This Veterans Day we are celebrating the unique experiences that veterans face both during their military service and after their military service. Read more of our Veterans Day pieces here.
Navy SEALs are amongst the most physically fit people in the world. They have to be, given their mission.
Even though Andy Stumpf’s no longer involved in assignments like ambushes, personnel recovery, reconnaissance patrols and other special ops as an active-duty SEAL, his focus on health and wellness remains a top priority.
You may have heard of Stumpf. After all, he’s a decorated Navy SEAL with five Bronze Star medals (four with valor) and the Purple Heart, as well as a former member of SEAL Team 6, arguably the most elite counterterrorism unit in the U.S. armed forces. Not one to relax in retirement, he appeared on “Hunted,” a reality show on CBS. He also holds a world record for absolute distance flown in a wing suit after jumping out of a plane and free-falling more than 36,000 feet.
Stumpf knew he wanted to serve in our nation’s military at an early age.
“I enlisted in the military while a junior in high school through the delayed entry program. While my peers were studying for SATs, I was trying to physically prepare myself for the rigors of BUD/S training,“ Stumpf said.
Stumpf completed BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) training in 1997.
The intense, grueling year-long process to become a Navy SEAL includes rigorous physical conditioning, scuba diving, weapons training and much more.
And that was just the training. Historically, 85-90% of those who begin SEAL training drop out. Things don’t ease up once you’ve graduated.
“It didn’t take me long to realize the extremely taxing physical nature of the job. I found that regardless of how much I tried to, or wanted to train on deployment, my physical ability and health was always slowly on the decline,” Stumpf said.
But he emphasizes that health and wellness isn’t just about pushups, pull-ups and hitting the gym.
“For myself, physical training and health directly relate to my mental state and mental health.”
During his time on active duty, Stumpf quickly learned he needed to use his time between deployments to maximize recovery and growth, physically and mentally.
“The basic goal was to move all the metrics I could in a positive direction, as far as I could, then hold on as best as I could while overseas.”
Stumpf used this method through his hundreds of combat operations and ten deployments in his 17-year Naval career.
During that time, he saw and experienced a lot and knows that’s also the case for fellow service members.
“First and foremost, post-traumatic stress is not a disorder; it is your body’s natural reaction to the unique pressure and situations that combat presents. If you touch war, it will touch you back, and that is ok and should be expected.”
Stumpf said he’s found community by talking to and hearing from other veterans.
“For me, finding alternatives to stress and pain have been the biggest impact, and I have loved hearing the feedback from other veterans when they find something that works for them.”
“You aren’t alone,” he added. “You are not the first person to feel this way, and you will not be the last. It is ok to feel differently; it is ok to not feel normal.”
He also points out that while it can be a difficult first step, it’s essential to take the initiative to reach out for help from the countless organizations standing by to assist soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.
“There are people standing by to listen and talk, but they can’t find you. You need to take it upon yourself to find them.”
He notes there are resources available both in and outside of the military.
“There are people out there who have dedicated their lives to the practice of helping others, seek them out, use them, and then take what you have learned and help others.
He adds the “helping others” aspect can be healing for oneself too.
“What I attempt to do is talk openly and honestly about my ups and downs, victories and defeats on my journey towards improved mental and physical health,” Stumpf said.Read comments