Sean Ambriz is an Army soldier who served in Afghanistan and is the author of the book Ghosts of the Valley. The book tells about incidents he experienced in Afghanistan, as well as the recovery process after returning home.
I really enjoyed the conversation with Sean. Give it a listen, and go out and get a copy of his book. Links to the paperback, and Kindle/Nook digital formats are below.
Links & Resources
- Sean Ambriz Instagram
- Ghosts of the Valley Book:
- Restrepo Movie
- The Outpost Movie
- About Korangal Valley
Scott DeLuzio: 00:00:03 Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast, where we talk about issues affecting Veterans after they get out of the military. Before we get started, I'd like to ask a favor if you haven't done so already, please rate and review the show on Apple podcasts. If you've already done that, thank you. These ratings help the show get discovered so it can reach a wider audience. And while you're there click the subscribe button so that you get notified of new episodes as soon as they come out; if you don't use Apple podcasts, you can visit DriveOnPodcast.com/subscribe to find other ways of subscribing, including our email list. I'm your host, Scott DeLuzio. And now let's get on with the show. Hi everybody, today my guest is Sean Ambriz. Sean is the author of the book, Ghost of the Valley in which he talks about his experiences during his time in Afghanistan. And one of the goals of the book is to help Veterans with PTSD who have experienced various traumas. And that's pretty much the goal of this podcast too. So, I think Sean's message and his book will be great for this audience. Sean, welcome to the show. Why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
Sean Ambriz: 00:01:13 Yeah, thank you. I've been in the military for 12 years now. I'm originally from Los Angeles, California. I've been stationed at Fort Carson, JBLM Hawaii, and now I'm currently serving at Fort Leonard wood where I teach MPE senior leaders’ course. I've been married to my wife, Amy for it’s about to be 10 years here soon. No kids, two dogs, live a pretty simple life, so nothing too crazy.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:01:42 Okay. Let's jump right into your time in Afghanistan and what the book is about and what you've written about some of those experience.
Sean Ambriz: 00:01:56 Yeah. So, the book is essentially not a biography. It's not supposed to be about me. It's more of a memoir. It's about certain events that happened in Afghanistan. And it's essentially told from my eyes; the book is about leadership and mental resilience. It is very cutthroat raw of the combat scenarios in which we were in. Specifically evolves around two separate missions. So just to give you a layout, the book has 10 chapters, with pictures, it's like 160 pages; it's fairly short. It's not like a leadership book. I'm not trying to teach you a new leadership philosophy you've never heard of before and reinvent the wheel. It's literally just a story to bridge three different gaps, essentially.
Sean Ambriz: 00:02:56 I'll talk about those in a second, but essentially it is nine readable chapters. The 10th chapter is resources for Veterans that provides phone numbers, websites, anything. So, if they pick up the book, they have those resources. Like I said, it surrounds itself around two major battles. The first big battle was Restrepo, have you heard of Restrepo at all, the documentaries? That's all the area I was in. The movie, The Outpost that just came out recently on Netflix. So, that was the unit that I was in. And our battle was essentially a prelude less than 30 days to that battle just miles away. And essentially it was about a rescue mission that went South. Eight of us volunteered to go up to rescue a pin down to two squads that were pinned down by multiple snipers were cut off and surrounded, and then it was a successful rescue mission, but you know, Murphy's Law kept it in play the whole night.
