I not only heard about the atrocities and oppression the Taliban subjected the Afghan people to; I also witnessed them firsthand. Sometimes I couldn’t clear them from my mind.
During my eighth and last deployment, I conducted a feasibility study for an operation targeting a high-level Taliban leader in the mountains.
Soon after the successful operation, our leadership team informed me the Taliban had captured and killed 10 Afghan team members who had worked for me. This was a special group to me. I had eaten in their homes and played with their kids.
These guys were aware of my location and possessed the ability to compromise it. The Taliban held them for a week and then hanged them, except for two who flipped to the Taliban side and then turned the others over, causing their deaths. I loved these men; they were my friends. I would have died for them, and they would have died for me. In fact, I believe they did die for me.
Despite being compromised, I continued with our operation because I believed its importance was worth the personal risk. A few days later, at 5 a.m., I heard a knock on my door, and through the window saw Jack, a guy who had spent time in my home, and an older man.
When I opened the door, two more guys came out of hiding and forced me into the back of a car. I thought for certain they were going to kill me. The men heavily interrogated me for an hour or two, but for some reason, they chose to release me.
I attempted one more operation after that, but my mind was not in a good place. I was experiencing severe physiological reactions, panic attacks and mental disassociation. Then, in the middle of my compromised state, our command intel team discovered one of our Afghan teammates had flipped sides to the Taliban.
A few days later, my home in Afghanistan was blown to rubble after a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) was driven into my house. My previous Afghan teammate had supplied the Taliban with our location. Thankfully, neither I nor any of my team was in the house.
The execution of our Afghan teammates, the interrogation, and the attempt to kill me and my teammates shook me up. In a moment of clarity, I concluded my declining mental condition had placed me and others in danger. I needed medical help and signaled to leadership that I needed to remove myself.
At the airport, I remember every moment of constant paranoia and anxiety pulsing through my body from the jetway to walking onto that plane. I don’t know if I have ever felt more relieved than when the wheels lifted from the runway, and we cleared the mountains.
When I got home, I was nonstop anxious. My hands and arms would go numb, then my face. My throat felt like it was swelling shut, and I struggled to breathe. I felt like I had a thousand-pound weight on my chest.
I was diagnosed with severe chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and was removed from the task force. I was essentially out of a job and home for good with all the anxiety, guilt, frustration, anger and shame.
I had trained in martial arts and Brazilian jiu-jitsu and had competed as a professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter with an unbeaten record. Kathy and I opened a jiu-jitsu school, and I returned to fighting professionally in MMA. Within three years, our school grew to two locations and a thousand students, I won a world MMA title, and climbed to No. 6 in the world in the flyweight division. But my life was a complete failure.
Kathy and I separated and filed for divorce. I convinced myself the best thing I could do for my three children was commit suicide. In September 2010, while pressing a pistol to my head, I heard someone outside my apartment. When I opened the door, Kathy was there. We engaged in a heated argument until she asked, "Chad, how can you do all the things you’ve done in the military, Afghanistan, be willing to die for your buddies, and train so hard for MMA fights, but when it comes to your family, you quit?"
There is no more soul-cutting word to me than being called a quitter. But she was absolutely correct. When it came to the most important things like being a husband and father, and having the will to get well, I had quit.
Kathy was attending church and praying for me and my recovery. A man from church helped counsel me and provide accountability. Before then, I would say I was a Christian — I wore a military dog tag that claimed I was one — but for the first time in my life, I surrendered my life to Jesus.
After my recovery, I created the Mighty Oaks Foundation to help combat veterans and those from military communities suffering from PTSD and life issues to move beyond life’s hardships and into the life God created us all to live. I tell every struggling veteran the lesson I learned: in life, just like in combat, we aren’t meant to fight alone. Over the past 10 years, over 4,500 military warriors and spouses have entered our recovery program, and I have spoken about resiliency to over 275,000 active-duty troops.
We will all have seasons of life. We will have highs and lows, finding ourselves in dark valleys some days and on high mountaintops others. There will be times in life when you will be in dire need of help and other times when you will be in the position to help someone else. When we have the ability to help our fellow man in their most critical moment, we must. We were created to. It is who we are by design. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13 ESV)
Taken from "Saving Aziz: How the Mission to Help One Became a Calling to Rescue Thousands from the Taliban" by Chad Robichaux, David L. Thomas. Copyright © 2023 by Chad Robichaux, David L. Thomas. Used with permission from Nelson Books.