Episode 391 Mark Perna A Veteran’s Journey to Healing Transcript

This transcript is from episode 391 with guest Mark Perna.

Scott DeLuzio: [00:00:00] Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast where we are focused on giving hope and strength to the entire military community. Whether you’re a veteran, active duty, guard, reserve, or a family member, this podcast will share inspirational stories and resources that are useful to you. I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio, and now let’s get on with the show.

Hey, everybody. Welcome back to Drive On. I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio. And today my guest is Mark Perna. Mark is a former Marine Corps infantryman who deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. And his journey is one of resilience and healing. And he’s here to share his story with us. And we’ll get to that in just a minute.

But first, Mark, I want to welcome you to the show. I’m really glad to have you here.

Mark Perna: Yeah. Thanks for having me, Scott. You know, um, this is my first podcast and, um, I read your book, was really touched by your story, um, and, and appreciate the candor with which you talk about it. And I, and, uh, being a [00:01:00] dad of three boys, I am thinking about how am I, how am I going to approach talking about the war with them?

Cause I want to share these stories. Um, so I really appreciate your mission and the opportunity to come on and, Um, talk about my path, that’s,

Scott DeLuzio: absolutely. You know, for the other Dads or parents, let’s just say, because there’s moms out there too who served that they deployed and they’re probably in a similar situation to you and I, where, you know, at some point we’re going to want to talk about it. What we did overseas with our kids. And, um, the thing that I found worked the best for me, and this is just one guy’s piece of advice, but it’s like, don’t try to sugarcoat stuff.

I mean, obviously keep it age appropriate. You know, if you’re talking to a five year old, you’re not going to talk about, you know, the blood and gore and all this kind of stuff that, you know, but. Don’t [00:02:00] hide it, like, just be real, it’s like, hey, there were bad guys, and we went to go fight the bad guys, and try to, try to win, and do our best, and, and things like that, you know, just try to keep it age appropriate, but also not, Not pretending like it’s some fantasy land either, you know, that

Mark Perna: cause they, you know, they ultimately, they live in the same world we do, right? And so are we trying to sugarcoat it or, or are we trying to prepare them for the path?

Scott DeLuzio: Sure.

Mark Perna: I think preparing them for the path and for the world they live in. Um, yeah, it begins with, with being honest, right. And, and being honest with yourself about your experiences and, and perhaps your trauma and how you suffer. Everybody goes through their own shit. Right. And, uh, we all sort of suffer the same way.

Scott DeLuzio: And, and, and there’s, there are bad people out there and knowing that from an early age is, is maybe a good thing. I don’t know. I’m not a [00:03:00] developmental psychologist or anything like that. So I might be telling you to do something that’s going to totally screw up your kids. So maybe don’t listen to me.

I don’t know. Um, but that’s the path I took and my kids are seeming like they’re okay. So I think it’s probably not the worst advice in the world, but you know, to each of their own, but you take it with a grain of salt and, and add your own spin to it. So, um, well, let’s take a step back here and take us back to your time in the Marine Corps, uh, from, uh, you served from 2004 to 2008, I believe.

Is that

Mark Perna: Yeah, yeah, coming up on my 20 year boot camp anniversary, uh, April 5th, 2004, um, which if any historians out there realize that this was the first battle of Fallujah, uh, so Marines were going through the first battle of Fallujah and a lot of, a lot of the drill instructors that we had had just gone through the invasion of Iraq and they knew that any of the infantry Marines [00:04:00] there were, they were going to war.

Right? And it seems like your bootcamp experience was the same way, right? Like, this wasn’t a stress card environment,

Scott DeLuzio: No, no, we didn’t do that.

Mark Perna: we’re preparing you for war environment, right? And, um You know, I think, I think it’s, it’s the tendency of every generation of Marines to look back and say, Oh, you know, we had it the hardest.

And, um, I look back and I say, that’s, it was definitely a unique time to, to go to bootcamp, you know, um, akin to like, say early Vietnam, like we didn’t know this was, these wars were going to last, um, into the 2020s, you know?

Scott DeLuzio: Right. But in the, the mid, you know, early 2000 time period, uh, you know, like 2004, 2005 to six, um, wars were still rocking basically, you know, and, and we were told basically we’re all infantry going through our basic [00:05:00] training and they said, it’s not a matter of, you know, If it’s a matter of when you get deployed, um, you guys are going overseas at some point.

Um, and, and so we were training as if we were going overseas. It wasn’t, uh, you know, let’s take it easy on them because you know, there’s nothing going on or anything or they’ll never get deployed. They, they treated us, there’s no stress cards.

Mark Perna: I think there’s, you know, there’s all, I think there’s always a level of like, Oh, this is the public relations version of the Marine Corps, Slayin the Dragon. And then there’s sort of behind the scenes. I’m sure every branch goes through it, you know, the same. Um, they have good marketing, right? As a marketing, uh, um, as, as a marketing professional, I really appreciate the marketing of the Marine Corps because they captured me with the identity.

And, uh, the Slaying the Dragon. And I wanted to go to war, right? So I had full metal jacket and platoon and, [00:06:00] um, yeah. I was, I was very much a like, um, I wasn’t looking at the military as a profession. I was very much like a war tourist. I wanted to go to war and experience. Yeah, here’s something historic that’s happening in the world that I could participate in, right?

Um, and so that was, it was like my call to adventure. I don’t know if you’ve ever read Joseph Campbell’s, uh, Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Scott DeLuzio: I haven’t, no, but

Mark Perna: it talks about like the literary journey, um, but in a lot of, uh, myths, right? So a lot of mythological figures go through the call to adventure and then they go into the unknown and they get transformed and, um, it’s a good metaphor for the healing journey, honestly, too.

So it kind of starts, it starts by going into the unknown, right? Like, uh, I love the way you wrote about it just because, yeah, joining the military is one of those things where you make, you make that one decision and [00:07:00] you, you bought it for the next four to six years or eight years or whatever. Like you have modified your life significantly and, and you, you can’t turn back from it, you know?

Scott DeLuzio: right. And it’s not like buying a car that. You get buyer’s remorse after you get it. And, you know, six months later, you’re like, you know, this car sucks. I don’t want it. And let me just go return it and I’ll go buy something else or, you know, whatever the case may be. But, um, you know, that’s a big investment, but.

It’s you’re, you’re not locked in. You can always sell the car and get out of that commitment. Uh, going into the military, uh, different story,

Mark Perna: so much. And you know, there’s, there’s part of it too, you know, like, um, you don’t get to choose where you deploy. So. You know, like, I, I, I happen to have, I, I been fortunate to, to have been in some experiences that have been written [00:08:00] about, you know, some deployments that were written about, but I didn’t make the choice to go there.

Right? Like you get, you’re in, you’re in the school of infantry and they’re like, this is your unit. You’re going and it’s the needs of the Marine Corps, right? So, um, you go where you’re told. Luckily, I was told to go to Hawaii, Scott. So, uh, that did not suck.

Scott DeLuzio: that definitely did not suck that like of all the places you could go, um, it’s like. Wow, I get to go, you know, hang out on the beach on the weekends

Mark Perna: Yeah. Turns out though, the jungles of Hawaii, not a great place to train for the mountains of Afghanistan. Yeah.

Scott DeLuzio: one thing, okay, I’m going to just take a departure here from the, the story and the script that we’re going through here, but, um, that’s one thing that totally drove me crazy when we were training to go to Afghanistan, we were in the swamps of Louisiana, you know, like humid, uh, you [00:09:00] know, like muddy, wet, Uh, environment, no, no real mountains or, or any elevation that we had to deal with. Complete crap as far as like environmental training go. It was the exact opposite when we got to Afghanistan. It’s like, and it’s not like we don’t have mountains in the United States that we could train on, you know, it’s crazy.

Mark Perna: And the, you know, back, back then this was, I deployed to Afghanistan in 2005, um, with iron sights on my M16. So, um, you know, I threw some photos in there too. So it’s kind of funny to just see me with iron sights, like, uh, like it’s Vietnam or something, you know, old school, M- 16 and we were riding around in Humvees from like the eighties.

Um, you know, we were riding around a five ton trucks that had no armor. On them, you know, just on the back, just like a jingle truck, man. It was crazy.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah.

Mark Perna: So we didn’t have a lot of [00:10:00] resources to train back then. We spent a month in 29 Palms. We spent a few weeks in the Mountain Warfare Training Center, um, in Hawthorne, Nevada.

Shout out to everybody. Who went through MWTC, um, great training, um, but that was it, you know, and, and PTA on the big island, which is at like a few thousand feet elevation, but it’s all volcanic rock. And, um, yeah, you get shipped over to these mountains and like, uh, Scott, I am from Colorado. I am used to hiking these mountains and stuff, but we start at 5, 000 feet and go to 14, 000 feet.

And that’s about it. In Afghanistan, they start at like sea level and they go to like 19, 20, 000 feet. There’s just mountains upon mountains upon mountains. It’s the, the landscape is absurd.

Scott DeLuzio: It is. It’s crazy. Looking at it, I,

Mark Perna: our battalion too, was the only. Go ahead.

Scott DeLuzio: I never saw something that drastic in terms of changing and [00:11:00] elevation, uh, when we got there. And, and I was like, where the hell did we land? Like, are we on Mars or something? Like, what, what is this? You know?

Mark Perna: Yeah, it was wild. It was wild stepping into the country for the person and the smells. Oh, wow. The smells of like onion and unshowered people and, um, cow pies burning for, to, to make bread. And, um, yeah, what an experience, you know, and it’s funny. This’ll bring you back, Scott. I touched down. In 2005 at FOB Metterlam, uh, stayed there for a few months, um, and we had like GP, we had the, just the general purpose tents, the green tents, um, you know, behind HESCO barriers and nothing fancy and, um, yeah, that was, that was a place.

Have you ever been at the, Metterlam itself, like the souk down there, the market? It’s amazing. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the governor’s mansion there, but

Scott DeLuzio: No, I, the only time I was at Metterlam, I think it [00:12:00] was just for like a day or two. Um, and it was just a real quick, uh, you know, in and out.

