Former Delta Force Operator, Tom Satterly Reveals All in His New Book, All Secure.
Two years ago, South magazine ran an exclusive article on Tom Satterly, a Delta Force operator who survived the streets of Mogadishu and life back home in the states dealing with PTSD. Now Tom speaks to thousands of those who have been affected as he continues his battle to save his brothers.
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Tom Satterly told his story of war and its personal aftermath for the first time publicly in late 2015, when I interviewed him for South magazine. Satterly, a Tier One Delta Force operator and 25-year Army veteran, was then working for F3EA in Savannah, and he and his wife, Jen, had tied the knot on Tybee Island earlier that year.
He’d gotten permission from a former commander to share what were riveting memories from 1993’s Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia, depicted in the award-winning movie Black Hawk Down. He was hesitant to be in the spotlight but spoke very matter-of-factly, even as he shared a bit about the physical, mental and emotional battles he’d been fighting internally since retiring in 2010 — grasping for a normal civilian life of love and happiness after decades of nonstop training to be an unfeeling killer.
“I have very little patience,” he told me with calm detachment. “I probably have zero empathy.”
Four years later, it’s clear within the pages of his newly released memoir, “All Secure: A Special Operations Soldier’s Fight to Survive on the Battlefield and the Homefront,” that Satterly has found empathy in spades — for himself, his fellow veterans, and people in general.
The book, co-authored by New York Times bestselling author Steve Jackson, is a first-person account of Satterly’s journey into, through and out the other side of his military career, including the rigorous and constant training process, the adrenaline of dangerous missions, and the true horrors of war. He is also not shy about his struggles with alcoholism, post-traumatic stress from combat, suicidal ideation and his personal relationships, including three failed marriages and a rocky start to his fourth, with Jen.
Today, the two are a true team both personally and professionally. Their nonprofit, All Secure Foundation, helps “special operations warriors and their families heal from the invisible wounds of war,” including PTS and related problems, and Satterly is a frequent public speaker on PTS, suicide prevention and crisis management.
I caught up with Satterly recently by phone to talk about that first interview, the ensuing memoir and its effects.
SOUTH: When I interviewed you two in 2015, it felt like you’d gotten your happy ending. But reading through these last chapters of the book, I realized you were still right in the thick of it then. What was the turning point for you? When did you really start to get a handle on your emotions, and your health?
TOM: Our wedding night was a good turning point, a springboard from the bottom. It got me into the first counseling. And then it just kept rolling, becoming more and more. I’d think ‘Oh, I feel a little better, maybe I can do this.’ Stumbling, falling, getting back up. And then I started to document everything I was doing on social media, to help other people. So I started seeing that this was really working, and that this book could be a launching point for the foundation, to get other people to realize that they can get some help.
SOUTH: Was it difficult to write?
TOM: It was completely cathartic. Every time I rewrote a chapter, I’d cry. Every time I reread the book, I’d cry. Reading it aloud (for the audiobook), I cried. It was always just letting something out and accepting it as part of who I am, and not something horrible to keep hidden. Let it out and talk about it and get over it.
SOUTH: And do you feel like you’re over it?
TOM: I’ll never get over it, but I’m getting better at dealing with it, the side effects of it, and how it makes you act. It’s all awareness of what are your triggers and how do you stop them. I went through years of knowing I was doing it wrong — knowing I was saying or doing horrible things — and not being able to stop myself; to stopping it before it actually happens; to changing the pattern; to not even thinking about things like that anymore. It’s just a process of decommissioning that muscle memory and changing it into something else and rebuilding those nerve endings in your brain and connecting different pathways of happiness versus the ones that you were used to, the horrible emotions.
SOUTH: When we spoke in 2015, you said you had no empathy. Do you have empathy now?
TOM: I do. I cry all the time now. I feel for things. I understand, when I see people on TV and they’re downtrodden. Before I was like, ‘Whatever, should have thought about that before you made whatever decision you made that got you there.’ I never really realized how little it took to help someone, until my wife reached down and grabbed my hand and pulled me out. And I realized, wow, that’s all it took. That’s literally all it took.
SOUTH: Speaking of Jen, a lot of people would say this is a book about a war hero, but I got to the end and I thought, ‘Wait, who’s the real hero of this book?’
SOUTH: Who would you say it is?
TOM: I would say it’s my wife. I would say that that’s why our foundation helps families. Because whether you’re a private or a general, you’re still also just a spouse at home.
SOUTH: And how are you two doing with the foundation?
TOM: We’re doing great. We held our first couples’ retreat, and it was awesome. It went off without a flaw. Everybody loved it. We’re scheduled for seven more next year plus some health and wellness stuff, so we’re looking at 10 to 12 events (in 2020). Plus we just spoke to about 300 active duty special ops students who are … training to be Green Berets and Green Beret support, and they want us to come quarterly to speak to their new classes, to plant that seed of taking care of yourself. I know they’re not listening — they’re kids, they’re little commandos. Like if I was sitting in that seat I know I wouldn’t have been listening. But at least I’m planting a seed.
SOUTH: I thought it was interesting how you reframed PTS as not merely a mental illness, but that there are physiological and biological responses happening to you because of such prolonged stress. I wondered if that would encourage more vets to face what they’re going through.
TOM: They love hearing that it’s biological, that it’s not their fault, that it’s not weakness. It’s not because you’re mentally weak. You’re not supposed to kill people. You’re not supposed to see your buddies die before their time. … I don’t care who you are — it’s not good.
SOUTH: Have any of your buddies read the book?
TOM: Yeah, they all love it. They say it’s powerful, cathartic. A lot of the Unit guys have hit me up and said they suffered the exact same way and they never thought they could talk about it. Guys have told me they’ve actually gone out and gotten a therapist that day.
SOUTH: How does that make you feel?
TOM: Amazing. This is my journey now; this is my biggest mission ever.
Find Tom at tomsatterly.com
All Secure A special operations soldier’s fight to survive on the battlefield and the homefront Tom is a legend even among other Tier One special Operators. But the enemy that cost him three marriages, and ruined his health physically and psychologically, existed in his brain. It nearly led him to kill himself in 2014; but for the lifeline thrown to him by an extraordinary woman. Instead, together they took on Tom’s most important mission: to save the lives of his brothers and sisters in arms, who are killing themselves at a rate of more than twenty a day. Pickup your copy at Amazon.com at $24.