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Master Sergeant Michael ‘Top’ Washington: Coping with Loss

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Master Sergeant Michael ‘Top’ Washington: Coping with Loss

Master Sergeant Michael ‘Top’ Washington served in the Gulf War, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan between 1988 and 2004, before becoming a firefighter. His son, Mike Jr., followed in his footsteps and joined the Marines. In 2008, Mike Jr. was killed during combat operations in Afghanistan.

The loss of his son sent Top into a deep depression, culminating in a moment on a bridge in Tacoma. Top had decided to end his life there, but says he felt his son’s hand pulling him back, saying, “You’re not done yet.” Since then, Top has found a new calling, as a licensed therapist focusing on fellow military veterans and first responders.

To hear more from Top, check out his interview on Warriors In Their Own Words

Ken Harbaugh: Burn the Boats is proud to support VoteVets, the nation’s largest and most impactful progressive veterans organization. To learn more, or to join their mission, go to

Michael ‘Top’ Washington: I was unable to present a true authentic Michael Washington, a true authentic father, a true authentic human being, who's receiving the worst news that a parent can get and not just be myself.

Ken Harbaugh: I’m Ken Harbaugh, and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions. On Burn the Boats, I interview political leaders and other history makers about choices they confront when failure is not an option.

Ken Harbaugh:

My guest today is Michael Top Washington, a Marine Corps veteran and retired firefighter who now serves as a mental health therapist focusing on veterans and first responders. He chose this new mission because of his own struggles with PTSD and the emotional toll of losing his son, a fellow Marine in Afghanistan in 2008. Mike Washington's story has inspired millions.

He was featured in the Starbucks Upstander campaign and was recently interviewed by Oprah. He's also a good friend, and one of those rare people who I think about in tough moments, because just knowing that Top Washington is out there somewhere makes the world seem a little better. Top, thank you for joining us on Burn the Boats.

Michael ‘Top’ Washington:

Well, you're welcome, Ken. Thanks for having me, and thanks for that amazing introduction. I'm like, "Who was that guy? Who is he talking about?"

Ken Harbaugh:

First question, now that you're besties with Oprah Winfrey, why are you still talking to me?

‘Top’ Washington:

Well, because I'm besties with you first and loyalty's a big deal for me. So, of course, Oprah is not better than you.

Ken Harbaugh:

Well, she's better at this than me, but my favorite thing about talking to you Top, is that it's an actual conversation. It's a back and forth. But for those who don't know you yet, for the listeners who haven't heard you on some of the other programs where you've shared your story, I got to ask you to give us the context for your new mission as a therapist, mental health therapist for vets and first responders. Because I want to dwell on that, I want to dwell on the redemptive quality of that, the new purpose that's given you, but we have to frame it. Can you talk about June 14th, 2008?

‘Top’ Washington:

Absolutely. Let me start out by saying that June 14th was probably the culmination of 40 some odd years of pain, trauma, things that we as a society and especially people in uniform, whether it's law enforcement, fire, or military, we've been taught and encouraged to just push away, to laugh at, to drink, to deal with the things that we work with.

And then for me finally, it was that day at the fire station where two Marines pulled up with my son's mom in the back in their white suburban, and I knew exactly what was getting ready to happen because I had rehearsed this day when he left for Iraq and then when he left again for Afghanistan, I asked, "What if this day happens?" And sure enough it did happen.

And that quickened, I think, my challenges, my issues, and maybe the collapse of the façade, that mask that I wore for so long, like so many of us do. And it was just a downhill slide, a rather quick one from there that led me at some point to standing on a bridge, just waiting to go over, just waiting for that one little urge to push me over, and instead I got a pull back, if you will, a presence that pulled me back in a voice that was my son's, and said, "This doesn't end here dad, this is, you got work to do."

And that was the beginning, it certainly wasn't the end of my struggles but it was the end of my struggles of ending my life, of suiciding, of riding my motorcycle against red lights at busy intersections, hoping I could get hit and it would look like an accident, and then obviously being on a bridge and really citing the suicide. Still, some challenges on the way, started off with a program called Save a Warrior, which was a five day retreat that just helped me get in touch with how we end up getting here in the first place, even before we stand on the yellow footprints of some boot camp or academy or what have you to be the people we are, and just how much our armor took hits from ages zero to 18 and how we've ignored it.