Sean Ambriz: 00:03:58 And that was when my Lieutenant Parton was killed in which the book is kind of dedicated to, because some of my personal proceeds I get from the book go to his foundation. It talks about being a private when this all happened and then leading into the second deployment, which is, I guess, the big battle. That was a major operation, which we were trying to take back the Pech River Valley. Long story short is essentially 16 of us Americans that went to save a humanitarian aid convoy that was cut off by the enemy. And we ended up being surrounded by an enemy force of 150 fighters to 16 of us. And they got within eight feet of the vehicles and it was just rolling grenades to keep them back on the other side of the trucks and stuff like that. So, at one point first for three of us, it almost got hand in hand had they gotten any closer.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:04:52 Wow. Yeah. So, I'm sure there are some interesting stories, just in terms of the combat experiences. I'm sure they are very interesting to read about and then learning about the lessons from the leadership and things like that. I think that's pretty important information and especially the parallels between the earlier deployment as a private and then later on the parallels between that with a little bit more leadership experience under your belt and how that affected maybe your decision-making process and things like that. I'm sure that that's probably quite different from a young soldier’s perspective versus a more seasoned experienced soldier. So, what can people expect from this book?
Scott DeLuzio: 00:05:49 So, if they're picking up this book and so they want to read it, obviously there's going to be some talk about your experiences in the combat situation, but who is the book for, in terms of if I'm looking to better myself or improve myself in one way or another. Who's going to be the type of person who's going to pick this up and really take something away from it; who will benefit from what's in the book.
Sean Ambriz: 00:06:20 Yeah, so, like I said, there's three bridges that I was attempting to gap or change that gap was it's supposed to be between us combat Veterans and other previous combat Veteran; guys that maybe who are out of the military now and are truly affected by war and have been for many years now. And they feel like, especially with that transition of them leaving the service, they feel sometimes like they're alone or they're the only ones and stuff like that. So that was the first bridge that I wanted to build was that gap between us so that we can understand that, you're not alone; we can do this together kind of thing. And then the second thing is going to be, or the second bridge is going to be between us and the civilian community.
Sean Ambriz: 00:07:05 So you know, teaching them where our endeavors were for the past 20 years of war, and then also between us and the future generation of soldiers who, if they stay in the Army or military long enough, inevitably, they're going to face off with death at some point, and they can learn from our mistakes, our successes and failures, and so on and so forth. So those are the audience I was trying to reach. I try to keep things very minimal as far as I try to keep it very understanding of all three groups in my writing style, so that everyone can take away something from it.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:07:42 Yeah, that's great. And I think those three groups are a perfect audience because there's definitely some takeaways from all of this and especially on the civilian side, like you're talking about where they haven't experienced combat and they hopefully never will experience combat. It's not something that's going to be in their backyard or anything like that. So, it's something that I think civilians just get what they get from the nightly news or from reading articles online or whatever. Until they hear it straight from the source, I think it's one of those things that they don't really truly get an understanding for. So, on this podcast I've talked to a lot of people who are involved in different, let's call it alternate alternative forms of therapy.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:08:37 So maybe it's art therapy or music or yoga, horses or other animals for therapeutic purposes. And what I found is that there is no one form of therapy that works for everybody. Art might work for somebody, painting or photography or something like that. Getting outdoors and mountain climbing or something might work for somebody else. But telling a story in a written format, like what you've done can be very therapeutic for some people. Was there any kind of element of therapy in that for you in terms of writing it, or is this just something that you were planning on doing just to help out the community with your experiences?
Sean Ambriz: 00:09:22 Well, so I can't say that originally that was my intention. I was very selfish in that it was supposed to have been therapeutic for me. So, I'm not a writer, I hate writing. I hate reading. I'm like C average student at best. I'm not even that good at it, but you know, for years, a lot of people who knew about these battles and the awards that came with them and stuff like that they always told me like, dude, you should write a book. Like it's an interesting story. It's very abnormal, especially for an MP. It's very abnormal. I go, what happened? Like people can learn from it, and I always just took it as a compliment. I didn't feel like being vulnerable and putting my information out there like that.
Sean Ambriz: 00:10:05 So I just kind of started it off for many years. And then when I got here to Fort Leonard Wood, it's my first time I didn’t have soldiers, I'm an instructor. So, it's like, I literally just come home at three o'clock. I do PT on my own. It's just weekends, no field cycles. Like, it's amazing. So, as great as all that is, it left a lot of open doors as far as, when I was in the line unit, we were going to the field nonstop, we were doing things were NTC, just the things that keep you busy. And the soldier problems are all every week and someone's got a DUI or something. So, I always kept busy in these leadership roles. Whereas this is the first time I don't have that. And then the next thing you know, I had all this time on my hands time leading to me thinking about things I hadn't thought about a long time.