Mark Perna: that you blew. That was it.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, I think that’s where it was. Yeah, that’s where it was. Um, and so we, I think we flew in that day or something like that. And then we left the next morning or I forget exactly the timeframe, but it was, it was a real quick turnaround.

So, um, so yeah, it was, I didn’t really get much time to explore around the area. It was, it was just, uh, kind of hanging out. Where we stayed was tense, like you were, you were talking about. It wasn’t

Mark Perna: Yeah. They had built barracks there, I know

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, they probably did for the folks who were there, you know, kind of stationed there, but there was kind of transit, uh, you know, tents that they just gave us with those cots that no one can ever put together because they’re so damn hard to

Mark Perna: write a book just about like the transient tents that you stay in, in the military, the chow halls [00:13:00] and finding the defect on a random base or,

Scott DeLuzio: It’s like a, like a Yelp for, uh, the transits going all over.

Mark Perna: or the, or going through Kyrgyzstan, like in the winter time.

Scott DeLuzio: Oh my God. That was

Mark Perna: Yeah. That’s dope. Yeah, I mean, Afghanistan was, you know, what a, what a wild experience. I feel like it was very much the Wild West when we were out there, there weren’t a whole lot of, um, restrictive, like rules of engagement, you know, if you, but then there were very big, somewhat small firefights here and there.

We wound up getting in a pretty big one as my, my first, Um, gunfight experience, I suppose, but, um, it got real, you know, pretty quick. We, this is the first deployment that our unit had done since Vietnam, second battalion third Marines. Um, and so we were, we were on the first combat deployment, you know, this unit had seen in 30 [00:14:00] some odd years, 40 years.

Um, and so I think two weeks in, one of my close friends from the School of Infantry, Kevin Joyce. Um, died in a rollover accident, uh, in the Petch River. Um, and I heard about that, I was like, I’d hardly been out of the, outside the wire, you know, like on a patrol or whatever. Heard that, and it didn’t sink in.

Really, it was just like, God, what was the last thing I said to him? You know, when was the last time I saw him? Um, we, we wound up losing a total of four Marines on that deployment, which wound up being pretty light compared to our subsequent deployment. But, um, it was pretty wild, right? Like, um, we had a, we had our Blackhawk down moment heading out on, on a big mission one time, right?

Like, uh, we, they, they took us, our platoon over to Jalalabad. Um, and it was real hush hush. They were, they were like, Oh, you’re going to go out here and you’re just going to keep [00:15:00] walking. And, uh, it’s going to be tough, but we’re going to keep going. And we’re sitting in the Humphies. Right. And the Colonel came out, this was our Blackhawk down moment.

The Colonel came out, it was like shaking everybody’s hand. It was like, good luck Marines. We choked, we were quoted the movie, right? We were like, Oh, he’s just never done that before.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah,

Mark Perna: realize that that was actually happening to us. Right. So it turns out, um, that we were being sent after the militia.

In, in Lone Survivor that had taken out the, uh, the Navy SEALs and, and was hunting Marcus Littrell. Um, being a lowly Lance Corporal in the Marine Corps had no idea of any of this. They didn’t tell us nothing. Right? So, I’m, I’m on the front lines of this, um, this incredible historical event. We didn’t even know.

In any seals had been on a mission, much less shot down our company commander knew, right. But [00:16:00] that’s, that’s how they compartmentalize information. So, um, I just remember that Blackhawk down moment. And then, yeah, we just hiked until we were just dead exhausted, uh, all the way up to 10, 000 feet. Right. Like, and I’m like, we didn’t train here.

Nobody’s adapted to this altitude. I’m carrying like another person on my back in gear. Right. Like 130 pounds of stuff, like food, water. I got a, uh, ammo can of 7. 62 in there. It weighs 14 pounds. I got a mortar round. Everyone’s got like, we are humping it and just. Killing ourselves, trying to get up this mountain.

Um, like we’d been conditioned, we’ve been doing that for a few months. Cause that’s like all you do out there. Like it’s hard to be prepared for combat in general, but like, it’s hard to be prepared for the exhaustion of just walking around that damn place with like a hundred pounds on your back and you haven’t [00:17:00] even seen anything yet.

You know,

Scott DeLuzio: That’s right.

Mark Perna: Nobody’s even taken a pot shot at you yet and you are just dead inside. And we, we used to tell each other, get your mind right. You need to get your mind right. Just to walk around this country, you know, like,

Scott DeLuzio: Absolutely. Yeah. And there were, there were times, and I wrote about this in the book that, that you were just talking about, um, where. We were carrying around so much stuff and going up so high in, in elevation that I was like, someone please do something stupid and shoot at us so we can unload some of this

Mark Perna: Oh, yeah.

Scott DeLuzio: I don’t have to carry this shit back up the hill. You know, like that, that’s like where we were just saying, you got to get your mind right. Like that was stupid thinking. Like, I really, thinking back to it, I don’t want anyone shooting at me. Right?

Mark Perna: you unload your ammo, they’re going to airdrop you more and, and you’re going to have to do something with that. You can’t just leave it for the enemies.

Scott DeLuzio: That’s right. That’s true. And see, that’s the thing. I’m not thinking that next step ahead. I was [00:18:00] just thinking, let me just blow off all this ammo and I don’t never have to carry about it or carry it, you know, up the hill. Um, you know, but that’s not what would happen. They would drop off more and that would be even, it would probably be even more than I had to begin with.

Um, and then I got to figure out what to do with all that crap too.

Mark Perna: Yeah. But I got to say that Air Force, when they drop, when they airdrop you combat supplies. They hook it up. They really do, like, there’s like Red Bulls and dip and cigarettes in there, like, and that, okay, the magazines, they sent fully loaded magazines, not cases of ammo, they, they sat there and loaded mags for us so that we didn’t have to, like,

Scott DeLuzio: That’s pretty cool. Yeah.

Mark Perna: Um, yeah, and I’ll get into that, you know, like, I’ll never forget August 14th, 2005. By the way, my first son’s birthday is August 14th,[00:19:00]

Scott DeLuzio: Oh, wow.

Mark Perna: um, kind of ironic there, but, um, that, so we hiked all the day before, the night before, um, not knowing that we were about to get, that we were even going, but we didn’t even know the size of the unit for the most part.

Um, you know, I’m sure our captain and the lieutenants did. Um, we woke up and I was, I was sitting on top of my flak jacket, like dry shaving and eating an MRE when the sky opened up. Um, and it was like, I can’t describe the sound of just. It sounded like the universe tearing apart. It sounded like the laws of physics had been broken.

It was so loud. And it turns out that, yeah, that militia had been forced by Echo Company, which was supposed to be our main element, to kind of down this back mountain road. And they ran smack into us. Um, and they decided that they were going to fight that day. And so, you know, I don’t know how [00:20:00] many enemy there were, but there were 38 of us Marines.

There were a bunch of ANA who were highly effective and totally not smoking opium that morning. And, uh, It was a firefight. I mean, it was, it was like, you know, those big infantry ranges you go on and it’s just like, you got the whole company size element. It was that big. It was absurd. And, and my scope, my squad was in the kill zone.

So, um, my close buddy Wilson got shot in the leg. Three times, my fire team leader got shot in the chest twice, um, couple other guys got shrapnel and everything. And there was just like, there were so many bullets impacting that there was just dirt flying up everywhere, like, like rain splattered. RPGs were like hitting all around us.

Um, I, there’s a book written about it called Victory Point, [00:21:00] uh, where I, I was quoted by the saying it was like stepping out into a thunderstorm and not getting wet. I was just, the volume of fire was absurd. Um, you know, and like, you’re like, Oh, we were walking around there. We’re like, Oh, I’m a Marine. But these guys have been doing this all their life, you know?

And so you get checked, you get that attitude checked real quick in combat, right? Like regardless of, you know, I mean, I, I feel, you know, like you guys, the citizen soldiers, right? The National Guard, like, Especially back then, like, got pushed out with, with even less training than we had, right? And then now you’re put on the same battlefield.

As the Navy SEALs as special operations, right. Against the same enemy. Like,

Scott DeLuzio: and the Taliban doesn’t care level of training you have. They want to kill you just the same, you know,

Mark Perna: yeah. And so, yeah. As a young man, [00:22:00] you’re like, well, I’m a principal. I’m a Marine. I’m a, you know, but yeah, you get checked real quick in that country, man. You don’t, you’re, you’re a little Cheska to them, you know?

Scott DeLuzio: So. In my kind of pre episode research and, you know, looking into your background and your story and everything, um, was this a time when you, you got hit by the, uh, the snipers round in, Oh no, this was in, that was in

Mark Perna: No, no, that was in Iraq. Yeah. No actually there was, um, there was a sharp shooter taking p shots at us during this firefight. Um, took a shot and hit from about 700 yards,

Scott DeLuzio: Oh, wow.

Mark Perna: eight, 800 yards, maybe hit the rock right in front of my face. Um, and like Woody, I have an M 16 with iron sights. Which I can shoot up to 500 yards.

I’m an expert marksman, but like, I [00:23:00] can’t reach out and touch them at that distance. And that’s what they did. They fought at machine gun range. They fought at PKM, RPK range, you know, 700, 800, 900 meters. And they’re just trying to splash bullets and hit randomly. Right? Like they’re not trying to go toe to toe.

So it’s kind of difficult to get your little tiny bullet out there. It’s humbling,

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah.

Mark Perna: I got to say again, the air force, um, there is a pilot out there who went by the call sign BORE4, um, who. Fired a rocket and silenced this shooter. Um, so I owe that, I owe that person a drink or a free yoga class or whatever.

But I put it out every, every veteran I run into, I’m like, are you BORE4 Um, so if you’re out there, if you hear this, hit me up.

Scott DeLuzio: Well, if he is out there, definitely, uh, send a message

Mark Perna: I was the radio operator, right? So I’m sitting there [00:24:00] listening to call signs and listening to our, our forward air controller calling an air support. And these guys are flying in the valleys below us.

Um, and they’re getting shot up. They’re like, uh, took a rip to the left wing and like, um, guys and gals, by the way, right? Look, cause there’s women out there too who are piloting these aircraft. Um, absolutely. Cowboys and cowgirls, all of them, man, just, but they will fly their airplane into the ground to try to protect you guys.

