Former Green Beret and Delta Force breacher Scot Spooner had already endured significant emotional trauma before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1992.
His dad was an alcoholic, and his parents split up when he was 12. It didn’t take long for alcoholism to take a hold of him, too. By the time he was in his teens, he was drinking all the time. But he wanted more out of life.
Inspired by his grandfather — a World War II veteran who fought in the Pacific Theater — and his uncle, who served three tours in Vietnam, he joined the military at 17 as part of the 82nd Airborne Division. He earned his Green Beret in 1997 and was an instructor at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg when the Global War on Terrorism kicked off.
In September 2002, Spooner took his last drink and got sober.
Wanting to be in the fight with his brothers, he put his name in the hat again in 2004 and became a breacher in the U.S. Army’s renowned Delta Force.
In 2009, however, Spooner decided to leave the service. He was three years shy of a 20-year career and on the receiving end of a lot of criticism because he didn’t stay in.
“I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur,” he said. “And I was going through a ton of shit emotionally that I didn’t understand.”
It was a challenging transition. There were days when he stayed in bed with tears running down his face, not wanting to leave his room. Despite sleepless nights, chronic pain, and panic attacks, he was still able to do things that he wanted to do in the business world, experiencing both success and failure.
When he learned of an old friend’s suicide, it hit Spooner hard. But it was in that dark time that he found a way to heal.
At the time, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was becoming a subject that more people were discussing openly; Spooner was one of the people leading that charge, showing that you aren’t weak or a bad soldier if you have symptoms of PTSD. Afterall, a member of the elite Delta Force was dealing with these issues, too.
Spooner’s efforts helped shatter the preconceived notion that men who serve at the most elite levels of the military don’t endure the same mental and emotional hardships that others in the military experience.
A minute or so later, he is seen breaking down on camera, recalling how he was on his knees talking to God.
Spooner and his brother, Tom, also a Green Beret and member of Delta Force, received a request from USASFC to speak about PTSD, and they agreed. Another opportunity arose soon after.
Following that experience, a friend of Spooner’s on the board of directors at the NRA reached out and asked if they could do a documentary on them. The NRA wanted to do a piece that focused on military bravado and the more sexy aspects of life in the Special Forces.
The Spooner brothers had different plans, and they knew they would receive some negative judgment for it. Instead, they filmed a gripping video that highlighted their fight with PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
At one point toward the end of the film, Spooner is sitting at a campfire, recounting when four of his brothers-in-arms died in a vehicle explosion in front of him. A minute or so later, he is seen breaking down on camera, recalling how he was on his knees talking to God.
“And I said one thing and one thing only. God is everything or he is nothing. And I’m supposed to be here or not. And if I am, then anything that is supposed to happen is supposed to happen. And I put my kit on and that was it. I sealed that deal that day, and I never looked back, and I never dealt with that fear again. Not one time.”
There was some criticism for openly discussing PTSD; however, the incredibly positive response far outweighed anything negative.
The video reached other struggling veterans, including a member of Delta Force that Spooner had served with but hadn’t been in touch with for years.
“He had seen the videos,” Spooner said. “He knew how outspoken I was. I got on the phone with him. Then he ghosted me for about six months.”
Fortunately, his friend made contact a second time, ready to follow through. He was suicidal, miserable, and drinking excessively.
Spooner told him to read a book called “War and the Soul,” which focuses on veterans and post-traumatic stress. In addition, the book discusses how warriors in ancient times and throughout history dealt with their pain. Native American warriors would sit around the campfire and tell their stories to the other members of the tribe, handing off some of the burden of what they went through or saw in combat.
Spooner took his friend to an event that interpreted what the warriors of old did in a very literal and powerful way.
Rockcastle Shooting Center in Kentucky is a 2,000-acre property that hosts corporate events, parties, firearms training, and more. But that’s not what makes the resort stand out.
Spooner, his friend, and a group of other veterans made their way into a dark cave until they reached its end. Their only source of light was oil lamps.
To start the meeting, every veteran wrote down names of friends who had died and read them out loud. It set the tone for what would happen next. Everyone was vulnerable.
Nobody said anything but his friend. He unloaded, sharing a painful and dark memory.
Spooner’s friend wasn’t there to share a cool story about his time in the military, he was there to open up about the thing that has destroyed him inside. He sat on a large rock, surrounded by the other veterans. About 10 feet away, civilians watched.
“They’re the tribe,” said Spooner. “And they had no idea this was going to happen.”
Nobody said anything but his friend. He unloaded, sharing a painful and dark memory. He talked about holding a dying baby in his arms on the backside of a target where a suicide bomber had just buried four of his guys. There were people on both sides on the home digging through the rubble to get to them.
Spooner remembered that night, and he didn’t know that his friend was there.
“I go, ‘Holy shit — I was on the frontside of the house digging guys out,’” he recalled. “I didn’t even know what happened on the backside. I didn’t know he was on target that night. He didn’t know I was.”
Following the experience in the cave, people often feel renewed. They have drinks, sit around a bonfire, and enjoy a celebration. Since that time, Spooner and his friend have kept in touch, and he’s doing much better.
“He is happy and chasing his dreams,” Spooner said.
The experience in the cave doesn’t just impact veterans, it stays with the civilians, too.
On one occasion, Spooner followed up with a non-veteran friend who had been in the cave. When the civilian tried to relay the experience to his colleagues, he was too choked up about what he’d seen and felt to get through the story.
While Spooner still lives with the effects of PTSD, he doesn’t let that stop him from moving forward with his life. In fact, he says he is doing great. His dream of being a successful entrepreneur has materialized and then some — Spooner is the co-founder of Original Freedom, a company that specializes in leadership development, and co-hosts a podcast of the same name. He wants other veterans to know that they aren’t alone in the fight. He’s in the trenches with you, more than willing to lend a hand or a cave at Rockcastle Shooting Center.
Correction: The original version of this story included incorrect information regarding the name and description of Spooner’s company. That information, found in the last paragraph, has been updated.