In a new episode of Fox Nation's "Nuff Said with Tyrus," decorated Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran and Fox News co-host Pete Hegseth opened up about the challenges facing America's veterans and his own experience transitioning from military to civilian life.
Hegseth earned his Army commission in Princeton University's Reserve Officers' Training Corps. After graduation, a short stint as an investment banker and a deployment to Guantanamo Bay, the Minnesota native volunteered to go to Iraq following the Sept. 11 attacks.
He described that time as one of the most significant in his life for its "depth of purpose," "commitment" and "simplicity."
"You're locked on a base. ... The ability to BS is a special skill set," he said, joking about the monotony of military life in a war zone.
"But then, one hour later, you're rolling out the gate, not knowing whether you're going to hit an IED or whether that target you're going to is going to be a live one or not," he told Tyrus.
"There's something raw and real about human nature that changes you when you see it right in front of your face – when you see life and death," he remembered, "You're working with people there whose lives are on the line, Al-Qaeda's targeting them, you get a chance to help them and help them improve their lives."
Hegseth said those experiences changed him forever, "The raw humanity of those moments make it hard to come back and hear about stupid s---."
"I didn't adjust. I don't know that I have fully," he said, reflecting on returning home after his deployment. "I spent a lot of time drinking and laying on the couch."
"You're still processing the fact that a week earlier everything you were doing mattered and was consequential. ... All the people you shared these memories with, you might see them in a year at a reunion. And then you're looking around at a country that mostly doesn't give a s---."
"I'm sure I was a mess... I didn't talk about things like post-traumatic stress and all that. I definitely had it."
"I'm sure I was a mess... I didn't talk about things like post-traumatic stress and all that. I definitely had it," he told Tyrus. "I don't call it PTSD because I don't think you live with a disorder all the time – not everyone does. ... I don't live with the disorder today, but I definitely had that."
After Iraq, Hegseth started a job with a conservative think tank, the Manhattan Institute.
And then, he said, his life changed again. "I quickly ran into a group called Vets for Freedom, which is an Iraq War vet group. And they were fighting to basically win the war and have the backs of the guys still pulling triggers."
Within a year, Hegseth was on Capitol Hill, leading a group of veterans lobbying Congress to support an increase of troops in Iraq. The 2007 Iraq troop surge would be widely credited with turning the tide of the conflict.
Soon Hegseth went back to the battlefield again, volunteering to deploy to Afghanistan in 2011 after President Barack Obama ordered a surge of U.S. troops to that country.
In 2013, he was home and enrolled in the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where he earned a master’s degree in public policy. That would eventually lead to a position as CEO of Concerned Veterans for America.
Hegseth has continued his focus on veterans' issues on Fox News and Fox Nation. In Fox Nation's "Modern Warriors: Medal of Honor Special", he interviewed Medal of Honor recipient David Bellavia, who was presented with the nation's highest military honor for his actions as a squad leader during the second Battle of Fallujah, making Bellavia the first living Iraq War veteran to receive the recognition.
Hegseth attributed his ability to navigate his career, in part, to his upbringing and the opportunities that he has been afforded. And he said that also forces him to consider those veterans who do not have as many options.
"I think about the E-5 and the staff sergeants ... they were the guys you needed at every moment," he said. "When you're in Iraq and you're the [squad automatic weapon] gunner, you're an important man and your ability to reload, disassemble that weapon, put it back together, understand how to build a sector of fire ... that's super important. And the minute you come home and that rifle comes out of your hand, now you're just Joe Blow from next door, mowing his lawn."
Hegseth suggested that it is up to American society to better recognize and address the challenges facing our veterans. "If you're not intentional about finding ways for guys to rebuild that purpose, then you go down the dark road of veteran suicide or dependency or addiction."
"For me, it was finding another sense of purpose and that's what I always try to share with guys," he concluded. "Whatever you're passionate about ... go after that passion, because that's, I think, when you'll feel the spark of life that you don't feel."
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