Scott DeLuzio: That’s right. Yeah. They, they’re superheroes. I think, I mean, I think any infantryman would probably agree that the air support is, is key.

Mark Perna: And, and Dustoff, you know, um, um, we don’t, Marines don’t have medevac built in like, like the army does. Right. So out there, we were the only Marine Corps battalion in Afghanistan, by the way. So. If there was something retarded to do that, that, that they didn’t want to send their units. So [00:25:00] they were like, some of those Marines, man, one battalion Marine, keep them busy.

Right. Like huge AO. And, but I look back really fortunate that we got to, to do things like that. And, and, you know, like. Um, we got moved to Asadabad, which had, you know, the SEAL team was out there, there were CIA out there, there was a CIA black site prison, um, which, okay, it was just a, we just, we just watched detainees there and they ask them questions, right, we could go up all night, they, they befriend them, it’s like not, that’s the thing. Um, But yeah, like being forward deployed like that, I guess in that, uh, you know, I look back really appreciative of my experience of being able to go through that, regardless of the sacrifice, you know, and the, and the toughness of it. Like, I, I really appreciate having been through that. So we, yeah, we spent six days fighting that, that militia, uh, we thought , we thought, and the Air Force was dropping.

They were [00:26:00] dropping us, you know, out of a C one 30 fully loaded mags. There were like Oreos and smokes in there. Um, it was just all the ammo and water and not, and the good MREs, the halal meals, not the brown baggers, you know,

Scott DeLuzio: So you got the good shit too. Wow. That’s good.

Mark Perna: yeah, it was wild, a wild experience. And then, and coming out of there, we were so exhausted. I maybe slept three hours the whole time. We, we went out, our squad, after we were decimated, um, we were now a squad of six. They decided, you know, where you need to go is on an LPOP. You need to go to observation position.

That’s more toward where we think the enemy’s going to be. Um, and then that outpost got hit at night. I had a really scary experience, um, with a, with a sniper team leader. Actually, we’re doing the leader’s recon. So we’ve been through this massive firefight. My buddies got shot. My fire team leader got shot.

[00:27:00] Um, You know, and Wilson, bless his soul, he, you know, Doc gave him a shot of morphine, and he’s sitting there quoting Forrest Gump because he got shot in the butt, and he won’t, he won’t stop saying, something bit me, something bit me, and I’m just like, we were used to quoting movies the whole time, so the whole experience was just very surreal.

So we, so we got those guys medevaced, Dustoff came in, and I, I shared some pictures of where they landed this helicopter. To get these Marines off there. And it, I was just, just in front of this, this helicopter. It took off and it, it dove steeply down into the valley to get speed so that it could get the hell out of there and not get.

Shot up. Um, it was full of our wounded guys, but everybody made it like so thankful that everybody made it. But, um, yeah, it was wild and we had to hike out of there. We thought helicopters were going to come pick us up.

Scott DeLuzio: you still have

Mark Perna: reason they call Marine [00:28:00] Corps infantry the suck.

Scott DeLuzio: yeah, you still have to go out on your own feet. That’s, that is, that is rough. I mean, we were fortunate.

Mark Perna: So dead tired that every, I couldn’t brace my, I couldn’t like absorb the impact of stepping with my knees anymore. My legs would collapse. So I had to lock my legs out and I was just feeling my joints collapse on like every single step. For miles and miles. It was a 30 hour hike out of there.

It was just the, the, what do we call it? The last of the Mohicans. I mean, we, we had so many names for this hike. Um, there, you know, the, the company commander shot a guy out of a tree who was like trying to ambush us. At the end, we, we, everybody was so exhausted that pretty much everyone collapsed and fell asleep.

And we, we almost, we had like no security because. We’re still on the way out of there. And like, no one could just, it was the most [00:29:00] difficult thing I’ve ever been through physically. Like it was absurd, man. It changed us. Like we came back and the rest of the platoons who hadn’t been out there with us, were like, they were like, you guys are jumpy, look crazy.

Like, um, we had undergone a transformation for sure. And then, and that was two months into my first combat deployment. So it progressed from there, you know?

Scott DeLuzio: sure. Yeah. And I know from shared suck experiences that I’ve gone through and, um, it brings the, the folks that you, you are involved with, uh, brings you closer together. I, in my experience anyways, you know, when you’ve experienced that suck together.

Mark Perna: There’s a medical term for that. It’s called trauma bonding.

Scott DeLuzio: okay.

Mark Perna: You know, there’s a psychological term, right? Trauma bonding. So yeah, the, the more shared suffering that you go through, the, the more rapid you bond and, and they take advantage of that in [00:30:00] bootcamp, right? To create those strong bonds of a unit of brotherhood, a friendship that, that you will fight and work as a unit.

Um, and I think that that’s also what makes it so difficult when those bonds are broken. Um, you know.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah,

Mark Perna: so intensely shared as an experience.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah,

Mark Perna: Um, yeah, man, Afghanistan was, um, great food. Really good food in Afghanistan. My goodness. Uh, yeah, you’re gonna get dysentery once, at least,

Scott DeLuzio: for sure.

Mark Perna: um, Yeah, I love the food out there, you

Scott DeLuzio: sort of worth it, you know,

Mark Perna: Yeah. It really, especially around, um, you know, the holidays around like Christmas time, man, they bring out the sugar doorday, you know, the, uh, the flatbread and all their treats. And, and the past tunes, man, really, really interesting. Now it’s, now I’m in my 40s. The history buff, right? So, um, I read, I went through the Pashtun language course.

It was like a quick D Lab [00:31:00] course, nothing fancy, but, um, so I learned a little bit about their culture. And so their, their code, their tribal code of Pashtun Wali is, that’s what saved Marcus Littrell. He asked them for hospitality and their, their code is, is so rough around there, especially during the winter, the summer, any season, like they have to give hospitality, even to an enemy.

Even if you’re a foe, that if you were coming through and you ask for hospitality, like they’ll give it to you. So they bring out the ice cold Pepsi, um, they bring out, you know, the goat, the chicken, like all of their best food. They provide a feast for you. Um, absolutely amazing people and, and unique, right, because they’re, they’re also warriors, right?

So they have their sort of like warrior clan village to village to village. Um. Yeah, there’s no, the Durand line, right? That, that border is where I think the Abad base is one and a half miles from the [00:32:00] Pakistani border. There’s no border. No one recognizes that there.

Scott DeLuzio: That’s right.

Mark Perna: just a line on a map. Like you just walk over and it’s been there, you know, like there’s no, there’s nothing

Scott DeLuzio: There’s really,

Mark Perna: We’re

Scott DeLuzio: really, yeah, we, we were right on the border too. And there’s a street that goes through and there is a line painted on the ground, but no one gives a shit around there. Like they’ll walk all around and, and you know, I described it like, you know, if someone came in your house and drew a line down the middle of your kitchen and said, this side is, uh, you know, one country and this side’s the other country.

You’re not going to give a shit. You’re still going to walk to the refrigerator. It doesn’t matter what side you’re on, you know?

Mark Perna: Yeah. And the, the complexities of it were, are not lost on me. You know, perhaps they were then, but. They were like, well, who are we fighting? Right. When we’re not fighting the Taliban, we’re fighting anti coalition militia. Okay. What does that mean? It was like, well, a bunch of these militias are backed by like Al [00:33:00] Qaeda financially and some of these other terror organizations, and they’re just fighting because they need to exist.

Right. And so, yeah, the, the Pashtuns too are like, you know, you’ll run into a tribe and they’ll be like, you can’t come through here. We will fight you. And you’re like, well, maybe that’s our mission. We got to get through there. And they’re like, okay, but we will fight you. And sure enough, you drive through there, you get in a gunfight.

You come back through and you talk to them and you’re like, they’re like, yeah, no shit. We just told you, we’ve got you. But it’s not like a, it’s, it’s weird. It’s definitely an interesting country.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, it is.

Mark Perna: Um, and by the way, Metterlam, if you know, um, the, the up, up in there is the Alishang and the Alangar valleys, which are extremely fertile.

So I, I dropped some photos there of just, um, we’re walking through, we’re in desert Kamis and everything is green. We talked so much shit about you guys blue camis back then, but here we are in desert camis in the [00:34:00] jungle.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, there were very few places that really synced up to all the camouflage that we had and everything, especially the army that what we wore was stupid. It didn’t make any sense. I mean, I can’t think of any place that, um, short of rolling around in the mud to dirty up your uniform. Uh, there was nowhere that those uniforms made any sense whatsoever.

It’s something. Someone needed to get fired over that. That’s another story for another day. But yeah, there’s, there were definitely changes in, in the, the landscape around there from desert to mountain to, uh, you know, fertile farm fields, you know, there was,

Mark Perna: think it was up in the, the Alangar or the Alishang Valley. One of those was where Alexander the Great finally turned back. He said, this was enough. I’m out of here. We [00:35:00] pushed way beyond that, Scott. And so that we were not great. And so, yeah, what a, what an amazing experience, you know, but that, you know, you, I think you, I think that a lot of what we do is we adapt ourselves to A combat environment, you know, um, you, you can’t go run around in fear all the time.

You have to let some of your fear go. So just to some extent you become fearless and, and, and uh, you sort of have to embrace it, right? You have to sort of Become hypervigilant and you have to become a hunter and look, you know, I thought it was really mature what you wrote about in your book where, where you had that, um, you had the escalation of force incident and you held the rifle on this boy and you recognized yourself as able to kill in that moment.

You’ve recognized yourself as like, Oh, I’m, they trained me to be a [00:36:00] killer. Um, I, I don’t rec, I don’t recognize that. Right? Like we, we dove in and, um, but in our first gun fight, you know, that I was just talking about, Um, yeah, it did not, it didn’t take anything for me to just grab my rifle and just, you know, like, um, and it’s, it’s, it’s really just brutal.

Um, it’s, it’s not John Wick, you know, it’s slaughter. People are doing whatever they can to survive. And so I probably dumped about three or four magazines of ammo. And then was like, Oh shit, I got to conserve ammo. They got more ammo than them. Oh gosh. Um, you know, so, so now you, so now you’ve undergone your baptism of fire and you have to become a thinking man about your ammo and your killing and your, it’s, it’s a transformation, right?