Especially my generation was reared by the World War II generation, the people who went through the depression in World War II and complaining and talking about problems is not part of the program. And so you learn those lessons from them when they're your football coaches, and they are just mentors in your community, and that's how they did it and they suffered through it, especially in the older age when they retired.

But, yeah, that was it. And so, I got an understanding, a real understanding about how I arrived at the first place. Now, the next step after that of course was, ‘Okay, what do you do next when you come home ready to go?’ And that's where I reached out to the VA to talk about desert storm and my success on combat tours after that. And, yeah, and then just constantly working on myself. And once I was able to understand for myself, I was more effective as a counselor and confidant to my friends and fellow law enforcement or veterans. So that's how we got here.

Ken Harbaugh:

Top, you talked about the mask that you wore, and you wore it not just as grieving parent, especially as a father, because we condition men to behave a certain way in the face of trauma, you wear it as a Marine, because we, until very recently conditioned our soldiers to wear that same mask. Can you talk about- and I'm only asking you to revisit the moment because you wrote about it recently and incredibly eloquently in this Washington post Op-Ed, when you talked about the feeling of seeing that suburban drive up and knowing what those Marines in full dress were going to say, you wrote, "I didn't know how to cope with the news, or even how to feel the loss." What do you mean by you didn't know how to feel?

‘Top’ Washington:

Well, I revert very quickly to master Sergeant Mike Washington and firefighter Mike Washington, and that image of what that was supposed to look like, or what I thought, what movies tell us, what society tells us a Marine and a firefighter how they should comfort themselves and present themselves in these most trying times. The idea of being a grieving parent, being a human being never entered into the picture.

It was just like, "Okay, stand on attention." When that young captain walked up to me and rendered a very solemn slow hand salute and asked me if I was Master Sergeant Michael Washington, father of Sergeant Michael Washington, and we went through the whole process. He had his role that he had to play, and I can't even imagine doing his job, but he can't come up and be a human either, he has to be a very solemn Marine Corps officer, and he can't cry, he can't just reach out and hug me, he can't do any of those things. We both come from that same warrior class, so neither of us could do that. And so, all that had to get pushed down and that mask that I'd been wearing for, like I said, for 40 something years to deal with other traumas in my life, starting from age zero to that moment, that continued to get pushed down and I was unable to present a true authentic Michael Washington, a true authentic father, a true authentic human being, who's receiving the worst news that a parent can get and not just be myself.

And consequently when people were coming to me afterwards, I went into the role of comforting them, I'm the one who says "It's going to be alright, we'll get through this." And they're there for me to do that, but I'm not allowing that to happen, but those emotions, they have to go someplace. All the emotions that we pushed down, that we pretend like aren't there, they have to go someplace and they will come out, they will happen.

Ken Harbaugh:

At the same time that you were thrust into the role of comforter for others, you were engaged in some pretty self destructive behavior as a reaction to that trauma. Can you talk about the risk-taking behavior that veterans especially engage in as a coping mechanism in the Op-Ed? And the reason I'm asking you about it is because, I'm pretty sure that veterans' suicides are under-counted because of just this thing, because of all the vets I know who go out and do crazy reckless things, because they're dealing with something else.

‘Top’ Washington:

Absolutely. It's law enforcement and fire service, emergency room people, the first responder community as a whole, I think we do this. And for me, it was just that, riding my motorcycle fast, it was taking turns a lot faster than I should, and then ultimately when I was just playing Russian Roulette, let's call it what it is, just seeing what happens if I get through this intersection, then maybe it was meant I was supposed to live another day, another week, what have you.

Eventually what stopped me from doing that was, as crazy as it sounds, it wasn't my daughter, my grandkids, the hundreds of friends that I have that are very special to me, it was the idea of, I didn't want a first responder to show up on that scene and then find out that I was a first responder, because that carries some extra weight, and I had ignored that Rolodex of misery, of images that they didn't have to have. This did not have to happen.

