How Former Special Ops Marine Overcame PTSD with God’s Help
Many Americans are not aware of the devastating plight of veterans who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or combat trauma.
Tragically, the national statistics speak volumes about why this issue is so urgent. As noted by the PTSD-treatment program Mighty Oaks, 23 military veterans commit suicide every day and 90% of military marriages end in divorce.
But there is hope. A very bright hope.
The Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs, based in California and formed in 2011, is the only faith-based group endorsed by the Marines, and it has, at the time of this writing, a stunning success rate — no suicides and only one divorce among the 710 veterans and families who have gone through their programs.
That is astonishing.
And, also astonishing, they give Jesus Christ all the credit for their success. They are unabashedly open about their faith. In fact, Isaiah 61 is used in the motto on their website: “To restore the brokenhearted through Christ, to build leaders of leaders to rise up from the ashes; they will be called Mighty Oaks of Righteousness.”
And just below that motto, their mission statement couldn’t be more straight-forward or bold: “Our mission is to operate on a standing commitment to assist veterans, active duty service members, and their families who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress and Combat Trauma, by discovering a new life purpose through Christ.”
What’s truly amazing is that they don’t use drugs in their treatment programs. It’s entirely faith-based, community-based, and counseling-based.
I had a chance to speak with Chad Robichaux, a president and founder of Mighty Oaks, who, as a Special Ops soldier, served eight tours in Afghanistan in Force Recon — yes, eight! He is a former professional MMA fighter, a best-selling author of the book “Redeployed,” and he is a survivor of extreme PTSD. A licensed counselor with a doctorate, he helped create the Mighty Oaks Warrior program, and his life mission is simple: give hope to soldiers and their families who are suffering from PTSD.
In our conversation, Chad discusses his miraculous story of recovery — including how God used his wife Kathy to fight for their marriage and bring him to a pivotal moment that would change the course of his life. It’s perhaps one of the most inspiring stories I’ve had the chance to hear in an interview.
You have a very unique story. How does someone go from doing eight tours of duty in Afghanistan to being a professional MMA to being an ordained minister with a Ph.D. and helping combat veterans?
It obviously wasn’t a career plan. It’s just the way it worked out. I look at my bio a lot and I think, “Wow, that guy was really discontent, searching for things that made him happy” — although I really enjoyed my path in life and I really believe it brought me to where I am. I’ve been in martial arts my whole life, so that’s where that ties into it. I did it on the side when I came back from Afghanistan in April of 2007. That’s when I was first diagnosed with PTSD, and my life starting really falling apart. I didn’t know what else to do. My professional life had really been built around being a warrior for the last four years. Incredible opportunity — to be part of this special operations task force, and so in one day that was all taken away from me.
The one thing I really knew to fall back on was martial arts. I had done it my whole life. I was already a professional MMA fighter so my counselor and my wife said why don’t you start teaching like you used to? So I did. I started teaching Brazilian Ju Jitsu and mixed martial arts and the problem was that because I was unhealthy I abused that opportunity. I would just spend 10-12 hours a day on this mat. I thought I’d found the perfect cure, but when you have a good medicine, you can abuse it. That’s what I did. I spent about three years running that gym.
My professional fighting career skyrocketed on StrikeForce on Showtime. I was the main event on MTV for Bellator and all these big fights. I was [ranked] really high. At one time I was ranked number one in the US, number six in the world. I had reached a pinnacle — had like a 1,000 students in my school. So on the outside it looked like I had a lot of success, but I was still struggling with Afghanistan. I was angry, my family was falling apart.
All this success was just fake, and my wife and I ended up getting separated, facing divorce, and at that time I was separated I became extremely depressed, very suicidal — not because I wanted to kill myself to get out of the pain but more because I realized I was dragging my family down, and I identified myself as being part of the problem. So my logic was that if I could remove myself from the problem, they would be better off.
My wife came to me with this kind of challenging statement that really radically changed my life. She asked me how I could be a four-time Marine and deployments and workups and trainings and being a fighter — how could I cut all the weight and train and make these fight camps — she said, “How can you do all these things, but when it comes to your family, you quit?” So for me that was a completely convicting question; and 1), she was right, and 2), she called me a quitter. And I don’t like being called a quitter. So I had to really reassess my life. And all the things I had tried to do in my professional life had really been successful, but the things that matter the most — my faith, my health, my role as a father and husband, a member of the community, and an American who had moved men to lead and do great things — and it was a very convicting moment for me. And I made a choice that I was going to radically change my life and put the same work ethic and dedication I had put in my professional life into my personal life.