Because now you want [00:37:00] to, as an infantry man, you want to engage the enemy. Um, in the Marine Corps, especially in the infantry, especially, um, I, you could say kill. As a, as a perfectly acceptable response to like a general. When he asks you how you’re doing, kill sir. Um, all right. Yeah. You know, they, they make you say kill like 3000 times in bootcamp or whatever.

Every time you stab with your bayonet or you, you know, you punch another Marine when you’re training or whatever. And so, and so you’re training to become a killer. And ultimately that’s what You want to do. And so, and now you’ve, you built your entire personality around being a Marine and hang out with Marines and you talk like one and you, you know, so you’ve reinvented yourself into this warrior persona.

Um, and I, part of it, it’s a good thing to jump into when you’re going into a war. Right. Like you need to become kind of a brutal person [00:38:00] to survive that environment. Um, and then it’s a matter of like, what do you do with that later? I’ve always thought the Marine Corps, like, has a really great identity, right?

When you, when you graduate boot camp, you are a Marine. It’s not like a job title, right? It’s an identity. Once a Marine, always a Marine, right? There’s no ex Marines, only former Marines. But that can also be a disservice to you because I don’t want to bring my warrior’s anger into my relationship with my kids or my wife.

I don’t want to bring the Marine Corps leadership style into my leadership style of my boys, right? Some aspects, sure, but, you know, they’re, they didn’t volunteer to be my sons. And they’re not earning something by appeasing me in my whims. Right?

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, that’s true.

Mark Perna: yeah, you have to. become [00:39:00] more than that. I feel like a lot of guys get stuck in the identity and then if you, what if you built your whole identity around that and then you get to combat and it’s not what you thought it was, or like in Iraq where we’re getting shot at all the time by like ghosts. 80 percent of the time we didn’t even see the enemy. And we’re, we’re mad because we want the bragging rights of like, oh yeah, we went toe to toe, we killed those guys. But understand the, the, the psychological toll that that takes on people. Um, your buddies go out on patrol and become ghosts. Um, if you’re getting shot at all the time, the base is more dangerous.

Our base is getting mortared all the time. Um,

Scott DeLuzio: And you have no idea where those are going to land either. You know,

Mark Perna: yeah, yeah, and you gotta,

Scott DeLuzio: part.

Mark Perna: you, I think, I think you gotta be honest about your experience, you know, and part of that is like, look, as a [00:40:00] man, you’re like, oh, you want to, you want to be able to say, yes, I passed the milestone of masculinity that, you know, the test, I was tested in combat, and I, but you don’t get that feeling, that you don’t get a rewarding You know, there’s a lot of terror and uncertainty and, and violence and, and struggle and, and, um, it’s, it’s dirty and it’s, you know, it’s, um, it, it is something,

Scott DeLuzio: And it puts you on edge too. Like you were saying when you came back and those other platoons hadn’t gone out yet. And they, uh, they were like, you guys are, you’re jumpy and you’re, you’re, you know, head on a swivel. I mean, it should be anyways, but, um, you know, you guys are more, um, more so than before and, uh, it’s hard to turn that off.

I think when, uh, when you get back home, when you’re not in combat, when you’re, you know, just in, at [00:41:00] home in your normal relationships or you get outta

Mark Perna: you want to, do you want to turn it off if that bad habit saved your life once?

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah,

Mark Perna: Can you?

Scott DeLuzio: that’s a good question.

Mark Perna: that’s like base survival level instinct. Do you know what I mean? Like

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. And to, to your point, think about like anything that you’ve learned, even as a, a, a little kid, like you, you touch a hot stove and you, you, you pull your hand away and you’re like, okay, that’s hot. I’m never gonna do that again, because that’s gonna hurt me. So now. You’ve been in combat, you’ve learned the things that kept you alive, that kept you safe and everything.

And, uh, then you come back home and now all of a sudden you gotta turn that off. Like, that’s counterintuitive. Like why would you do that?

Mark Perna: Yeah. My first experience that like. We are different and people are going to look at us different. We got back from Afghanistan. My buddy, Matt, uh, Wilson, who he’d been shot in the leg three times, um, [00:42:00] was, was getting medically discharged, but he was still back on base. He was getting out of that one. By the way, he’s the one challenged me to do my first skydive.

So it’s all his fault. and, uh, We went out to like Red Lobster as a group, you know, we took everybody out and, um, it is in Waikiki and so in midsummer often they do fireworks. on Saturday nights. Um, and so I’m, I’m pretty good with fireworks. I like fireworks, but like this was totally unexpected. And like, um, this is down in, well, it’s kind of down in Honolulu, right?

So like, um, you know, there’s, there’s a lot of like tall buildings. These fireworks start going off and it’s reverberating through there. Um, we hit the deck, the restaurant is loaded, okay. And my buddy, Matt, dives out of the table this way [00:43:00] and yells, but there is a nine year old kid like sitting at the next table. Um, and everyone just stops and stares at us. And we were like, this is a social faux pas to hit the deck. With

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. Right. And I think I know exactly where you’re talking about too. Uh, my, my family and I just, uh, about a month ago, took a vacation over there and, and, uh, we stayed at a hotel right near, there’s a Red Lobster right down the street from us, so, um. And they did the fireworks and all that. So, um,

Mark Perna: the one! Yeah.

Scott DeLuzio: that’s, that’s gotta be the one.

So I know where it is. Um, and yeah, definitely within earshot of those fireworks. Um, and, uh, yeah, that is a social faux pas, especially in a family restaurant with, uh, you know, families around with their, um, you know, kids drawing on, on the little menus and everything. Like it’s not what you expect when you go out to a restaurant, but to your, [00:44:00] to the point that we were talking about before, it’s like, That’s the thing that kept you safe when you heard those loud noises, you hit the deck, you know?

Mark Perna: And, and we knew we were going back to war,

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah,

Mark Perna: too. We had six, seven months and we’re going back. So it was like, I’m going to capitalize on that time and become the best killer I could be, you know, like I’m going to be the best shape I could be. Um, and I, you know, they, there were not, there were not, units were getting hit pretty hard, you know, with their wounded, you know, At that time.

And so there were not a lot of, you know, table of organization units, right? The Marine Corps squad is supposed to be 13. Um, we had eight on both of my deployments. Um, and so we were pretty. We were pretty tightly, man. Tightly manned. And I be, I became a, i I became pretty brutal, right? As a Lance corporal [00:45:00] that I got pushed into the squad leader position.

Um, and that’s a sergeant’s billet, that’s someone who’s been in the Marine Corps for four years. They’ve gone to squad leader school, um, the infantry squad leaders course. Um, dude, I was a Lance Corporal who, like my, my fire team leader got shot in our first gunfight in Afghanistan. And we, and was turning gray.

And I thought he was, I thought he was done, you know, like, um, he he’s, like I said, everyone survived that, that gunfight, but, um, I was like, Oh, they were like, all right, well, I guess you’re in charge of these two guys for now. And then you go on this LPOP. Oh man. I didn’t tell you about that scary experience I had on, on the LPOP with the sniper team leader.

Um, gosh, this is totally random and non sequitur. Um, it was after that massive gunfight, I got sent with, um, Um, the, the sniper team leader [00:46:00] is a sergeant to do leaders recon of what’s going to be our observation post. Um, the way the leaders recon is just two guys snooping and pooping. Away from the rest of the company, we just got shot at by like a hundred dudes. Um, and my hair is like on end. So I’m like, and we’re just like being quiet as possible. So we get up there and we’re going to do, um, we’re going to stop, listen, look, and smell. Right. And so we’re, we’re sort of huddled up in this like thicket of bushes. And, um, these two guys come by with a goat. Or like a horse or, or something.

Um, and they’re just walking this creature and they’re walking, they’re walking between us and the rest of the company. And I’m, I’m raiding, raiding into the captain. Um, and, and me and, me and the Sergeant Torres at, at time, we, we, we eased our weapons off safe. We got fingers on the trigger. These guys are like 15 feet away, 20 feet away, maybe tops.

And I [00:47:00] radioed into the, to our commanding officer, our company commander, sir. What do we do? What do we do? Now he’s operating with the knowledge that this exact same thing happened to a Navy SEAL team, um, and, and they didn’t engage the guy and it got three of them killed. That’s the whole reason we’re up here.

I didn’t know that. Um, and so I’m like, are we going to have to do this? They’re not like armed, but They could compromise our whole position. And so I’m waiting and I’m waiting and I’m waiting and my fingers on the trigger and it was just, it’s just this crazy, crazy, intense moment. Cause it’s just me and Torres and these two other guys in the middle of this country, 10, 000 miles from home, like in this fucked up situation, man to man, like, like we’re going to, we’re going to murder these guys.

They don’t see us there. We’re going to, we’re going to kill them. Like. Holy shit. Um, and they [00:48:00] wandered off. I don’t know. By the, by the time they wandered out, out of sight, the company commander came back with the order to shoot them. And we were like, and I was just like, the, the hair on my neck was just stood up the whole fucking time.

Like, how do you, how do you reconcile being in that sort of situation? You know, when you come back and your people are, ah, my professor gave me a 10 page paper. You’re like, my professor asked me to kill that guy.

Scott DeLuzio: right. So when you did get back, so after, after deployments, you’re getting out of the military. Um, what was that transition like? What are some of the challenges that you faced and what were some of the things that you went through during that time period?

Mark Perna: Oh man, um, yeah, it was tough, right? Cause our, our second deployment to Iraq was, it was brutal. It was on a different level. Um, [00:49:00] if you deploy with our unit, you stood about a one in 20 chance of getting killed, like a one in four of getting shot. So we had like 200 plus wounded in the battalion, 23 Marines killed.

Well, one was a Navy Corpsman. Um, And it was just gunfights like every single day. And mortar attacks. The mortar attacks were insane. They hit the building we were sleeping in. I shared photos of um, I just share this to, to, to just drill in like how much these, these combat troops go through, right? Cause it’s, it’s, it’s a lot.