Sean Ambriz: 00:10:48 So, I was realizing that my PTSD was evolving to my situation for the first time. And so I thought, well, I've done the therapy group sessions, individual sessions. I've done every type of therapy you can think of. Only thing I hadn't done was writing. And I thought about what people had said. So, I figured I would try it over Microsoft word. And I literally just started, I didn't set out to write chapters. It literally just started from the beginning and I just started pounding my fingers away. And then I had somebody read it and then they were like, bro, you should make this into a book. Like, this is really good. And I was like, nah, so then I just threw chapters over the writing and I was like, okay, that's it.
Sean Ambriz: 00:11:26 I was done with the book in two months, like two months of me writing, I was done with everything and I didn't brainstorm, I didn't format things like an author is supposed to; it was completely just not normal. But it was therapeutic. It was nice to getting things off of my chest and then thinking about things that had happened and then putting it into my perspective. As you're reading the book, for example, if you have the hard copy and let's say you're in the middle of one of the battles it's talking about what's going on and what I'm seeing going on around me. And then it stops. And it has these italicized verbiages. And it's actually my internal thoughts in that moment of what I was thinking. Sometimes they're serious thoughts sometimes are completely smart-ass thoughts, but I thought I went back and thought, what was I thinking about in that moment or things that I did remember. And I put that in there. That's a little different; it's the way it's narrated. Doing all this, exposed me to just good therapy. It turned into a hobby and it helps me get things off my chest.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:12:30 Yeah, that's good. And I think there's probably a lot of people out there who might have a story in their head or they've personally experienced some situations that would make a good story in terms of writing it up into a book. But the process of writing the book might seem a little intimidating to them. It maybe they're, they're like, you didn't feel like they were that great of a writer, so who would want to read what I have to write or that kind of thing. So, you know, I'm sure there's others out there who could find it to be therapeutic, just like you did, but they might be intimidated by the process. Do you have any tips or advice for people who might be in that situation?
Sean Ambriz: 00:13:15 Well, like I said, I didn't do things the normal way. I didn't set out to write a book initially, that just fell into place. And then I used the book as a platform to now help Veterans and stuff like that. So, it's formed into what it is now, but initially I didn't know what I was doing and I didn't settle into write a book. If you set yourself up to write a book or do anything like that, it's very intimidating, especially that when you start researching yourself, developmental research on how do I write a book and then what does that even mean? What does that entail? What do I need to do? And you started looking at all these different brainstorming ideas and charting and all these other things, like just format your book a certain way, and then put it in Chicago style format, get it edited and all these different things in the publishing process is a whole other beast.
Sean Ambriz: 00:14:02 It's fucking intimidating shit. But like I said, it was easy for me because I didn't set out to do that and everything literally just fell into play and I did things abnormally and it just worked out for me. I'm hoping that this inspires, especially the enlisted group because who writes books, officer's every time; it's never enlisted, right? We're the knuckle draggers and the ground pounders. We're not the smart ones. We just walked into recruiting office. Like we're not known for that, but I'm trying to defeat that stigma, somebody who's a C average student who got held back in fourth grade because I couldn't make it past that. Like I'm telling you I was not the smartest in the world, but I know what I'm good at. And I know that if I say I'm going to do it, I'm going to do everything I can to get there.