The thing was that it wasn’t a faith-based decision. But one more thing I did was I assess
ed my life and said, “I don’t have anyone to hold me accountable to this.” It was a real sad moment. I had 1,000 students in my martial arts school and people who are supposed to be my friends, but when I want to change and make this change in my life to where I’m going to actually improve my life, I couldn’t find anyone I trusted to hold me accountable.
So I had to go to my wife and tell her this. And she connected me with this man at our church, his name’s Steve Tills, and he walked me through a year-long mentorship process. The first thing he did was help me restore my relationship with God, and that became the foundation, the platform to this change that would take place in my life. The mentorship project was not like anything I’d ever done through my counselors for PTSD or the medicines that I’d take. I had done all those things and nothing worked. I can tell you that when I aligned my life with the Biblical blueprint of manhood and made different choices everyday, my life was radically changed.
On the other side of that I realized that I wasn’t the only one. I started learning there that there were 23 veteran suicides a day and the divorce rate was over 80%. I was all someone has to do something about this.
So all Mighty Oaks really was, to start with, was me wanting to pass on the challenge my wife gave me, the restoration God brought into my life, and the mentorship that Steve Tills had given me, to the next guy. Here we are four years later: 710 men, 710 lives, legacies, families changed just because one woman decided to fight for her husband, and a man was willing to come along side of me and mentor me, and God gave me the opportunity to give back. All of our instructors have come through our program, and they are teaching the same things, and to give back. That’s what I think has been so unique about the Mighty Oaks story and the story of the guys who have come through it. They really think they’re coming to the program to get better, but we tell them right away, you think you came here to get well, but what you came here to do was to be put in a position to help the next guy. That’s how it’s got so much traction and been so powerful because it’s all based on personal testimony and the hope and restoration that can only be found in a relationship with Christ.
I was especially blown away that, if I understand correctly, the Marines officially recognize you guys, a faith-based organization, and they send people to you. What’s your relationship with the Marines?
Well, the Marine Corp, we’ve received sailors from the Navy, and we’ve received Marines and Army soldiers, all on official military order programs. Our relationship with the Marine Corp is probably the strongest relationship we have with the military — the Marine Corp Wounded Warrior Regiment and Battalion in the West Coast specifically. They send Marines to us on military orders every month. We are their go-to program for PTSD; those are actually their words. When a guy checks in the unit, he’s going to be a product that comes to Mighty Oaks.
It’s a testimony. Not that the Marine Corp agrees with our faith-based approach, but they agree with the results. We get asked all the time — because they have tons of programs out there for these guys — but they just haven’t had the same rate of success we’ve had. We know why, but the command asked a question: “How can they come six days and actually come back different and make these positive changes in their lives when they’ve been in other programs and nothing really works.” The answer is it’s not six days. It’s one moment when a man makes a decision that he’s going to try to stop doing things his own way and align his life with the life God intended for him. In that moment we see these guys just grab hold of their lives and get control.
I think the one specific thing we do with the guys, and we’re really good at it, is cornering them to come to a conclusion that they still have control of the choices in their lives. These guys come here and they think that some incident in Afghanistan or Iraq or bad deployment or something that happened in childhood really determines their life, when it really doesn’t. What is determining their life is the choices they are making every day. They never lost control of that — though many don’t know what the right choices are so when they come into the program the very first thing we ask them is, “If what you’re doing in your life isn’t working, then why don’t you try something different?”
Our goal isn’t to say if they’re Christian or atheist or Buddhist. We say, for the sake of instruction, we’re going to give you something different. We’re going to provide a model of manhood, and through the week, through this process, we have 24/7 immersion with their teams. They’re going to look at their life and the choices they make every day in contrast to the life God intended for them.
We look at subjects like character and legacy and discipline. They are all taught from a testimonial standpoint. The conclusion that they come to is that they are responsible for the things that are happening in their lives right now, not some incident or some bad deployment or not because some doctor told them it’s PTSD. They can change their circumstances. Once they realize that the guys just want to be challenged again, and they grab hold of it and that includes a relationship with Christ, it’s pretty amazing to watch happen.
What is the process for a hurting warrior to attend Mighty Oaks? What does it cost, for example, in case some of our readers are curious?
