Michael J. Kerrigan

Todd Nicely

As we approach Memorial Day, it is fitting we take a look at some good examples of virtue by looking at the stories of wounded warriors who fought for America. In 7 Warriors with Character you will see how, through their persistence, perseverance and good habits, several warriors were courageous not only in combat, but also, in overcoming the loss of their sight or limbs, in overcoming the effects of traumatic brain injuries. All were able to achieve greatness of character by calling upon the virtues they had practiced and use them to overcome their injuries.

Sam Angert … whose parents came to this country from Russia. Soon after arriving Sam’s father ended up in jail and while adjusting to NYC we find Sam, a Jewish soldier fighting in a Muslim country. Not long in theater, Sam’s vehicle is hit by an explosion Sam’s LT is decapitated while sitting next… Continue reading

In thinking about the effects of the Boston Marathon Bombing I have asked myself: might something good come from the misfortune of the survivors? Why is it that most of the survivors will struggle to cope while a very few will thrive? How can we help this trauma for so many American become transformational?

Like other Americans, I am trying to turn my attention from the pessimism of the tragedy toward the optimism of those who choose not to be victims but use this trauma to transform their lives. I have come to know several warriors who managed to flourish after multiple amputations: brave men like Todd Nicely, Mark Holbert, Bobby Dove and other amputees who managed to thrive after experiencing traumatic combat injuries. These and other heroes who managed growth after adversity are profiled on The Character Building Project site.

It would be transformational for the survivors, if some… Continue reading

In crediting Paul Stoltz and Stephen Joseph in my last post, I failed to mention another whose work has greatly influenced my thinking, Viktor Frankl. The Vienna psychiatrist was sent to the Nazi concentration camp of Theresienstadt in 1942. There he witnessed horrific suffering first hand. As a result of his trauma, he is best known for his wonderful book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Although there might be nothing inherently good in misfortune, Frankl knew it might be possible to extract something good out of misfortune.

When Todd Nicely suggested to me that I write a book about wounded warriors, I replied that might be a depressing read. Todd smiled and told me, “not if you capture the optimism of the wounded warriors.” Following Todd’s advice, I next chronicled (through their own stories) six more warriors who exhibited growth after traumatic injuries. The wounded warriors I profiled in Courage in… Continue reading

My story of Courage in America began after volunteering, as a member of the Knights of Malta, to visit wounded warriors at Walter Reed Medical Center and Fort Belvoir.

Among the many wounded warriors I visited was Corporal Todd Nicely. Todd is a Marine and a husband to Crystal (another Marine.) After losing both arms and legs from an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) during combat in Afghanistan, Todd and Crystal have successfully navigated Todd’s rehabilitation and transition to civilian life. By getting to know Todd and learning of his personal growth after trauma, I wanted to share Todd’s story and those of other young men who had successfully overcome their traumatic injuries.

Soon after publishing my book, a SOCOM Colonel told me, ” Kerrigan your book maybe finished but your mission continues.” I now feel and obligation to narrate their stories by continuing to interview and profile those wounded warriors… Continue reading

Whether we approach aiding wounded warriors from the perspective of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) or Post Traumatic Growth (PTG), the goal of all, is to help these warriors feel less depression and feel greater levels of life satisfaction.

In researching Courage in America: Warriors with Character, I observed the powerful support of caregivers and the families of these warriors, were most effective, by helping warriors’ complete their rehabilitation with amazing patience and empathy.

Next, I learned considerable time is necessary for outsiders, such as myself, to gain the trust of the warrior and his or her family. Once trust is established, the warriors I met were willing to repeatedly, retell the story of their traumatic event. They allowed me great access and, in time, discussed how their lives have been changed by their injuries. I learned from those warriors that I chronicled; it is not the event of their injuries… Continue reading

In researching Courage in America: Warriors with Character, I witnessed two types of wounded warriors: the larger group, slow to leave their hospital bed for the gym, longer on their meds and least likely to turn their traumatic injuries to positive growth; while I noticed members of the smaller group who were anxious to leave the comfort of their hospital bed and get off their meds as soon as possible, were willing to sacrifice by enduring painful rehabilitation regimes in the gym and determined to make a “growth declaration” as to their eventual, amazingly rapid recoveries from their traumatic injuries.

I wondered why those in the smaller group were able to respond to trauma not just as survivors, but those who would add value to their post injury lives by mountain climbing or receiving gold medals in swimming during the London Olympics after being blinded by an IEDs (i.e. Steve… Continue reading

Recently we asked six warriors with character whether they feel there is a gap between them and their civilian contemporaries? If they believe there is such a gap, how might their experiences in the military contribute to closing the gap with civilians?

All admitted to perceiving a large gap. Several characterized their civilian contemporaries in a less than flattering light. For example, Sam Angert thinks that many of his contemporaries feel entitled. Chase Cooper observes that many of his contemporaries appear aimless, lack a strong work ethic, and seem unwilling to sacrifice for others.”

Steve Baskis, Justin Constantine and Chad Ellinger acknowledge that while the military is not for all citizens, those in the military can teach civilians much by their example and even by speaking to a classroom of contemporaries about their military experience.

Steve believes the skills and experiences he gained while serving were invaluable to him. Steve… Continue reading

My conversation with America’s Warriors with Character continues. The complete interviews can be found at http://thecharacterbuildingproject.com/warriors/. Just click the Meet the Warriors tab on the right. In this post, I listen and learn about how these warriors understand the virtue of courage.

The best kind of courage for Steve Baskis is when an individual risks one’s own life to save another. Steve does not believe courageous people confront more or less fear than people who lack courage. The difference is in how two persons manage a similar amount of fear. Steve believes people who are courageous push past the fear to accomplish something greater than them. For Steve, the courageous person could be acting without completely understanding the situation.

Justin Constantine echoes Steve’s view by relating the courage of Major Doug Zembiec, who, in his fourth tour in Iraq, was killed when leading a raid. Major Zembiec’s quick thinking to… Continue reading

On the second anniversary of Todd Nicely’s losing all his limbs in combat in Afghanistan, Todd shares his thoughts with the Character Blog…

“Today I woke up at 7 a.m. to use my Nustep Machine. For the first time in months, I went for a two-mile run. I did this today to remind myself that two years ago today all of my limbs may have been taken from me, but my will to live and my personality was not. As I ran down the path, cars passed and I wondered what they thought as they watched a person running, covered in artificial limbs. Then I slowly started to think back on my six months in Afghanistan, and I wondered what they were doing on this very day two years ago. If they could have looked in on Afghanistan like they looked out of their car windows this morning, they would… Continue reading

I originally set out to thank our wounded warriors by showcasing the bravery of a rising generation of military heroes who are now home rebuilding their families and adjusting to their wounds.  I have come to realize that my project should be more than a well-deserved tribute.   I say this because these leader-warriors have more work cut out for them.  They now play a key role in our war at home—a battle to turn around an American culture that is hell-bent on being cynical and selfish. Continue reading

My wife Donna and I recently devoted a day at the awesome National Museum of the Marine Corps. Just as the soaring design evokes the flag raisers at Iwo Jima, my personal take away was best captured by Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz’s remark posted on the ceiling of the main hall about the battle of Iwo Jima: “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”  The galleries and exhibits of the museum depict more than the legendary history of the Marine Corps. The museum provides and in depth view of the Corps history of inculcating in individual Marines, the qualities of honor, courage, and commitment in overcoming the fear of death, pain, or disgrace. Continue reading

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Courage in America has been aurally transcribed for the visually impaired, thanks to Volunteers of Vacaville, California. Tel: 704.448.6841 ext 2044.