You expose yourself to a Doctor. You reveal yourself to a “Doc.” “Doc” Shauna Springer is a civilian psychologist that warfighters embrace as a part of the tribe.
—Former green beret Magnus Johnson
My friends all agree that “even by California standards,” my upbringing was “very unusual.”
It’s quite possible that my father may have missed his calling as a Marine Corps Drill Instructor. He loved Pat Conroy’s The Great Santini, the story of Bull Meecham, the Marine fighter pilot who raised his kids like a drill instructor.
In retrospect, I think he used Conroy’s novel as his parenting manual.
My father would wake us three times a week at 5 a.m. starting at 5 years old, to run miles of laps, in the dark, around the local track.
In addition to mandatory “PT”, we were required to compete in local track meets with t-shirts that said ‘property of team X.’
There was never a year when my siblings and I didn’t win in our respective age categories. This was expected of us.
Primitive hiking and camping trips at various National Parks was also a huge part of my early years. Before “rucking” was a thing, my siblings and I were carrying heavy loads on long hikes as we explored many of our National Parks.
From these experiences, I developed comfort with the kind of habitual discomfort that helps us meet our greatest goals in life.
My siblings and I were also given challenges designed to push us through our natural fears. For example, at the age of 6, I was offered $10 to jump off an Olympic-sized dive platform.
It was a test of both trust and part of my father’s campaign against fear since I couldn’t swim. The water looked like it was a mile away. I felt sure I would die, but I jumped, he scooped me out of the pool, and the $10 he gave me felt like $100,000 at the time.
Experiences like this shaped me to not be ruled by fear.
Starting at the age of 10, my parents sent us – alone – on service missions to support people in impoverished countries. The sights, and smells, are unforgettable…but not always in a traumatic way.
I remember a group of kids, laughing and smiling, kicking around a “soccer ball” made of knotted rags, as they ran with bare feet so calloused that a “field” littered with shards of glass from broken bottles didn’t hurt them. From this experience, I developed service-oriented values and flexibility in my thinking.
(The image captures the essence of the kids I met on these trips).
As an adult, I’ve adopted many (but not all) of my parents’ values. I’ve built my life on values like service, self-discipline, and being brave in the face of challenges. As an adult, I continued to engage in foreign service trips, having adventures and a whole “life” of experiences before ever settling down for the long push of graduate level psychology training.
For this reason, my understanding of human relationships is not “merely academic” – it has been forged through life experiences like hunting alligators (what they called “lagartos”) with Shipibo warriors on the Amazon River, working in a camp for severely disabled children in Pucallpa, Peru, and spending a summer living in a convent and working at the Vatican Library.
When my husband and I met as undergrads at Harvard in 1996, while most couples try to prolong the “cocaine rush phase” of their relationship, Utaka and I “tested” our relationship by going on a service trip to Chile, South America.
We shoveled truckloads of rocks and mixed concrete by hand to help build a laundry facility for the Aymaran Indians in the Atacama Desert (where they say it has never rained).
There was nothing sexy about the work we did, or the GI issues that came up on that trip, but that was the point – it showed us that our relationship was built on deeper things.
(Here is my husband after a day of shoveling rocks in Chile).
Because of my upbringing, working with military veterans has felt like “home” for me. I’m never more honored than when a service member refers to me as “Doc Springer” or “Devil Doc” since this refers to a trusted Doc who is seen as part of the Tribe.
Military service members have made sacrifices that I haven’t. Because of this, I want to do what I can to bring veterans all the way home, into lives that are filled with purpose, and deep connection with their loved ones. As we have walked this path together, they have taught me a great deal about love and trust.
WARRIOR offers us an intimate, truthful account of how our bravest citizens may struggle, and provides actionable insights and real solutions for mental crises.
WARRIOR brings new lines of thinking and new strategies for confronting our most important and most personal challenges, including suicidal thoughts, relationship problems, and grief and loss.
WARRIOR is a book that calls to the warrior spirit in all of us, as we emerge from decades of war and a year of global trauma.
This two minute video produced by PEN FED highlights Doc Springer's unique role and most important insight.
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