Earlier this summer a friend died by suicide. Since September is National Suicide Prevention Month, I was eager to talk to Andy Stumpf, a retired Navy SEAL Team 6 member, podcast host, and record-setting base jumper, about mental, physical, and overall wellness, specifically among the veteran community and how friends can help support them.
Why did you decide to serve in the US Navy?
I don’t have a good answer as to why I wanted to serve in the Navy, and specifically the SEAL community. I knew at the age of 11 I wanted to be a SEAL, but I could not articulate an exact reason then, and even now at the age of 42 I don’t have a precise answer. There was certainly an aspect of serving something greater than myself, of the challenge, the exclusivity, the odds stacked against me, and the idea of what a SEAL was, and did. Often times people find that answer as odd, but I was surrounded by men who expressed the same gravitational pull towards the community/occupation without being able to express exactly why.
What are you doing now to continue your mission to support the Navy community?
I do not feel like it is my mission to support the Navy community. I feel like it is my obligation to take the knowledge, lessons learned, and experiences that I was incredibly fortunate to have and pay them forward. Veterans are not unique. We may have experiences that are not typical, but the lessons learned from those experiences can absolutely be applied to the civilian world. I feel that the best way I can support the military community is to be an example of continued service outside of wearing a uniform, helping those around me, and passing on the knowledge. I also got involved with Kill Cliff through their fundraising efforts for the SEAL foundation. They were my first official sponsor in the skydiving and base jumping world. My love for the brand definitely grew because they essentially exist to give back to the SEAL community and the families through the Navy SEAL Foundation. A portion of every one of their sales goes directly to that.
How do you think friends and loved ones can be proactive in helping veterans who may be struggling with life after service?
This is a tough one because you can’t want more for someone than they want for themselves. If a veteran is struggling with life after service it is THEIR obligation to seek help and to correct the problem or issues. There are thousands of service-based organizations that are funded and standing by to offer assistance if needed, but the first step has to be taken by the individual. My advice to friends and family is to be there to listen, but do not tolerate behavior, actions, or speech that you would not accept from anyone else. I really don’t care who you are or what you did in the service, it is not an excuse for poor behavior post service.
What would you say to a veteran who may be dealing with wellness issues?
You aren’t alone. That is the one thing I would like all veterans to know. If you are having issues, you are not alone. If you are not having issues, and you are wondering if there is something wrong with you because of it, you are not alone. If you touch war, it will touch you back. The changes vary by person, even in groups that experience the same experiences together, and that is ok. It is ok to have issues, it is ok to not be the same person that you were before. You aren’t alone, there are people all around you ready and willing to help, but the first step must be taken by you.