And we like, as, as citizens here, we’re like, Oh, there’s a, let’s say there’s a mass shooting somewhere. We understand that kind of trauma hurts people for life. We’re like, Oh my God, that’s terrifying. What if you go through that 20 times, 30 times, a hundred times? [00:50:00] What does that do to somebody? What if, what if you’re the one inflicting trauma as well?

Scott DeLuzio: Mm

Mark Perna: You know, like, um, how do you, how do you, how do you come back and from that? You know, like you, you’ve been living in a place where there’s lawlessness. And when we were in Iraq, our company commander was, um, a bit of a dirt bag. Like he was not a good Marine. There was a reason that we were shoved on the other side of the river, and he never left the base.

Never gave us guidance. Um It was, um, it was, we would just go out and fight and the mortars would hit the base and, um, the mortar blew up the squad room next to us. And, um, we, we lived with an underlying level of terror

Scott DeLuzio: hmm. Mm hmm.

Mark Perna: in Iraq that we didn’t experience in Afghanistan because we, we live, we’re in the middle of a town, right?

Afghanistan, you go back to base and take your flak off and everything. They’re like, I had to put my flak [00:51:00] jacket and helmet on to go take a piss.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah.

Mark Perna: There were no showers. Mortar impacts everywhere. Um, and we lost so many people, so many good people. It’s, it’s just absurd.

Scott DeLuzio: So,

Mark Perna: so yeah, coming back, um, what do you do?

You binge drink because that’s what you’ve been taught in, in the infantry, right? Like that’s, that’s, it’s a problem and you can handle it there. Cause you’re like, you’re working out all the time. You’re running, your adrenaline’s always jacked. Your body can process a lot more. And so you, you know, no, nobody’s.

Around you is kind of feeling the same things. Nobody around you has been through the same shit that you’ve been. And it’s kind of a stark reminder that when you come back, you’re like, Oh, no, nobody’s really going through this. When you’re going through it as a big unit. And that all of a sudden that drops off.

Right. [00:52:00] And you’re like, now what, without any direction, the military, I feel like it could be a very easy, not easy, but a simple life because you’re constantly being told what to do, where to go. Um, and, and everything’s being broken down for you. Well, break down the healing process for me, sir. Right?

Scott DeLuzio: Right.

Mark Perna: I was like, Oh, holy shit.

So, um, I struggled. I struggled a lot. I, you know, I sought out a couple of guys from my battalion that were nearby. And we drank a lot and we got in fist fights. Um, And, um, yeah, one night there was one night I, I just drank way too much. And I was racing the liquor home. I was trying to get home before I blacked out.

So I was driving about 110. Um, and I blacked out on the highway, spun out. Um, yeah, I mean, it’s fun. [00:53:00] I luckily that I didn’t, I didn’t crash my car or kill myself. Right. And that wasn’t. That didn’t wake me up. I didn’t feel a thing. Um, it was crazy. I, and I remember, too, we’d get in fights all the time. And there was one time, down to, you know, my buddy I hang, I was hanging out with, he’d, he had, um, He’d been hit by a truck in, um, when he was out on Libbo drinking and was in a coma for like six months.

He had severe brain injury. And so he can’t really build new relationships with people that he didn’t know before the injury. And then, and, um, we’d go out drinking and we got into some cocaine and, um, he got into a fight with a guy. Um, guy had four of his buddies around and we fucked up two of these guys pretty good. And, and took [00:54:00] off. And I was, and, and I was like, we, we hurt, we hurt those guys tonight. I mean, they got knocked out and they, I was like, I can’t do this anymore. I cannot, I’m going to die. Somebody else is going to die. And the thought of that, like, I had been in a place where people were dying all around me. The thought of that did not stop. Raise my heartbeat. Do you know what I

Scott DeLuzio: Mm hmm.

Mark Perna: What a dark place to be in. What a dark, dark place.

Scott DeLuzio: it’s like you got desensitized to it, right?

Mark Perna: yeah, yeah, absolutely. Um, I don’t know. I think, yeah, I was, I was really just struggling to put my place in the war. Like, like put it, put it in its place, right? Like, where was my, what was my role?

Did I do things right? And I, you know, you’d be questioning your morality. You cross. Moral [00:55:00] boundaries when you’re walking around with a weapon trying to kill people. Um, I, one of my close friends, um, Eddie Lopez got, got killed by a sniper in Iraq. Same sniper that nearly took me out. Um, if it wasn’t for Cade Cooper.

Being like, yeah, I think there’s like a flag in that window and now it’s gone. Um, I’d be dead that the same sniper would have killed me. Same shot profile. He shot him through the throat. I got shot right here. Um, God, I wish I had a cool scar to show you, but I just don’t. Right?

Scott DeLuzio: I think it’s better off that you’re, you’re still here, able to have the conversation with us than, uh, than having a cool scar. I know it probably would be a cool story, but, um,

Mark Perna: that, a few weeks after that, after I’d gotten shot, you know, he was killed October 18th, 2006. This is five or six weeks later, I got shot [00:56:00] November 25th. A couple weeks after that, we got the intel on who this guy was. I knew his, I knew his name. Uh, I knew the sergeant that was running the intel, and he gave us the whole rundown, and he’s like, he lives here. Alright, let’s go knock on his door. Um, he wasn’t there, his mother was there. And so, we’re in a murderous rage. We know this guy killed our friend. Um, his mom’s crying, like, we’re tearing the house up, like. It’s personal. Like, it’s deeply personal, what happens, you know, like, um, yeah, like, how do you, how do you, we had murder in our hearts.

How do you reconcile that? Um, walking out of his kitchen, three guys, [00:57:00] I was the first one to walk out of the kitchen, and three insurgents. Opened up on me fully automatic from like 10 yards away from on top of that You know, they have those compounds the walled compounds like the brick walls. So these guys I’m just wide open in the doorway These guys are on top of this Ambush.

And they, you know, they knew what we were up to and they ambushed the crap out of us coming out of there. So they, they opened up on me. I had my John Wick moment where I like slipped on my back and like rolled and probably looked like a fish out of water, but somehow survived that too. Um, just how do you, you know, you know, this guy’s name, you’re hunting him.

You’ve met his mother. Um,

Scott DeLuzio: gets personal.

Mark Perna: crossed the threshold into like, Into what? Into this completely other space that’s unacceptable here. It’s taboo. It’s illegal. It’s, [00:58:00] um, it’s going to get you promoted. You know?

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. Yeah, reconciling that between just how, Mm hmm. Taboo and illegal and awful. All of that would be if that was day to day life here for you, you know, as a mobster or something, you know, like that here where that’s just what you do. And in this other world where doing all of that stuff gets you promoted, gets you medals and awards and ribbons and all this other, you know,

Mark Perna: in the meantime, people are just trying to live their lives while you’re out here living your boyish fantasy. You know, and that, and I, we started talking to them, you know, regularly and built relationships with these families in this town and said, look, I’m, I’m trying to do the right thing for you. Um, I think we all were, were [00:59:00] struck by their humanity, you know, and, and changed and tried to do the best that we could. They, they call my unit the Angels of Anbar. Um, There’s so many casualties and, um, that, that Haditha Triad was one of the only areas that stood up against ISIS and was not taken back in like 2014 2015 time.

They fought them off, uh, based on a lot of the work that, uh, You know, that, that the men that I served with did pretty impressive story. But yeah, once you get back from that and you’re like, ah, well, I guess I’m going to, I guess I’m going to use my GI bill and go hang out with these 18 year old kids. Like. Yeah, I’m gonna have a couple beers at lunch, like, fuck, you know, like,

Scott DeLuzio: Sure.

Mark Perna: I don’t know, I don’t know what, I don’t, I really don’t know what the impetus was to really start healing, you know, I, [01:00:00] um, um, I got, I got into a series of, like, bad relationships. I feel like when you, when you are hurt, you seek out other hurt people. So that you can either be hurt together or they can heal me. Um, and so I got into a relationship, got into a marriage very, very much like that. Um, that was explosive and wound up with me, um, spending a night in jail on, uh, charges that were, were eventually, uh, completely within my first amendment rights, apparently.

But, um, yeah, you know, it’s, I had panic attack. I started having panic attacks. I’m like, oh my god, like, I’m just so emotionally pent up and crazy and like Um, yeah, that’s, I guess over time, you know, these events, I was like, I can’t go on living like this. I need something needs to change. So I sought out, [01:01:00] I sought out help from the VA originally, right?

And they sent me to psychiatry and like, um, they were, they were like, here, well, try these meds. You’re depressed. Huh? Here you go. You’re depressed. You have PTSD. Uh, these meds will help fix that. And it’s like, no, um, Medication is not going to fix how I feel about, uh, I was hunting the guy who shot me and killed my friend and I met his mother and I was like, I’m going to kill this guy.

I’m going to murder him. I don’t care what, like we’re going to find him and we’re going to do bad things. Um, I’m going to take a pill and feel great. Okay. No, like I’m, you’ve, you’ve undergone this moral transgressions, you know, and, and you need to deal with the underlying You need to incorporate that into who you are now.

You need to transform. After that, you need to transform from the warrior into the new you. [01:02:00] Um, so I sought out, you know, I, I, they put me on so many different kind of drugs. Um, Venlafaxine, Mirtazapine, Celexa, Bupropion. Um, I mean, I have like 10 or 12 meds that they put me on. I was taking like three different ones, Trazodone.

Um, and I was taking like Trazodone at night and like Selexan during the day. And this and that, like muscle relaxers for my back. And I couldn’t feel a thing. So I didn’t have any highs or lows. I just had this.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, just neutral.

Mark Perna: which was okay, but I had no libido. I, uh, my, uh, nothing worked down there, Scott. So I’m like in my twenties, right?

I’m like, uh, gosh, it’s just nothing. Um, was like early, I guess, 2009, 2010 period. My unit subsequently deployed back to Iraq. [01:03:00] Um, our battalion commander, Max Galei, um, uh, Lieutenant Colonel, and our company commander, um, um, I don’t know why I’m drawing a blank on their names, like, our battalion commander and our company commander were, were killed in a suicide bombing.

They both asked me personally, um, Phil Dykman, Captain Phil Dykman. They asked me personally to go on that deployment and I, I was like, no, I’m going to get out and The bail bondsman with my dad and, um, they were both killed. I didn’t feel a thing. I couldn’t cry. I was like, this is no way to live if I can’t mourn these people.