We go to accidents, we go to things that they occur, but this is something that I would be forcibly putting into their memory. And we can't forget, we don't forget, that's not how we're designed. And I just didn't want to do that.

Ken Harbaugh:

Your Op-Ed coincided with National Suicide Prevention Month, and you put a fine point on it talking about guns. It was partly personal reflection, but partly a policy demand that we take suicide by firearm more seriously in the veteran community. When you think about the myriad reasons why veterans suicide are at a higher rate than their civilian counterparts, one of them has to be the familiarity and easy access with firearms. Why did you take that issue on?

‘Top’ Washington:

Well, Ken, I believe 100% that if I was in possession of a firearm in my dark moment, and filled with alcohol, I think I would have really played Russian Roulette and just ended it right there. I'm certain that would have happened. I think that's what happened with a lot of veterans, a lot of people too, I mean, just playing people, because it's a little known fact and I checked my numbers to be 100% sure, there's a huge percentage of older white men who take their lives by suicide with firearm. When people hear that, they're like, "Oh my God, we got to do something about that." And they say, "Yeah, we absolutely do." And we have to delve into not only what's driving this urge down this path, but into making some kind of method, some kind of process where we can remove those weapons, that easy access to those weapons, help these individuals get help, and when they get better, then ‘Here, have your weapons back if you want them’. This is not trying to infringe on anybody's rights, but it always gets framed that way. And that's not what this is about. This is about just trying to keep some people alive, some good people alive who feel like they've got no other choice here.

Ken Harbaugh:

You wrote about extreme risk laws. I think there's an analog in red flag laws. What did those purport to do? When an extreme risk law is invoked, just in general, how does that work? And who's it designed to help?‘

‘Top’ Washington:

Well, in a very broad sense, because each state is going to take a look at it in a different way, but if you know of somebody, for example, if you know me and I'm in my darkest period, and I'm exhibiting signs of erratic behavior and making statements that suggest that I might suicide, and you know that I have weapons, it's almost like an intervention where, "Mike, this is what we want to do here, and we want to separate you from your weapons, you can get them back later, but we need you to get help and we want you to get help and we're going to help facilitate that help."

It looks different in a lot of different ways, but essentially that's what it is. And if we can even do that on a social basis where you have that intervention with Mike Washington, and you know Mike Washington has a couple of firearms, and you and 10 of my friends get together and say, "Mike, let us keep your weapons. Let's get you some help, man. We are scared for your life and we want to do this." Then that's what it looks like. And we're just trying to put more of a fine point, a legal point, I guess, to it, if you will.

There's similar things with somebody who's going through addiction and it's just like, "Okay, this person is not going to get the help that they need, so what about an intervention? Or we're going to get this person to a facility, whether they want it or not." And that is what it looks like. And I know it sounds like infringement of rights for some people and taking guns away, it's just really about keeping people alive. That's all it is.

Ken Harbaugh:

I think one of the things a lot of people don't appreciate about this kind of intervention is just how desperate the person receiving this help is for that action. I mean, so many of these extreme risk scenarios in which firearms are secured or taken away are either at the invitation or with the total agreement of the veteran at risk, or of the person at risk. And it's happened to friends of mine.

Some of them have reached out and said to other friends, "Will you secure my weapons? I don't trust myself with them." So, to your point about second amendment and infringement and all that, no, this is just in a very real way, an attempt to create a social mechanism as much as a legal one for people to get together and say, "Hey man, you need help, and in the meantime, the last thing you need in your dresser drawer is a loaded gun."

‘Top’ Washington:

Absolutely. And I think if we could have a tide change, if you will, where it will be okay to have that conversation with your friends, and it will be okay for that gun owner to feel secure enough to say, "Yes, please take my weapons. I'm going to get help." And then we'll start the process back. And I understand because- I didn't grow up in a gun culture. So, I've never owned a firearm in my life. And so, I don't have that same feeling about weapons as I think a lot of people do.

