Pat Tillman Foundation can’t fulfill its mission to empower military veterans and their spouses without the generosity of our supporters across the country. Nationwide, over 400 Tillman Scholars are striving to impact our country and communities through their studies in medicine, law, business, policy, science, education and the arts. Every “Tillman Tuesday,” we are committed to highlighting the individual impact of a Tillman Scholar, focusing on their success in school, career and community—all thanks to your support. This week we catch up with 2013 Tillman Scholar and ASU alum Jason Turner who joined the Air Force in search of discipline and direction. Following his military career Jason earned a degree in Social Work and coupling his personal experiences, recovering from alcoholism, to guide and mentor others in the right direction.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO JOIN THE SERVICE AT THE YOUNG AGE OF 19?
“Post 9/11 was that of a call to action when people joined the service whereas I think I would have done the same thing but it’s hard to say – I was just a kid in a lot of trouble when I was young and didn’t have any direction. For me, joining the military was more of an escape from where I was at in my life at the time. I just didn’t have any direction so the military seemed like a way for me to escape and grow up a bit. In the military I found a lot of the values I didn’t know before and really helped point me in the right direction.”
WITH LITTLE TO NO DIRECTION WHILE YOU WERE GROWING UP IN A SMALL TOWN IN NEW HAMPSHIRE, WAS THERE A DEFINING MOMENT WHERE THINGS STARTED TO CLICK FOR YOU?
“Every day I would go to work with my dad in a paint factory and come home to a challenging house and it would just be one continuous circle and I realized I didn’t want to be part of that anymore. It was a combination of a lot of things and I just reached a threshold where it was time to do something because I just wasn’t happy where I was at. I had a friend who mentioned the Air Force from time to time and I was certainly interested in law enforcement. I saw my life going nowhere so to me it seemed like the Air Force would give me the structure and accountability I needed and eventually the education I needed as well.”
HAVING SERVED A TOTAL OF NINE-AND-A-HALF YEARS IN THE AIR FORCE, WORKING WITH SECURITY FORCES BEFORE RETRAINING INTO K-9 AFTER ABOUT THREE YEARS, WHAT WAS THAT EXPERIENCE LIKE FOR YOU?
“I was at my first base and I wasn’t doing what I was told I would get to do – I was sitting in the middle of a field in a truck for 12 hours a day, guarding a piece of concrete with a chain-linked fence wrapped around it because there was a nuclear missile in the ground I would never get to see. With that being said, the biggest thing we dealt with was a lot of snow and rattle snakes and animals setting off alarms. I eventually got a job in the Armory, which I liked because I wasn’t gone multiple days at a time. There was an opportunity to get selected for K-9 school so with the support of others I applied and was accepted and certified as a handler. I then transferred to Tucson and was put on a dog team with an Explosive Detector Dog and then eventually became the Trainer for Kennels at the Base, supporting Secret Service on their missions.”
HAVING JOINED THE MILITARY FOR A SENSE OF PURPOSE AND DIRECTION, THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER OF SERVICE, WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF AND DID YOU ACCOMPLISH WHAT YOU SET OUT TO DO?
“The biggest piece I learned regarding my whole service experience was the idea that I had purpose, whether or not deployed. I valued wearing the uniform and belonging. I grew up in a house where I didn’t feel like I belonged but in the military I found a belonging.”
WITH ALL THE STRUGGLES YOU HAD IN HIGH SCHOOL, HOW DID YOU REACH THE DECISION TO PURSUE COLLEGE AND EVENTUALLY SOCIAL WORK?
“I have two periods of my life – pre-sobriety and post-sobriety. Finding a way to deal with my problem with alcohol and becoming abstinent opened up the doors for everything else. I had been running my life for so long, showing up and keeping it together at work but the finances and personal life were falling apart and I was at a place where I made some really poor decisions so the military had to let me go. I wasn’t able to wear the uniform in the way I felt comfortable and my sense of belonging became a sense of an outcast and isolation.
During the period when I was under observation for a long time and the people who were caring for me would say, ‘you’re going to die if you don’t get sober, etc.’ and that didn’t appeal to me. I met another guy who went out of his way to talk to me the right way and became a mentor to me and showed me how to get back on track in a way that no one else did. I ended up moving to California, making money and living on the beach, working real estate and was bored, discontent and really didn’t like my life. I was a couple years sober, it was post-military career and internally things were going good but something was missing.
