Afterword:  So what?


From time to time throughout this process, I took a breather to reflect on the introspective question: what does it all mean?  When the dust settles and everyone moves on with life, what will I take away from all of this?  


Shortly after leaving the DAS, I began to grapple with a lot of the post-traumatic stress from what had transpired in the year previous.  I started to become someone I didn’t recognize, someone I didn’t like.  November 20th, 2020 (one of the few dates I’m any good at remembering), I made the call – I needed help.  I started therapy the next week.   While I was going through it, one of the central themes I was made to focus on was circumventing or reframing my “stuck points.”  These points are essentially junctures at which reality clashes with one’s belief systems.  The biggest hurdle for me centered about, in general, this pre-existing belief: “when I am wronged, justice will prevail and right that wrong.”   The clash happened when, as you’ve read, justice really did not prevail. 

(As an important footnote, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at this point acknowledge my Air Force – the support I received from my leadership during this process was simply outstanding.  In this regime, I am proud of our Department and how they lead the charge in the field of mental health issues.  Other government agencies could learn something from the example they’ve set.)


I am a huge fan of psychology.  Learning how the human mind “ticks” is something I find fascinating.  In that guise, my “life lessons” below are derived from my observations of the human brain, with an emphasis on how my experiences in the DIA case collided with my belief system thereby posing additional stuck points to navigate around.  So, without further ado, below are the four bigger-picture takeaways generally framed as realities which clashed with my previous beliefs:


People are generally self-oriented

This may come across as somewhat cynical, but I couldn’t not write it.  I state this as objectively as possible, but the trend I saw consistently was that people’s priority schema pivoted first and foremost about what was in it for them.  I don’t say this judgmentally in the slightest – every time someone told me “I’d like to help, but I need to look out for myself/my people/my family” I understood their perspective.  These people were not selfish, they weren’t cowards, they were simply, by definition of the word, self-centered; oftentimes forced into their “self-protect mode” by external forces such as the prevalent fear of retribution within the Agency.  Unfortunately, I was counting on these people – if they didn’t come forward, then I had no case, no footing to stand on.  So, when they bowed out, it was one less documentable case, one less data point with which I could demonstrate the abusive trends in DIA.  In essence, their self-oriented posture worked against my altruistic goals of improving the Agency (which, ironically, included them).  The point I’m making here is that the resultant risk aversion due to this self-servitude stymied many potentially-impactful contributions because the “compass was pointing inward.”  I was in this boat at one point as well – concerned for myself, my career, my future.  It took much soul-searching in order to arrive at, what I believe is, the correct answer; the same one I mentioned in the preface when I told my daughter some fights are worth the risk: fortis fortuna adiuvat!


The allure of “power” is palatable

If it hasn’t yet jumped off the pages already, let’s reiterate the obvious here: the extremes that people went to for the sake of power were both shocking and disturbing.  And when I say “power” in the context of the DIA case, we aren’t talking about any real impressive or dramatic power; the majority of the actors were no more than middle-management-level government bureaucrats.  But that bolsters my hypothesis even more – the fact that these thugs went to such extremes and cost our nation so much and for what?  For the sake of pursuits so relatively trivial (at least when compared to the cost of their actions) like…Government job security? The ability to subjugate? The need to feel superior?  I presented this statement in my last report to Congress, I think the witness’ selection of the word “contempt” is perfection personified: “I often sat in on senior DAS leadership meetings where DAS leadership often expressed openly their contempt for service members who served in the DASs around the world. I saw and heard them laugh and make jokes of peoples personal and medical issues. Many times they talked about these issues without regard considerations of HIPPA [sic] or PII.”  I’ve read this statement a hundred times and each time, I find myself asking: “and for what?”  After months of being perplexed, I honestly think the answer really is as simple as this: “for power.”  


The psychological trauma of being victimized is insidious and real

If you read through my personal case, you may see, at face value, this over-simplified recounting of events: guy is lucky enough to be an attaché in Europe, ok, yeah, he got booted out of the diplomatic service, but 1) he had a great job, and 2) there are worse things in life that could have happened to him.  And those are both completely fair assessments.  Post fallout, I am still in ok health, have a job, have a roof over my head, etc. However, the impact of being victimized is something I never had to contend with in my past and going through the ordeal myself has given me a new sense of empathy for all victims of workplace abuse and all they have to endure.  It’s difficult to convey to others the impact of something that seems rather innocuous, but I think it boils down to this: when one is a victim of abuse, it shatters not only their beliefs, but their identity and ultimately their ability to trust.  For me, the aftereffects manifested themselves with anger, depression and anxiety.  These are fading with time. On the other hand, one still-present effect has been the impact on my ability to trust again; especially when it comes to reconciling differences with people I felt have hurt or betrayed me.  I hope this will also fade with time, as the inverse is no way to carry on with life.  Manson, in his book, offered the metaphor of a plate being shattered as a parallel to when someone’s trust (whether it be in someone, or something) is shaken.  The plate can be repaired, with time, just as someone’s trust.  Break it again, it becomes exponentially harder to repair, just as again is the case with trust.  For me, it was trust in the system.  It betrayed me, then betrayed me again.  It was designed to protect me and it didn’t.  That plate has been shattered a dozen times over. It will take an eon to be repaired, if ever.   