Ken Harbaugh:

I wanted to ask you about the enduring effects of trauma and how important it is to keep it from transmitting across generations. I think you probably know what I'm getting at, but I'll spell it out. I mean, trauma undealt with, can be passed down, you can inflict that same harm on your children, on your grandchildren, it is something that I have seen in my family.

My wife's grandfather took his life and he was a vet and it was lingering effects of PTSD and that resonates through generations. And I'm sure it's something that you thought about in your pursuit of your recovery.

‘Top’ Washington:

Yeah. Absolutely. And, yeah, throughout my recovery and really starting with a Save a Warrior, and even some of my work as peer support, because I needed to understand firefighters that I was going to work with. And fortunately, I was able to turn that into towards myself, but yeah, just understanding, how did I arrive to be the person I was? And that's before I got on the footprints. What happened to me before I got to bootcamp and had these other life experiences?

And I look back at my mother's upbringing and she had a truly horrific, I mean, Oliver Twist would cry at her story. And she did her best as a mama, but she brought a lot of her fears, a lot of her traumas into our relationship, and consequently, I picked up on a number of those. And she was a great woman, hard worker, whatever I am today, she gets the credit. But, there were things that were brought on, and the same thing with my father.

So, all these senses of abandonment, and alcohol, and domestic violence, all these things come into play before I even go to the Marine Corps. And so I'm carrying those with me. And as I understand and realize those things about my upbringing that I don't want my kids to deal with, I can start working on them, even though I don't really have an understanding of exactly how that occurred. But yes, to answer your question, that is a huge thing, that is a real thing and I don't want people who are listening to just poopoo this as a, "This sounds like fake science, or soft science or anything."

It's real. And I think if we all sat there and we thought about it, in my generation, corporal violence was the norm. And when I say corporal, we can even promote it to sergeant violence, you know what I mean? It was that discipline in school and at home, violence was the answer to a lot of different things. Most of us who grew up with that, some level of that, and I don't mean the huge incidences, but that lifestyle that we grew up with, most of us either didn't or greatly reduce that kind of discipline on our children that we have, because we realize that, one, we don't like, it didn't change anything, we didn't like the way we felt towards our parents, and we didn't like the way that later on, how they said they felt afterwards, so I'm not doing that to my child, there's a better way.

And we sought that better way. So, you see change that can happen, and that's what I tried to institute with my children as we came up. But I had so many things that I can identify in my life today. Right now, I can look at my parents, I can look at my society at the time, and see this is how I came to have this worldview, and I'm changing it. And there were some good things, there too were not bad of course, but those things that didn't need to happen and could change and I'm trying to change those.

Ken Harbaugh:

I want to pivot to that theme of getting people help. And for you, the way I've heard you tell it, that new mission started on that bridge in Tacoma, when you heard your son's voice say, "This isn't how it ends, dad, you got more work to do." And in the year since, you've pursued a degree and what are you doing now?

‘Top’ Washington:

Well, I was actually doing that work as a peer support member of the Seattle fire department and doing a lot of work in that. And it's funny that I could be that guy who is there for that person who called us, "Let's do this. I know exactly what we need to do here to get you that help, I'll be here to listen to you." But I did not feel like I could reach out to somebody and do that.

But since I went back to school and got a master's of social work, with the idea to work with veterans and first responders as a therapist. And about a year before I retired from the fire department in December, I started working with a clinic here in Seattle, and I worked with a number of first responders, and I'm going to start working with veterans here soon as a therapist. And I think for a lot of people, it's just hearing somebody to listen to them, first of all, and then somebody who feels exactly the same way they felt, or very similarly, they've walked the same path, they face the same challenges, and in some cases, you felt that pulll to go in a bad direction.

If I can be there to say, "Well, here's what it looks like down the line," then it's worth it. "It was hard, it's a lot of tears, a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth, but at the end of the journey, life is really good here, and it just continues to get better." And so, that really is a... it's not a talent, it's not anything, it's just my story. And this is not the worst story out there.

I'm working on a book right now and the working title of the book is I Am You, and You Are Me, because I'm every man. There's nothing particularly special about me, there's no stories where I have had motions like a fighter pilot saying, "There I was…”, there's no buildings where I'm jumping out with the baby, saving him at the last second. I'm every man, I went through the slings and arrows of life from zero to 18, experiencing things in war and the fire service, personal life, just like everybody, just like everybody.

