WO-1 Bert Kuntz (Army Special Operations, OIF, OEF Veteran)
I look at my watch as my eyelids start to gradually droop. “There’s no way…” I think to myself. It’s 11:30 am and I’m quite honestly physically drained. No, I hadn’t slept much the night before but it wasn’t the lack of sleep. Merely being around the ranch and that cowboy lifestyle was enough to wear me out. But man, I loved the feeling of accomplishment. I remember the days of training up for Iraq and feeling this sense of accomplishment. The Army prides itself on the mantra of "doing more before the sun comes up than most do all day." This is the kind of tired Green Beret Tim Kennedy spoke of when he mentioned living a purposeful life. I can still hear Tim’s words, “You should be so tired by the end of your day that you’re falling asleep before your head hits the pillow.” This is the way of the cowboy. I already had enough shots to make up an entire project and it wasn't even noon yet.
The sky is pitch-black with starlit traces peeking out harmoniously in some beautiful, entropic fashion. A windmill, big porches, feeders, horse stables, and hundreds of acres of God’s great earth. It’s 4:00 am and I’m tired but I’m still ready for the day. It's early but that Texas heat is already starting to make an appearance, showing its face even in the midst of a slight breeze. Former Green Beret, Bert Kuntz, and I are just outside of Ft. Worth at his boss’ house. I like his boss immediately. He’s barrel-chested and he has that “country strength” that makes you immediately realize this is a man you’d want having your back in a barroom brawl. He shakes your hand and you feel that leathery-skinned vice grip that a man has when a handshake means everything. I didn’t know Buster Frierson when we first met, but I immediately trusted him. He reminds me of men I’d met in a lifetime before in my infantry company. I can tell he’s a good man and just so happens he’s one of the best cattlemen in America. “Tim did you serve?” he asks. “Yessir. I did serve in the Army and spent 9 months in Iraq.” You can hear the enthusiasm in his thick drawl, “Tim, thank you for your service. I want you to know I’m grateful.” Somehow, it means more to me than the last 1000 people that have thanked me. Maybe it’s because Buster is so used to a thankless lifestyle. Maybe it’s because with a man like this, his word is his bond. He doesn’t throw that bond around loosely, the way so many do. I don’t know. Whatever it is, his “thanks” means more to me than most. Bert and Buster didn’t know much about each other’s lifestyles before they met. Still, they were the most likely of friends.
Some years back and thousands of miles away, Bert’s going over his gear for the thousandth time because that’s what an effective warfighter does. His fingers move nimbly as he carefully places each metal 5.56 round into his magazine, his eyes dart back and forth over his aid pack making sure no items are forgotten, he checks again because he knows lacking equipment can mean death on the battlefield. There are no options for shortcomings in this world of warfare. Green Berets are some of the most elite warriors in the universe. They demand perfection. Yet when Bert prepares to head out on a mission that will ensure the livelihood of others back home, there are no cheering crowds, no articles in papers back home about his unit’s accomplishments, no teens idolizing him in their favorite replica of his uniform. He heads out into the most dangerous parts of an already dangerous land not knowing if he will make it back to base. It’s the lifestyle he chose though, and to him, there’s nothing better.
A half a world away Buster is doing much of the same, in a different capacity. Training horses, rounding up cattle, constantly checking and rechecking to make sure the job is done exactly right. There’s no glory. The best quality of work is always explicitly demanded, though. There isn’t a lineup of adoring fans waiting outside the gates of the ranch to thank him after he’s done with the day. Having spent a day with him, I can’t imagine Buster even desiring any of that. He does what he does because he truly loves it. There’s no prestige or fame here. The job is anything but simple and truthfully without it, America wouldn’t be America. The American cattleman is the foundation of our expansion. The Buster Friersons of this world made our country possible. I don’t normally do this because this blog isn’t about anyone other than the veteran I’m covering. But, it would be a mistake to overlook certain things I’ve experienced as I bring you Bert’s perspective. I think Bert would want it this way. So with this story, I bring a little bit of Bert’s boss into it. There are too many close connections to ignore.