Well, they just go to mightyoaksprograms.org
and there is an application online. It’s pretty easy to navigate. Once they apply they’ll go into a pool and based on our assessment we get them into the program. There is no cost. We don’t charge the veterans. We even cover airfare depending on where they live. We fly guys in, we don’t charge the military, and we don’t take government grants. We haven’t taken any because the ones we’ve looked at always have strings attached that we were not willing to tie ourselves to.
So everything we’ve done so far, the 710 guys we’ve had come through, have all been on the support of great donations, and we have a matching donor now that matches everything we raise, so that’s a huge blessing.
Wow, that’s awesome, praise God. In regards to PTSD. I was drawn to this story particularly because in high school I was diagnosed with PTSD, obviously not for military, but for other reasons. Having a small taste of that I was curious: 1) what was your journey with PTSD like and how you knew you had it — if you knew right away you had it or if someone had to tell you; and then 2) what can others do to help people in their lives who have PTSD?
I’ll tell you this: I always joke when I speak, I do a lot of public speaking, that when the doctor told me I had PTSD, I had never even heard of it before. And that’s not a joke. I really hadn’t. I literally thought in my mind it was something I had contracted from eating the food. That’s what I was trying to rationalize. All these things were going wrong in my body: I was having panic attacks, my throat was swelling shut, my face would go numb, my arms would go numb, and I’d get really irritated.
All these things were happening, and I didn’t know what it was, so I was trying to put my finger on it and point it to things other than I was having a breakdown. So when the doctor said I had PTSD, I literally did not know what it meant. The doctor gave me a label — PTSD — for all these symptoms I had and told me the last word of this is
disorder. It sounded very serious to me, and it was. I think too often we trust the clinical approach — especially for veterans. You go to the doctor, they say you have this, now you have to go through this medical protocol, and you get these coping therapies that 1) veterans don’t want to hear because of who it’s coming from. They’re not in a stable enough position to employ these coping techniques; and 2) then you get the other side where you get all these medications that don’t really do anything except numb the symptoms.
Now, I come from a different perspective. And with the program, we look at it from a Creation perspective. And we do the American Association of Christian Counselors, and we’ve done all their Biblical counseling training with specific certifications in PTSD. What I learned through this training, from a Creation perspective it’s completely a different view of PTSD. The clinical world would say that the definition of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is the body’s normal response to an abnormal situation. So my body is responding normally, the situation was not normal, but my body is responding normally. I’m not disordered at all. So medicating the symptoms really numbs the body’s process to heal. We see guys coming into the program on 30 pills a day for PTSD. They are so numb they can’t function. There’s no end plan. The doctors have no plan to get them off. That’s just what they plan to do with them for the rest of their life. They can never really heal.
When you look at PTSD from a Creation standpoint, and you use that same definition that clinical folks use, and they say the body’s normal response to an abnormal situation. Well, if I experienced an abnormal situation, my body’s responding normally, it’s responding the way God intended it to for a reason: to protect itself. There’s nothing disordered about that at all. I just have to recognize what is happening and make different choices in life about how I cope with it and how I live.
I’m not against medicine, trust me. I believe God created doctors, and medicine is a useful thing, but it can also be misused and used in mass quantities on guys who have PTSD to just numb out the problem and never really work through the issues. We really encourage the guys to really understand what PTSD really is — what’s actually going on with the effects on the body, and what God intended when it happens. He intended it to protect themselves when those situations happen again, but there’s nothing disordered about that at all, and I think a lot of times when these guys hear that for the first time it’s a relief to know that they’re not broken.
That does sound just so much more hopeful, and it sounds more like common sense too. And then there’s also the spiritual element of Christ. But if someone is coming from a naturalist viewpoint and they don’t believe in the “supernatural” element [of God’s involvement in our lives], they will never realize that God’s presence can actually come and make a difference.
And there is. There is a supernatural and very miraculous thing that happens in our programs. Yeah, I get to do interviews and speak and people are inspired by my and my wife’s stories; but to be honest with you, my story, it happens about 20 or 30 times a month here. I get to watch it, and these guys’ stories are just as miraculous. I guess I was just the first one in this chain.
The first fruit of many fruits!
It continues to happen. I’m watching these other guys’ stories unfold, and I’m just in total amazement.
If you have a heart for our military veterans, and if the mission at Mighty Oaks inspires you, please consider joining them in their work by supporting them financially and making a tax-deductible donation. (And, for the record, I do not work for Mighty Oaks. I simply believe passionately in what they’re doing.)
And, who knows, your support might even help save a soldier’s life.