And I think that's the big thing, is that, recognizing that as human beings in this society, we've all taken hits from zero to 18, for me, there was alcohol, abandonment, molestation as a child, just a number of things that I think more people than not have been hit with one or more of those things. So when you're able to voice it, and when somebody sees, "Oh, Mike is a Marine, he's a firefighter, and he's able to talk about this, like this, okay, maybe I can release this demon now and so it doesn't have that dominion over me."

Ken Harbaugh:

I really appreciate the every man sentiment Top, but I got to believe that when you're in your office with a fellow first responder or that, it is significant that you are retired master Sergeant Top Washington. They're going to talk to you in a way that they very well might not talk to someone who they don't feel has that shared experience. Is that fair?

‘Top’ Washington:

I think that's fair, but what I absolutely don't want to take away from it is, the hundreds of thousands of just really good therapists who never wore uniforms, they're just really good therapists. And I know for a lot of first responders and veterans are, "I don't want to talk to anybody who hasn't worn a uniform." You're selling yourself short. You're selling yourself short because there's some great people out there who just really know how to work with people.

And first and foremost, first responders and veterans are people. And I have always liked it when I talk to people who don't have any connection to the military, "So what are military people?" I say, "Well, they're like you, we worked at McDonald's, we went to high school, we did these things before we put on a uniform." So we're normal everyday people. And so, don't sell ourselves short by rejecting someone who's not worn a uniform as a therapist, because there's some great people out there. I work with some tremendous, tremendous people who never wore uniforms but boy they're good, and they've helped a lot of people.

But to answer your question Ken, yeah, that does buy me a few more minutes of listening. But if I'm a bad therapist, I'm a bad therapist, and that at some point they're going to go, "Oh, okay. I see he was in the Marine Corps, but you know what? I knew a lot of chuckleheads in the Marine Corps too, and this is one of them. So he's out." So, I just thought I have to study, I have to learn from everybody I can, and meld that with my story, and be every man. Just be every man to them.

Ken Harbaugh:

I am always learning from you, Top. And this is another example, because I think I have a bias here, that comes from the years immediately after the Iraq and Afghanistan wars really heated up and we had all of these folks coming back, and the VA was overwhelmed and there was just this avalanche of vets looking for help. And I just heard horror story after horror story of the vet going in, and the experience now that I think about it, was an experience of a vet with a bad therapist, not an experience of a vet with a civilian, and I guess I'm glad to hear you say that it's about just being a good listener, a good therapist, a good person, because that gives permission to so many vets to go seek help, even if they can't find a Master Sergeant to get it from.

‘Top’ Washington:

Well, and that's true. And I think the other part of it is that we've shunted off as the first responder veteran, the idea of getting any kind of mental health assistance. We've pushed it so far into that strange category that we don't know what to expect when we walk through the door. I lecture around the country on this, and I talk about my experience when I first went to the vet center and when I came back from Save a Warrior, I was excited, I'm like, "All right, Madam, I'm going to make a change in my life, I'm going to call up the vet center and get some therapy going, this is going to be awesome."

When it came down to that day to go, it was tough. I was suddenly faced with, "Oh, what's going to happen here?" It was really difficult. And just the whole process, I drove past the off ramp to get to the place, and I've been to that area a lot of times. So there was a part of me that was just avoiding it. I was sitting in the waiting room and there was a garbage truck outside that was pounding a dumpster, and it sounded like a .50 caliber and my breathing was affected, I started to sweat a little bit, and finally my therapist, Audrey came up and she says, "Mike," and I come up and she motions for me to lead the way and go to the door on the right and I didn't want her behind me, and I was just stressed out, and I hadn't got to the door and I looked inside, she goes, "What are you looking for?" And I go, "I don't know." She says, "Get in there." And I was like, "Okay."

I needed to be ordered to get in the room and start the process. But the other thing is too, is doing your homework. When you go to therapy, you don't just go to therapy and they're going to push a couple buttons and say an incantation and there's you go, you're fixed, off you go. You got to go back and you have to think about what was presented to you, you have to be willing to really talk and really share.