Sean Ambriz: 00:14:49 Right. And so, if I can show these younger enlisted, that no matter if you're a 20-year lifer or you're a five-year contract person, when you walk away from the military, don't just put on your resume you were a specialist or a Sergeant in the Army, that's all you walked away with like cool story, bro. We all walk away with other certifications and other titles, right? So, if I decide to go to the Army, I'm not just an SAR first class, I'm an author. I have another title that I worked for and I used what the Army had given me to get that. So I hope that it encourages other soldiers. It doesn't have to be an author. I can be literally anything; you want to be certified as a welder. Cool. You did that. Taking those certifications that the Army can give you through the educational program and doing that and walking away with another title besides just a soldier. And it helps obviously develop their brain to be very intelligently smart, whatever it its technical capability or whatever. I hope that inspires these younger soldiers who were like you and I; we didn't go to college and do that cool guy route and stuff like that. You know?
Scott DeLuzio: 00:15:53 Yeah, it's one of those things where I think people get hung up on the minutia of how to do things like you were saying. Do I have it in the right format? And sometimes all you need is a keyboard and just start typing, just start writing your story. If you're not great at typing, if you're one of those people who hunt and peck at the keyboard and you're looking for the letters and it's going to take you forever, grab a pad and a pen and just write it, you know?
Sean Ambriz: 00:16:27 Dope. And then I committed to, well maybe I'll attempt to write a book at this point. I had like dozens of people look over the work and they took the time to read it and they read it. And I needed a tourniquet for my goddamn book because it was bleeding, just reading everywhere from people just correct it and not changing the story, just like making me sound intelligent, because I produced it when I wrote it whole and then we shot them in the face. You know what I'm saying? Like it would've just been sounded dumb. People helped me get to where I'm at. When none of us get to where we're at by ourselves. And this book definitely did not get towards that by solely me by any means.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:17:13 And that's true with anything in the military. I mean, you have your squad, your platoon, whatever, you are doing things together. You're not just doing things solo most of the time, you're out there with a group of people you're working as a team to accomplish a mission. And so, it does make sense. Why wouldn't you ask for people to help out in areas that maybe you struggle with or you might need some help with and that's life in general. I might not be the mechanic, so I go get my car serviced at a mechanic who knows what he's doing. I'm going to screw up my car, because I don't know what I'm doing, I'm going to go take it to somebody who does know what they're doing.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:18:00 And you know, same thing with writing a book or anything really creative for that matter, have someone else look at it who might be stronger in a certain area than you are and they can help you out. I'm actually in the process of writing a book, which is kind of why I'm interested in a lot of the processes that you've gone through. I've gotten to a point where I have a good chunk of it done and I gave it over to my wife to do a read over and see what she thinks. And same thing it's so much red ink on that after she went through, things got moved around and changed and everything, but really at the end of the day, it's going to help the book and it's going to make it sound better.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:18:44 It's going to flow better and it's just an overall better end result when you have somebody else to take a look at it. As far as the therapeutic process goes, if there's people out there who have a story in mind, they don't necessarily have to write a book that ends up ultimately getting published and it's selling on Amazon or whatever. Sometimes just writing is the therapy in and of itself. It's not the end result of being a New York times bestseller or anything like that; you don't need to set your goals to that if that's not really what you want, if you don't want anyone else to read it just write and sometimes, like you said, just getting stuff off your chest is what feels good and what helps people out? Anything else about the process, about your book or anything that you'd like people to know about to help them along their way in their journey?
Sean Ambriz: 00:19:43 Well, I mean, no, I think we've pretty much hit it all. I hope the book helps someone. I've been very transparent about like, if someone needs someone to talk to you, like I'm not certified to be a counselor or anything. I'm just a fucking dude, but I've always given out my personal cell phone, email and stuff like that. Social media, I try to use to my advantage, to reach out to people who just need someone to talk to. And if they want an unbiased third-party person, my phone is always available. So, I hope that people connect with the book and then if they'd like to reach out, I always answer all my messages.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:20:22 Yeah. That's awesome. That's almost the definition of a true leader, someone who's there for people and that they're going to take care of people the way they say that they will, answering your messages, call, reach out to people and everything like that, making yourself available. That's awesome that you're open to doing that type of thing. What about some of the resources you said towards the end of the book, there's some resources in the book, what are some of the resources that you talk about in there?