Um, so I, you know, the drugs were very much just like, okay, I need to mask. I need, if you need to mask symptoms so that you don’t hurt yourself or other people, you know, it seemed to be like, that was that. But the message was, well, the [01:04:00] message that I received was, You shouldn’t feel that way. You know what I mean?

And that’s a very different message to receive than I’m going to try and help you heal. Um, and that was not the route for me. Um, so I sought out, I actually got sent to the vet center. They were like, maybe go, go talk to someone at the vet center. I talked to a few people there and my, I don’t know, I wound up meeting a guy who was a Navy corpsman in Vietnam.

He’d been through it. And, uh, You know, we talked about the regular therapy shit that they talk about. Cognitive behavioral therapy is like, nah, it’s all bullshit. It’s like, here’s what you need to do, you know. Um, he turned me on to this guy. Claude Ange and Thomas. He wrote this book at Hell’s Gate. He was a door gunner on Hueys and Slicks in Vietnam. So he was like, you [01:05:00] know, in full metal jacket. He’s the guy’s get some, get some in the door. You know,

Scott DeLuzio: Sure.

Mark Perna: he is now a fully ordained Zen Buddhist monk. Um, but a lot of what we talked about, I’ve been doing yoga for my back. Um, I experienced a back injury in, In, uh, the military and it got into it, um, through my ex wife cause my back started going out at 26, like who that doesn’t happen to regular

Scott DeLuzio: Right.

Mark Perna: Um, and so I’ve been doing a little bit of yoga and that kind of got into like a little bit of like. You know, sometimes they meditate a little bit there and he’s like, Oh, you should talk to this guy. And, and so, um, Anshen does retreats every year. He does meditation retreats for veterans. He’s a very generous donor, pays for anyone who can’t afford to go.

And so I went and I spent four days, [01:06:00] um, Sitting with myself and my thoughts. And it was the most terrifying thing.

Scott DeLuzio: I was gonna say that sounds scary. Yeah.

Mark Perna: he’s trying to make you a Buddhist or do anything. Like, he’s just like, no, just sit here and breathe and focus on the most important thing that you could be doing at any moment in time.

And you’re like, well, he’s like, no, no, no. Breathing. He’s like, you need to, you need to take your next breath. This is the most important thing. Um, and you’re like, wait, you’re right. You know, he’s like, you don’t think that’s the most important thing. Um, let me close off your mouth and nose for the next five minutes and we’ll see how badly You want anything else in your life, right?

So, um, his book is phenomenal. He talks about, he’d been through it, you know, he, he was in combat in Vietnam, got shot down, Purple Heart, um, he got out and was a drug addict and, and [01:07:00] he’s been through it and he found a path. And so that’s what, that’s who I began to sought out, seek out people who had been there and walked the path and, and found a way to incorporate that into, you know, their, their, their life again. Um, so, so it started with Claude Anchen. I went to his retreat and, um, it was profound. Um, the, the practice of meditation is it’s misunderstood and people talk down quite a bit. Um, but you’re kind of just dealing, you just kind of sit there. you let your mind wander. Every time your mind wanders, you just try and focus on taking your next breath, right?

Because the nature of our mind is to sort of get distracted. And it runs patterns. It runs the same patterns that we built up in combat quite a bit. So, [01:08:00] so as a combat veteran, you’re going to be running at like, you’re not running, you’re never in like green, right? You’re always in yellow. So you’re always running at like a higher baseline.

And the practice of sitting meditation, you literally just sit there and, and he just asks you to watch it and pay, start paying attention to the way that your mind is doing these things. Um, and, And over time, and it’s so frustrating because you’re just like, and you’re trying to, what you’re trying to do is build a relationship with yourself. Um, we tend to think that we’re in control of our bodies, right? But try getting sick. It’s not just virus invaded your mind. Now your, your body’s fighting it. You’re not even in control of any of that. And so we tend to think that we’re, we’re running our operating system in our mind. But what we’re doing is running Marine Corps operating system, running Sergeant Perna.

[01:09:00] Um, you know, uh, And so it just takes a little bit of time and just sitting there and eventually, and it really took the retreat to have the time and the space to go that deep with it, eventually, you, you’re able to take a step back and you’re like, wait, am not my, I am not those thoughts. And it is a, it is a struggle and a practice to maintain that. Um, and I think ultimately what the catalyst was for change in me was that I got curious. One of the things Claude, Claude Anchen said to me that was, just blew my mind. I mean, he’s, he has so many one liners which just blow your mind in your, for that very specific thing you’re suffering with. Um, he said, healing.

Isn’t something done to us. It’s something done by us. [01:10:00] And then that’s a very different thing than like, Oh, I’m going to go to the doctor and then they’re going to give me stuff to fix me. You got to take responsibility for who you’ve become and the hole that you’ve dug yourself and everything. And, and start there. Start with what you got, right? Um, and that’s, yeah, I, I felt enlightened after those four days and then immediately went back to my shitty habits. Drinking too much, smoking pot or, you know, whatever my habits were, you know, numbing out in, in whatever, numbing out with exercise, um, whatever it is, you know, numbing out with, with relationships or, or whatever it is, um, it’s process, long process of unraveling what the war has done to you.

I, I feel like it’s still sits so close [01:11:00] beneath the surface that I’m still dealing with it. You know, I’m still, I’m still understanding it, struggling to understand some of it.

Scott DeLuzio: And I think in a lot of ways we all are going to be dealing with it for a long time, if not forever. Um, you know, we’ll, we’ll always be there under the surface. Like you, you’ve, you’ve found ways. of coping with it. So that way, when those negative thoughts, those demons start creeping back in, you have something that you can fall back on, uh, and use that to help, um, I don’t want to say push them down like we’re ignoring them, but, but to kind of deal with them in a healthy way.

Mark Perna: Yeah. And there, you know, there are systems for this. And so I talk about a lot of different modalities of healing. Um, yoga has been huge and meditation, those two [01:12:00] combined. Um, but I’ve also experimented with other modalities, like the pharmaceuticals, you know, the, um, therapy, the, oh, the, the eye blinking and tapping stuff, and But you gotta, look, you just gotta be curious, right?

And then find what works for you. And so, yeah, I, you know, my, my yoga gurus, my, my teachers there have, uh, they have formulas for this stuff, man. They have a system and it’s very intense. It’s very military. Like, um, it’s a yoga bootcamp when you go. Um, yeah, I, so I went through a pretty rough divorce too, right?

So I, I, that was, as my marriage was unraveling is when I went to this retreat. You know, and spent four days meditating and, and in silence and with other veterans who’d been through all sorts of stuff and, um, and came back from that. And I felt like a new person, but here I was in the [01:13:00] detritus of my old, my life that I had arranged for myself.

And so spent another year or two drinking and being stupid. And, um, when I finally got divorced, I, I started, I, I was like, uh, I need an outlet, you know, I need a physical outlet. I was like, I’m just, I’m going to jump into this yoga thing. Um, and, um, I went to, uh, Root Yoga down in, in Denver, Colorado, because I knew that that’s where they taught forest yoga, specific style, uh, built by Anna Forrest.

She has a, she has a great book, by the way. It’s called Fierce Medicine. Fierce not. Um, oh, I’m gonna baby you, medicine. Um, and that, the forest yoga really changed my life, like, as a practice. It is phenomenal. Um, Anna’s such a force of [01:14:00] nature, too. This is a woman who had braces on her legs when she was a toddler.

She couldn’t walk straight. She, her bones were all messed up. She, she rode horses and had her back broken when she was, you know, A teenager, um, and she’s in her sixties doing handstands, kicking my ass. I was like, I was a Marie. So just way challenging the identity. Right. And like, uh, she’s great because she just fights against all of the bullshit in therapy.

You know, at a time when they’re, they’re starting to put trigger warnings on stuff, they’re like, Oh, we’re, we’re taking mental health seriously. And we’re going to put a trigger warning on this because we don’t, you want to avoid stuff that might trigger, might trigger your experience. It, Oh, like your term doesn’t even work for, for combat vets, the term trigger, it’s weapons nomenclature.

Like. And so she, [01:15:00] Anna tells you, never waste a good trigger. She’s like, every time you get triggered and you could, you go red, that is an opportunity to work on your shit. And every time you shy away from it, you are accepting that that’s my shit and that’s the way it’s going to go. And every time you get triggered like that, she has a formula.

She calls it the formula for change. She’s like. Identify the bad behavior. Stop yourself. Congratulate yourself for stopping yourself. Move your body. Get your blood moving. Right? Super important to get your physical body moving. Stay fit. Um, and then, You know, and then, you know, embrace the change and be like, you know, embrace that you’re trying to change this thing.

And so you have to do that constantly. The thing I love about forest yoga is that, you know, I started experiencing like panic attacks and all of this stuff and I started [01:16:00] realizing that. Stress puts me in a situation where I get amped up, I get amped up, but there’s no release of the stress, right? When you’re in a gunfight, dude, the stress, like, you, sure, you might be stressed out in the time, but like, you get to shoot back at the enemy.

Scott DeLuzio: You’re right.

Mark Perna: get to take your aggression out.

Scott DeLuzio: A bit of a release, right?

Mark Perna: Yeah, in a very particular way. Well, how do you do that? If you’re used to doing it that way, um, that’s going to put you in jail real quick in the States. How do you deal with that? Right? And so the whole style of forest yoga is around holding positions for, for a long time.

So you’ll do a static hold of like, um, chair pose for like a few minutes or horse for, so you’d be in like this deep squat for like a few minutes. It’s designed to bring up your shit and trigger you. It’s designed to get into your, the things [01:17:00] that make you uncomfortable, right? And she’s like, okay, once you get there, now we can do the work.

Take a deep breath, push deeper, turn around. She literally says, stalk it, hunt it. Your fears, the things, the bullshit stories you tell yourself about your masculinity, about your experiences, about anything, hunt it, stalk it, get close up to it. Um, which is, which is something that I can get into as a Marine.

