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Cpl. Todd Nicely’s advice for facing challenges.

If you needed a motto to tell the world what matters most to you, what would it say? If a single tattoo could articulate what guides your life, how would it read? After returning safely from his first tour in Iraq, Cpl. Todd Nicely pondered these questions and then engraved a permanent reminder of lessons he had learned.

The United States Marine learned in his first tour the value of leading from the front. Before deploying for his second tour, he wanted those following him into battle to be reminded of the power within every decision they made. The tattoo on his back served as a reminder to Todd and those who followed him of something critically important both in war and in life.

Your choices change lives.

Todd was deployed to Afghanistan for his second tour. After not losing any of his men through 200 firefights with the enemy, their good fortune was about to change. Leading his platoon from the front, Todd remembers sensing something wasn’t right, cautiously checking for the enemy, stepping gingerly onto a bridge, and in doing so detonating a hidden IED. The explosion launched Todd into the ravine below, ravaged his body and left the Marine on his back, in grueling pain, missing both arms and both legs.

As his men raced toward him, Todd remembers observing the damage to his body, feeling agonizing physical pain and yet refusing to scream. The last thing he wanted for his guys was to remember the pain he suffered before he died. Although missing all four limbs, bleeding out and fading from consciousness, Todd comforted his guys and strived to keep them calm. Knowing his fight was over, he wanted them to remain courageous in the fights they’d face without him.

Your choices change lives.

After being helicoptered out of the fight, flown to a hospital in Iraq, then Germany, and eventually back to Walter Reed in the United States, the Marine no one expected to survive slowly opened his eyes. As he did, Todd saw his family gathered around him and everyone was crying. They wept not because he’d spend the rest of his life with profound physical challenges, but because their son, their brother, their husband was alive.

Yes, there would be dozens of surgeries and 18 agonizing months in hospital as he endured therapy, but Cpl. Todd Nicely had survived certain death. And he was fully committed to doing the work to ensure he returned to life.

Your choices change lives.

Although the community rallied around Todd, although his wife tried to be supportive, although the Gary Sinise Foundation built an adaptive house for him, Todd quietly was devastated. He was able to put on a brave face in public, but when the media faded and life returned to normal for everyone else, the pain of all he’d lost, the trauma of all he’d experienced, and the inability to appropriately get healthy treatment led Todd to self-medicating. Emotionally, this selfless warrior was shattered and took out those emotions on those who loved him most. Todd lost his marriage, lost some friendships and eventually lost any joy for simply being alive.

At his lowest point, on June 3, 2016, he was so upset about his present circumstances and hopeless about his future prospects, that he realized there was no reason to continue. In a fit of rage, but longing for help, he made a final phone call to the VA Suicide Hotline. Todd screamed into the phone at the counselor all he had lost and the despair he felt.

He was told to settle down, lower his voice and call back in 30 minutes.

Todd never called back. Abandoned and hopeless, he hung up the phone and attempted to take his life.

Your choices change lives.

Several days later Todd woke up in a hospital bed. He miraculously had survived a gunshot wound to his heart. Opening his eyes, he saw friends and family gathered around the hospital bed. Similar to how they looked six years earlier, all of them were weeping. This time not because he survived, but because he had wanted to die.

It was an inflection point in his life. He recognized the value others saw in his life and began seeking it in himself. He attended meetings regarding his wellness and mental health. He was exposed to the Joshua Chamberlain Society. He received counseling for his PTSD. He eventually made his way to an amazing group called Focus Marines Foundation who serve wounded veterans. This is where I met Todd and where he learned to manage addictions, diffuse anger, healthily express emotions and courageously ask for help.

Last week I visited with my friend and one of my heroes, Todd Nicely, for our Live Inspired Podcast. I left our conversation amazed by all he overcame, the daily struggle he embraces, the devotion he feels for his wife, the love he radiates for his infant son, and the vibrancy he exudes for life. As Todd walked away, I saw in my friend a living embodiment of a message he’s been teaching his entire life.

Your choices change lives.

It’s a good reminder for a Marine preparing for a second tour of duty, an overwhelming injury, an agonizing recovery, and an ultimately redemptive life story. It’s also an important reminder for the rest of us as we step into the challenges and opportunities replete in each day.

Choose wisely.

This is your day. Live Inspired.

5 replies on “Your Choices Change Lives”

How does someone tell a desperate man to calm down and call back in 30 minutes on a VA suicide hotline??? God bless you and thank you for your service. My apologies on behave of humanity for that heartless person. My prayers are with you

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