I watched Bert move as he worked the gate while they were doing pregnancy checks on the cattle and other forms of ranch maintenance. Buster was always patient but a couple of times he raised his voice to let Bert know he wasn't doing something right. Did Bert get his feelings hurt, throw his gloves down, stomp off while he retorted with his accolades and all that he'd done for this country as the tip of the spear? Nope. He simply offered up a, "Yessir," and fixed the mistake. The level of humility that takes can't be overstated. It takes a humble man to be an expert in the field of taking lives and defending innocents, then to start a completely new profession at the lowest level. Then again, that's what makes the Green Beret as versatile of a soldier as they are. They're teachable at all times. The profession demands constant learning so an attitude of teachability is a necessity. Here's Bert.
What was the single most frightening moment for you on a deployment?
BK: I had some frightening moments for sure on deployments, but there was no single instance where I felt impending doom like I wasn’t going to make it out. I was never on teams or surrounded by guys that made situations feel chaotic. There’s something special about going into missions with guys that are always able to keep things calm. One specific mission was working with the Iraqi Counter-Terror Force out of Baghdad. I was there with my CIF company and we’d just left a hot area called Al Shula that’s not as well known as Sadr City, but still a very dangerous neighborhood. This area had been violent for about a 15-20 year period. We were leaving the area in open back Humvees and had turned onto an open stretch of road. There was a neighborhood off to our right and just open vacant lots to the left. Al Qaeda at the time had gotten with the construction company that was building the road. The road was dirt but the curbs had been laid and they’d laid 120mm mortar rounds in the curb.
They daisy chained five of these together and our convoy was hit. The vehicle in front of mine was struck hard. I can still see that vehicle getting literally picked up and thrown from that spot. We continued on past at high speeds and it took a few seconds to figure things out. I began to realize what had happened and that was one of those moments where I thought, “Oh shit, this is going to get ugly.” It was already unpleasant and it was only going to get uglier. We’d just gotten hit by daisy chained IEDs and then small arms fire started coming into our position. Myself, an EOD tech attached to our unit, and our ground forces Sergeant Major worked our way about 180-200 meters back to the vehicle. By the time we got there, Rob our 18B already had two tourniquets on the wounded Iraqi commander. That’s where you realize medical cross training is so important. I wasn’t able to be there right away and our gun guy actually was able to save our counterpart’s life. I mean there were times I was uncomfortable and this was one but I never had that sense of impending doom. I had a team that was absolutely incredible surrounding me, so in those instances of tough times you feel re-assured by your brothers around you.
Why’d you join the Army in particular and Special Operations specifically?
BK: I am the 4th generation of people in my family to serve. I always wanted to serve. My dad was in the Navy and grandpa was in the Army. I’d always wanted to be in the military but didn’t finally do it until after 9/11. When the towers fell, I was in between trips to South Africa doing some conservation work and community service. I was in Boulder, Colorado working at a ski shop and 9/11 happened. For me that was my moment where I knew I had to join. I was 26 and that’s probably not the normal way to do things when it comes to a military career, but I’d wanted to do it for awhile. I’d wanted to be a PJ (Para Rescue) in the Air Force and I’d actually taken my ASVAB with the Air Force. I already had my EMT cert and I’d always been attracted to medicine. Right after 9/11 happened I ended up talking to some Army Special Forces guys and one of them happened to be an 18Delta. He explained the training and the pipeline to get into Special Operations; and I did some research into it. That whole mission of the Green Beret of winning hearts and minds like Kennedy said, “Peace Corps with guns,” made the decision easy for me. I knew I wanted to be a Green Beret at that point. So, 9/11 was the final trigger for me on making that decision to serve.
What was the hardest part of training for you and do you remember a major point in selection where you thought you might not make it?