If you're not willing to do those things, that's not going to work for you. And I think for a lot of veterans, I think if we're not 'fixed' - and I'm doing air quotes here - if we're not ‘fixed’ in one or two sessions, then we're unfixable and this was pointless and now I can tell everybody I tried therapy and it didn't work and now of you go. For me, I'm comfortable with the idea that therapy is there for me, and I can use it for the rest of my life.

I'm about due right now to go and check back in for what I'd like to call an adjustment, just like with the chiropractor, just like with anything else that, "I feel all right, but let me go get adjusted anyways, because I don't have to wait until I'm in crises to go see a therapist. Because then there's a lot of work that needs to happen to undo what got me into crisis. Let's work proactively.

So, there's a lot to it, but we've done a really good job in society and especially the warrior societies of pushing this way, so now it's the great unknown, it's magic, it's voodoo. And if it doesn't work in one or two sessions, then it's stupid and I am not going back.

Ken Harbaugh:

Top, we're going to pivot, because I need your wisdom on something that we have been exploring on this show sparked by the events of January 6th, the insurrection and the number of vets who were there. Frankly, the number of vets who I have crossed paths with, I don't have any good friends who were part of that. But we all know folks who are in that world. As somebody who has I guess, mined the depths of the veteran mind and endeavored to understand what motivates vets to do things, I'd like to have a conversation about what puts one vet on a path to the Oath Keepers, storming the Capitol, and another vet looking for the same sense of mission and purpose and excitement on a path to Team Rubicon, or the mission continues or Team RWB. I mean, how does that split happen?

‘Top’ Washington:

Well, that's a great question and we're still unpacking that, we're still trying to figure out, what is that motivation. If we could get those people who were Oath Keepers to go to a red, white, and blue, or Team Rubicon, or name the organization, and go out there and see people for who they are and help them in the most basic sense.

I think that's just a world changing process, and where you might feel one way about a group of people, but now you're there standing with them and you're watching them cry and you're crying with them after seeing what happened to them. And you see how thankful they are because you showed up on your vacation or in your spare time to help them recover. That's world changing, that is a huge, huge thing, and I think if we can get more people in America, for sure, and if we want to focus on veterans to do things like that, to go work at a soup kitchen, to be that relief person, I think that's a life-changing process, because now you hear the real stories about what happened.

I think what happens is I think that we're open to all the propaganda that's out there in the media right now, all these forces that are our color of favor and painting lesson to us and them. And that us and them is done with stark images, with one word slogans. And when you start attacking what it means to be American and what that looks like, and as a veteran for some veterans, well, it means this to me, and these people over there are attacking that. And I feel like my country is under attack based on these websites I go to, these media sources that I go to.

And so now I'm called to action, even though I'm not wearing the uniform anymore, I am called action to go and be this person who's going to storm the Capitol. Now, when it all falls apart, people are backpedaling, they're like, "That's not what I meant. I was duped. I was all of these things." But the reality is that most of these people were affected by propaganda over the last, I don't know, maybe generation, that might be fair, since the 90s, where we just started putting ourselves in more us and them categories. And it just culminated with this attack on our country.

Ken Harbaugh:

You talked about the power of a service to bridge some of those gaps invoking Team Rubicon, and that experience of being on the front lines in the aftermath of a disaster, and it just tears down those preconceived notions and those barriers. Do you think that is an important component of therapy? I mean, what you do is talk to people about their issues and you get them to open up. Is there something active though that can build on that, that you prescribe as a mental health therapist, or is it enough to have the conversations and know yourself better?

‘Top’ Washington:

Well, I think the answer to your questions is yes, across the board. There's something for everybody and going to a disaster is not for everybody, and especially if you're dealing with PTSD in a certain way that might be triggering. But, there's 100 different ways to go out there and serve your community and mix with people that you normally would not mix with. And if we look at our service, especially in the military, when you show up at bootcamp, basic training or whatever, this is the first time for a lot of people where they were thrust next to people that they have only heard about.

