Released from Battle
The Price of Freedom
Author/Editor : Jennifer J. Lacelle
Date : December 14, 2021
There are a special group of people in society who step up to the plate and put their lives in danger to defend their family, home and country. Too many who complete this arduous journey return very different people and can often no longer fit society’s mold.
In the United States, statistics report approximately 20-22 veterans commit suicide every day. That’s a minimum of 7,300 people each year. Homelessness is also prevalent in veterans, especially those whose relationships and marriages fall apart, and are unable to hold down jobs.
Lieutenant Commander Mark Keller, a retired US Navy Naval Flight Officer, was almost another veteran who couldn’t escape the ghosts of war.
Prior to mid-2021, if anyone were to ask Keller how he felt since retirement, it wouldn’t have been a good answer. If he had been asked if there was such a thing as God, he would have said no. If someone asked about his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, physical and mental health, he would have called himself a wreck…
Keller was always the type to seek out an adrenaline rush, calling himself a thrill seeker. Even as a child he was into “anything going fast,” and includes BMX bikes, motorcycles, dirt bikes, downhill skiing and, “jumping off pretty much anything.”
Through the grapevine, Keller learned some restrictions on eyesight requirements for US Navy pilot training had lowered so he decided to give it shot. Initially, he was rejected as one of his eyes didn’t pass the test.
However, they chased him down to recruit him for a different position: a Naval Flight Officer. He was officially commissioned in 1996 and remained in active service until 2012.
Keller was one of the few people who obtained higher than normal amounts of combat time as he served in Kosovo (1999) and Iraq (1999 & 2001). He was also in the Indian Ocean during the 9/11 attacks (2001), which prompted them to head to Afghanistan.
However, in 2005 one of the most tragic incidents of his career occurred. While working as a strike operations manager, which wasn’t new to him as he had the combat experience with laser deployed bombs as well as free fall bombs (from tactical aircrafts), Keller was advising the airwing commander on deploying these weapons. So, in 2005, the U.S. Military was chasing down Al Qaeda, hunting for their weapons caches, and completing precision strikes, some in areas with civilians.
“The big thing is making sure the weapon goes where it’s supposed to because you don’t want to get innocent people,” Keller says. “I tried to make a case that we should use some [different] techniques.” He recalls persistently attempting to convince those in command to adjust a few tactics from the regular “boiler plate” plan out of concern for collateral damage. Keller makes strong note that they are a great men, warriors and human beings who stuck with what they believed was the right course of action.
Within a couple months, with no alterations to strike protocols, he was a mission commander for a pair of F-14D Tomcats with callsign “Blackcat 33.” A call about suspicious activity was reported by an Iraqi civilian, which prompted the team to sensor the area and it was determined a group of people were up to no good. He was asked to send off the weapon, but there was a small disagreement over how to deploy it.
Keller attempted to convince the pilot to deviate from the boiler pot plan slightly as a safety measure. However, they “deployed by the books.” The bomb did not reach the strike location and fell short, landing on an Iraqi police officer’s home and killing between 9-12 people inside.
The rest of that deployment lead Keller to work “furiously” to convince those in command to deviate from their typical strike deployments. Eventually, they did change course but Keller was consumed with guilt over the incident. That guilt made it home with him.
“I came home depressed,” Keller says. “My marriage fell apart, my wife kicked me out, three months later, I’m 42, I’m diagnosed with prostate cancer…”
He describes getting into a toxic relationship which only triggered the anxiety more.
It wouldn’t be until a year and a half of struggling through the Veterans Administration that he was finally able to see a practitioner but he remembers the person being “drastically incompetent” and walking away.
After having a panic attack, a private doctor prescribed him Ativan, which he was to take four times a day. However, rather than assisting Keller in the healing process, he found it made the PTSD worse and eventually he began self-medicating (addiction). “I was not functioning,” he says.
It took some time but he returned to the doctor and told him what was happening only to be taken off, but says there was no consideration for withdrawal symptoms and dependency issues. Enduring nightmares, seizures and nearly dying, Keller spent seven months sitting in a darkened room with noise cancelling headphones just hoping to make it to the next day.