BK: Studying during the 18D Special Forces Medic Course was hands down the hardest part of Special Forces training for me. I've always hated school and sitting in a classroom. I'm a strong back, but I don't consider myself book smart. The physical side of earning my Green Beret was hard but was my favorite part. I was also 150 lbs soaking wet when I went through SFAS and the Q-Course. The only time I ever doubted myself was during the 18D course. I sat down on a day off with my 18D class leader, who was an E-7 from Ranger Battalion that had been in combat in Somalia. I remember telling Chris that I was struggling with the academic side of the 18D course and was doubting my decisions and the MOS I had chosen. I was literally studying 16 hours a day and still getting average grades. Other guys were studying 2 hours a day and getting A's. Luckily Chris gave me a "Don't be a dumbass. You don't quit something because you're afraid of failure," speech. I was a first time go and passed all 192 exams in 13th months of the 18D course as a high school dropout. That was a huge milestone in life for me and an important lesson that effort given will always be more important than failure or success.
Why did you choose 18D (Special Forces Medic)?
BK: In Army Special Forces you have four enlisted occupational specialties; 18B, 18C, 18D, and 18E. It’s either gun guy, engineer, medic, or communications. I already had my EMT and I love trauma. I know that sounds morbid. I don’t want trauma to happen to anyone but if it does, I enjoy being the one to treat it. There was no question for me. I was either going to be a PJ, where medicine is so vital or 18D. I wanted to go into a MOS that was Special Operations but specifically medicine. I don’t think there’s anything more important in the military than combat medicine. It’s not the highest priority until you need a combat medic. When shit hits the fan and we are needed, we are the most important piece on the battlefield. I’m not a bleeding heart type of guy. There are definitely people in the world that don’t need to be here anymore, but medicine is necessary even when it comes to our enemy. You can do all the cool guy stuff like fast roping in to a target building but if there’s a six year old kid in that building that needs to be treated, you’re nothing without your medic. The impression it makes to be able to treat that kid is a very positive one and can change the battlefield. One, you’re doing good in the world which is always great. Two, that’s something that those people will never forget as long as they live. I said it to you earlier today but the act of harming someone isn’t hard. The act of healing is very complex. It has such a major impression on the battlefield.
Can you talk about the first deployment and what that was like for you?
BK: I remember my first deployment extremely well. It was in early 2005 to Iraq and it was a long trip. I was in an ODA (Operational Detachment Alpha) out of Okinawa and it was to Irbil, Iraq working with the Kurdish Peshmerga. We were working just north of Mosul and it was a longer deployment. We were there for an extended deployment that lasted longer than most SF missions. It was the perfect mission. It was a single ODA deployment living in a safe house in an Iraqi city pretty much on our own. We were working jointly with the Koreans and the Peshmerga of course. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken in my life, both personally and professionally. Anyone that’s worked with the Kurds on the U.S. Army side knows that those are a people that are resilient and absolutely love America. That was one of those classic SF missions where we were fully immersed in their culture. It was an absolutely phenomenal trip.
What units were you with specifically and how many deployments?
BK: I came in as an 18-Xray which was a program they had during Vietnam originally which was called a REP 63 contract. They brought that program back Post 9/11 and it basically was enacted to pull people off of the streets and herd them straight into Special Forces Selection. So you could enlist where you went from Basic Training, to Infantry School, to Airborne School, then to a Special Operations preparatory course, then into Special Forces Assessment and Selection. That pipeline with no injuries and no recycles was about 2 ½ years of training for me. So I was training for 2 ½ years in order to get the Green Beret and make it into a unit. My first unit was 1st Special Forces Group out at Okinawa. I was with a ruck team and very quickly from that I went into Charlie Company, which was called C 1-1. That unit is a Combatant Commanders In-extremis Force, or CIF, Company which is counter-terror, hostage rescue, direct-action company specifically in each Special Forces Group. Each group has at least one of these companies. I got really lucky to be a member of that team.
