By Reed Hastey
U.S. Army Sergeant
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt
Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs
Instructor and Team Leader
My story begins on a small farm in rural Oklahoma situated just north of Wildcat Junction, an intersection of two state highways that boasted a self-service gas station and a run-down horse track. I spent the hottest part of the summers bailing hay. Winters were busy filling feed troughs and chopping holes through frozen ponds so cattle could reach water beneath the ice. The time in between was occupied by hunting, fishing, and swimming in any creek that would hold enough water to get my dog and me wet. My family was deeply rooted in military history. My older brother, father, grandfather, and two uncles had each served in the Army. At age 17, I would be the next in line to raise my right hand and swear to uphold the Constitution against all enemies both foreign and domestic. My brother, SFC Rex L. Hastey, was an Engineer, and I would follow in his footsteps. Signing up to operate bulldozers seemed a logical decision considering my years of experience on farm equipment. In February of 2004, Rex and I were deployed with the 120th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy) to the Sunni Triangle in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
My specific Military Occupational Specialty provided me the opportunity to move often and attach to many different Army and Marine units during my 12-month tour. I was honored to have served in Operation Phantom Fury, Operation Vigilant Resolve, and Spartacus Battalion. I would later find out that my participation in these events and the thousands of miles convoyed across Iraq would not compare to the most difficult mission of my life, the return home.
Practically overnight, I had been ejected from the combat theater and tossed back into the civilian world. I had traded convoy operations on MSR Mobile for driving my child to school on the streets of Hometown, USA. While everything appeared normal at first, it did not take long to realize that I was back in the crosshairs of an enemy — an enemy I couldn’t see and didn’t understand. Worst of all, I didn’t know how to call for help. It wasn’t as if I could radio in my grid coordinates and ‘pop smoke’.
At that time, PTSD was not a household term that people recognized, and resources for coping with combat related trauma were not main stream. In addition to my own ignorance of what was happening to me, my faith in God had been shaken. I found that serving in Iraq was more convenient if I placed my faith in the footlocker—just until I was back home. Unfortunately, I was unable to regain that relationship. I was emotionally numb and found that I was no longer able to pray. I had given up on God and myself. My life was quickly over-taken by anger, guilt, anxiety, and depression. My marriage would soon become a divorce statistic; my daughter would be raised in a broken home, and I would travel a destructive path of self-medication and selfishness. I would continue to alternate between low periods of isolation and what I would describe as manic fits with very little time to catch my breath in-between.
One afternoon while driving home from a VA medical appointment, a Ford Mustang caught my eye. It was parked in front of a small gym and it was completely wrapped in images of human skulls and pitchforks. What the heck?! Upon closer inspection, I found that it displayed a U.S. Marine license plate. I was immediately drawn inside the front door of Triton Fight Center. I couldn’t resist the urge to locate the owner of this car and learn the story behind his Mustang of death.
Upon entry, I was greeted by the owner, Piet Wilhelm. He immediately recognized that I was former military, informed me that he gave special rates for veterans, and invited me to try his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class with no strings attached. Something told me that I had not stumbled upon this person by accident, and I would take him up on his offer. This encounter would set my course down the path that would eventually lead me to Chad Robichaux, a USMC veteran and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt.
Professor Chad had visited our BJJ academy to put on a fund raising seminar for “The Mighty Oaks Fight Club.” He showed us some of his signature moves, shared some of the details about the program, and before leaving, he invited me to join him in California for a week long retreat at Sky Rose Ranch. I declined. I would encounter him again, he would offer another invitation, and again I would make up an excuse, so that I could decline his offer. But, after years of unsuccessfully trying to figure it out on my own, I took a leap of faith and signed up for Fight Club. There, I was enlightened on the subject of “Replacement Conditioning” and how Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu could not only be used as a method of getting in shape but also as an alternative therapy to combat PTSD.
The light bulb went on in my head when Chad explained, “You don’t have time to think about Iraq when you are grappling, because if you do, you will get choked out”. I had trained for several years and already had a deep passion for BJJ, but before my visit to Fight Club, I hadn’t put any thought toward why I spent so much time on the mat. I had subconsciously been practicing this idea of replacement conditioning, and now that I had been enlightened to its ability to heal, I would set my purpose not only toward recovering but also sharing my knowledge with other veterans who were dealing with the mental scars of war.
The revelation of taking a passion such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to the next level as replacement conditioning was not the only breakthrough that I had at Fight Club. As I mentioned earlier, my relationship with Jesus Christ had been intentionally set aside in a misguided effort to perform my duties in combat without the consequence of guilt. I wasn’t just isolating myself from the physical world but also from God. Spiritual solitude and emotional numbness resulting from both Post-Traumatic Stress and the side-effects of medication had resulted in years of silence between me and God. I was on the borderline of becoming an atheist. Despite a previous relationship with Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I could no longer feel anything and was ready to throw in the towel. Just like other relationships that I had destroyed, I was ready to take the path of least resistance, place convenience before righteousness, and sever my ties. Not only would it relieve the burden of reconciliation with God, but I would also get out of processing the guilt and shame I felt from my actions in Iraq. I would only have to answer to myself, and after the eventual and inevitable passing of the warfighter, so goes the war.
On the fourth day of Fight Club, and after much needed prayer and support from my brothers, I found myself praying again. I was taken aback by the experience, and immediately it was followed by a moment of clarity. Never in my life had I navigated through a battle based on feelings but by knowledge and faith. I renewed my relationship with Jesus Christ and asked to be baptized in water, an outward expression of my faith and victory over an enemy that had been gaining ground on me for years. No longer will I fight alone. No longer will I be passive in the most important fight of my life. I will name my enemy, and I will charge directly into the ambush. With the tools of Fight Club, a tactically strong fight plan, and authentic men in my corner, I will be the man God created me to be. I will be the father, husband, friend, student, and mentor that my loved ones deserve.