It always seemed understood that Dayton, Ohio, native Adam Jeter would join the military as did his grandfather, father and brother.
“It felt like a natural path for me,” said Adam, 46, currently of North Carolina.
Adam enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school graduation in 1995 and transferred to the Army in 2005, in total serving 22 years in the U.S. Military.
When the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks happened on the United States, it solidified for Adam the reason he joined the military in the first place: “I felt a strong desire to serve and protect my country; 911 reinforced those decisions I had made.”
His first deployment was in 2006-2007 in the Diyala Province of Iraq and lasted 15 months. It was during a period during the Iraq war known as “the surge”, with 2007 being the deadliest period for U.S. Forces since 2004.
“It was certainly one of the most tumultuous deployments of my career,” Adam said. His unit was the smallest within the brigade and had the largest area of operations resulting in almost daily, intense fighting with the enemy.
He went on to complete a year-long deployment in Iraq, a nine-month deployment to Jordan and a six-month deployment to Afghanistan. Adam describes his first deployment, however, as extremely difficult due to the major losses experienced: In the 500-person unit, 22 paratroopers were killed and 86 were injured.
“I was newly transitioned from the Marine Corps to the Army, still trying to figure out the Army lingo and different strategies, all while filling a leadership role as a section sergeant on my first deployment to the Middle East.”
“There was a lot of apprehension – I wanted to make sure I got things right. There were lives at stake if I didn’t.”
As the deployment continued, Adam came to dark realization.
“I was absolutely confident that I was not going to return from that deployment,” he said. “I mentally prepared myself for everything that I would be missing and the loss to my family.”
“I went through a two-week period of mourning my own loss,” he added. “After that, I felt I was able to more effectively focus on my mission, be effective and be tactically aggressive without the fear of me not returning home to my family.”
Adam remembers clearly how he felt the day he returned home from the deployment, stepping off the plane to friends, family and fanfare.
“I felt very lost,” he said. “I didn’t expect to come home and here I am standing in front of my family.”
It was difficult for Adam to process and his integration back into his family was extremely difficult.
“I struggled with every type of communication and every type of emotion in every relationship I had, especially with my wife and children,” he said. “I didn’t want them sitting next to me, I didn’t want them to touch me – I didn’t want them emotionally connecting with me.”
Finally, Adam’s wife sat him down and told him that he needed help.
“I was extremely apprehensive because of the negative context of a servicemember in combat arms seeking help. At that time, it was just not an option,” he said. “But for my family’s sake, I did it.”
Adam tried talk therapy for about six years and while he thought it may have been effective at first, its usefulness wore off.
“I got to the point where I felt so emotionally exhausted – I couldn’t tell these stories again,” he said.
He went on to try medication, which was also helpful for a time, but it didn’t get to the root of the issues he was dealing with. He also tried cognitive behavioral therapy, which he said was a difficult process: “It allowed me to address some of the major issues that I was struggling with but I never felt like I had anything at the end to continue my mental health journey.”
“There were points over the years when I felt somewhat normal; it would last for short periods of time, but then I’d be triggered and that would send me off the rails again,” he added.
No matter the treatment, Adam felt that at one point or another, he always hit a wall.
“It’s because of this cycle, that I feel that I emotionally damaged both my children and my wife,” Adam said, becoming emotional. “It was a huge struggle in my marriage for years; I was absolutely emotionally disconnected and had no way in my mind of reconnecting with my emotions in a positive way.”
He was also apprehensive to continue to seek different treatments if they were all going to result in the same outcome. That is, until Warrior PATHH Guide Ray Edgar, also Adam’s Command Sergeant Major on his first deployment, reached out to Adam about PATHH (Progressive & Alternative Training for Helping Heroes) at the Travis Mills Foundation.
Warrior PATHH is offered at only 10 locations throughout the United States, including in the Belgrade Lakes Region of Maine at the Travis Mills Foundation, and is the nation’s first-ever program designed to cultivate and facilitate Post-Traumatic Growth in combat veterans and first responders. It enables these remarkable Warriors to transform times of deep struggle into profound strength and growth. The program begins with a seven-day, on-site initiation and is followed by 90 days of training delivered by PATHH Guides, not clinicians, who have all completed the program themselves.
“It was my last-ditch effort – my hail Mary,” Adam said. “I planned to throw all my eggs into this basket and hoped that it worked. I didn’t know what else to do.”
Adam was hesitant before his initiation week in February 2022 and described coming to the Foundation as going out on a “very shaky limb.”
“From day one though, I felt comfortable,” Adam said. “The compassion from the all the instructors and the fact that they had been in my place and shared their personal stories, made it a safe environment.”
The seven-day experience at Warrior PATHH includes 75 hours of training with 52 different training modules that teach students to cultivate Post-Traumatic Growth. The training includes a variety of wellness practices, opportunities for disclosure and communication skills that enable students to make peace with their past so they can live the life they deserve.