I had several deployments to Iraq and several to the Philippines. Three big trips were in Iraq and probably ten smaller to the Philippines, which is under the umbrella of Operation Enduring Freedom. The Philippines is a unique mission. Historically there’s been a huge terror presence in the Southern Philippines and adjoining islands. There’s an influx of extremists and Islamic terror groups in that area. There are a lot of different SF groups who’ve deployed there. 1st Special Forces Group has actually lost a handful of guys down there in battling terrorism. It just doesn’t get the publicity that Iraq or Afghanistan get but we are still there. 1st group has been down there for a long time. Most of those fighters are Philippine natives but there are a lot of other foreigners that make up Abu Sayaf (terrorist group) that are from other countries. They have the same motives as other terror groups. They use innocent people as shields and there are regular suicide bombings. 1st SFG has historically had a huge presence down there that’s really vital in the war on terror.
Talk about the duality of being a trigger puller and a helper at the same time.
BK: I sleep fine at night. I sleep very easily. I’m a medic so hearts and minds come first in my work. Every team I worked with had really good Commanders and really good Team Sergeants. They pushed foreign internal defense and working hard with the indigenous forces. They wanted us to get to know the client nation really closely and use violence as the last resort. If the only option available is force, I’m all for it. If that’s going to stop the enemy from hurting the indigenous people or our forces, then lethal force it is. Escalation of force must be taken to the highest level in that case. I believe that if you can get to know someone else’s culture and really show them you’re working for them then that is the most effective way to battle terrorism. However, if that culture is all about betraying basic human morality than I believe in escalation of force and using lethality to end that issue.
In the job that you’re doing now working on a ranch with some of the greatest cattlemen in the country, how does your job now compare to that of your past life as a Green Beret?
BK: As far as comparisons go, I’d like to bring up my best friend and a guy you’ve already covered, Tyler Grey. I was searching for something to do when I got out. I was trying to figure out why I wasn’t fitting in with civilians when I got back. I would go to parties with my wife, or formal functions, or even the gym and wonder “Why am I so different than everyone else?” My thought process was just so different. Then it dawned on me while I was talking to Tyler that for 11 years I was going 100 miles per hour 24 hours a day. I volunteered for literally every deployment and every school there was just like the rest of the guys from Charlie Company. It was always volunteer, go, go, go, go. We were fighting to go to the range every single day to shoot, then you’re on a HALO team jumping, you’re going to all these schools, then all of a sudden you just slam on the brakes and you’re expected to be a normal civilian. One of my “Ah hah!” moments was sitting in Lulu Lemmon with my wife and I was trying on some shorts. I tried on the shorts and was waiting outside the changing rooms when I looked at my name on their waiting board and wondered, “What the fuck am I doing here?” I’d been going 100 miles per hour being around A type personalities that would work from five in the morning ‘til midnight. I needed to find that again. I was working non-stop for 11 years and that’s the norm. On a SF team you’re absolutely never off. Even if you’re on vacation you’re thinking about the next mission, the next school, the next range day. So for me I switched gears and that’s when I had that moment where I realized I needed to find something to do with myself.
So I called up my buddy Michael McDaniel, who’s a retired Deputy Sheriff of Tarrant County, at 2:30 on a Tuesday afternoon and I told him, “I’ve always wanted to work on a cattle ranch and learn how to ride horses. I’ve always wanted to be a Cowboy. Do you know anyone that owns a ranch around Ft. Worth? I’ll work for free.” I hung up the phone and thought to myself, “Was that a stupid phone call to make? That guy probably thinks I’m crazy.” An hour later I get a call from Buster Frierson and he says, “Come on out and meet me.” I went out to meet him and talked to him for about an hour and he said, “I’ll pay you ten bucks an hour,” which was a huge pay cut for me. But, I made that choice because he was taking a chance on me because I was a veteran. He loves veterans, he loves America, and he wants to give me a chance to work on his ranch. It hit me like a ton of bricks in that moment that that was it. We started that first day at 6:00 am, the sun hadn’t quite come up yet, and we didn’t stop working ‘til 7:00 that night. It was fast paced, 1,250 lb horses, crazy yet controlled chaos everywhere. So you can’t compare the two in terms of harshness because war is war. War is absolutely crazy at times. But, just like in my life in Special Forces I once again have that positive stress of super tough, satisfying work. You can’t go from being on a Special Forces team and doing combat deployments to sitting at a desk. A few guys might be able to do it, but I’d be willing to bet most of us can’t. A lot of my old buddies from the teams ask me how I’m doing the cowboy thing and I’m just very clear with them, “Just ask.” You want to be a cowboy? Ask around. You want to be a photographer? Be a photographer. You want to be an artist? Be an artist. You can’t say that it’s impossible to do when you’ve already done one of the hardest things a man can possibly do in becoming a Green Beret. As a former Special Forces soldier I would just say you have to keep the RPMs high. You can’t slow down. The worst enemy of my Special Operations brothers is quiet time once you’ve left the service. I don’t have a quiet moment in my day. When I’m at the ranch there’s never a dull moment. There’s always something to be done and there’s always action.