One day I received a call from a woman in Tucson who told me she was starting a program for at-risk youth which entailed mentoring them and taking them on trips and showing them how to live a better life. She kept asking everyone in town who she should get to run the program and they kept telling her me. The next day I moved to Tucson and through this opportunity I found I thrive on service and that’s what I needed to keep the demons at bay. I ran the program as the Executive Director for a while before moving on to a place called In Balance Transitional Living where my professional development happened. I was coached by a guy who said, ‘if you really want to do anything in this field in a way that’s actually going to mean anything, you’re going to need to go to school. I tried a couple of classes and did well and then continued to work and build programs to help people. I knew I needed the educational piece to open other doors and to make myself a better helper in order to become fully competent.”
HOW DID YOU PULL YOURSELF OUT FROM WHERE YOU WERE AT AS FAR AS THE DRINKING GOES?
“What’s really at the core of the human experience is the opposite of individualism and that is connection to others – I had a lot of help getting myself out as I couldn’t do it on my own. Nobody on planet earth is self-made, we’ve all had a helping hand – just like I had a guy show up and start showing me the way. I really needed to hear something different from someone and he had a lot to offer – everything he said he would do, he did. I was always given hope without knowing what was really going to happen with all of the unknowns. I just got to a point where there was no way I’m ever going to pick up another drink but didn’t know if I had the capacity to know if I could do that. I had a lot of support that got me through. Part of why I do what I do today is because we need alternative ways that provide people the opportunity to get sober.”
HOW HAS WORKING WITH THE YOUTH HELPED YOU STAY ON YOUR PATH AND WHAT DO YOU FEEL ARE SOME OF THE NECESSARY SOLUTIONS FOR A TEENAGER GOING THROUGH THE SAME STRUGGLES YOU WENT THROUGH?
“The most effective part of any therapeutic intervention is the relationship between the therapist and the client. Social interaction is where things fall apart. I saw a need for something different although I didn’t want to readily accept the work it was going to take at first. Against every reasonable thought in my body I started working out at a crossfit gym but I needed people around me. I went to this gym and this 55-year-old guy literally mopped the floor with me during a workout. This guy finished his workout long before me and I was running and he finished his run with me. The only time I had ever had that happen was in the military and the 12-step program, and I didn’t even know him. This guy just showed up and started running and finished my workout with me and during that I thought, ‘oh my gosh this is what my clients need.’ I had to piece together how to get the clients to the gym and pay for it. It worked out where I went and got my coaching certification and then began running classes for free for about a year and then doors started to open to grow what had started.”
NOW HAVING BEEN SOBER FOR 13 YEARS, WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW IN YOUR CAREER?
“Currently I am partnered with a crossfit gym in Prescott Arizona called Captain Crossfit. We are working with several treatment centers who provide mental health and substance abuse treatment. Most of our clients are addicted to opiates. We run group fitness classes that fuse evidenced based therapeutic interventions and crossfit into an experiential therapy. We use team dynamics and a lot of partner work to help our clients engage in getting connected, giving and receiving support to each other. After class we process our experience and reflect on lessons learned about ourselves, our fellow classmates and about what it means to Recover Strong. Our goal is to show people how capable they really are. How powerful and amazing their human spirit really is. We want to show them that they have meaning and purpose.”
WHAT IS YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL WITH YOUR RECOVER STRONG PROGRAM?
“My ultimate goal is to have my own therapeutic outpatient clinic where vets don’t pay for treatment, they just get to be treated for their services to our country. The cool thing is this program can go anywhere in the world because CrossFit boxes are everywhere and the idea is to manualize it and then do a training program. At my gym all the coaches and everyone there has a similar problem and have overcome addiction. We do group meetings that entail helping one another and increase their support group.”
WHAT DOES BEING PART OF THE TILLMAN SCHOLAR COMMUNITY MEAN TO YOU AND WHAT OPPORTUNITIES HAS IT PROVIDED THAT YOU MAY NOT HAVE OTHERWISE HAD?
“I was in a unique situation in that when I received the scholarship I didn’t have much school left at all. The Tillman Scholar network and getting connected with a program that is on a macro-level, doing what I want to do – I want to impact change. Being a Tillman Scholar stokes the fire of the motivation I have and being part of the foundation guides me and gives me a compass to go for.
For me, there’s a web of service and purpose that you just can’t put a price tag on. Being part of this community means quite a bit. To go from where I came from to be where I”m at now, provides a better life and decision-making for myself. I really feel though that sometimes I don’t belong in the same caliber as my fellow Tillman Scholars. For me, being part of the Tillman Foundation is one piece of my life puzzle that has allowed me growth opportunities and transformed me into a better person.”
WHAT IS NEXT FOR YOU?
“My goal is to stay the course and not get derailed, lose faith or hope. Everything is a lesson – be patient and stay the course, knowing I’m on to something that gives me meaning and purpose. I really want to stay focused on values and principles and I don’t want to get involved with anything that compromises either one and I think the only way for me to do that is to do something on my own.”