The first night Adam spent at the Foundation, a frigid February night by Maine standards, was not typical.
“I woke up absolutely drenched in sweat,” he said.
The next morning, he told the PATHH Guides and they told him that what was happening was a very good thing and that they had even seen that before.
“It was a physiological response to releasing my emotions and stress,” Adam said. “Every morning until the end of the week, there was less and less sweat.”
Of the modules that are taught to Warrior PATHH participants, two especially made a tremendous impact on Adam.
Students are taught a number of wellness practices that they can use every day, including breathing techniques, journaling and transcendental meditation. “TM” is a technique where you mentally repeat a word or phrase (mantra) until you reach a state of inner peace. A certified TM teacher teaches TM to PATHH participants in a group setting and in one-on-one sessions.
“At first, I struggled with committing to it, but I knew there was a reason it was being taught and decided to commit to every single module that was presented, not only for the betterment of myself, but for my family.”
Once Adam felt he properly executed TM, he found it extremely powerful and continues to practice it.
Every Warrior PATHH location in the U.S. has a labyrinth, which is an ancient archetype that dates back more than 4,000 years, used symbolically as a walking meditation.
“It was life changing for me,” Adam said. Historically, warriors walked a labyrinth to mentally prepare for battle; they also walked a labyrinth when they returned home from battle to mentally prepare to reintegrate with their families and societies.
In PATHH’s labyrinth, participants are asked to pick up a rock to represent the emotional weight that they are carrying and they walk the labyrinth with their fellow classmates – Adam realized his classmates were quickly becoming his “three to five,” as they are referred to – a core group of people you can trust to share deeply with and depend on during times of stress. Students eventually meet their teammates in the center of the labyrinth and then leave together, their baggage staying behind.
Adam is incredibly grateful to Warrior PATHH and looks forward to spreading the message of his success and helping others who have been where he was, which is a vital component of PATHH – service to others.
“It’d be a travesty not to pay it forward,” he said, adding that he’s on the board of nonprofit organization that serves veterans and hopes to bring what he’s learned to the table.
Just as coming home after war was a change for Adam, so was coming home after PATHH – but in a much different way.
“When I returned from PATHH, my wife saw a changed man,” he said. “She said that over the years, she’d get glimpses of me, of the man she married, and that she hung on to those glimpses. After PATHH, she said she felt like she had the man back who she had married. That was a very powerful thing for me.”
“It was rough,” he said, thinking back to when he had convinced himself that he wasn’t going to return from his first deployment.
“I was newly married; my wife had my son a week before I deployed and then I return home in a mental state where I had already laid myself to rest.”
“I give an epic amount of respect to my wife for standing by me through this entire process and helping me work through the things I struggled with for so many years, primarily from that first deployment.”
Adam is grateful for PATHH because of the connection he’s been able to reestablish with his children, ages 23, 20, 16 and 12.
“For so many years I was disconnected from my children,” he said. “I caused them emotional trauma because of my own trauma. Now we’re focusing not only on my mental health, but theirs as well.”
Adding, “Since Warrior PATHH, I’ve developed stronger and more deep and impactful relationships with my children than I have had their entire lives.”
It moves Adam to tears to think about the change in all of the relationships in his life.
“My oldest son is in college now and we’ve had a lot of conversations since PATHH. He said ‘Dad, I’m so happy that you’re getting help and I know that I struggle with some things myself, but I know we can work through it together.”
“It’s a beautiful thing,” he added.
Adam learned a quote in PATHH from Brene Brown that has stuck with him: “Shame cannot survive being spoken. It cannot survive empathy.”
“Because of this, I was very honest and open with my children about my experiences and how they impacted me – and how my experiences impacted them,” Adam said. “They’ve been receptive to not only healing our relationship but also being open minded and understanding that there are obvious traumas they’ve carried with them.”
Since Adam finished Warrior PATHH in February, he’s talked to several people to encourage them to attend the program.
“I let them know that this program is incredibly unique in a lot of different ways,” he said. “A lot of people fear reliving their traumatic experiences over and over again because it hasn’t worked for them in the past. But I ask them to consider, ‘Am I going to be a worse person mentally because of it?’”
“What I explain to them about the program is that it’s not a magic pill – it’s not. It requires daily work that you’re going to have to do for the rest of your life, but that it’s worth it. It will not only change your life for the better, but it’ll change your perspective on life.”
“It changed my life and it saved my marriage,” he added.
Adam is particularly grateful that PATHH offers a support system for life – his three to five.
“I have not seen another program that offers that,” Adam said. “I lean on that when I’m really struggling. You will always have a home at Warrior PATHH – you’ll always have a touchpoint.”
Adam has a message for servicemembers, veterans and first responders: “If you’re struggling, know that you’re not alone. This program works and if you can find the fortitude to dedicate yourself to it and commit yourself to doing the work, your life will change.”