If you could tell your brothers from past units something what would that be?
BK: I would tell them to figure who they want to be when they finished their military service, not just what they want to do, but who they want to be and what kind of life they want to live. Once they figure that out, start planning and preparing for that while they are still in. I don't think they should just be guys that teach shooting or medical classes. They should pick something new that they've always wanted to do. Maybe be a hunting guide, small business owner, fly fishing guide, artist, woodworker, actor, rancher, astronaut. It doesn't matter what the fuck it is as long as you love it. Start planning immediately for your departure from the military. Transitioning quite honestly sucks. Finding what you love in this world and putting it to work for you is the most important thing you can do. We are Special Forces soldiers and whether it's working as a fry cook at McDonalds or becoming a ranch cowboy, the majority of us will give it 100%. What you do might as well be doing something amazing that you love. Stay busy. Like I've said before, down time as a civilian is dangerous for us.
How do we build a bridge between the civilian populous and the veteran community?
BK: Communication is most important. I think if you look at the generations before us WWII was obviously a very different time and that war was celebrated in many ways. But, if you look at most of our wars they’ve been very ugly. People didn’t want to hear the stories of Korea, Vietnam, even WWI and they didn’t want to connect with vets. I talk to Vietnam vets now who just started talking about their time in a war zone at 60+ years old. I think what you’re doing with The Veterans Project is opening the lines of communication between civilians and us. And again, it’s not about telling war stories with your project. You want to see war stories? Rent a movie. It’s all been made by Hollywood. I think at a different level, bridging that gap is all about having conversations like the one we are having right now. We tend to focus on the morbid, negative, and gruesome war stories. That’s a shame. I think what we are doing here in talking about reintegration is so important to building positive connections.
The mission to be a good person and soldier doesn’t end when you get out of the military. None of the guys I work with on the ranch are veterans but by working for them and showing them my work ethic; I’m able to make a positive impact on how they think of us. I’m able to bridge the gap in that way. So I think opening the lines of communication and not doing so in a sensationalized, “shoot ‘em in the face” way is a good way to go. Everyone knows those kinds of things happen in war. Let’s move away from just the cool guy stories and talk about our lives. How many people know what the spouse of a deployed soldier goes through? There are women right now that are pregnant that will have a child that their husband won’t see until that kid is 5, 6, 7 months old because they’re in a warzone. The wife has to deal with the pregnancy and have the baby without the husband there. That’s a lot of sacrifice. I think those kinds of stories can put things in perspective for civilians because those aren’t the things we see all the time. Communication is key and telling our stories in the right way.
If you could tell a civilian one thing in order to change perception what would you tell them?
BK: I think there’s a huge problem with stories portraying us in a negative light. There’s so much out there about PTSD, Veteran Affairs issues, violence related to veterans. There’s a major problem with portrayal of us as some kind of PTSD monsters. I have muscles and tattoos so I must have PTSD because I’m a veteran. I must have some issues. I think we are past that now and we need to end the giant pity party. Not just on the civilian side, but also on the veteran side. You’ve already covered the guy but Tim Kennedy made some great points in his speech on PTSD. We need to get up and get to work because that’s how we were trained. Find a hobby, start a company, just do something that keeps you busy. On the civilian side, they’ve got to do a better job of pushing veterans into positions and taking a chance on them in the workplace. Where I am is a perfect example, working on the ranch.