Hunt it, hunt the problem. Okay, got it. Right? Like, and so over time, you know, I went to, I, I’ve been practicing that for a while. And then I went to a, um, or to an intensive. It’s where you do two hours of forest yoga every morning for 30 days straight. Um, it’s, it’s yoga bootcamp. It’s incredibly hard. It’s psychologically draining.

It’s physically draining. It’s, people are crying, breaking down and, um, but at the end of it, you know, you, you come out of [01:18:00] it just really feeling different. The ultimate experience is the, the teacher training. This is where you break your soul open and you find your demons. And, and it’s an amazing experience, you know, like it’s, it’s 30 days straight and all you do is yoga all day long.

So it starts with an hour long meditation and, um, you do two hours of an intensive yoga practice and then you come back and you do more. You do so many abs that you just want to scream and your core hurts and, um, and you do scream and they encourage you to like, let your shit out. It can be very intense.

Like, she does a death meditation. She makes you think about your own death. No therapist wants to talk about

Scott DeLuzio: No.

Mark Perna: but you sit down and you write all of your regrets, you know, and, um, you go through it and really take an honest look at [01:19:00] yourself, right? And say, this is who I am. Where do I go from here? And then really just kind of have compassion for who you are and what, what you’ve been through.

You know, um, it’s a phenomenal experience, and she is just a force of nature. I mean, you meet some people who are just, they own the room when they walk into it, and Anna Forrest is one of those people. She’s just phenomenal.

Scott DeLuzio: And that’s, it’s great advice that you’re, you’re giving and great that you have experienced this. And I know everybody is going to have their own. Unique situations that they’re dealing with in their, uh, own unique ways of coping and dealing with them. But this, to me, sounds like just a great way, uh, to deal with this type of stuff.

So if you are struggling and trying to figure out, you know, the CBT is not working for you or all these other, uh, talk therapy things are not [01:20:00] working for you, this is an option. And, and that’s part of what I like to do with the show is just. Share these options, um, and, and just know that there’s something else out there.

If you’ve tried all these different things and none of it’s worked for you, something else. Trust me, there is

Mark Perna: Yeah, and there’s a lot of yoga in the VA now, too. I was very blessed to know, um, the founders of Comeback Yoga. Uh, Ned and Margot Timble, um, who pioneered bringing trauma sensitive yoga into the VA. So, so anybody who’s going through an inpatient experience that they’re doing yoga, they’re, they’re sitting there and moving their body and, and working through whatever is coming up for them by just focusing on their breath.

Like ultimately, if you’re, if you just focus on the breath, man, um, it’s, it sounds stupid, but you’re like, yeah, that is the most important thing. That’s the most important bodily function. If you change the quality of your breath, you will change the quality [01:21:00] of your life. You’re taking shallow breaths up here and you’re using your shoulders, you know, the stress breathing.

If you’re breathing deeply into your stomach, you know, like, it only takes 10 breaths to reset your nervous system. Once you’re practiced. If you’re, when you’re just starting, you can’t get ahold of it. You’re like, you know, but, but there’s, there’s really good science behind it as well. And when you do the, the yogic breath, you are literally stimulating your autonomic nervous system to downregulate.

And so what Ana’s done with her style of yoga has, has, is really ingenious because she’s designed poses that are going to stimulate. your nerves and trigger you, right? And then force you to use your breath to down regulate your nervous system. And over time, as you do this consistently, you know, five, ten minutes a day, Over time, it becomes more powerful and you, you can, you feel like you’re drinking your [01:22:00] breath, you know, and, and it can be a crutch for you that you have everywhere.

You can take a deep breath and change the quality of your state at that moment.

Scott DeLuzio: Right.

Mark Perna: It doesn’t always work. Okay. I’m not like, Oh, what are you going to do? Like, trust me. I still fly off the handle sometimes. And I’m, I still am like, I got to come back to baseline, you know, but that’s, that’s who we are. Like you, we’re human.

Everybody’s human.

Scott DeLuzio: but you know that there’s a way There’s a path back to that baseline, to that, to that kind of level.

Mark Perna: I mean, for any of that, you know, find what that path is, you know, find something that’s going to be healthy, please don’t let it be alcohol, uh, it’s funny, but you know, like, we just randomly drink, you know, but you get out of the military and you’re a binge drinker and if you carry those habits into your 30s and 40s, you, you’re going to have some serious problems.

Scott DeLuzio: you will. Yeah.

Mark Perna: You know, um, getting, getting the, [01:23:00] getting the drink out to like once a week, you know, one or two drinks, maybe like that, that, that’s key.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah.

Mark Perna: key. Cause you’re not being yourself. If you’re like, you’re not in, in, in charge, if you gotta go home and have a couple beers to relax. That’s not someone who’s in charge of what’s going on, you know,

Scott DeLuzio: And like you said, this, the meditation, the breathing and, and that you, you can take that anywhere with you. You could be sitting in traffic and, you know, you can be working on your breathing as you’re sitting there driving home from work

Mark Perna: and, and that’s, you know, and it’s such a big part of my life, but I’m like, it’s not about the dogma. You don’t have to become Hindu. You don’t have to believe, you don’t have to drink the Kool Aid of whatever methodology, okay? I, I really love Bruce Lee’s philosophy, which is, uh, take what works, Discard what doesn’t and add what’s uniquely your own. Um, so yeah, [01:24:00] so another therapeutic experience for me is, is skydiving. Um, which is kind of crazy. So it, but it is, it is, it is kind of a therapy for me because I was going through that rough divorce. You know, I was, I was experiencing these panic attacks emotionally, but, but I’m not, I’m like, I’m a Marine.

I’m not afraid of anything. Um, and my, my best friend challenged me to go do a tandem skydive again for my 30th birthday. I’m like, well, I’ve already done three. Because people challenge, people challenge you as an infantry guy, right? They’re like, well, let’s throw a football along with you. Let’s fight or, you know what I mean?

I’m sure you’ve been through it. They want to test themselves against you, right? So, um, I was like, all right, I’ve already done three tandems. Like, let me do the student jump. And see if that’s my thing. That’s one thing that Anna Forrest is always telling you. She’s like, when you try up leveling [01:25:00] your pose, you’re like, Oh, you can do this pose.

Or you could do this more challenging one or this more challenging one. She’s like, why don’t you try up leveling your life? So I was like, okay, I’m going to try up leveling. And facing my fear. Um, right. Like Ana is always saying, like cuddle up to you, snuggle up to your fear. She says, really get to understand it, turn towards it, stalk it, hunt it. You know? Um, and so I went up and he, he wound up backing out of the jump. Well, I went up there and there were a couple other former Marines and I was like, Oh, you guys are like my people. And I remember my first student skydive, you know, you’ve been through this little course and the, um, it’s not like a military course where they’re like going over the details of, you know, everything detailed.

It’s more like, um, yeah, you’ll be fine. Just put this, that there. Well, it’s a bag of shit. Just cut away, you know, so it’s very like, [01:26:00] Casual atmosphere and you’re getting nerves wracking and um, so I remember going up to my first student skydive and just standing in the door and I felt fear and I had been so numbed out and depressed and like, um, I didn’t think that I could feel that. And I realized after I, after I come down, it was amazing. I was like, adrenaline rush, you know, it was just like stupendous experience. And, um, I realized that I felt fear because I really loved my life.

Scott DeLuzio: All

Mark Perna: I wanted to live. And that was a huge revelation for me. Like I want, I want my life so fucking bad right now.

Scott DeLuzio: right.

Mark Perna: And so I kept going back to challenge and I’d be like, well, am I going to go back? And it took me about a good 30 jumps or so, 30 or 50 jumps before I got into like the road. It was a challenge to challenge my fears up until that point. But each [01:27:00] time I grew a little bit more confident, a little bit more confident.

Um, fell a little bit more in love with my life. And then, um, I met my wife five minutes before a skydive with a group of people. We were the only two people that linked up and we held hands first time in free fall. Um, but yeah, that’s

Scott DeLuzio: You know,

Mark Perna: my life.

Scott DeLuzio: for, for the,

Mark Perna: led to my three sons, you know, like, it’s everything.

Scott DeLuzio: yeah, it is. And for the listeners who. Maybe don’t understand exactly what you’re, you’re saying, who, um, you know, when you’re saying you, you were just kind of like neutral where there’s, there’s no highs, there is no lows, there’s no real happy, joyous, uh, kind of moments. There’s no real sad. Like you said, you know, some of your, your guys were, were KIA and, and you couldn’t even cry.

You know, you couldn’t even grieve, um, to have that moment where you’re standing in that doorway and you feel fear, which is, which is, One of those things that is [01:28:00] not neutral. It’s definitely not in the middle. Um, and you’re, you’re feeling that it kind of opens up the world of possibilities to now you can feel something on the other side of that too.

You can feel the good. Um, because the way it was described to me is that, you know, when you’re, for example, like when you were taking those medications and everything was just neutral, um, Your, your range of emotions are very narrow where you don’t get really high, happy, joyful. You don’t get really down, sad, you know, any of that.

You’re just kind of in the middle. And like you said before, it’s good for those, those people who maybe are, are in a danger of hurting themselves or others or things like that because you don’t want them to get that. That far down low. And so you want to bring them back up. And even if it’s just keeping them in that neutral range, that’s keeping them from hurting anybody.

Mark Perna: Yeah, right? It’s, it’s about space. It’s about giving you the space to start the work. Start getting curious about the work.

Scott DeLuzio: And, but then once, when you get [01:29:00] that, that pushed outside of that zone. And so that fear kind of pushed you outside of that neutral zone. It doesn’t just push it in one direction. Like you only now can feel like those kind of quote unquote, negative emotions, like, like fear or, or sadness or guilt or shame or any of that kind of stuff, you can feel the good stuff too.

And you can start to love your life. Like you said, right.

Mark Perna: And to, and to some extent, it showed me that the story that I was telling myself was bullshit. My life sucks. My, I don’t, like, like it didn’t matter,

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah.

Mark Perna: you know, and I, I know a lot of guys go through that, um, that, that, and I feel like that’s, that’s where, you know, that’s where the suicidal tendency comes. If it’s gonna come, it’s there. It just, it told me that I like, it gave me the understanding that I [01:30:00] actually really wanted to live. Right? So here I am like, um, every skydive is like a spiritual death and rebirth. I mean, you were Flinging yourself out of the airplane. If you do not do anything, nothing happens, you know, we have an automatic activation device now.