The intrinsic value of impacting someone’s life is not to be underestimated

I have to try and end this chapter on a high note.  Despite all the causticity and negativity surrounding the DIA case, there was one shining highlight: the ability to help people.  Just the simple gesture of writing to say thanks or making a donation to the Foundation, like so many of you did this past year, could fuel me for literally years to come.  I served in the military for 22 years and that was intrinsically rewarding as well, but my line of work lent itself more towards killing and destroying than it did toward directly benefiting people (not to say our endeavors didn’t benefit people, of course!). But the ability to directly affect someone’s life, for good, and see the tangible results of that impact, is a powerful source of motivation, passion, and reward.  During a particularly low point in my life, my therapist told me: “Sometimes, life calls on people to undertake things that most others could not.  Be glad when you are called upon because you can handle it.  You can make a difference.”  This DIA debacle is over, but with it, I walk away with new perspective, new drive, and a new sense of purpose.  


In the prologue, I talked about the premise of Manson’s book “Subtle Art”: being aware of what you care about, what you invest energies into and why.  Ultimately, this self-reflection is to formulate visions and goals which will, when they come to fruition, be your life’s legacy.  We will come back to this theme shortly.  In the interim, some words that are definitely worth repeating.  These are the sentiments I used as part of a thank you letter on the heels of the DIA case closure, words which I cannot take credit for, but words that I hope resonate with you as much as they do with me:


“…I wonder if any of us can change the system, {and if so}, what the best way to do so is, and I wonder what that will do to us, at what price…and yet, the alternative, a life away from it all, might seem so attractive at times… but would I really want to be a person who doesn’t care, doesn’t believe in anything, doesn’t fight for anything? Questions that would then lead to a philosophical discussion of the reasons and the existence of humankind itself: why give us minds with the ability to have thoughts of reason, a conscience, passions, ideals if we don’t try to search for something good and worth living for…?! And yet, life could be a lot easier if we simply didn’t care like most people in our society…”


I find this particular segment so beautiful in its simplicity of phraseology yet depth of thought: “why give us minds with the ability to have thoughts of reason, a conscience, passions, ideals if we don’t try to search for something good and worth living for…?!”  This, for me, was the crux of my near-constant inner struggle during the past two years; a struggle that transcended not only an investigation, but instead challenged the very essence of who I was and what I stood for.  And every time, I kept coming back to the rhetorical question, which, in all actuality, is the answer: “would I really want to be a person who doesn’t care, doesn’t believe in anything, doesn’t fight for anything?”  


You see, for a myriad of reasons which we’ve covered in chapters previous, the road of a whistleblower is a long, winding and lonely one.  And at the end of that arduous path lies a destination which provides little promise of success or recompense.  So, the inner struggle for many can be distilled to this: “why put myself through that for, likely, nothing?”  The conclusion most draw is that it simply is not worth it and they capitulate before the fight even begins (and understandably so).  


I introduced in the prologue some of the reasons why I undertook this endeavor, which centered about defending my values as well as the want to not be a hypocrite by being complicit.  But there are other, deeper reasons, some of which we just touched on.  We’ve talked some about my dad already, but there are a few other aspects of his life that shaped me and my decisions over the past few years.  Jim was your quintessential accountant: straight-laced, by-the-book, low-key.  He avoided most risks, avoided confrontations, avoided the “tough stuff” in life as much as he could.  He led a good life, but was it a full one?  I don’t know.  After his death, I reflected a lot on that subject and used that introspection to take stock of my own life: was I kind of treading water along the ocean of life?  Avoiding the “tough stuff”?  Only committing to things I knew were sure bets?  To a certain extent, I was, and I have come to want to change that: to play when winning isn’t a sure thing, to love when it may end up hurting me, to fight when it may cost far more than I stand to gain. The DIA case was the culmination of many of my life’s undercurrents that surfaced almost in concert with each other: my dad’s death, my shattering of some previous beliefs, people challenging my laissez-faire approach to issues, and some profound life experiences that shifted the very way I looked at life and love and the world around me.

I have tried to not be too preachy throughout this memoir; not sure if I have succeeded.  It’s time to divert from that now and convey a life lesson learned, if I may be so presumptuous.  The life lesson is simple: live.  Confront the challenges, embrace adversity, don’t shirk opportunities just because they may end in hurt, pain, or failure.  Think about what you really give a damn about in this world, like really give a damn about; and then commit yourself to realizing it.  Know that it won’t be “comfortable”; it’s going to hurt sometimes, it’s going to be lonely sometimes, you’re going to want to throw in the towel…probably a lot.  The lows will be lower than you’ve come to know so far, but the highs will be sublime, I promise.  As the sign on my therapist’s office read “it won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.” 


You are a capable, talented, and special person.  You have something to contribute to this world; don’t hesitate – go after it!  Give a damn about it!  I can’t wait to see what you will achieve!


“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”

-Sigmund Freud