Buster did not have to give me a job but he did because he believes in me as a veteran. I started out as a day one private on the ranch and I’m now probably an E-3 (Private First Class) on my best day. My goal is to be an E-9 on the ranch one day. Let’s pull the positives out of our community. How about the fact that a person went all the way through basic training and through an extremely demanding military career? Pull from those positives and take a chance on veterans. Give them opportunities to work for you. The other one is, I always have people thank me. A better thing than thanking me would be to ask how I’m doing. Maybe ask me about where I am in my life. Some veterans may shut that down right away and not talk to you because you are a civilian. But, I think most vets nowadays would appreciate the care. Don’t just look at me as a guy walking through the airport in my uniform and thank me for my service. Maybe take a little time to learn about me and who I am. Being able to portray to civilians that there’s a lot more to being a veteran than war, shooting guns, and fighting is so important. We are human beings.
What was the hardest part about leaving the military?
BK: The hardest part of getting out of the Army was just changing the pace. I was traveling at 100 mph for 11 months out the year for 11 years and suddenly I’m in traffic on I-30 in Ft. Worth, Texas. That’s as stressful as the day will get back here. I felt like I’d slammed on the brakes and that was very difficult. Another “Ah ha!” moment for me was when I’d gotten into TCU and I was sitting in an auditorium with a bunch of 5'10” blonde girls in my first semester there. They’re looking at me with all my tattoos like I just walked in on a work release program from the federal prison (laughs). I was now in my mid-30’s and I’m sitting in a classroom of people half my age who’ve probably never even left their own state. Their idea of travel is Cabo San Lucas, doing the “Cabo Wabo” in the summer and my experience was Sadr City, Baghdad. I don’t judge people that didn’t join, but the whole thing is really apples and oranges. It’s hard to mix the two together. I went from being around A-type personalities and working 12-18 hours a day, deploying all the time, to being around normal civilians whose biggest complaints can be pretty ridiculous.
I mean there are definitely civilians with some major difficulties in their lives, but most people who complain about problems don’t really have any. The average American’s problems aren’t really major predicaments. You’re having to wait in line in the grocery store compared to a guy coming off a mission 4,000 miles away where he could’ve been in a firefight or lost one of his buddies in an IED attack. Then, he’s got to wakeup the next day and get back to it again. There are no certainties in combat. That was the hardest thing for me. I came back and was hearing people bitch about the most trivial stuff in the world and I’m thinking, “I have buddies of mine that have seen their kids maybe four months out of the last five years.” And they’re missing this time with their kids for you as American civilians. So I’m looking around and there are 130,000 people deployed to war zones, and most everyone else is oblivious to that. They just don’t care. They care for the few minutes that they talk about it and that’s it.
As far as what you’re doing now what brings you the most peace?
BK: Oddly enough, what brings me the most peace now is what brought me the most in the Army. I love the gym. I love to workout. When I got to my first unit I was 145 lbs and skinny as a weasel. That instantly became therapeutic in the Army when I joined my team, and also when I got out of the Army. I don’t workout to look good. I workout every day because it’s therapeutic for me. It’s my church, it’s my therapy, and it keeps me sane. The other one for me is working. I can’t sit still. I started a company in Peacemaker Trading and got lucky with it; but I’m going to start ten more companies. The ranch also keeps me going. You saw today that there’s never a dull moment at the ranch. It’s fast-paced all the time. As far as who brings me the most calm, it’s my wife Candace then my dogs. We rescue dogs. My wife and I’d known each other since high school, going on 23 years now. She has put up with some major bullshit. I’m not an easy person to get along with (laughs). I don’t think my time in the Army helped that. If I had to put all of them in order, I’d put my wife, my dogs, work, then working out. Food is also important (laughs).
Talk about the superhero mantra that civilians kind of give to soldiers and if there’s any truth to that.