A different physician prescribed him Valium and properly tapered him off the substance over two years. It’s now been over a year since he stopped taking the medication (Dec. 2021). He calls himself a former “raging case of PTSD,” with lots of anger, inability to focus, and having a cognitive deficit.
Keller believes PTSD is not so much a disorder as a healthy body’s response to a traumatic event that later becomes an issue (the PTSD). For soldiers, returning to a normal paced lifestyle while cranked up to 110 per cent simply doesn’t compute. “You can’t slow down from your combat mode,” Keller says. “I was driving like a maniac, like I was trying to survive… I was getting into fist fights, and I’m not a fist fight guy.”
The body releases cortisol (the stress hormone) during times of great stress, which is meant to keep someone alive — the fight or flight instinct. So, when people are undergoing these traumas, the body is doing everything it can to keep them alive. This means forcing the person to operate, and remain razor sharp, at a high level of stress. Eventually, when doing this constantly, it becomes the new ‘normal’ but it’s super unhealthy. Especially when returning, or stepping into, a slower pace of life because that no longer feels normal.
After nine-years of suffering in retirement, Keller heard about a plant-based treatment for PTSD from a friend, Matt Buckley, who was responsible for running the Top Gun Operations after his service in the Navy.
Buckley was also suffering from PTSD and decided to try this “new” treatment with Marcus Luttrell (the Lone Survivor). When they returned from treatment, they did a podcast detailing the what occurred and how it’s already helped them.
It was founded by Marcus Capone, who had also gone through the procedure, and his wife Amber.
What is the mysterious treatment? Neurogenesis using Ibogaine and 5-MEO-DMT. Some clinics include sound meditation, nutrient and amino acid infusion, yoga, acupuncture, stem cells and a hyperbolic oxygen chamber.
In short, neurogenesis is a process by which new neurons are created in the adult human brain. These newbies will connect with pre-existing pathways and help maintain neural plasticity, which has been shown to help those with brain injuries and neurological disorders.
What do these natural chemicals do? Well, they are a key component in the adult brain for strength of memory, learning and plasticity. Ibogaine is a naturally sourced psychoactive compound that increases the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF).
Ibogaine is derived from a West African plant and has become increasingly popular in treating heroin and cocaine addiction, though it’s been used for over a century as a medicinal plant. The psychedelic properties are reportedly quite powerful. 5-MEO-DMT comes from the secretions from the Bufo alvarius toad.
Essentially, the person will inhale the dried secretions in a form of a vapor for a psychedelic effect. It’s also becoming common use for people who are seeking spiritual exploration or help with PTSD. Keller’s experience with the treatment process was the most “profound” moment in his life (next to the birth of his children).
The healing method includes counseling, fasting, and the treatments itself. After the “trip” of Ibogaine, members have the next day to discuss their experiences and simply recover.
Patients are monitored by professional staff during the procedures. Keller says everything’s done in a very particular way with medical supervisions and counselling, which makes it a true therapeutic experience. “It’s powerful and healing stuff,” he says, and further states, “I was not a guy who went looking for a mystical experience.
I was a guy who just wanted to feel better.” It’s important to note that in the US, this is not an “approved” procedure, which causes many to either refuse it altogether or do it in secret.
“You can’t do this plant medicine and legally fly an airplane,” Keller says. “Civilian pilots can’t even talk about suffering from PTSD; there’s this whole culture where guys are struggling with their lives and there’s no way for them to get help without jeopardising their careers.”
Thus far, through VETS, over 500 SEAL and U.S. special forces individuals have undergone the medicinal-plant program with astounding results.
Keller also says Stanford University has been doing follow-ups and are currently studying 50 individuals pre- and post-treatment.
Coming in on the heels of the second Top Gun movie is a documentary, No Fallen Heroes which will also be released in theatres on May 27, 2022. It discusses the harsh reality many veterans endure and the plant-therapy.
The story shows the before, during and after of the treatment process. Participating members will discuss their experiences during the doses and articulate the benefits they have felt since their treatment.
Overall, Keller says his experience has given him a new outlook on life and will hopefully be able to start working again in the next year or so. Instead of carrying around pain and anger, he says he now realizes, “love is the answer to everything.”