When I was in boot camp in San Diego in 1981, I had never met anybody from the south, I'd never heard a real life Southern accent. And so I had preconceived notions of what that meant. But when you're in the crucible of bootcamp and you find out that a man or a woman's true character is through that crucible, that is boot camp, and that is the content of their character, it's not the color of their skin or what they sound like or what their religion is or anything else, then you truly get to appreciation and then you have to look inwards towards you and say, "You know what? That lesson was learned. From now on, I have to take everybody at the face value of who they are and what they bring to the table and how they comfort themselves."

So you find that in the military. And so when we go overseas in the military, people aren't really looking at us as Jewish or Asian or African American or white, they're looking at that flag that we're standing under and they go, "Those are Americans, we're going after them." And that we have to circle around that flag as Americans. So we need to do that here. And if we could bring that same feeling of, we're on this together here in America, not us and them, because you don't have us and them at a field operating base, you don't have us and them, out of the destroyer that's making giant figure eights in the Indian ocean.

You just don't have time for that, that's just not called for, you are working with people and you are just melding with people, and you're getting to see people in a way that a lot of America does not get to see. And so, that's why it was so important when I deployed Team Rubicon I have civilian volunteers that come up. Before I release them, I tell them to take a look around and see all the different people that are here with them.

I remember there was a wildlife fire in Pateros, Washington, in Eastern Washington. And there was an Amish community not far away that sent some volunteers in. And it was really interesting because this group who had been in this country for generations, they had a very distinct accent and very distinct look, but yet they were right there standing next to me, standing next to people from all over the country, trying to help people in this town that got ravaged by wild on fires, and of these places, we'll never meet these people, we'll never know them.

It didn't matter. It didn't matter. But I told everybody to take a look around and see what we got here. And what we had there was America, America at its best, America at its high watermark. If we want to help the interaction as a little watermark, the feelings that I have when we go on deployment with Team Rubicon, those are the high watermarks, because there's all different colors, there's lifestyles, there's religions, everything is represented in Team Rubicon.

It's just a great feeling to be able to say, to recognize that, "Yeah, man, we all came together, worked really, really hard on our vacations for a lot of people, and we're not going to even meet these people. And that's cool. “Where's the next disaster? Let's go." That's America at its best.

Ken Harbaugh:

I think it's something we have to find a way to get back to. Like you said, not everyone can deploy on a disaster, but there are just so many ways to serve your own community, your country, to realize that neighbor that you thought you had nothing in common with, well, you got more in common with than you think. We're going to keep working on that one. Now we're getting general McChrystal back to talk about it some more, but I think you're onto something.

‘Top’ Washington:

Yeah. I'd love to hear his feelings on that. And I think that the concept is simple, the implementation is going to be difficult, because those forces that seek to drive us apart, there's a lot of glitzy media, social media, all the different medias that are out there, and I think we're going to have to employ that process as wel.

And the message of America who we are, who we want to be, is so much stronger than the other side. So much stronger. And for that person in uniform, who's seeking to quench that thirst, when they see that commercial, man, how are they not going to hear that clarion call to serve their country again and turn their sword into a power-sharing, just go out and do good.

Ken Harbaugh:

Top we always end the show with the same question. What is the bravest thing you've ever done?

‘Top’ Washington:

Quite possibly, walking into that therapist office, maybe that was it. I think I was going against all my instincts, I wanted to run, and if we define bravery, it's that process of doing something when your instincts say to go the other direction. And I know it's self serving, I know what's for me, but, yeah, I want to go with that.

Ken Harbaugh:

I don't know if this metaphor works, but we always celebrate the first responder for running into the building when other people are running out. Maybe we can add this to it. You got to run into that therapist's office when your instinct is to run away.

‘Top’ Washington:


Ken Harbaugh:

Well, Top, I said it at the beginning of the show and it merits mentioning again, you're an inspiration and I hope you not only keep what you're doing in your therapist office, but over social media and with Oprah and me. So, I'm honored to be able to talk to you and let's do it again soon.

‘Top’ Washington:

Absolutely. This is the big time right here Ken, a the really big time.

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