Warning: Some of the topics discussed may contain accounts of real life violence, strong language, and other topics not suitable for minors. This podcast has remained unedited out of respect of those individuals who feel led by the Lord to share their testimonies.
Welcome to the premier episode of School Circle, a podcast featuring a room full of veterans who just want to share the road that God has them on. In today’s episode, producer Bryan Muche and hosts Justin Reinwand and Vince Joseph talk to Mike Priddy, who is embarking on trans-continental bicycle ride, and Josiah Hirsch, a retired Marine Corps scout sniper.
School Circle: Everyone’s interested to hear about your upcoming bike run and how we can get involved.
Mike Pretty: Yeah, on April the 28th, a gentleman named Dave Allison and I will be setting off from the state capitol building in downtown Sacramento and riding our bicycles 2700 miles to Marine Corps base Quantico, Virginia and actually ending in the Iraq and Afghanistan memorial there. We are doing this for two reasons. The first is to raise nationwide awareness for the marine suicide rate, which is at 22 a day. The other is to raise awareness for the 8% divorce rate among male combat veterans. Those numbers are horrible. There’s no reason that it is that way, other than that veterans are not getting the care that they need. The only way to receive that care, as we all know, is to come into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
That’s what the Mighty Oak Warrior Program, Fight Club for Men does. It shows what the Biblical blueprint of manhood is, and it is laid in a way that we, as veterans, understand. It’s a poke in the chest, slap in the face, and kick in the butt, all at the same time. This program is the only that is actually combating those statistics. To date, there have been 871 male students graduate from the Fight Club for Men and we have had zero suicides and, through our marriage program, there have been zero divorces, because we have addressed the route cause. The route cause is that we are all broken and that we are all missing something until we enter into a relationship with God through his son Christ. We are going to be spreading that message all the way throughout the country and just letting people know that this is a program that is available to any every veteran who has served. The demographic that we’re going after are combat veterans, but it doesn’t just have to be that. We have had veterans come through who have post-traumatic stress from a number of things, from car accidents to psychotic episodes.
That’s really the goal, to spread awareness about the suicide rate, the divorce rate and let them know that there is a solution: the Gospel.
School Circle: Awesome man. I love your fire. I love your passion. Let’s talk attire. What will you be wearing for these 2700 miles?
Mike: Well, I’m going to be wearing the standard bicycling outfit most of the time. I’ll have the little short with the sewn in pad in butt and the under areas there and always got moisture wicking shirt, sunglasses, and a helmet. When we’ll be traveling through the mountains, there is the potential of hitting some cold weather, so we’ll have the appropriate cold weather gear and wet weather gear.
School Circle: You are completely out of your mind, but I love it. I’m excited for what you’re doing. How can we get involved?
Mike: You can get involved in a number of ways. You can go on to our Facebook page. The event is called No Man Rides Alone, and you can search for that, like it, and share it with all your friends. There are links there to get you to our webpage is which is theeternitychallenge.com. There’s a page dedicated there to the No Man Rides Alone event. You can donate straight through there or use the text to give option. Text NMRA to 41444 and you can give that way.
School Circle: I just hit like. I’m following and I’m just about to blast it out to my circle of friends.
Mike: I really appreciate that. The best thing anyone can do is just share it and get it out there. There are a lot of people who talk on TV or you just run into who give lip service to caring about our veterans. I believe that most of them really do, but are they going to do anything about it? This program, as you guys have seen, has changed men’s lives and not everybody knows about it. As you know, it costs money just to send a veteran through it and we want to do everything that we possibly can to keep that cost at a minimum for any and every veteran. But it’s expensive. It costs roughly $1500 to send one man through a fight club, including air fare, lodging, and food. The environment is so welcoming and it’s an environment of us, our veterans. All the staff, all the instructors are tried and true combat vets who have all at one time or another fallen on their face and destroyed everything around them, and have only been able to get up off the ground and carry with the help of brothers and the help of God. That’s why the program is so successful; we keep things centered around the beginning and the end of everything in our lives.
School Circle: I get this question all the time Mike, but how can a change that radical happen in six days?
Mike: So, it’s not six days. It’s the one instant when the individual makes the decision that what he’s been doing is not working and he accepts to do something different. That something different is to give up control of your life, because it’s an illusion if you think you’re in control of anything. But, you give your life to God and let him work through you; you will have an abundant future that you could not possibly fathom.
School Circle: Will you be doing social media as you are heading across the country?
Mike: I personally will not being doing it, but it will be getting updated. We have an IT guy who’s doing a phenomenal job and we’ll have cameras like GoPros, so it will be updated.
Next up, former Marine Corps Sniper Josiah Hirsch will share a story of how he got back on the path, a journey he is still on and will be until he with our Father in heaven.
Josiah: Before, so much of my identity was in the Marine Corps and growing up, that’s all I really wanted to do. While I was just infantry after coming back from my first employment, I wanted to do more. So, then I became a sniper. I was school trained back in 2007 and it was a good time. Having said that, my identity, being a marine, being a scout sniper, being an infantryman was my life. Marine Corps was my life. When I got out, I didn’t actually have a chance. It was more “Hey the Marine Corps downsizing and you got all these problems and issues coming back from your Afghanistan employment in 2011. We’re going to keep pushing you to get out.”
That’s what ended up happening and I actually got medically retired out of it. So, that’s a plus, but in hindsight I was pushed just to get out. In the process of doing so, there wasn’t a lot of accountability for myself. I was drinking a whole bunch. I had three kids and a wife and I’d already had other incidents, such as flashbacks and things of that nature. I’d already had to move from two other locations due to my outbursts, destruction, and things of that nature.