BK: I think my deployments were all pretty even-keeled for what you would expect on an SF deployment. I mean we had gunfights and all that cool-guy stuff, repelling out of helicopters, jumping out of planes. I can understand how we get that superhero attachment from civilians. I mean to this day I can probably think of a dozen or so guys where I think, “Damn, that guy looking back on it is as close as you can come to being a larger than life hero.” I think the media and Hollywood perpetuates the hero aspect of things though, obviously. There are aspects that get embellished of course. I also think there are directors on major films that have tried to stick to the real story as closely as possible. Directors like Peter Berg have done their best to get it right. He really gets into it and hears from the men themselves on what happened.
Again though, take some of the movies that are most closely associated with us and they’re pretty ridiculous. Green Berets with John Wayne is one of the movies everyone thinks of and it was horrible. Rambo was terrible as well. Fun movie to watch but it’s all the negative stereotypes basically. He’s this super soldier that has the worst case of PTSD. Take everything negative that you could think about a returning Special Forces soldier and that’s Rambo. But overall, when you look at movie storylines there have been some good ones that embellished maybe a little but got it pretty close. After deploying with some of these guys, I’ve seen some warriors out there that are far bigger superheroes than have ever been portrayed in a comic book or movie. I mean think about the very action of running towards gunfire in a firefight and there are probably guys doing it right now overseas.
How do we fix the issue of veterans taking their own lives?
BK: We need to do a better job of psychologically evaluating people before they even join the military. Now I understand in wartime situations there won’t always be time to evaluate everyone entering the service, but I think that’s the first step. So we need to do what we can to vet the guys entering into the Army, and then obviously when they get back from deployments we need to be doing the same. We need better resources for when we get out as well. There’s also this stigma of getting help. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from guys in Special Operations units and they weren’t guys I’d expect needed help. They’d call me and just say, “Hey I’m having a really rough time.”
The military has to do a better job of providing the resources so it won’t be used against you if you’re having bad thoughts or you’re hurting inside. There shouldn’t be negative ramifications for seeking help. There’s always been a stigma and it needs to go away. Asking for help actually is a much stronger thing to do than taking your own life. Taking your own life is the easy way out of things. Asking for help is hard. Another issue is that self-medication is unfortunately socially acceptable. So now one beer turns into two beers and two turns into a six-pack. Ambien and pain medicine gets handed out like candy. We as vets need to be better at reaching out to our brothers when we see negative changes in their lifestyles as well. We can’t prevent every suicide but we can stop a lot of them.
What’s the most difficult part of the battle against terrorism?
BK: We are fighting an enemy like we’ve never fought against. If you look at the United States every conflict we had for the first 100 years was open field combat walking at each other. It’s progressed now where our enemy blends in with every person in their country. You don’t know who the enemy is whether you’re at an airport or shopping mall. The war isn’t just on a battlefield anymore. This war left the battlefield and it started a long time ago. I mean we have some clear-cut enemies who engage us in tactical garb but even more dangerous is the enemies in our shopping malls, airports, grocery stores, etc. The battle has definitely changed. We can’t be scared though. That’s not American to be scared or frightened by our enemy.
The Peacemaker Trading motto “Protect What You Love” is a saying that I live by. I didn’t put it on the shirts just to look cute. I live by that. Make yourself a hard target. Know your enemy and train to be ready. Don’t just put your head down and think you’re safe because you live here. I’m not a fear monger either but you need to be smart nowadays. Our enemy now blends in with the populace here and abroad. You can be anywhere in a crowd now and just because someone doesn’t believe what you believe, they want to kill you. We could pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan right now, and that wouldn’t change things. My personal opinion is that we will be at war forever because we have a whole people group dedicated to destroying what we love.
What drew you into the cowboy life?