Sean Ambriz: 00:20:56 it was just a bunch of random ones. I went onto the VA's website. I went on a couple of different places. I just kind of figured if I was a Veteran, I needed help in buying a home, where do I go? Or if I'm transitioning, where do I go? So, it's a bunch of random resources and it's not all of them. It's not a 300 page document of all these different resources. It just paints a picture of different things that are out there so that if someone picks up the book and they didn't know that this existed well, then they can look at what I have in my book and then go do some more research, help open eyes to other things out there. It's just, just a stepping stone and then obviously there's basic phone numbers, websites for the suicide hotline, things like that. If they need help, mentally and stuff like that.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:21:38 Yeah, that's always good to have those types of things right at the tip of your fingers, especially if you're reading stuff that maybe brings up memories or emotions and things like that, it's good to have that type of stuff right at your fingertips. And that's really what I like to do with this podcast too. I talked to people who work with different organizations or whatever that people might just not know even exist. And so, by talking to people who work for these organizations, they might bring up something that people didn't know was out there and available to them. And now all of a sudden, they're aware of it and they can take advantage of those resources. It's really good that you have that type of thing in there.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:22:22 I think that's going to be helpful to a lot of people who might be reading this book. At the end of the day, books like this, you didn't want it necessarily to be a memoir, but at the same time, it does have some information about things that happened, things that happened to you, what some of your thoughts were. And I think it's really good that people, especially the enlisted people, the guys and women who are on the ground, in some of these battles and taking contact from the enemy and things like that, and not sitting way back in the rear at some desk somewhere just hearing what's going on over the radio, the people who are actually there. I think it's important that they write their stories because years later these stories start to fade from our own memories. That doesn't really serve the next generation very well. Look at World War II and Vietnam and Korea and things like that. If none of those guys ever wrote down any of their stories, we might forget about some of this stuff. And so, from a historical standpoint, it's pretty good to have this type of information out there, which I think is really great.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:23:44 Well, Sean, it has been a pleasure speaking with you today. I'd like to give you an opportunity to let people know where they can go to either get in touch with you or find out more about the book maybe your social media and things like that. And I'll have links to all of this stuff in the show notes, but if you could just let us know where they can go to find the book and follow your journey along the way, too.
Sean Ambriz: Yeah. So, The Ghost of the Valley is the title of the book, and it has its own Facebook and Instagram titled Ghost of the Valley for Facebook, for my PR, my personal Sean Tobias Ambriz and for Instagram, it's chief_pinkmist. and then, like I said, if someone needs someone to talk to you, they just message me and I'll get a hold of them.
Sean Ambriz: 00:24:31 As far as the book, they can get it on Amazon, Nook and Kindle for the digital platforms. And then I'm hoping that this month, or next month, we should have our audio book released, which is going to be kind of unique because, earlier I talked about how the book has italicize and it's my internal thoughts. Well, I went to a recording studio here and I recorded all those thoughts with my own voice. And the publisher hired a guy who has a professional voice who's going to narrate the entire book. So he'll read the book and the battles, but as things are popping off and internal thoughts come in, you'll actually hear my own voice. So, it's double narrated. It's a little different we're trying. So, we'll see.
Scott DeLuzio: Oh, that's cool. That is really cool. And I've actually been curious about that process of recording the audio book. So, that's pretty interesting how you have that double narrative and with maybe a more professional sounding voice for the bulk of the book, but then, your own thoughts are actually coming from you, which is great. And I think that that will have a nice touch to the book too when all is said and done. So that should be great. So again Sean, thank you for joining us today, telling us about your book and the message that you are trying to get across with the book. I's been an absolute pleasure speaking with you, so thank you again.
Sean Ambriz: Yeah. Thank you for having me on today.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:25:56 Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website DriveOnPodcasts.com. We're on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @DriveOnPodcast.