So your reserve is going to blow at a thousand feet and you’ll probably be okay. But, uh, but mentally, do you know what I mean? Like, you’re flinging yourself out and you have to give yourself completely over to the experience. Which, like, I, I loved how you wrote about in your book about being, feeling like you’re totally in the moment, like, sketching, um, right, or, like, whatever it is that gets you just totally, wholly focused on that one thing and dive into that one thing, especially if you hit rock bottom, like, Where else you got to go?

Take a risk. Take a big risk. Come jump out of a freaking airplane, man, like, take a risk, like, you know, just do something. Go in some [01:31:00] direction. They, they teach you that in the, in, in the school of infantry, right? They’re like, um, the worst thing you can do in combat is, you know, Nothing. Be indecisive. Do something.

Scott DeLuzio: Always,

Mark Perna: off the X. Do something,

Scott DeLuzio: always do

Mark Perna: Some kind of action. So, and even that, some of the military things that we learned, right, we can apply towards our healing and then engage that part of our psyche. In a new and fulfilling way. Um, but it is a challenge. Like you, you need, it’s, it’s healing is something done by us, but we’re supported by a large network of people.

You know, my, my therapist at the vet center, he’s retired, Denny. Um, you know, who introduced me to Claude Anshin, um, who’s got several proteges who, who assisted, right, and met other veterans through them who had been suffering for, for decades since Vietnam, you know. Um, there’s Anna Forrest, my, [01:32:00] my forest yoga teachers, Heidi and, uh, Sormaz, Cat Allen, um, Cheryl Deer, another one of my longtime forest yoga teachers.

Um, gosh, the friends I met there, Nicole, Lauren, Dusty. So, so many people, so many of you, the people I met at VFW post one, uh, gosh, Mike Mitchell, um, Marla Keown, uh, she’s my family photographer now. She’s a, she was a ammo truck driver in Fallujah, a stunning, amazing person. Um, You know, and, and they, they, at there too, they, they started doing yoga at post one, the VFW post one, right?

Yoga, uh, art classes. Um, yeah, man, it’s, it’s, it takes a village,

Scott DeLuzio: It does. Yeah. It takes, you’re not going to get through it on your own. Uh, very, very easily. It

Mark Perna: And there’s a lot of us that have been through it over the last 20 some odd years, you know, like, [01:33:00] I’m, I feel really blessed now to be in a spot, like, boy, if you, if you came down to me in my fighting position in Afghanistan in 05, and you said, guess what, when you’re 42, when you’re turning 42, you’re going to be the happiest you’ve ever been, like, you’re going to be the, have an amazing relationship.

You never thought you could have, you can have three sons that are the most important thing in your life. Um, I would’ve called bullshit, but like, you know, I’ve, I’ve really been able to work to a point where. I live this amazing life and I’m just so appreciative to just be here. Um, a part of that, I feel, I feel a duty to live a good life.

Um, for those that we lost, they don’t get a chance to have a bad day, right? They don’t get a chance to like experience any of this and that sacrifice, God, you don’t understand it when you’re 21, you know, you lost your life. [01:34:00] They give up this. Wow. You know, I felt, I felt for the longest time too, there might be some, some karmic retribution for the things that I’ve done or experienced.

Right. And like that kind of haunted me for a while, but I realized recently that the price was paid, you know, the price was paid by those we didn’t bring home.

Scott DeLuzio: that’s right.

Mark Perna: And, uh, God bless them for it,

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. And, and those, those folks who didn’t make it back, like, like you were saying, like they don’t get to experience a bad day even. And that’s the way you phrased it. I, I love that. Um, that, that’s, that’s It’s an opportunity to even have a bad day. It’s, it, there’s an opportunity for growth. There’s an opportunity for change and, and learning and, and everything in that bad day, which those people [01:35:00] don’t get that opportunity anymore.

And, If we’re going to sit here and bitch about a bad day, um, you know, those people, I think, would love to have a bad day. They’d love to have any day, any kind of day, good, bad, or indifferent, but,

Mark Perna: to say that we don’t falter from that path all the time, constantly, but I get back on it. You know, one of the practices that I do. Um, especially when I need help, where things have been tough, is, uh, I call on them

Scott DeLuzio: mm hmm,

Mark Perna: for advice. It sounds silly, but you would be amazed at the voice that jumps out at you when you ask your buddy that’s been dead for 15 years, like, for guidance.

It comes.

Scott DeLuzio: it does. I, yeah, I, I’ve been there myself, um, I’ve, I’ve experienced that,

Mark Perna: if you’re open to being vulnerable with it, you can feel close to their spirit regularly. You know, very strongly. [01:36:00] And that’s, that’s really important to me. Just, just holding that close to my heart and knowing that it’s painful and just, just, just loving yourself for having gone through it.

You know, it’s key.

Scott DeLuzio: it is, it is, absolutely. Well, um, Mark, it, it’s been great. Uh, chatting with you and learning about your story and the challenges and the, the triumphs that you, you’ve, you know, gone through, um, to get to where you are today, because, um, let’s face it, it’s not easy, uh, to go through all of that stuff that you described and, and thank you for being so open and honest and raw about, uh, what it was that you experienced, um, and, uh, And how it affected you and, and how you managed to find your way to, uh, kind of cope with it and, and deal with all of that.

Um, it’s, it’s been an honor and a, and a [01:37:00] privilege to be able to, to Hear your side of the story and, uh, learn about, you know, your, your part in this, uh, operation that took place over the last 20 years. Um,

Mark Perna: having me too. You know, we walk some of the same ground. Over there and had similar experiences, I guess, psychologically, you know, and, um, and spiritually, I think as well. I think, I think sharing is, is absolutely key to helping, to helping others. Step on the path.

Scott DeLuzio: that’s right.

Mark Perna: That’s definitely something I’m passionate about.

You know, I taught yoga full time for a while and now I’m a full time dad and that’s, I don’t have a whole lot of energy to give other people, especially with three kids, you know, it was a big difference moving from man to man to zone defense, like. One of you is always getting taken out. [01:38:00] Yeah,

Scott DeLuzio: we had our third, uh, basically on the way home from the hospital, I was like, how are we going to do this? I like, it used to be man to man, like you just said, but it’s not like that anymore. Now we got to figure this out. We got to be. On top of our game, because this is not going to get easy once, especially once when they start walking.

Mark Perna: but it’s good. It’s good. It’s, you know, since I’ve really dedicated my life to service and my family, and I found a deep satisfaction in that,

Scott DeLuzio: that’s great.

Mark Perna: um, in a time where it seems like the family is not the most important thing to, to be building, you know, and there’s a lot of negativity against, uh, uh, having kids and the skydiver community.

But, um, yeah, it’s really, you know, that’s

Scott DeLuzio: That’s

Mark Perna: so good and like life is so good and it’s not to say that I don’t experience, you know And think about the pain of those we lost and what we’ve done, but that’s not [01:39:00] it’s all part of it you got to wrap it all under your weird little gift package that you are and Man, just, I think above all, you know, get curious about who you are, what you’ve been through and what it really means to be here, that’s super important to me.


Scott DeLuzio: It is.

Mark Perna: yeah, thanks for letting me share. This is the first time I’ve talked about this in like 20 years. So,

Scott DeLuzio: Well, I’m, I’m, I’m privileged to be able to share this, uh, the story with, with the world, um, before we wrap up this episode though, um, I like. To end the episodes with a little bit of humor, something just a little lighthearted, just to kind of hopefully put a smile on people’s faces, maybe make someone laugh.

Um, you know, cause sometimes the conversation gets a little bit heavy and, uh, it’s almost like having dessert at, at a restaurant, you know, just, just, uh, puts a good taste in your mouth at the end. So I’m going to, I’m going to share, uh, we’re going to do a segment. I like to call it, uh, is it service connected?

Um, [01:40:00] and that usually gets a laugh out of, out of the veterans that we have on the show, um, because we watch something kind of stupid that, uh, you know, service members do, and, um, we, I think we can all relate in some degree to what’s going on and, and we can kind of laugh at it too. So I’m going to just share my screen here with you so you can take a look.

Um, and we can hopefully laugh at this one together. So right now for the audio only listeners, I’ll try to describe it. There’s a caption on the screen. It says, oops, French paratrooper soldier lands on a highway, and you can see a parachute and it looks like the soldier is standing in the middle of the highway with a couple of cars driving by.

So let’s take a look and see what happens. So yeah, he’s definitely landed there and now he’s trying to run out of the way of the cars and he does successfully. So he’s, he’s clearly not injured, but. I’m sure his pride took a hit with that landing. And, [01:41:00] uh, yeah, so that’s, that was, that was about it on that, uh, on that landing.

So he, he definitely missed the mark on, on the landing. I think I, you’ve, you’ve, You’ve done skydiving. So, so you probably have an idea a little bit better

Mark Perna: my, my parachute’s steerable.

Scott DeLuzio: is just like wherever the wind takes you. Right?

Mark Perna: Yeah.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. So, um, I have not yet ever jumped out of an airplane and, um, hopefully if I can keep it that way, I will, I will keep it that way because I am petrified of heights and, uh, that does not look fun to me.

But, um, what looks even less fun is landing on a highway. That seems terrible. So, um, anyways,

Mark Perna: Yeah. I think they’ve determined his back pain to be not service connected.

Scott DeLuzio: most likely, uh, it’s not going to be,

Mark Perna: did not land in the proper landing area.

Scott DeLuzio: yeah, he should have done that right. And so, [01:42:00] anyways, uh, Mark, thank you for, again, for taking the time to come on and sharing your story. I really do appreciate it.

Mark Perna: Yeah. Thanks for having me, Scott. Really appreciate what you’re doing, you know, for the larger veteran community out there and, and glad to be a part of it.

Scott DeLuzio: You bet.

Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to support the show, please check out Scott’s book, Surviving Son on Amazon. All of the sales from that book go directly back into this podcast and work to help veterans in need. You can also follow the Drive On Podcast on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and wherever you listen to podcasts.

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