BK: You saw it today. These guys have been riding the ranch for thirty years now and every time they open a gate for each other they say, “Thank you.” Every time they close a gate they say, “Thank you.” There’s a code, etiquette, and it’s every single thing in that lifestyle that’s right about America. You can follow our history back to our inception and they were an integral part of that. People that are fighting for this country with arms and there are people that are fighting for this country by providing food for us. I’ve done one and now I’m trying to do the other. The ranch to me is every single thing that’s right about America. It drives me nuts because you could probably go on Facebook right now and find hundreds of comments that talk about how weak we’ve become as a nation. Come spend five minutes with me on a cattle and horse ranch in Texas, and I’ll prove to you that America has not changed one bit from our roots. If you’re looking in the wrong places in our culture you’re going to see things you don’t like. I was looking in the wrong places when I got out of the Army. I was looking around on a college campus and thinking, “These people don’t know shit and America’s gotten weak.” I don’t think that’s true anymore.
I was just observing 18-year old college kids that typically don’t know anything about the world. The minute you pull onto that ranch, there are people who are earning their food. You can take a snapshot of a lot of periods in American history and I’m thinking specifically of the 60’s and 70’s. There was a huge hippy revolution, a huge anti-gun movement, and major civil rights issues. Our country was in a very tumultuous place. The 1980’s brought about some change. I believe we are in a cycle where we see more things because of social media. More people are speaking their mind and have access to the microphone, so to speak. Honestly after working on the ranch here in Texas I think America is fine. I don’t think the U.S. has changed that much. I really think it’s where you’re looking. If you want to look for negativity you can find it. But if you’re in the right places, you can find some major positives. I was in some dark spaces when I left the military but the ranch brought me to a positive place. These are guys and girls that work all day, every day, and they enjoy what they do. They don’t make a lot of money but it’s honorable work. They enjoy it and they’re doing it for the right reasons. I think a lot of people have missed the boat on that. They’re entitled and they want things handed to them.
A lifetime ago, Bert makes it back to his outpost in Iraq, another mission complete and our country a little bit safer for it. The sun rises and his eyes are hard-set on the ever-brightening horizon. He’s made it another day and that’s something to be grateful for in this line of work, where the slightest change in your mission can mean death or life changing injury. 6,000 miles away Buster leans back in his saddle shifting his weight, sweat-drenched yet satisfied. This life is not an easy one but he genuinely loves the hard, gritty work. This kind of work isn't for everyone but the few who do it are a special breed of American.
Rows and rows of cubicles in modern day America. The jobs are necessary but how many are truly satisfied in that environment? How many of these employees are constantly looking at the clock just waiting for checkpoints in their day? Lunch time, a ten-minute bathroom break here and there, then the end of the day. They get home and feel like they are spinning their wheels. I know that's a lot of people in that environment because I've seen it myself with my friends and various acquaintances. Doing what you do to collect a paycheck. And it's not just corporate America that's like that. Some are satisfied with the desk job and do it extremely well. That's certainly commendable as well. There are plenty of people serving in occupations all over where they're not doing satisfying work. Living in a mechanical environment within a robotic structure where everything is laid out for you to cut and paste. That's a commonality in much of America. Bert and Buster have followed their lifeline of doing what they love. Although on the outside these occupations are thankless and constantly demanding, they don't do it for the gratitude. They do it for the genuine satisfaction it provides them.
I remember watching a documentary about Green Berets on a firebase in Afghanistan. They'd just lost their medic, who was really close to everyone on the team. They had a moment of silence, offered up a toast and that was that. There were no tears spent, no sobbing and moaning. They honored him and moved on with the mission. That might seem cold-blooded to some but the National Geographic journalists spoke with the young Commander of the team shortly after. "We don't have time to cry right now. We can do all that when we get home." he remarked candidly. The Special Operations mission requires a mental toughness few can understand. That's a toughness even a cowboy can appreciate.
I'd like to thank Bert for being a part of the project. If you ever get a chance to meet him, you'll be better for it even if the interaction isn't a long one. You can check out his gear brand Peacemaker Trading on Instagram: @peacemakertrading, on Facebook: @PeacemakerTradingCompany and online www.peacemakertrading.com. Bert's Instagram is @bertkuntz. I'd recommend buying at least one of their shirts, although if you do you probably won't be able to stop at one. You'll also be able to see him hosting a Veteran's Day marathon with Peter Berg on The History Channel, and on "The Selection: Special Operations Experiment."