On July 18th, 2011 around 20:43 I ended up pushing out and taking my sniper team. Farmers had just flooded the field and bogged it down to where we were in waist high deep mud, slowing our mission down. Our mission was to us, to do some good. We were setting up an ambush spot and it didn’t go out accordingly. Because we weren’t meeting the time hack and the mission, I needed to find another way to get to our position faster. So, I decided to take a short cut and walk on hard packed road, which was a very bad thing to do. One, walking out at night was a bad thing to do. Second, walking on a hard path was a bad thing to do. Took it slow, but nonetheless, it wasn’t a very smart thing to do at the time. Coming around a corner, I had my team come to a short security halt. My point men and I were scoping out the area and didn’t see anything in the disturbed earth. We thought we were good, so we ended up pushing. Three steps into our walk moving forward on this packed road an IED (improvised explosive device) goes off. It was a pressure plate, so my point man’s leg was immediately blown off. He went up in the air and I was blown twelve to fourteen feet on the path.
My decision-making led me to no longer being a team leader after leaving camp Leatherneck. I was just a number on the team. Coming back home from deployment, there was no billet for me. I was being seen everyday, but my only responsibilities were to get my appointments done, take my medication, do this, do that. That was it until I got out. I took to heavy drinking and was considered a functional alcoholic. Afterwards, I had some flashback events that were very, for the lack of a better word, bad. My relationship with my wife was quickly going down hill. I didn’t want to have any relationship with my kids. I didn’t even want to be married to my wife. I didn’t really want to be alive anymore. So, I drank heavily, put a gun to my head, and started yelling at myself in the mirror that I was such a failure that I couldn’t even kill myself.
So, I decided to keep pushing on and put the gun away. I ended up getting out of the Marine Corps and working at the church. I thought the church would be a good spot for me to ground my feet while I was still dealing with everything, since I grew up in the church with my dad as a pastor. However, I was still dealing with everything and didn’t have any idea or understanding of how to handle what I was going through. To make matters worse, I could put on a good front while working at the church, but inside I was just being torn apart. Every day I was working at the church, I could see my patience level going more and more downhill. I didn’t want anything to happen while at church, so I stopped working there and picked up a construction job. During construction, you could drink and you were away a lot, so, to me, that was an ideal situation. I didn’t have to be around the family. I didn’t have to drink in front of them. I didn’t have to put on a show. I ended up working at a town a few times and I would just drink out there. I actually had a few incidences out there where I found myself lying in the prone position in the middle of a parking lot or a hillside.
On top of all this, I never recovered from the injuries I sustained in Afghanistan. My back, shoulders, and neck were all out of whack. Working construction was very difficult on my body. I was breaking it down even more and not giving it the amount of time that it needed to recover. I always wanted to work more than required, and I would always work straight through both lunch and break, unless I was actually told to stop. In doing that, it got to the point where I could barely even walk anymore and my knees were going out on me. I had to go to my employer and told him I had to stop, making me feel even more like a failure. Now I’m unemployed and life is getting crazy, so I decided to start contracting.
I had everything done and all I needed to get a contracting license was a stamp from my doctor that I was deployable, when my wife, who has stuck with me, forced me to go to a meeting with Bryan Buche and guys from the Mighty Oaks program. I was sitting there and listening, but I didn’t really want anything to do with it since my mind was set on contracting. I had my life insurance set up, so if I died while contracting, I could leave the family with a lot of money. That was my of handling and dealing with the situation. I thought money could replace a life. Nevertheless, I ended up signing up to go to this Mighty Oaks Warrior program called Men’s Fight Club, not even really planning on going to it. As the time got closer and my contracting plans went South, I got my bug out bag and wanted to just disappear. I didn’t want to go to the program and I got denied a contracting license. So, the Sunday I was supposed to go up, Bryan Buche comes knocking at the door, got my bags, and we went up to the Men’s Fight Club. Man, was that a life changer. It was a complete transformation. It was an eye-opener and the style that was used up there was definitely geared at my mindset. I met one of best friends up there and it was just a crazy, crazy time.
School Circle: When you were still on the wrong path, what was the stimulus that made you realize you were in a bad place?
Josiah: My foundation in the church was how I was able to keep that myself together. Knowing that killing myself was bad, that raising my children this way was bad, and that putting my wife through this turmoil and destruction was bad helped me. Quite frankly, it was the persistence of my wife and her dedication. Her wanting me to go to church, bible studies, and the cumulus of different events like that helped me from going off the deep end. I didn’t want anything to do with anybody for the longest time, but it was her continuously pushing me that helped me get past that. I also knew, even though I selfishly didn’t want anything to do with my family, that I’m supposed to be going out there and being there for my kids.
My wife did give me an ultimatum. At the time the only thing that could help me feel or express any outward emotion was to drink a lot. She caught me once, right before we were about to go out, while I was downing some whiskey after I’d agreed with her to stop drinking. I didn’t even care though and we went on a walk when she gave me the ultimatum: stop your drinking or I’m taking the kids to Colorado, where her family lived. That was the eye-opener and helped me realize that I could lose my connection point to the world if I didn’t stop. If she took them, what else would there be?
After the Mighty Oaks outpost, I know what God’s purpose is for my life and me. I lead an outpost and work at the Might Oaks Men’s Fight Club. I lead my family the way a Christ-following man is supposed to lead. Having the Biblical blueprint and being able to lead based off of that blueprint has been phenomenal. The change that God is using and doing in my life is evident in my ability to go out and talk to people. Now, I have all of this that I can now do, and the only who can stop me following God’s direction is me, and knowing that I have support and accountability keep me on track. Without accountability, I’d probably disappear again.
If you want to share your story, call our hotline at 760-576-4750. For more information about the Mighty Oaks Warrior program go to mightyoaksprogram.org.