Race participants (right).

The iron spirit of nonprofit Sheep Dog Impact Assistance (SDIA) was forged in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. SgtMaj Lance Nutt led an independent disaster response mission after the hurricane devastated the Gulf Coast. Shortly after, Lance founded SDIA and has been leading response missions and supporting fellow “sheep dogs” ever since.

As Lance tells it, a person with a service-related background is at risk of losing that sense of purpose upon exiting their community. A Marine or military member from another branch might finish a four-year commitment and feel a sense of loss, a directionless pallor that threatens to diminish their life. A career firefighter or police officer might retire with a full pension, yet may continue to feel unfulfilled. That’s where SDIA comes into play. By joining SDIA relief missions, people can recapture that sense of purpose and call to service that inspired them to first put on the uniform.

While SDIA’s disaster relief efforts take up a significant amount of Lance’s time, as he points out, “sitting around waiting for disasters to happen can be pretty depressing, like waiting for a loved one to die.” So he targeted his thinking to focus on his fellow Sheep Dogs. Lance’s other mission is inspiring servicemembers to be the best versions of themselves they can possibly be. Here’s his story:

Get off the couch, Marine!

What can we do to motivate those who have been damaged by their service? What can we do from a motivational standpoint to revitalize the spirits of these men and women?

We met two Marines—Cpl. Nick Perales and Cpl. Sebastian Gallegos—at Fort Sam Houston. Both men lost limbs to IEDs in the War on Terror; Nick lost one leg and severely damaged the other, and Sebastian lost his right arm. They were both fitted with prosthetics and had been learning how to adapt to their new lives as combat-wounded veterans.

When we found them, they were in between rehab sessions, sitting on a couch playing Call of Duty on an Xbox. They’d put on some weight. They weren’t in the best shape. I remember Nick telling me he’d not walked more than two miles since his injury.

That’s when we challenged them to a 13-mile Spartan Race, complete with obstacles and a swim in a lake. I explained to them the organization we’d formed, and how we wanted to engage our brothers and sisters in need.

It took us ten hours to finish that race. There were multiple times when I thought they were going to quit. But at the six-mile marker, we took a picture of all of us together. And then we took another at the 9-mile mark. We told them, you have now gone further than you have ever gone. If we get off this course, there is absolutely nothing you should hang your head about.

We had an incredible time together. We said our goodbyes to these two brutally tired men. I was honestly concerned we had pushed them too far. I thought I’d never see them again.

But a few days later, they called us up and said, “When can we do it again?”

Cpl. Nick Perales (left) and Cpl. Sebastian Gallegos (right) prepare for their first Spartan Race

Pulling rank. Sort of.

This organization exists because we’re able to focus on the person, not the problem. When it comes to a combat-wounded vet, every person’s needs are different. But regardless of their injuries, everyone can stand to have a motivating force in their life. When we met Nick and Sebastian, they had no one who was grabbing them by the scruff of their neck and telling them, “Move your ass, Marine.”

When we approached these two Corporals, I was a 1st Sergeant. But the mission I gave them wasn’t an order. It was a challenge. A dare. They had the ability to say no—and they almost did—but ultimately it was their pride—and not my rank—that got them to that race’s starting line.

We now have a program called Not Forgotten, which is for individuals who’ve completed races with us. If you race with us, we’re with you for the long haul, and the door is open for you to participate in anything and everything we do. If you want to go on a hunt, or an adventure race, or go skydiving, or participate in one of our Disaster Response Missions, we’ve got a ticket with your name on it.

The lives they lead now.

We’ve stayed in touch with Nick and Sebastian, both as friends and teammates. They revealed to us that before we showed up and challenged them to that race, they were both at very low points in their lives. But now, they’ll tell you that we saved their lives. Or, at least, we helped them save their own lives.

Since that grueling ten-hour race, Sebastian has done nine more races with us, and Nick has done seven. And they didn’t stop there.

Nick went on to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro. He tried out for the US Paralympic team, and just a year ago he opened up his own Crossfit gym called Elite Strength & Performance in Pearland, TX, teaching underprivileged youth the value of physical fitness. Sebastian continues to engage with SDIA, doing Spartan Races, hunts, and giving motivational speeches.

These guys aren’t on the couch anymore. They’re in the best shape of their lives.

As long as you’re engaged, and not sitting at home feeling sorry for yourself, we’ve got a spot reserved for you. And as long as this organization exists, we always will.

Learn more about Sheep Dog Impact Assistance.

Learn more about SgtMaj Lance Nutt.

Nick and Sebastian today. Muscled up and kicking ass every day.

Leave a comment:

Mark G.

7/11/2016 9:41 AM

A lot of heart. Much respect to the organization, Lance, Nick and Sebastian.